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Frye: Antlers sold, lost and found

Every time talk turns to antlers, I think of an old gentleman I interviewed in Elk County.

This was about a decade ago. He was about 90.

We were talking about elk mostly but also about hunting in general and what life was like for him as a young man.

He had been a coal miner in an era when every little town had its own coal company. Every coal company had its own baseball team, too. They played one another, competing for bragging rights when baseball was still America’s No. 1 sport.

It was serious stuff. If you could swing a bat as well as a pick, this old fellow told me — and sometimes if you swung a bat better — the companies paid you a higher weekly wage. That was a big deal when you had a young family.

Still, mining and playing second base for the coal baron in the tiny town of Force, as he did, didn’t mean the living was easy.

So when it came to pass that he shot the biggest buck of his life, in the 1940s I think I remember him saying, and a doctor from near Pittsburgh who was at camp for the week offered to buy it, he sold. That was no less illegal then than it is now, but he had a wife and kids.

I get the pressure-of-a-family thing. But the deer was a real beauty, with a wide rack and long tines. I asked if he ever regretted giving it up.

“No. Why would I want a tough old buck? I took the money and bought a whole side of beef, and we ate good all winter,” he said.

He told me he had no idea what the buck scored in record terms, as few people considered such things then.

This past week marked the 100th anniversary of another big buck — among the biggest of them all — once gone missing.

On Nov. 20, 1914, James Jordan, then 22, was hunting with a friend along the Yellow River near Danbury, Wis. They came upon deer tracks and began to follow them.

In time, the friend shot a doe. Jordan stayed on the trail of what he thought was a big buck. He was right. He jumped the deer along railroad tracks, shot at it three times, followed it some more and finally put it down with the last bullet from his .25-06.

Then the tale took a sad twist.

The taxidermist who was to create a mount moved away without telling anyone. The antlers disappeared until 1959. It wasn’t until a distant relative of Jordan’s bought the antlers at a garage sale — not realizing whose or what they were — that they resurfaced.

Even then, it took until 1966 for the rack to be scored at 206 18 — at Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh, no less — and until 1978 for them to be recognized as Jordan’s. The deer stood as the world record until 1993. It still ranks second all time and as the largest typical buck to have come from the United States.

Jordan didn’t live to see any of that. After fighting for years to get his due, he died two months before his name was formally, finally, attached to his deer.

That would drive most hunters crazy.

Except for maybe one. The Jordan buck could have bought a lot of beef, I’ll bet.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Article by Bob Frye,
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