By now, you have probably heard the news out of Denton County that came forth late last week concerning a mammoth non-typical white-tailed deer that was illegally poached near Pilot Point last October.
According to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department news release issued last week, Travis D. Johnson of Aubrey, Texas, pleaded no contest to illegally taking the massive non-typical buck.
TPWD noted in its news release that Johnson was sentenced in Denton County Criminal Court on Monday, Jan. 22. The sentence reportedly included two years of probation, 40 hours of community service, court costs, and in excess of $53,000 in TPWD civil restitution fines.
What’s more, Johnson is also prohibited from purchasing a Texas hunting license for the duration of his deferred adjudication period.
I first became aware of the buck during the middle portion of the October early archery season when a couple of texts from deer hunting friends brought news of an Oct. 12, 2017 Facebook post by the Lone Star Outdoors Show.
That post contained a photo of the buck and the capitalized words: “POTENTIAL TEXAS STATE RECORD ARCHERY BUCK ALLEGEDLY POACHED IN DENTON COUNTY.”
Despite rumors flying around for a day or two, the buck disappeared off the radar screen until last week’s news release, which detailed the case that began on Saturday, Oct. 7 according to TPWD officials.
After investigative work by TPWD game wardens, the story eventually unraveled, the buck was confiscated, and the Aubrey man in question eventually made his plea in court.
“What an ill-fated legacy for what could have been, and should have been, a remarkable testament to Texas whitetail deer,” said Col. Grahame Jones, TPWD Law Enforcement Director, in an agency news release.
“It’s tragic that in the pursuit of this magnificent specimen, Mr. Johnson chose to violate hunting’s code of ethics and the game laws designed to protect our state’s precious wildlife resources. It’s something he’ll have to live with.”
As you might know, the recent Denton County incident is one of several high profile cases to have occurred here in North Central Texas in recent years.
Back in 2014, a five-person poaching ring was broken up by state and federal game wardens at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. And recently, a poaching news story went viral concerning a Whitesboro man who was sentenced to weekends in jail for five years during deer season after the illegal take of a huge Grayson County buck in 2016 that scored north of 200 inches.
High profile or not, those cases pale a bit when compared to the Denton County case.
Why? Because the buck poached near Pilot Point is quite literally one of the largest free ranging whitetails ever recorded in history, that’s why.
Just how big is the Denton County buck? On Thursday afternoon, I spoke with veteran Boone and Crockett Club and Pope and Young Club official measurer Ken Witt of Burleson about his measuring of the buck for TPWD law enforcement officials in December 2017.
The numbers reported by Witt are stunning, to say the least. For starters, the Denton County buck sports a gross score of 278 0/8 inches and a net score of 264 1/8 inches according to the measurer.
With 26 scorable points, Witt said that the buck’s 6X6 typical frame measures out at 204 2/8 inches to go along with 73 6/8 inches of abnormal point measurements (10 abnormal points on the right side, four abnormal points on the left side).
The inside spread on the buck is 23 5/8 inches while the main beams measure out at 27 4/8 inches on the left side and 24 2/8 inches on the right side. Mass measurements range from 4 5/8 inches to 6 6/8 inches on the massive poached whitetail.
At a net score of 264 1/8-inches, the Denton County buck is third best in Texas history, falling behind only the legendary former world record Brady Buck, a 284 3/8-inch net whitetail taken in McCulloch County in 1892, and a Junction, Texas pick-up buck from 1925 that net scores 272 0/8-inches.
What’s more, had the Denton County buck been legally taken with archery gear, it would have been the Pope and Young Club’s archery state record non-typical by nearly 20-inches.
Also, the Denton County buck is one of the biggest ever reported anywhere in North America, potentially ranking in the Top 35 in B&C listings and the Top 5 in P&Y bowhunting records.
Finally, consulting with some national whitetail experts I’ve gotten to know, the Denton County buck could possibly be the largest illegally taken whitetail ever reported anywhere in North America.
What does Witt think about the huge buck he recently measured?
“When I first saw the deer in pictures and heard the reported score, I thought no way, that it would score in the 230 to 240-range,” he said. “But I wasn’t seeing everything in the photo that the deer had.”
That includes the deer’s significant antler mass.
“It’s much bigger in person,” said Witt, who needed a couple of hours to score the buck. “You don’t see how big the mass is until you hold it in your hands.”
Keep in mind that Witt is no stranger to scoring big deer, having taped out several of the Boone and Crockett Club monsters that have come from Hagerman NWR and the Grayson County area over the years.
Plus, as a longtime panel measurer for both P&Y and B&C, the 68-year old Witt has been involved in the final scoring of several of North America’s biggest bucks including Stephen Tucker’s hunter-harvested world record, a 312 7/8-inch Tennessee non-typical taken in Nov. 2016.
So Witt certainly knows a thing or two about a set of big world-class whitetail antlers at the end of a tape measure.
“It’s the biggest free ranging whitetail that I know of in Texas, and it’s certainly the biggest that I’ve ever scored here in our state,” he said.
The longtime big buck measurer admits that he had a wide ranging set of emotions running the gamut from anger towards the poacher towards a bit of sad pride in knowing that despite the circumstances of the case, North Texas can produce some truly world-class whitetails.
And he noted with a bit of caution: “I’ve said for years that a giant whitetail can make a poacher out of many a hunter.”
The bottom line is that Witt thinks the final focus should be on the magnificent whitetail that Denton County produced, not the unfortunate details of the poaching case.
“It’s a beautiful whitetail, the foremost specimen to come out of the state (in nearly 100-years),” said Witt, noting that he has encouraged TPWD to enter the buck in the Boone and Crockett Club listings as a pick-up entry.
“I sure would like to see them do that because this deer needs the recognition that it deserves,” he added. “The poacher doesn’t need any more recognition.”