By Richard Bernier
For unexplainable reasons even to Horace, he never moved or made a sound. Something within (a gut feeling most successful hunters have learned to trust) told him there was more action to come. No sooner had that thought passed when the buck of any hunter’s dream was sneaking directly towards Horace.
By the time your eyes light upon November’s column, this buck hunter will have already buried himself deep into the wilderness of Maine. Hopefully, an oversized set of tracks will be laid out before me yearning to be followed.
My expectation is to be hunting the giant buck that eluded us last fall. He undoubtedly will rival the state record in regards to weight. The Berniers’ goal is to catch up to this behemoth and end his career by the only fitting way we know – a projectile fired from a Bernier-held rifle.
Each fall, the annual gathering of the red coats brings on a renewed enthusiasm and expectation. As groups of hunters find their way to their traditional hunting camps, talk of big deer abounds. The anticipation of meeting up with the buck of your dreams fuels the desire as you encroach upon his domain.
The Big One
One such buck in Maine’s rich deer-hunting history met and surpassed even the wildest dreams of a 59-year-old hunter back in 1955. Horace R. Hinckley did what no other hunter has been able to match since, by shooting the heaviest whitetail buck on record within the state of Maine. In fact, Hinckley’s buck places second in all of North America, only to a Minnesota buck shot in 1926 by Carl Lenandor. Carl’s buck topped the scales at 402 pounds dressed.
The events surrounding the taking of this enormous animal are Horace’s own words, excerpted from the August 1969 issue of Outdoor Life. I certainly would not want you to think I had any first hand knowledge, seeing as I was nothing more than a mere twinkle in Pop’s eye when this momentous occasion occurred.
Little did Horace know as he struck off that morning that he was about to embark on a whitetail record that would stand for forty-three years. Days off for a lumber worker came only on holidays and during inclement weather. Vacations were out of the question, especially to go deer hunting. The Hinckleys hunted when they could, and because of expected rain on the first Saturday of deer season, they jumped at the opportunity to hunt.
Trophy hunting as we view it today had no bearing on the Hinckley mindset. They hunted deer out of enjoyment and to lay up sweet tasting venison for the coming winter.
Horace, his wife Olive, their son Philip and his wife Madeline traveled 60 miles from their Augusta home to hunt Northwest Bingham. The area is located on the western side of Fletcher Mountain. Once reaching the desired location, the elder Hinckleys hunted an old tote road for the first hour. Due to the lack of fresh deer sign, they stopped to ponder their next move.
While talking it over, a jeep approached. The driver was the foreman of a local logging operation who offered to take them to the end of a remote, almost undriveable road where he had seen lots of fresh sign two days prior. At the end of this two track, the Hinckleys made their way up through a winter beech valley encompassed on both sides by rising mountainous terrain. By 9 a.m. they had each taken a stand a few yards apart, in what appeared to be a great spot.
They didn’t have to wait long before the action started. Twenty minutes after taking his position, Horace heard a twig snap, spotted a buck and fired. Fortunately for him, he completely missed. Within five minutes his wife’s rifle echoed, only to be followed by her excited voice yelling for Horace to come see her nice buck. For unexplainable reasons even to Horace, he never moved or made a sound. Something within (a gut feeling most successful hunters have learned to trust) told him there was more action to come. No sooner had that thought passed when the buck of any hunter’s dream was sneaking directly towards Horace. It only required one shot from his .30-06 to put this monster down for the count.
As astounding a morning as it was, there would be much more excitement to come before darkness fell on this day. Quickly realizing the two deer lying before them were more than they could handle, the couple started back to retrieve help. Not finding his son at the vehicle, they drove to his brother Ralph’s house a short distance away.
Approaching the kill site with Ralph to help in the dragging chores, a six pointer was jumped and taken by Horace’s brother with one quick shot. Instead of easing the burden, Ralph only added to it with the third Hinckley buck. Once the two men had finished getting the six pointer and Olive’s big buck out, they jubilantly spotted Philip making his way toward them.
More Good News
By now, the events thus far would have been more excitement than any hunting family could have expected in several lifetimes, but there was more good news. Philip’s wife had shot a spike horn, and during the dragging process to get her buck out, a big 200-pound plus ten pointer materialized. Philip made the shot count, and thus gave the Hinckley family five bucks in the space of one hunting morning. The story should end here once Horace’s mammoth buck was laboriously hauled out, but it doesn’t.
It was three days before a scale large enough to handle a buck of this proportion could be found. Once this great buck was hoisted up in front of several witnesses, including state sealer of weights, Forrest Brown, the giant deer pulled the scales to a whopping 355 pounds. It was calculated that Hinckley’s buck had an approximate live weight of 488 pounds. Several measurements were then taken which included: neck girth – 28 inches, body girth behind forelegs – 47 inches, greatest girth – 56 inches, and a total length from antler tip to rear hoof of 9 1/2 feet.
Because of the constant influx of inquisitive viewers, Horace was unable to butcher his buck. To add to his dilemma, the sheer weight of his buck after six days of hanging collapsed the barn roof. When the animal finally reached the freezer plant the next day, it weighed almost 100 pounds less. A cloud of doubt now hung because of the unsuspecting discrepancy to the original weight. Due to the length of hanging time and the amount of trimming Horace had to perform since shooting his now famous deer, it was determined that shrinkage could easily have diminished the weight of the buck.
Unfortunately, and not without much difficulty, it took Horace over a year to have his buck validated as the heaviest ever recorded in the state. To you who think a buck of Hinckley’s status is a thing of the past, and a record that may never be broken, I need only to remind you of Mark Maguire and his 70 homeruns. I, for one, know that a buck of that caliber not only exists, but I am also in hopes of dethroning the reigning king with the taking of him.
I can visually see him in the recesses of my mind, and perhaps this buck will become – the buck of my dreams.
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