For generations, the tales of big woods bucks roaming the Maine forests have entranced hunters looking to bag the deer of a lifetime. There are plenty of states with more deer and more liberal hunting laws. Maine gets by on a reputation that some say it no longer deserves.
Here in Maine, ask a hunter how big his deer is, and you won’t typically hear “he’s a 140-class nontypical,” as you might in states where complicated antler-rating scales rule supreme. Here, you’re more likely to hear, “He’s an eight-pointer.”
Or, on a really good day, “He weighed 208.”
Yes, the deer herd has been decimated in some parts of the state, and yes, state wildlife biologists expect that fewer than 17,000 will be tagged this year.
But the big boys are still out there. They’re still hunkered down in the swamps and prowling the ridges. And every once in a while, a hunter will cash in.
They’ll find the deer of a lifetime. A big woods buck. A 240-pounder — a 250-pounder. A 280-pounder. Doubt it? Don’t. Not for a minute.
Violette takes a 281-pounder
Larry Violette Jr. of Ellsworth has been hunting the woods of Barnard for the past 20 years, since he turned 10. His family has a hunting camp there, and yearly visits are a part of the Violette hunting tradition.
And he knows a bit about big woods bucks. Like how few you’ll shoot if you settle for the first deer you see.
“I’ve seen a couple of big deer,” Violette said. “Actually, the first deer I ever shot, I saw a real big deer right after I shot the smaller one. That would be 20 years ago.”
During the first week of this year’s deer season, Violette headed north with his father, sat in a tree stand that he prefers, and didn’t see much deer sign. He quickly decided to walk around for a bit to see whether he could find the tracks of a large buck that he has been tracking for years.
He found tracks in the snow. Big tracks. And he decided to set up another tree stand nearby, hoping that the big deer would return.
“I set that stand up on [Oct. 31] around noontime, sat in it that evening and didn’t see anything,” Violette recounted. “Then at 7:30 Tuesday morning, a six-pointer came out.”
Remember, Violette has played this game before: Shoot a little buck, and you don’t get a chance at a big one. And he was pretty sure a big one was somewhere in the neighborhood.
He wasn’t prepared for how close that deer actually was, though.
“I decided I didn’t want to shoot [the six-pointer]. I was looking for a big guy,” Violette said. “Then I noticed that behind the six-pointer there was a big boy there.”
The big boy was a monstrous eight-pointer that Violette didn’t pass up. Then he walked back to find his father and pass along the good news.
“I had guesstimated 230 [pounds], 250,” he said.
He was wrong.
“We took it to the tagging station, and it was a real big surprise,” Violette said. “I knew it was a big deer when we had it about 11 feet in the air and his feet were still touching the ground. I’m 6-1. I go 260 [pounds]. And it dwarfed me. It was huge.”
Field-dressed, the buck weighed 281 pounds. With its heart and liver — which is allowed in the big-buck pool that he had entered — the deer weighed 287.
Even the folks at the weighing station were a little surprised at how big the buck was.
“[The employee who weighed the deer] called his boss because he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He was fairly shocked,” Violette said with a laugh. “The boss said, ‘Check it to make sure there’s nothing inside of it.’ But there wasn’t. It was an honest-to-goodness weight.”
And the buck of a lifetime, to be sure.
Emery waits out 253-pounder
Richard Emery Jr. of Montville says he’s a lucky man: He loves to hunt and has a job that requires that he go to work early. Consequently, he’s also out of work early, and is in the woods nearly every day.
“I put a lot of time into it. I usually don’t miss a day, at least for a couple of hours,” the 54-year-old Emery said.
Back in 1998, he bagged a 12-point buck that weighed 197 pounds, and Emery said he has had good success in the ensuing years, typically tagging a buck each season.
Emery said the pre-Halloween snowstorm also played a role in his successful hunt this year.
“Monday I went up, was hunting right behind my house, and that’s when I spotted the tracks. I knew that he was in the area,” Emery said, referring to the deer he’d eventually shoot. “I didn’t really expect him to come out this quick, but that’s fine. He did. It worked out well for me.”
On Nov. 1, Emery headed back into the woods, hoping to cross paths with the deer that had made the big tracks. He set up on a pipeline corridor that cuts across his property and waited.
“He was going to cross the pipeline. And I stopped him. I guess that’s how it went,” he said.
Eventually, that’s how it went. First, however, Emery had to win a lengthy waiting game.
“When he came out I thought my heart was coming out of my chest. I get pretty excited about it,” Emery said. “And when he stepped out of the woods, he wouldn’t turn sideways. He looked at me head-on for like 15 to 20 minutes.”
Eventually, the deer took the step Emery was waiting for, and he squeezed the trigger on what he figured was a 180-pound deer.
Later, at the tagging station, he found out how wrong he was: The 10-pointer weighed 253 pounds, field-dressed.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get out of [the tagging station due to the attention the deer was getting],” Emery said. “It’s crazy. I’ve had people show up here to work to talk to me about it.”
Willis bags 241-pounder
Few parts of the state have a richer outdoors tradition than the Moosehead Lake region. Unfortunately, the area is among those where the deer herd has been on the decline.
On. Nov. 5, 38-year-old Troy Willis of Hermon proved that there are still some big deer roaming the woods around Rockwood, however.
“[Troy] called one in to his tree stand, and it was a keeper,” Troy’s dad, Larry Willis, said in an email. “He dropped it in its tracks with one shot from his .308 pump.”
The eight-point buck weighed 241 pounds on a certified scale in Jackman, Larry Willis wrote.
And it turns out that Troy’s success was no fluke.
“Troy shot a 205-pound eight-pointer from the same tree stand two years ago,” his proud dad reported.