Late last month, BDN readers proved (again) that photos of big animals taken by hunters are still incredibly popular: A pair of stories — one on a 19-point deer, another on a 274-pounder — generated more than a quarter of a million page views on the newspaper’s website and were shared thousands of times on social media.
Those deer were fantastic trophies that any hunter would be proud of.
But more than 100 years after it was shot, the 31-point “Hill Gould Buck” still sports the rack that Maine deer are compared to.
Louis Cataldo, a registered Maine guide from Grand Lake Stream, knows a bit about the “Hill Gould Buck.”
His grandfather was Hill Gould himself, the hunter who shot the deer back in 1910.
“I made him tell me the story a million times,” the 56-year-old Cataldo said of his grandfather, who died in 1970. “He wasn’t a real talkative guy, but you could prod him and get the story out of him.”
Cataldo said he never tired of hearing the tale.
“He was hunting with three other young fellas,” Cataldo said. “They were all 17, 18, 19 years old. They went to an old tar paper shack, a hunting camp on Little River. It was about a mile from where they lived.”
During the ensuing hunt, Gould decided to sit near a set of rapids on Little River. The water there was shallow, Cataldo said, and deer were often able to cross the river at that point.
“He was sitting there late in the day and heard something coming,” Cataldo said. “He thought it was a moose at first, because all he saw was the horns at first. He wasn’t going to shoot it, because it wasn’t moose season at the time. He was a real honest guy, which was pretty rare back in those days. Most guys would shoot whatever they could, just to survive.”
Gould quickly realized that the rack of antlers wasn’t on a moose but belonged to a huge deer. After shooting the deer, he realized he’d need help getting it out of the woods, and he decided to leave it overnight … but not before field-dressing it.
“He took the heart and liver, got back to camp, and the boys were playing cards at the table,” Cataldo said. “He threw the heart and liver on the table, and they said, ‘Oh, Hill. You shot a moose. We never thought you’d break the law.’”
Then Gould told the tale for the first time.
“He said, ‘That ain’t a moose. It’s a deer,’” Cataldo said. “Then they all grabbed their lanterns and hiked about a mile up the river just to see the deer.”
There was apparently some confusion as to the actual size of the rack on Gould’s buck, as the headline on a story published in the Bangor Daily News boldly proclaimed, “50 Point Buck is Largest Ever Seen.”
The Gould buck served as the lead of that story, which itemized the game shipments received in Bangor that week.
“The largest deer head ‘in history,’ that is the biggest head ever seen by local hunters of many years’ experience or in fact ever heard of by Bangor people who know, has been received by the S.L. Crosby Co. of Bangor, leading taxidermists of the world, from Hill Gould of Grand Lake Stream,” the story read. “This phenomenal head has 50 points, or prongs on the antlers! ‘Freak heads,’ as these large heads are usually called, are almost always one-sided or so out of proportion that they make poor specimens to look at when mounted. This head, however, is very even, having 26 points on one side and 24 on the other, and it is a beauty in every way.”
The story goes on to claim that the antlers’ “spread” was 28 inches, and that the 50 points “are not merely nubles, which some ‘sports’ count, but are all well defined prongs.”
Cataldo said the confusion about how many points the deer had is understandable.
“Back in the old days, the way they measured a ‘point’ was [that it counted if it] was anything you could hang a wedding ring on,” Cataldo said, citing a method that is still often used by Maine hunters in the field.
Those who officially score antlers for clubs that specialize in trophy animals have a more exacting criteria, it turns out. As a result, Gould’s buck is in the record books as a 31-pointer.
Cataldo said his grandfather sold the mounted head to a man who owned sporting camps in Grand Lake Stream. The price: $50.
For several years, the mount remained there. Then Cataldo said they disappeared, and nobody knew where they’d ended up.
“There were rumors that [the head] was hanging in some sporting club in Massachusetts, but we never knew where it was,” Cataldo said. “Finally, [we learned] that some doctor in New Hampshire had it.”
In the 1980s, Cataldo got to see the mount firsthand, at a sporting banquet.
Today, Bass Pro Shops owns the antlers but has had them remounted. Cataldo said he doesn’t care for the new mount, which he said isn’t as lifelike.
While the Gould buck still holds the record for the largest “non-typical” rack on a Maine deer, it is not recognized as the largest by weight.
The BDN story from that era points out that the Gould buck’s weight was unknown. The recognized state record buck was shot by Horace Hinckley of Augusta back in 1955. That monster weighed 355 pounds, field-dressed, and it likely weighed well more than 400 pounds on the hoof.
Cataldo said his grandfather’s friends always figured his buck weighed more than 300 pounds.
And he admitted that he often finds himself on the same set of rapids on the Little River during hunting season, hoping to replicate his grandfather’s success.
“I’ve hunted there for years,” Cataldo said. “All of us dreamed of shooting something that came close [to the size of the Gould buck]. It hasn’t happened. Not yet. But I haven’t given up.”