CSI: Oklahoma

Some giant bucks live—and die—without ever being seen by hunters or having their photos snapped on high-tech scouting cams. And that's one of the many reasons why whitetails are North America's No. 1 game animal.

I learned about the buck in the photo above from outfitters Scott and Joni Sanderford, the husband and wife team who run Croton Creek Ranch in western Oklahoma. According to the Sanderfords, in January of this year quail hunters walking a creek-bottom found this massive 8-point rack and skull.

I've turkey hunted with Scott and Joni and have several friends who've hunted whitetails at their place (think 5,000 acres of mostly open ground broken up by woodlots, shelterbelts and creek-bottoms), and believe me when I tell you they're dialed-in on their whitetails. Scott and Joni place numerous scouting cams and run them from summer through winter, and each year they gather thousands—literally—of deer pics. In addition, they're crisscrossing the ranch properties daily to repair fences, check cattle, move treestands, etc.

But Scott and Joni never got a photo of this tremendous 4x4, never saw it in person, and to the best of their knowledge neither did any of their clients. Even though this specific creek-bottom is one of their best deer hunting spots, and even though Scott and Joni had trail cams placed in this creek-bottom and on the edge of nearby alfalfa fields, the buck was a mystery.

By their best guess, the buck was 5 years old when he died. (And based on their knowledge of the local deer herd, I'd bet my truck the Sanderfords are correct.) Can you imagine the rack the buck would have grown this fall?!

Was this buck super smart, totally nocturnal and somehow avoided scouting cams and hunters? Did the buck move in from a distance and die in the creek-bottom shortly after his arrival? Obviously, we'll never know. FYI: Joni told me that based on the condition of the buck's antlers, she believes he died shortly after shedding velvet. And from my experience with whitetails, mature bucks don't shift their home ranges greatly during this period; so maybe he was a ranch resident?

Whatever the case, I love the fact that big bucks live—and sadly, sometimes die—without ever giving us hunters a shot at them. It's the unknown and the dreaming of "what might be out there" that makes all the time we spend in treestands worthwhile.

P.S. Joni tells me that based on early summer buck sightings on their ranch, antler growth looks very good this year. If you have an open week in your fall hunting calendar, I suggest you give Croton Creek Ranch a call.

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