KANSAS CITY, Kan. On a cloudy Saturday in June, Smarty Jones, the people's horse, was nipped at the wire in his bid for horse-racing immortality when the forgotten Birdstone slipped up on the outside to take the Belmont Stakes.
A similar tale nearly unfolded in America's heartland in recent days as the nation's deer-hunting crowd awaited the coronation of the remarkable Iowa non-typical whitetail deer harvested last Sept. 29 in Monroe County by teen-ager Tony Lovstuen.
What had been viewed by some as a mere formality in the Lovstuen buck's ascension to the Boone and Crockett Club's throne for a hunter harvested whitetail provided not one, but two surprising scoring twists including a bona fide challenger to the big-deer throne.
The Lovstuen buck originally was given a 60-day entry score of 319 4/8 inches.
But a B&C panel of 16 people (10 measurers, five consultants and one panel chairman)
lowered the Lovstuen buck's final score by nearly 12 inches, according to Jack Reneau, the director of big-game records for Boone & Crockett.
"The panel score is 307 5/8 inches," Reneau said. "It's the largest whitetail ever recorded by the Boone & Crockett Club that has been taken by a hunter."
(Note: Two pick-up entries remain ahead of the Lovstuen Buck in the B&C record book the 333 7/8 inch "Missouri monarch" world record non-typical whitetail and the runner-up 328 2/8 inch "Hole in the horn" buck from Ohio.)
However, as the Lovstuen buck was heading for the finish line, a Land of Lincoln whitetail challenger came up hard and fast on the outside to nearly steal the show.
That deer was the massive non-typical whitetail taken by Jerry Bryant on Nov. 15, 2001, in Illinois' Fulton County with a crossbow a buck originally given an entry score of 291 1/8 inches.
When all of the numbers from the Illinois giant were tallied, the deer nearly had enough inches on its own score sheet to make a bid for the throne as the largest hunter harvested whitetail of all-time.
"The judges' final score (on the Bryant buck) was 304 3/8 inches," Reneau said. "That makes this the second largest whitetail ever taken by a hunter."
Second largest by a mere 2 7/8 inches, that is!
How could two deer that began the 25th B&C Awards Program panel scoring session more than 27 inches apart be so close when the final numbers were added up?
Simple, says Reneau. The pair of non-typical racks are about as complicated as two sets of whitetail antlers can be.
"It's actually the interpretation of the whole rack, what's normal and abnormal on both racks," Reneau said. "There is no reflection on any bad measuring or anything like that from those who measured and provided us with the previous 60-day entry scores.
"These are both very difficult trophies to measure."
Both deer all 612 3/8 inches of them combined are on display at the Cabela's Kansas City, Kan., store location as B&C preps for its 25th Awards Program Banquet on June 19.
"Those two (deer) are in the same place right now and a person could go in and take a look at the two largest whitetails ever harvested by a hunter being displayed there together," Reneau said.
In addition to the Lovstuen and Bryant whitetails, more than 100 big game trophies are on display in Kansas City, including nine new B&C world records.
Those records include new B&C benchmarks for bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, musk ox, Roosevelt's elk, tule elk, non-typical Columbia blacktail deer, non-typical Sitka blacktail deer and non-typical Coues' whitetail deer.
Still, the two massive Midwestern non-typical whitetails are likely to garner much of the attention over the next few days.
"In most of North America, where it is the dominant big-game animal, it is every one's dream to get a big one (whitetail)," Reneau agreed.
In fact, whitetail hunting in North America may never have been any better than it is currently.
"Without a doubt, these are the good, old days," Reneau agreed. "And who knows how much better it can get."
Need proof? Reneau points to the B&C record book to back up his claim.
"In 1976 when I started doing this, we were getting about 300 total trophies (of all North American big-game animals) per year for a total of about 900 in a three-year period," Reneau said.
During that 16th awards period Reneau was referring to above, a total of 55 typical and 40 non-typical whitetails exceeding the B&C minimum scores were entered.
What about now?
"We've had 924 typical whitetails (entered) alone in the last three years," Reneau said. "Add in the non-typicals and we've had another 552 of those. So in this 25th recording period, we've had 1,476 whitetail deer alone."
"I thought it was busy then," he added. "I think that's proof that our wildlife conservation efforts are working."
How long will Tony Lovstuen's "Iowa walking world record" whitetail stay atop the hunter harvested deer throne?
"It's hard to say how long this record will stand," Reneau said. "But with the increase in the number of record deer that we're getting and the quality of these trophies, obviously, our state agencies are doing a good job managing deer.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see an even bigger deer taken by a hunter someday."
That someday could be years from now. Or it could be in just a few months, when another deer season unfolds.
That's how good whitetail deer hunting is in North America good and getting better all the time.
Top-5 Boone & Crockett non-typical whitetail deer
(Score, hunter, location, year.)
1. 333 7/8, Picked up, St. Louis County, Missouri, 1981
2. 328 2/8, Picked up, Portage County, Ohio, 1940
3. 307 5/8, Tony Lovstuen, Monroe County, Iowa, 2003
4. 304 3/8, Jerry Bryant, Fulton County, Illinois, 2001
5. 295 6/8, Tony Fulton, Winston County, Mississippi, 1995
Latest Boone & Crockett world-record big-game animals
(Species, score, hunter/owner of rack or horns)
Bighorn sheep, 208 3/8, Guinn D. Crousen (hunter)
Non-typical Columbia blacktail deer, 208 1/8, Frank Foldi (hunter)/Steve D. Crossley (owner)
Non-typical Coues' whitetail deer, 196 2/8, Native American (hunter)/D.J. Hollinger/ B. Howard (owners)
Muskox, 129 0/8, Craig D. Scott (hunter)
Pronghorn (tie), 95 0/8, David Meyer; 95 0/8, Dylan M. Woods (hunters)
Roosevelt's elk, 404 6/8, Jason S. Ballard (hunter)
Sitka blacktail, 133 4/8, William B. Steele (hunter)
Tule elk, 365 0/8, Bryce Evans (hunter)
(Note: All entries were panel-scored and accepted during the 25th B&C Awards Program. The new Tule elk world record was harvested during the 24th B&C Awards Program but was panel scored during the 25th B&C Awards Program.)