Hole in the Horn Buck: Truth Revealed

Video hole in the horn buck score
The Hole in the Horn buck is the most famous whitetail in the world, and for good reason.

Some 20th century mysteries live on. What became of Amelia Earhart? Was there alien contact at Roswell? Did O.J. do it? But I think we now can scratch off one enigma: What made a small hole in the “horn” of a gigantic Ohio whitetail that died 75 years ago?

Despite his size, the Hole in the Horn buck was under the radar until he graced our Dec. 1983 cover. The deer was unbelievable. And so was that issue’s cover headline: “WORLD RECORD SHATTERED! Ohio’s Hole in the Horn Buck Is The Biggest Ever!”

Although the 45-pointer had died near a Portage County railroad track in late 1940, the mount had remained obscure for four decades. It had hung on a wall in a local sportsmen’s gathering place called the Kent Canadian Club.

Dick Idol, one of this magazine’s founders, was then an active antler collector. In 1983 he struck a deal for the rack and had it taped by veteran B&C measurer Phil Wright. Phil calculated a net score of 342 3/8: more than 8 inches over that of the world-record “Missouri Monarch,” which had been found dead near St. Louis in 1981. The initial scoring led to a belief the Ohio deer would become No. 1.

Our 2012 episode was dedicated to monster whitetails, like the Hole in the Horn buck.

But in 1986, a B&C panel decided Phil’s Hole in the Horn buck score was off. The final tally was 328 2/8: below the Monarch’s 333 7/8 but still an easy No. 2 in B&C. These giants remain the top two wild deer ever.

As great as the Ohio rack was — it weighed 11 1/2 pounds, had an outside spread of 33 inches and sported nearly 200 inches of non-typical growth — the most intriguing trait was that hole through one of the drop tines. Was it a bullet hole? It didn’t look to be. And the railroad crew who’d found the dead deer under a security fence surrounding Ravenna Arsenal saw no gunshot wounds. They felt a train had hit the deer. That didn’t explain the hole, either.

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So the answer remained elusive. Then, in 1995, retiree George Winters told me he’d been present at the Hole in the Horn buck’s recovery. He said he’d helped pull the buck from under the fence — and that a stiff fence wire was sticking through that hole. He was sure it had done the damage.

When I reported this in the Feb. 1996 issue, I hoped I’d solved the riddle. By then over 55 years had passed since the buck’s death. With George’s own death in 1999, I felt whatever there was to write about the beast had been written.

Then, last March, cameraman Bill Owens and I went to Portage County to get video for a North American Whitetail TV episode celebrating the Hole in the Horn buck’s 75th anniversary. We went by the Kent Canadian Club, which led to a visit with manager Tony Pampena. And from him I learned another member — 88-year-old Stub Bower — claimed to have firsthand knowledge of what really had formed the hole in the “horn.” What’s more, Stub was willing to be interviewed about it on camera.

I naturally was skeptical. But as it turned out, not for long.

“Whit Nighman was the manager of our club,” Stub told me, “and I bartended for him. There wasn’t a solid wall to hook the mount on, just some lattice up there. The head had always hung crooked or something. And he says, ‘Let’s fix that deer head so it stays right.’ He got out a quarter-inch drill and we drilled a hole through there and took a wire and put a loop on the end of it and put a cotter key on the back and pulled it tight to the lattice and wired it . . . and that’s how it got the hole in the horn.”

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Tony, Stub and the author stand outside the Kent Canadian Club, where the Hole in the Horn buck hung for more than 40 years.

Really? Could it be just that simple? Stub’s been a club member for nearly 60 years, so I can’t explain why we’re just now hearing his story. But that explanation makes total sense to me. So I’m fine with proclaiming it the “hole” truth — once and for all.

To see that interview with Stub and Tony on the Hole in the Horn buck, plus more on this legendary deer, check out our special episode on Sportsman Channel. It will air several times in late December, the first of those being 8:00 p.m. ET on Dec. 23.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>