The Milk House Buck


As the sportsmen and women in the state of Vermont looked to the beginning of a new decade in January 2010, none of them could imagine the event awaiting to unfold: a massive buck from Vermont’s past was about to overtake the top spot in the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club’s non-typical category. The groundwork was laid some 70 years prior in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom by a man who was proud of his hunting heritage and the tradition of a family deer camp.

It was January 16, 2010, that I prepared to go to work at the 18th annual Yankee Sportsman’s Classic. I had decided that it would be an opportune time to bring in the rack from a buck that my great grandfather had harvested in Norton, Vermont, back in 1938. The timing couldn’t have been better, as I would be working at the Pelkey’s Archery booth directly across the aisle from the VBGTC. I planned to just drop it off in the morning and pick it up at the end of the day. This would be easy, or so I thought.

On my way into the facility I ran into Peter Porter, a measurer for the VBGTC. Porter’s eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas and he quickly stated, “I’m measuring this one!” It was 8:30 a.m. and he went right to work measuring and recording while I went back across the aisle to talk with show goers about the new 2010 bowhunting equipment. As I worked, I couldn’t help but notice there always seemed to be a group of onlookers around Porter and the rack. Interest from show participants was growing.

Towards the end of the measurement process Porter had determined that it was, at minimum, a Boone and Crockett-caliber buck. He came across the aisle to get me, and he had also called in Ron Boucher, a master measurer for the VBGTC, as well as an official measurer for the Boone and Crockett Club. As Boucher and Porter discreetly discussed the rack, at no point did either one of them mention any of the actual measurements from the big rack. Boucher examined the rack, reviewed Porter’s measurements, and then pulled me aside away from the crowd. “You’ve got something special here,” Boucher explained to me. “With your permission I’d like to take the rack to one of the side rooms away from all this commotion to measure it.” I willingly agreed to his request and as Boucher disappeared into the crowd with the rack, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Well, this is getting interesting. . . .”

AN UNLIKELY STATE RECORDWhile Boucher was away with the rack, I had a constant flow of people stopping by to ask if I had heard anything about the final score. I was amazed at all of the attention that this Vermont deer was getting. A couple of long hours later Boucher emerged with the rack, but still no news on the results. After another half hour or so of anxious wondering, I decided that I should head across the aisle and see what was going on. As I approached the VBGTC booth I was quickly greeted by Boucher with the words, “We’re close to being able to tell you, but we are going through the math one more time.”

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As I went on my way, allowing the measurers more time, it had still never crossed my mind that my great grandfather could have harvested a potential Vermont state record. The day continued to tick by as I went about my business, occasionally pausing to wonder why I hadn’t heard anything from the VBGTC Measurers. It was nearly 2 p.m. – almost five and a half hours after Peter started measuring – when it happened: As I was talking to an outfitter about a potential future hunt, a friend came up to me and said, “The Foundation is looking for you!” My immediate response was, “The Foundation? What Foundation?” and he quickly explained that the guys from VBGTC were looking for me.

As my friend and I worked our way back through the crowd on our way to the booth, I quizzed him on what he knew. “They’re not telling anyone anything,” he said, “They are just asking to speak with you.” When I got to the booth Boucher pulled me aside and took the time to explain the entire process of what had just transpired, without any specific numbers. He then spoke the words that I will never forget: “I didn’t want anyone else to know until I talked to you, but your great grandfather’s buck is the new State of Vermont non-typical record. It scored 196 5/8.”

I was speechless. I was completely caught off guard, literally without words. I’m quite sure that I didn’t hear – and certainly can’t remember now – much of anything that people said to me after that point. I just kept thinking to myself, “Great grandpa shot a state-record buck hunting out of the family camp!”

THE MILK HOUSEThat day at the show people quickly began to call the deer “The Milk House Buck.” This stemmed from the fact that before the day the rack was entrusted to me it had been stored for years in an old milk house. I choose to call it “The Tice Buck” out of the respect I have for my great grandfather and the hunting tradition in our family. Deer hunting has always been important to the Tice family, a valued tradition and a great part of our family heritage. To think that an unassuming man participating in an annual ritual, a pursuit for which he contained such unrestrained passion, had yielded such a monumental trophy was simply overwhelming, and I couldn’t help but think about the man I’d heard so much about during my lifetime.

My great-grandfather, George Ira Tice, was born January 18, 1899. George was a lifelong resident of Holland, Vermont, a carpenter by trade, a devoted family man and the father of 10 children. George was also a fervent reader and relatives recall seeing George in the living room of his home with his foot up on the marble table reading for hours on end. Yet what people remember most about George is that he was a passionate outdoorsman, with an unquenchable thirst for hunting. He purchased his first hunting license in 1911 at the age of 12 and was so proud of that moment that he saved that license his entire life and is still in the family today.

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George was not a man who was content sitting idly about, waiting for the next deer season. One of his more unique outdoor activities was “bee lining.” When I first heard the expression I was curious as to what this entailed. Bee lining is the practice of catching

wild honeybees and then following them back to their hive. Once the hive is found, it is marked and at the end of the summer the honey and the wax are harvested.

George was also an avid fisherman and enjoyed all types of fishing, his favorite style being brook fishing. The family camp is surrounded by pristine brooks that were then full of native Vermont brook trout. It’s safe to say that while George fished the brooks, he was always thinking about, scouting for and planning for the upcoming deer hunting season.

DEER CAMP TRADITIONThe Tice camp located in Norton, Vermont, started its useful life as a bunkhouse and office for logging crews. When the logging operation abandoned the building in the early 1900s, George turned the building into a hunting camp. In the mid 1940s he added a kitchen area to the camp and the camp has remained unchanged to this day. The Northeast Kingdom is a very rural portion of the state with large tracts of wooded land abundant with spruce and fir trees, cedar swamps, and high ridges of hardwood timber. Most hunters that call these woods home are trackers. The expansive woods and the low concentration of deer require an intimate knowledge of the woods and the deer’s habits. The ability to pick up a track and determine if it is a deer worth following is a crucial skill and a mark of pride.

George was so dedicated to his deer hunting that family members who had the privilege of knowing him cannot remember a time that he missed an entire hunting season at camp and can only recall twice when he left hunting camp before the season’s end. The first time was when he had sent his hunting boots back to L.L. Bean to get re-topped prior to deer season. The boots weren’t back when he left for camp, so part way through the season he had to leave to get his boots. The second time that he left hunting camp was for the birth of his youngest son, Earl.

George’s eldest son, Robert, recalls his father building a two-wheeled cart to pull supplies into camp, as getting to and from camp was not the easiest of chores. There was not always a graveled road that passed by the camp as there is today. Robert cannot remember a time that his father did not go to camp or into the woods without his favorite rifle, a Winchester Model 1907 .351 Self Loader. This is the very gun that George shot “The Tice Buck” with. Robert remembers that when George switched his cartridge loads over to smokeless powder that the gun began to malfunction and would no longer eject the casings. While the family did make an effort to get the rifle repaired, the attempt was unsuccessful and unfortunately this gun is no longer in the family.

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FAMILY HEIRLOOMWhen George harvested the “The Tice Buck” in November of 1938 he was hunting with his friend and hunting partner, Burt Gray. Those who recall George telling the story of the hunt note that he always commented on how deep the snow was that year. George kept the buck’s rack in the living room on a wall between the wood stove and the entrance way and it remained on that wall for the remainder of George’s life, and after his death in 1965, his wife, Ethel, kept the rack in the very spot where George had hung it. When Ethel passed away in 1971, Robert and his wife, Joan, moved the rack to their house in Derby, Vermont. Robert and Joan kept the rack in their basement until lack of space and a repair project required that the rack be moved out of the basement and into the old milk house.

In 2005 while visiting Robert and Joan they bestowed on me one of the greatest honors of my life: they passed on the guardianship of the rack to me.

Over the past five years the rack has been a prominent fixture in my archery room. While working on bows I had often wondered what the rack would score but never could I imagine the recent events.

Robert, Joan, and I are all avid hunters and understand the importance of maintaining and preserving the antlers within the Tice family. Deer hunting is a longstanding tradition in our family and this trophy, a family heirloom, will be a constant reminder of the great hunters that came before us.

A VERMONT RECORDIn the end, the rack earned a gross score of 196 5/8 inches and a net score of 190 6/8 inches. The main beam lengths are 28 3/8 inches on the right and 27 4/8 inches on the left. It has an inside spread of 22 6/8 inches, an amazing outside spread of 29 0/8 inches, along with circumferences as high as 6 1/8 inches. This buck and my great-grandfather will now get the recognition that they both deserve. I have started the recording process for the Boone and Crockett Club, The Northeast Big Bucks Club, and the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club.

I can’t help but wonder how many hunters, in search of their own trophy buck, drove by this rack hanging in an old outbuilding next to a well-traveled state road? The fact that the rack remained unmarred hanging there in an outbuilding, that even the smallest of gnawing creatures might have acknowledged the majesty in the monarch’s crown, I think is remarkable, as is the idea that there were no rumors across the state of the rack and no one other than family and a few close friends even knew of its existence. When I think of these antlers in that little building, a Vermont State record, one word comes to mind: Astonishing!

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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 >>