How Minnesota lost the whitetail record
By Ron Schara
Host of ESPN2's Backroads with Ron & Raven
The Jordan buck mount is now owned by Legendary Whitetails, a collection of many trophy whitetails.
If you hunted deer east of Hinckley, Minn., over the last 30 years, you probably heard of Jim Jordan.
He had a reputation as a deer hunter. He collected antlers. And during Minnesota's deer season, Jordan and his wife used to house and feed deer hunters along the St. Croix River. Young hunters were impressed with Jordan's deer hunting stories. But the old man often backed his tales by being the first to bring home the venison or by waylaying the season's largest buck.
Jordan wasn't a braggart to those who knew him. He was a man who had honed his deer-hunting skills and enjoyed the attention. For years, Jordan told his hunting companions of the big buck he shot in 1914. It was the largest he had ever seen.
Sure, Jim, sure. A little exaggeration never hurt any deer story. Friends and companions listened to his big deer story. But few took his big buck boast seriously.
Until fate arrived in the autumn of 1977.
As an outdoor columnist for the Minneapolis Tribune, I was browsing one day through the latest edition of the Boone and Crockett Big Game Record Book. Since Minnesota's deer season was about to open, I was curious about the present world-record whitetail because it's every deer hunter's fantasy.
Finding the whitetail listing for typical bucks, I was surprised to learn the No. 1 head was credited to Minnesota. But the hunter was listed as unknown and the date of kill also was missing.
My imagination took off.
Gee, I wondered, did the hunter ever know he shot the largest buck in hunting history? How did it happen? Or, was the world's largest whitetail hit by a car?
The plot thickens
I called the Boone and Crockett office and the plot thickened. I learned the world record head was listed as a Minnesota deer, because it was found in Minnesota in 1964 by a fella named Robert Ludwig.
The lore of the Jordan buck continues in this re-creation of it on the hoof, available through EDITED
I tracked down Ludwig, who worked as a forester for the state Department of Natural Resources. Ludwig was an antler collector who bought the antlers at a rummage sale in Sandstone, Minn. Ludwig paid $3 for the head.
Curious about the size, Ludwig had the head measured by the Minnesota Boone and Crockett representative, Bernie Fashingbauer. Lo and behold, Fashingbauer's measurements showed it was the world record. The head was sent to Boone and Crockett headquarters in New York and re-measured. Lo and behold, it WAS the world record.
Did Ludwig still have the head, I asked?
No, he replied. A New Hampshire dentist, Charles Arnold, who also was an antler collector, finally gave Ludwig an offer he couldn't refuse. He sold the world record antlers for $1,500.
I tracked down Dr. Arnold and he confirmed the story. At that moment, he said, the set of deer antlers was locked in a vault in his home. Would he let Minnesotans see the head? Yes, he'd consider that. I called Roger Holmes, Minnesota's wildlife chief. Yes, he'd love to display the Minnesota-grown world record whitetail.
But Minnesota never got the chance to brag.
The intriguing tale of the world record antlers — going from a $3 rummage sale head to a record class with a hefty price tag — made an interesting column, I figured.
But we still didn't know who the lucky hunter was, I wrote. And I wondered again who it might be and what a shame if there was no hunter's name to go with the biggest buck in the world.
In the hunter's own words
The next day my phone rang.
A reader called with a story tip. "I think I might know who the hunter was who shot that deer," he said. "He lives near the St. Croix River east of Hinckley. His name is Jim Jordan."
I wrote down the name. Hmmm, another column, I thought. I decided to go see this fella named Jordan.
A frail and elderly man, Jordan welcomed his visitor and showed off his antler collection nailed to the walls of his home. Despite his age, Jordan seemed able to recollect the story behind every set of antlers.
But what's this about a world record, I asked.
“ I think I might know who the hunter was who shot that deer. ”
— A reader who phoned in a tip
Jordan told his story. He described his hunt on that morning in 1914 along the Yellow River south of Danbury, Wis. He was 22 years old and hunting with his unusual rifle, a .25-35 caliber.
He told of shooting a doe and having a companion, Egus Davis, agree to haul the doe back to the farm by horse and wagon. Jordan kept hunting and crossed the tracks of a large deer. He followed the trail and eventually jumped the buck along with other does who were bedded along the Soo Line Railroad right-of-way.
The buck jumped. Jordan emptied his rifle. The buck was hit but kept running. Jordan followed the blood trail and eventually caught up with the huge deer on the banks of the Yellow River. With one bullet left, Jordan fired the fatal shot. The buck collapsed and flopped into the river. The current pushed it up against a huge boulder. Hours later, Jordan and others returned to haul the buck to the farm.
It was huge. And the word spread. A taxidermist, George Van Castle, stopped by and offered to mount the head for $5. Jordan agreed and Van Castle hauled the deer's head to Webster, Wis.
It was the last time Jordan would see his deer for more than a half century.
Unbeknown to Jordan, the taxidermist, Van Castle, decided to move to Hinckley, Minn. When Jordan did find out, the trip to Hinckley was long as there was no nearby bridge to cross the St. Croix. More years passed.
Finally, Jordan did get to Hinckley only to discover that Van Castle had moved to Florida. There was no sign of the giant buck and Jordan gave up hope.
Decades passed. Then, the Sandstone rummage sale was held. Ludwig bought the head and decided to show his find to a distant relative, a man who also collected antlers and who'd appreciate the massive set.
That distant relative was Jordan.
When Jordan saw the head, he was awestruck. It was his missing trophy, the buck he killed in 1914. Obviously Ludwig didn't want to believe him. So many years had gone by, most of the witnesses who saw Jordan's deer were dead.
I wrote about Jordan's story. Was he telling the truth or wasn't he? I told readers they could decide for themselves. Me? I believed him. Jordan was a man with an honest face.
Now Fashingbauer and other Boone and Crockett officials also were curious. Was this the man who bagged the world record whitetail?
Fashingbauer agreed to conduct his own investigation. He also visited Jordan and listened to his story. He went to the Yellow River. Yes, that big boulder was still there. He found evidence that, indeed, the taxidermist, Van Castle, had existed and had moved away. Jordan's story was plausible.
Finally, late in 1978, a select Boone and Crockett Committee heard the evidence and decided Jim Jordan was telling the truth. He shot the world record. In Wisconsin.
The sad story got sadder, however.
Two months before Jim Jordan's name went into the world record book, the world's greatest deer hunter died at the age of 86.
Edited by USPENAMC (07/31/08 02:35 AM)