Oregon’s ‘Newest’ Record Columbia Blacktail
Oregon’s 19th Century Trophy Blacktail
Roseburg resident Dave Heffner has been trained and certified as an official scorer for both Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young. Because of his passion for hunting, he volunteers to measure the hard earned trophies of Oregon hunters, by working at the yearly Sportsman’s shows in Eugene, Roseburg and Medford. February 2009 found him in Eugene, meeting with the proud owners of big game trophies, covering the spectrum from forked horn deer, to trophy sized Rocky Mountain elk and bleached white bear and cougar skulls.
Busily working to finish scoring the antlers in his hands, Dave hardly noticed the approach of a man carrying a mounted deer head and horns. Although he’d barely glanced at the man, something in the back of his mind gnawed on him to look up. When he did, he could scarcely believe his eyes. Standing before him was Bob Suttles, holding what might have been the largest blacktail buck Dave had ever seen. For a brief second he thought, “I didn’t know they came that big.”
Mr. Suttles’ blacktail deer had eight points on the right side and twelve on the left. After deductions the rack officially scored 195-6/8 inches, making it the second largest non-typical blacktail buck recorded in the Record Book for Oregon’s Big Game Animals. The largest buck on record has a score of 208-1/8 inches and the antlers of the buck holding the #3 position measure 184-2/8. These two bucks were respectively harvested in 1962 and 1953, a fact that brings us to the rest of the story.
Bob Suttles is not the hunter who brought this deer from the woods of western Oregon. Truth be told, Mr. Suttles was not yet born when this exceptional buck was ‘first’ taken to a taxidermist. Grover Cleveland was President of the United States when a lucky Oregon hunter harvested this deer in the fall of 1895! Upon learning this, Dave telephoned me and we made arrangements to meet with Mr. Suttles.
This awesome buck was given to Bob Suttles by a coworker in 1985. The buck had been relegated to the friend’s garage and was destined for a Lane County landfill. Bob took it home so it could be enjoyed by his sons, both of whom were active hunters. Understandably the head-mount was in poor condition after ninety years. So, much to the chagrin of his wife, Lori, the nearly one-hundred year old deer mount found a home above the fireplace in their home. The boys thought it was “way cool”.
As the story goes, this buck was taken in the Alsea Unit about fourteen miles west of the community of Alpine, Oregon, about thirty minutes west of I-5. The right antler still holds a steel cable, secured to it by a state employee one year before Henry Ford invented his first automobile (the eight years before the Wright brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk.
In 1995 Bob learned his coworkers were having a big buck contest. Knowing what the result would be, he took his deer to work. He told me everyone asked him what the buck’s antlers scored, but he had no idea. In 1996 Bob took the buck to the Eugene Sportsman show and it was measured by J.D. Gore. Bob said no one really made a fuss about the deer, so he took it home and returned the deer to its honored position in the living room. It remained there until the year 2000, when he took it to Adams Taxidermy in Eugene.
The original mold for the head mount was made of wood, plaster and square nails. Over time the hide and mold had deteriorated, leaving the buck looking less than majestic to say the least. Bob’s family wanted to treat this great animal with the respect it deserved. Placed onto a modern form and fitted with a new cape, the deer looks great. You would never guess the deer was taken in the 19th Century and remounted in the 21st. Mother Nature builds antlers to last. Perhaps this buck will remain in the family and Bob’s great, great grandchild will proudly display it in their home in the next century.
When local advertising began for the 2009 Eugene Sportsman show, Bob’s son-in-law, Chris Travis, initiated a campaign to persuade Bob to enter his buck into the show’s head and horns competition. Chris’ persistence paid off and on Sunday afternoon Bob found himself trekking across the parking lot of the expo center, packing the immensely awkward deer mount. Unfortunately, Bob arrived past the closing time for the 2009 competition, but not too late for official measurer Dave Heffner to instantly recognize a world class set of antlers.
After photographing the deer at Bob’s home, I sent pictures of the cable secured to the deer’s antler to Tod Lum, a biologist with Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, working in the Roseburg office. Tod told me that ODF&W did check deer in the late 1800’s and said they often secured this type of cable to antlers. Unfortunately, the tag on this deer did not have a number engraved in the steel, making it unidentifiable.
In addition to telling him the year this deer was taken, Bob’s friend had told him the buck was shot with a rifle, and said the hunter was a man named James Ball. Tod Lum was unable to find the department’s paper files from so long ago. Without the ability to check state records, I am unable to confirm the tale of this deer’s demise. But likewise, I cannot disprove it. The year of this buck’s death is not a critical component to securing a place in the records of big game animals. The antlers of this incredible Oregon trophy speak for themselves.
I spent several hours with Bob Suttles. For him, the most important thing is that the deer be treated with respect. He told me his children had grown up with this deer in their home, and it has become an irreplaceable possession. For generations to come, members of his family will hear the story of his saving this trophy from a less than honorable grave in a landfill. I came away with one certainty; this deer will undoubtedly outlast us all.
Note: I have heard of a new world record blacktail buck that may come forward this year. This buck has an incredible score of 213-5/8 inches! I have yet to see any official notice of this deer.
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