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Adventures from the Archives - Mel Johnson’s World’s Record Archery Whitetail

Illinois 1965

By PJ DelHomme 

Armed with a crewcut, a plaid coat, and a recurve, Mel Johnson hunkered down in a homemade ground blind on the edge of a soybean field hoping to get a shot at a big buck he’d seen cruising the area. When he released the string, that shot vaulted him straight into the record books with an outstanding whitetail, earning him the Pope and Young Club’s Ishi Award and the Boone and Crockett Club’s Sagamore Hill Award


During Illinois’ hunting season in 1965, 35-year-old Mel Johnson was a man on a mission. He had seen a large buck since the season opener but had no luck catching up to it. Then, on Friday, October 29, 1965, Johnson’s luck would change.

His target buck had been consistently using a brushy fencerow along a soybean field less than 20 minutes from downtown Peoria near the busy Route 88. Johnson and his hunting buddy Bill Kallister had spotted the deer multiple times there the previous season, too. This year they got permission to hunt the property, hopeful they could eventually get a shot.

As the sun approached the horizon, Johnson settled into a makeshift ground blind, concealing along the crop field's edge. The wind was blowing perfectly in his face from the direction of the nearby woodlot where the buck was known to bed. All he could do now was wait and hope that the big buck would make a rut-crazed mistake.

"The buck cautiously made his way along the field's edge, stopping to check for danger from time to time," Johnson later recalled for Deer and Deer Hunting. "The wind was still in my favor as he moved nearer."

Johnson's hands shook as he watched the buck through the narrow shooting window. The old buck had a swagger to it—like old bucks tend to do.

"After what seemed to be an entire deer season, the big whitetail was directly in front of me, and my heart almost stopped as he turned and stared right through me," Johnson remembered. "But a moment later, he casually turned his massive head and walked on." When the deer was within 20 yards, they locked eyes. Johnson held still, barely breathing.

"One step. Two steps," he would later recount. "In one continuous motion, I rose slightly, came to full draw, and released my arrow."

The shot sent the deer bounding toward the middle of the open field. "It sliced through his middle, and he jumped forward," said Johnson. There was a slight rise in the bean field, and I lost sight of him as he bounded over it."

Johnson waited and soon found the blood trail. Just beyond the rise, Johnson saw the buck in his final moments.

"It was just luck. That's what it amounts to," Johnson recalled in and article for Legendary Whitetails. "I guess the whole thing is being able to hold your composure when you get such an opportunity. That's the difference between getting a big deer and not getting one." After failed attempts to drag the 340-pound beast solo, a local farmer helped load it onto the top of Johnson's car.

Scoring Error Equals a World’s Record

Johnson knew his deer was big, and he bought a book on measuring to see just how big the deer was. “Back then, little was mentioned about trophy racks,” he recalled. “I found out about Boone and Crockett through a clipping in a magazine. I wrote to them, and they sent me the name of the only official measurer in the state, a man at the Museum of Natural History in Chicago.”

Upon having the buck's unique 13-point rack officially measured, an error initially underscored its final tally by several inches. However, Johnson suspected the score was too low based on his own math. Challenging the official measurement, his gut instinct paid off when a Boone and Crockett Club Judges Panel reviewed the entry and updated the final score to 204-4/8 points.


The score vaulted his buck to World’s Record status for typical whitetail deer in both the Boone and Crockett Records and Pope and Young (P&Y) Records. Johnson’s hunt earned him the P&Y Club’s Ishi Award and the Boone and Crockett Club’s Sagamore Hill Award. His deer still reigns supreme in P&Y’s records, but his buck only held the top spot a few years at B&C. At a garage sale in Sandstone, Minnesota, Robert Ludwig paid $3 for a giant deer rack. In 1971, he had it scored by Boone and Crockett Club measurers who scored it 206-1/8 points.

Johnson traded the buck for a dozen arrow that “weren’t even good arrows.” The buck’s image was put on t-shirts, ties, comforters, and the list goes on. Replicas sold for thousands of dollars. Painters used the buck in their work, sculptors, too. Today, the buck is owned by Bass Pro Shops, along with the Jordan buck and four other top 10 All-time typical whitetails.

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal


#7 Typical Whitetail of

SCORE: 204-4/8 B&C points

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About Adventures from the Archives

The Boone and Crockett Club’s records contain more than 70,000 big game entries, from musk ox to mule deer. Among those entries are more than a few stories of adventures afield. To celebrate those trophies, their habitat, and the hunter, we’re bringing those stories back to life with each installment of Boone and Crockett’s Adventures from the Archives.

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