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Jerry Bryant’s 37-pointer

November 15, 2001

Illinois Outdoors

Trophy Tidbits

Scorable Points: 37

Kill Date: Nov. 15, 2001

County: Fulton

Season: Bow

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was published Dec. 22, 2002 in the Peoria Journal Star

Jerry Bryant set out hoping to shoot his first wild turkey with a crossbow.

Little did the Peoria resident know he’d wind up instead with a whitetail deer that would turn his life upside down. The 37-point buck Bryant killed in Fulton County on Nov. 15, 2001, is a state record and one of the largest of its type ever scored in North America.

(Initially scored at 291 1/8 inches, Bryant’s buck soared to 304 3/8 inches after review by a panel of Boone & Crockett scorers).

Not surprisingly, a deer that big demands attention. Not all the interest, however, is enjoyable.

As word of his trophy deer spread, Bryant had friends pull him in all directions - some who proved less selfless than others. He had difficulty insuring the rack, since valuing deer antlers is difficult. He experienced stress similar to that he felt prior to a 1997 heart attack. Finally Bryant was even sued by his ex-wife, who unsuccessfully sought half of a perceived payoff.

Whether a payoff materializes remains to be seen. While some believe Bryant’s deer could fetch almost six figures from a collector, he has received no firm offers and has no plans to sell the buck.

‘‘Believe me,’’ said Bryant, a retired Caterpillar millwright, ‘‘when you kill a deer this big it’s hard to know what to do, who to believe and who to turn to. You can’t believe the propaganda involved.’’

That’s why you’ve heard so little about Bryant and his deer, a whitetail some have tabbed the ‘‘Mystery Buck.’’ Normally a buck of this magnitude would already have been featured on the cover of numerous hunting publications. Normally Bryant might have earned an endorsement deal or two.

Instead, the only published stories about Bryant’s buck appeared in the Journal Star last May. The only pictures are copies you can find in the wallets of some local hunters or on obscure Internet sites. And the only money that’s changed hands is what Bryant paid to lawyers or taxidermists.

‘‘I’ve spent some money to have replicas made,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘But no, there hasn’t been a dime made on the deer.’’

Now with personal and legal disputes behind him, Bryant is eager to spread the word about his massive buck.

‘‘It’s the deer that’s the story, not me,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘People want to shake your hand and take your picture. They act like you’re some kind of celebrity. They should be looking at the deer, not at me.’’

A chance for the public to do just that may come Jan. 10-12 at the Peoria Civic Center during the Gone Fishin’ Expo. If not there, Bryant said his buck will definitely be at the Feb. 21-23 Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic in Bloomington.

‘‘The people of Illinois want to see this deer and they will,’’ he said. ‘‘It really is a beautiful animal.’’ Illinois Outdoors

While he’s had time to reach that conclusion over the past 13 months, Bryant’s first look at the buck was brief. After reaching his stand at 3:15 p.m. he waited eagerly for a chance to take his first wild turkey with a crossbow.

Bryant, 57, hunts with a crossbow due to surgery in 1990 to repair torn ligaments in his right shoulder and right arm.

Before long five turkeys walked into sight and Bryant readied his crossbow. His movement spooked the birds, though. Momentarily disappointed, he called a friend on a two-way radio.

Seconds after he finished talking a big doe walked down a hill and stopped 15 yards from Bryant’s stand. Bryant put the crosshairs of his crossbow on her shoulder. As he pondered whether to shoot, the doe suddenly bolted.

‘‘Right after that I heard a crash and a boom. It sounded like a D9 Cat was coming through the brush,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘The buck came through the trees and went right up to the spot where she had been and started sniffing.’’

Given only a side view, Bryant could not tell the buck had a massive rack. All he knew was it satisfied the landowner’s requirement to shoot only bucks with at least four points on a side and a rack wider than their ears.

‘‘It was instinct from then on. He stopped at the opening and I pulled the trigger,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘At first I thought I missed him because he stamped the ground and his head went up and down.’’

But Bryant’s aim was true. The buck dropped on the spot.

‘‘I didn’t have a chance to get buck fever,’’ said Bryant, who has shot six deer in 10 years of hunting. ‘‘I guarantee you I probably would have had a problem killing that deer if he had paraded around for half an hour and I’d got a good look at him. Then I might have got buck fever.’’

Instead Bryant had a buck. The time was 4:31 p.m. Bryant’s life was about to change dramatically - not that he could have guessed that after leaving his stand and examining the deer.

‘‘I still didn’t know it was any kind of record,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘I just knew it was a big deer with the biggest rack I’d ever seen.’’

Only later did Bryant learn his deer would surpass Richard Pauli’s non-typical Illinois state record, a mark that has stood since Pauli shot his Peoria County buck in 1983. Only later did Bryant learn his deer ranked fourth all-time in North America.

Only now is Bryant ready to tell his story.

Illinois Outdoors


World-class whitetail awes admirers

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was published May 12, 2002 in the Peoria Journal Star.

Word of a huge whitetail deer killed by Peoria crossbow hunter Jerry Bryant last fall has elicited a variety of comments from area hunters.

Most profess awe for the 37-point Fulton County buck, whose rack was measured at 291 1/8 inches and could rank among the top five non-typical whitetails ever scored in North America.

‘‘This deer could carry a crown on its head,’’ said taxidermist Ron Meinders of Bartonville. ‘‘When I first looked at the deer I was just awed.’’

But another common query is how and why Bryant kept news of the world-class deer so quiet, since big-buck stories typically travel faster than the U.S. mail.

‘‘He asked me to keep it quiet and I did,’’ Meinders said. ‘‘But it was sure hard.’’

Among those curious about Bryant’s deer was local conservation police officer Jeff Baile, who saw the buck during a routine inspection of Meinders’ shop.

‘‘Sometimes you wonder when things are kept quiet, but I was real happy to see everything was on the up and up,’’ Baile said.

That’s significant, because in 1999 the Department of Natural Resources required all crossbow hunters to re-apply for permits.

‘‘At that time there were roughly 10,000 permits issued, and currently there are about 5,000,’’ said Brian Clark of the DNR’s office of law enforcement. ‘‘Permits are issued by an application that is filled out by a physician indicating the applicant has a permanent disability that renders him unable to use a conventional bow and arrow.’’

A retired Caterpillar employee, Bryant, 57, has a valid permit. As a result, he also has an impressive deer sure to grab national headlines.

Bryant’s buck had an inside spread of 23 1/8 inches, main beams that measured 27 4/8 and 27 5/8 inches and 106 1/8 inches of non-typical points.

‘‘When you view it there are points everywhere,’’ Baile said. ‘‘It looks like a sticker bush.’’

Added Meinders, ‘‘There’s one (antler diameter) on the right side over 8 inches. And the eye guard on the left side is like a caribou shovel.’’

Bryant is expected to unveil his deer at an upcoming press conference.

Whitetail will be a conversation piece

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was published May 10, 2002 in the Peoria Journal Star.

Ready or not, Jerry Bryant of Peoria is on the verge of becoming a national figure.

In the next few weeks Bryant - a retired Caterpillar Inc. worker - will become a hot commodity with reporters, collectors and manufacturers across the country.

The source of that instant interest? One whitetail deer. Or more accurately, one massive, near-record, extremely valuable whitetail deer.

Hunting with his crossbow last Nov. 15 in Fulton County, Bryant, 57, shot a whitetail buck most hunters could scarcely dream about. The deer’s massive rack weighed 91/2 pounds and had 36 scorable points.

According to the Boone and Crockett Club, official scorer Tim Walmsley of Fowler measured the non-typical set of antlers at 291 1/8 inches. That places Bryant’s deer among the top five non-typical bucks ever recorded.

Deer scored as typical have antlers that are basically symmetrical. Non-typical racks often feature wild combinations of antler points here, there and everywhere.

That’s certainly true of Bryant’s buck, whose 36 points include an unusual scoop-shaped growth described as comparable to a caribou antler.

‘‘It’s the biggest deer I’ve ever seen,’’ said Celeste Pollack, who checked the buck at Wolf Hollow Archery in Rome. ‘‘It’s something you don’t get to see every day. Really you don’t get to see it every lifetime.’’

Indeed, only four deer have been scored larger and one of those has not yet been accepted by Boone and Crockett - a Montana-based organization that has kept records of native North American big-game animals since 1932.

Because of the money and prestige involved, large deer like Bryant’s must be measured by a panel of scorers before Boone and Crockett will officially accept them. The next panel-scoring gathering is in 2004 in Madison, Wis.

The largest non-typical on record was found dead in Missouri in 1981 and scored 333 7/8. The largest non-typical killed by a hunter was shot by Tony Fulton in Mississippi in 1995 and measured 295 5/8.

Given that elite company, it’s perhaps understandable Bryant has been unwilling to talk about his deer - which should be worth more than $100,000 when all is said and done.

But the Peoria hunter plans to tell his story soon at a yet-to-be scheduled news conference. That event is sure to draw a horde of reporters and hunting-product manufacturers.

Before long, we’ll undoubtedly know what type of crossbow Bryant was using on his fateful hunt, what camouflage pattern he was wearing and possibly even what boots carried him into the timber.

We’ll also know more specifics about the deer, which had a 23-inch inside spread between main beams. And we’ll know more about Bryant, who was required to have a special state permit in order to hunt with a crossbow.

In time, Bryant should become a part of Illinois hunting history and join two other local deer-hunting legends.

Richard Pauli of Dunlap holds the current Illinois non-typical record for a 263 7/8-inch Peoria County buck he shot in 1983. And Mel Johnson of Metamora owns the world archery record for a 13-point typical buck that scored 204 4/8 in 1965.

Illinois Outdoors

Bernie Smith (left) and Doug Wenger show three of the Bryant Giant’s sheds, which were found not far from where the deer later was shot. Only after bagging the monster did Jerry learn the sheds existed. Photo by Ron Meinders.

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