The author who ignited the King Buck controversy weighs in on Boone & Crockett’s final ruling that the buck is not a world record.
By Duncan Dobie
In May of this year, 25-year Boone and Crockett Club official measurers Ron Boucher of Vermont and Craig Cousins of Wisconsin were dismissed by the B&C Club for publicly endorsing the Johnny King buck as a typical 6×6. Ron Boucher had been petitioning the Club to panel score the King buck for the past few years. In late 2010, as a member of the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club, he had officially measured the rack as a potential typical world record. You might say Craig Cousins was a victim of collateral damage.
Having never seen the King buck or been involved in the debate about its score in any way, Cousins attended the Madison Deer and Turkey Expo in March in his capacity as a 25-year measurer for both B&C and the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club. The rack had been brought to the scoring area at the show by Marlin Laidlaw, a respected measurer with the Buck and Bear Club. Laidlaw, a long-time advocate for the deer being recognized as a typical, was hoping to show the rack to two B&C Club representatives that were also attending the show, Justin Spring and Richard Hale. Up to that time, only one B&C official from the main office had ever seen the rack in person. (Jack Reneau had examined the rack in Pennsylvania back in 2007 and declared the right G-3 to be abnormal, thus starting a firestorm of controversy. Subsequent decisions about the rack and the point in question by members of the records committee were all based on photographs, and photos can be very deceiving.)
As soon as Marlin Laidlaw, Jay Fish and hunter Johnny King heard that representatives from B&C would be attending the Expo, they had high hopes that B&C might be willing to take another look at the rack after a year of heated debate as to whether or not its right G-3 tine was typical or abnormal. They were both disappointed when the two B&C officials refused to discuss the issue in any capacity.
Cousins did look at the rack when it was brought back to the measurer’s section and placed on a table. Later Hale asked him what he thought about it. “It’s a typical 6×6 all the way,” Cousins answered honestly. Within weeks, Cousins was no longer a B&C measurer. During his 25 year career, Cousins had scored over 4,000 animals, mostly whitetails. He had scored over 1,000 whitetails for the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club and had been responsible for having 164 trophy animals entered in the B&C records.
Like so many people who had been involved with Johnny King’s plight before him, Cousins was not about to give up. I interviewed him shortly after he was released from the Club. Amazingly he held no animosity for his sudden dismissal. “The B&C Club is a great organization,” he told me. “I love it and what it stands for. To be a good scorer, you have to have character, desire, interest and the will to serve. I think I was a good scorer, but a man has to stand up for what’s right. Ron Boucher was right on the money. The King buck is typical all the way.”
Cousins later borrowed the King rack from owner Jay Fish. During the summer of 2012, he made a compelling 30-minute Video/DVD outlining in great detail a strong argument for why he thought the King rack was 100 percent typical. His argument was based on rules for scoring whitetails as outlined in the 2000 and 2009 B&C measurer’s manuals. (Go to Deer and Deer Hunting’s web site to see the Cousins video in its entirety.) After his dismissal in May, Ron Boucher had been corresponding with B&C records committee chairman Buck Buckner by mail in his continued efforts to have the Club reconsider the plight of the King buck.
Cousins sent a copy of his well documented video to Jack Reneau and Buck Buckner. Apparently Buckner was impressed enough by the video to show it to the entire rules committee composed of some 32 members. Although the rules committee had voted against having the King buck panel scored on two previous occasions, it now changed its ruling and recommended that the rack be panel scored. That recommendation was then passed up to the executive board. After five years of resisting constant requests to rescore the King buck, the executive board also voted to panel measure the rack.
On August 27, Jay Fish received a letter from Buck Buckner informing him of the Club’s decision to panel score the rack sometime in mid September. The date was later set for Saturday Sept. 22. During several subsequent phone conversations with Jay Fish and Ron Boucher, Buckner assured both men that the rack would be measured by four unbiased scorers and that the process would be fair in every way. Jay agreed to drive the rack to B&C headquarters in Missoula, Montana, for the Sept. 22 scoring.
“From the start, I was concerned that the Club might try to impose some new rules on the King buck that had never been in effect before,” Jay said. “Buckner kept assuring me that the deer would be scored by all rules that were in place as of the time the deer was first scored in early 2007.”
One reason for Jay’s concern regarding any change in rules stemmed from the fact that in the recently published all-time record book, Records of North American Big Game, 13th Edition, a puzzling rule change for scoring whitetail antlers appeared on page 748 in the back of the book along with several drawings. In reference to common base points, it stated: Both points are normal only if they are matched with normal points on the other antler and only if both points are lined up on the outside of the main beam.
“We wanted to make darn sure the rack would be scored by the rules in the 2000 and later revised 2009 measurer’s manuals,” Jay said. “Throughout this controversy, B&C has changed its opinion several times as to why it believed the right G-3 was abnormal, and we certainly didn’t want any surprises at the panel scoring in Missoula.”
“Historically any rule changes have always been made in the updated measurer’s manuals, and never in the all-time record books,” Ron Boucher says. “That’s why it was so strange to see this rule change tucked away in the back of the book, especially after all of the disagreement regarding the King buck that had taken place since 2007. It was almost as though the Club had written-in that new rule specifically to apply to the King buck.”
Jay Fish and Johnny King presented Johnny’s rack to Buck Buckner and Tony Schoonen, B&C chief of staff, at 8:45 a.m. on the morning of Sept 22 in front of B&C headquarters. Jay, his wife and son, Johnny King and Nola Lebrecht had just driven through the previous Thursday night for 25 hours straight to reach Missoula by Friday afternoon.
“We talked a little very amicably and I asked Buckner what the ground rules for the scoring were going to be,” Jay said. “Buckner replied that the rules in the scorer’s manual would be used. Then he added there might be other rules that weren’t in the manual.”
“What are you talking about?” Jay asked.
Buckner mentioned the rule changes in the 13th edition of the record book.
“But those rules weren’t in effect in 2007 when the King buck was originally scored,” Jay argued.
Buckner insisted that B&C had been using those rules since 2000.
Jay pulled out a copy of the 2000 measurer’s manual. “They’re no such rule changes in this book,” he told Buckner.
Buckner replied that the Club hadn’t had time to put the new rules in the 2000 measurer’s manual. But he insisted they had been in use for that long.
Jay pulled out a copy of the revised 2009 measurer’s manual. “They’re not in here either,” he stated.
Buckner had no reply. He finally said he wasn’t sure which rules would be applied. Then he added that every new measurer that had gone through measuring school since 2000 had been taught the new rule. (Note: Later on, Jay Fish and Ron Boucher called a number of highly respected official B&C measurers around the country and in Canada. To the man, each measurer stated he had never heard of any new rules and they had not been taught in any scoring schools since 2000.
Jay had prepared a short letter for all parties to sign stating that the rack would be scored by all rules in effect as of the 2000 measurer’s manual.
“I felt like if Buckner was sincere in saying the deer would be scored as fairly as possible it wouldn’t be too much to ask him to put it in writing. We took the rack inside the building and talked to Tony while Buckner went to show the letter to some other B&C officials. When he returned, he said, ‘I’m not going to sign this letter.’
“We just want to know what rules we will be going by,” Jay said again.
“I’m not going to sign it,” Buckner repeated. “I’ll call this whole thing off right now if you want me to.”
“I wasn’t about to call it off at this point,” Jay said. “So I told Buckner we would not accept any ruling based on rules made after 2000, and told him to go ahead with the scoring.”
Around 1:30, Jay received a call that the panel had finished scoring the deer. Jay and Johnny King went back to B&C headquarters and sat down with Buck Buckner and Tony Schoonen in a conference room.
“We scored the rack as a typical with two non-typical points,” Buckner told Jay. “It scored 180 as a typical and 217 as a non-typical.”
The score sheet was on the table but it turned face down. Jay and Johnny never saw the figures.
As stated in B&C’s press release posted a short time later: The panel determined the third tine on the right antler arises from the inside edge of the top of the main beam, and also arises partially from the base of an adjoining point, thus establishing it as an abnormal point. With this confirmation, two of the rack’s tines must be classified as abnormal points resulting in an entry score well below the current World’s Record.
Was the panel fair and unbiased as Buck Buckner had promised? Let’s examine the facts as objectively as possible.
“Buckner assured me on the phone that he was going to appoint four unbiased scorers to make it as fair as possible,” Ron Boucher stated. “He didn’t stick to those words. Of the four measurers he chose, two of them – Paul Webster of Wayzata, Minnesota (former president of the B&C Club), and Fred King of Bozeman, Montana – were on the records committee both times the King buck had come up for a vote in the past. And both times they had voted against the deer. They were biased to start with so how can you call that fair?”
The two other panel measurers were Victor Clark of Reno, Nevada, and Larry Cary, of Spokane, Washington.
“All four panel measurers are veteran B&C scorers and have impeccable credentials,” Ron continued. “They’ve each served on a number of panels in the past and I’ve served on previous panels with all of them. They are great men with the highest integrity. Yet I’ll never be able to understand how they came up with the ruling they did.
“Why have rules in the measurer’s manual if you’re not going to follow them? The G-2 and the G-3 points definitely do not intersect, partially or otherwise, we’ve proven that numerous times, and the G-3 does not grow to the inside of the main beam. We’ve also proven that. This is the weakest argument they could have made, yet the Club seems determined to twist and bend their own rules to fit their agenda. This whole unfortunate controversy boils down to one thing: Jack Reneau made a mistake six years ago and the club absolutely refuses to admit that mistake. I feel bad for Johnny King, Jack Reneau and the B&C Club. This thing has damaged the Club’s reputation tremendously.
“Another thing: The B&C rule book clearly states that a measurer cannot serve on a panel more than three times during his career. This was the sixth time that Fred King had served on a panel. Because of the fact that he had voted against the King buck twice before and the fact that he had already served on five previous panels, he should have never been appointed to serve on that panel.”
Was it a fair panel? There is no question that all four of these men have been fiercely loyal to Jack Reneau and have had close ties to the B&C Club hierarchy for many years. It’s also interesting to note that three of these men are from the west. There are dozens of highly capable scorers in the east and Midwest who deal with whitetails almost on a daily basis. Why weren’t one these measurers chosen?
Journalism Vs. Sensationalism
When Dan Schmidt, editor of Deer and Deer Hunting, first learned that the King buck was to be panel scored, he called Buck Buckner and asked him if a representative from the magazine could be present at the scoring. Buckner told him no, saying that it was going to be a very private affair with no press present. Buckner assured him that the press would be duly informed about the outcome.
When Jay Fish and Johnny King arrived in Missoula for the scoring, they were surprised to see representatives from Outdoor Life and Field & Stream at B&C headquarters. Shortly after the King buck was panel scored, an article with photos appeared on Outdoor Life’s web site written by P.J. DelHomme. The article was highly slanted against Jay Fish and made disparaging remarks about him. It also made several erroneous statements. DelHomme would have done well to check his facts before writing such a story.
In his story DelHomme says, “After King killed the buck, he had a B&C measurer examine it, not because of the questionable tine, but because a bullet from his hunt had hit the base of the rack. When King went to drag the buck, the antler came clean off. Not getting a clear answer, King met with Jack Reneau who said the deer could be scored with the broken antler, but the right tine could not be scored as a typical point.”
Contrary to DelHomme’s statement, after KIng shot his buck, he was encouraged by many people to get it officially measured. Like many hunters, King knew next to nothing about B&C scores or record deer. But at the urging of many people he did take the rack to official Wisconsin B&C measurer John Ramsey, and Ramsey came up with an astounding score of 218 4/8 net typical B&C points (225 7/8 gross). Ramsey told King that his buck had a potential world record score, but the question of the broken main beam had to be resolved by B&C before the entry score could officially be processed. Johnny King later met with Jack Reneau to address that problem, and it was at that time that Reneau informed him that the right G-3 was an abnormal point. Ramsey was instructed to change his score to reflect Reneau’s ruling, thus giving the deer a score of 180 inches instead of 218.
In his story, DelHomme stated, “Fish reportedly bought the buck from King for $35,000 — thinking it would be a new world’s record. But that gamble didn’t pay off.”
Contrary to the image that B&C and now Outdoor Life have tried to portray of Jay Fish as being one of those less-than-human antler collectors and money grubbers who is only in it for financial gain, Jay is a hard-working taxidermist, sportsman and deer hunter who loves to take his son hunting and who happens to have a passion for big antlers. Buying the King rack was never a gamble. Jay may be a lot of things but he’s not stupid. For him, as well as for passionate antler collectors everywhere, buying the King rack was like buying a one-of-a-kind piece of fine art.
The first time he ever saw the King rack at the Madison Deer and Turkey Expo in 2007, he fell in love with it. He told Johnny “I’m going to buy those antlers from you some day.” And he did – two years later. He also bought the deer’s sheds. At the time he bought the antlers, he promised Johnny that he would continue fighting for the deer, since in his opinion and the opinions of dozens of other knowledgeable people the scoring of the deer had been grossly mishandled.
In his story, DelHomme described Jay Fish as “red faced and angry and not a happy camper” after the final score was announced. DelHomme wrote, “Fish refused to speak with me, and with a huff, his entourage was out the door.”
The reason Jay refused to speak with DelHomme is because he felt like he had been grossly wronged. No media was to be allowed, yet here was Outdoor Life wanting a statement. Jay had contacted Outdoor Life several times in the past about the plight of the King buck and the magazine had never shown any interest in getting his side of the story. Jay later learned that Outdoor Life had posted a story on its website the day before the panel scoring saying something to the effect, “Stay tuned. We’ll having breaking news on the King buck tomorrow.”
Outdoor Life was very obviously playing favorites with B&C and vice-versa, and this is very disappointing. It’s also highly unethical. So typical of the mainstream media these days in national and political affairs, this is not journalism; it’s National-Enquirer-style sensationalist at its very worst. You expect this type of shoddy journalism from the mainstream media, but not from a legendary publication like Outdoor Life.
There is also a question about photo rights. Dave Hurteau of Field & Stream posted a 15-photo series on the Field & Stream website outlining in detail B&C’s argument as to why the G-3 is abnormal. These photos were apparently taken as the rack was being scored. This is certainly a violation of previous B&C rules, and Jay Fish did not give anyone permission to use private photos regarding a private panel scoring session with his rack. The panel scoring should have been between him and the Boone and Crockett Club, and no photos should have been released to anyone without his permission.
The character assassination of Jay Fish, Johnny King and Ron Boucher by various B&C officials and now by Outdoor Life and Field& Stream is inexcusable. Outdoor Life certainly made no effort to get both sides of the story.
“Technically it was not a legitimate panel anyway since three out of the four measurers had served on at least three panels previously,” Ron Boucher says. “What’s more, Jay Fish asked Buck Buckner if the panel was going to use the John Ramsey score sheet as a starting point for its panel session and Buckner didn’t even know who John Ramsey was. B&C certainly had no intention of using Ramsey’s score sheet although long-time protocol has always dictated that the entry score be used as a starting point.
“Here’s the bottom line: Today’s deer aren’t changing as Buck Buckner mentioned in his statement to Outdoor Life. B&C is changing by manipulating the rules and imposing new standards. The King buck is as normal a deer as any 6×6 typical buck taken in the last 100 years. God intended for that right G-3 point to be a typical point. That’s the way it grows. It just happens to be a little shorter than its match on the other side. It may not be as perfect as its match, but it is typical nonetheless. It’s easy to call that point a typical point and that’s why so many measurers do. You really have to stretch the envelope and look for excuses to call it abnormal.”
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