On Friday, Oct. 29, 1965, Melvin J. Johnson was bow-hunting a soybean field 20 minutes from downtown Peoria, Ill., near Route 88. Mel had spotted a large buck on two previous occasions from his two tree stands along the field, but both times the buck remained out of range.
On this particular sunny day he decided to rely on a whim. Instead on going to one of his tree stands, Johnson built a quick ground blind in a brushy area with the wind in his face going in the direction of the woodlot. He hardly got into the ready position with his 72-pound Howett recurve when he spotted the buck in the beanfield 300 yards away.
“The buck cautiously made his way along the field’s edge, stopping to check for danger from time to time,” Johnson recalled. “The wind was still in my favor as he moved nearer. 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. But a moment later, he casually turned his massive head and walked on.
“One step. Two steps. In one continuous motion I rose slightly, came to full draw, and released my arrow. It sliced through his middle and he jumped forward, running toward the center of the field. There was a slight rise in the bean field, and I lost sight of him as he bounded over it. I automatically nocked another arrow. When I looked up he was standing near the rise, looking back in my direction. Then he turned and disappeared again.”
The camouflaged deerstalker retrieved his 29½-inch fiberglass arrow from the ground. The smeared blood on the shaft and fletchings indicated the Zwicky broadhead passed through the chest cavity. He took a few more steps and found the buck lying just beyond the rise. The arrow had passed through both lungs.
The buck later became the undisputed world record typical for archery. The legendary 13-pointer scored 204-4/8 in the Pope & Young typical category. It sported a 23?-inch inside spread, with basal circumferences of 6? and 62/8 inches. Three tines are 12 inches long. It weighed 270 pounds dressed and close to 340 pounds on the hoof. This Prairie State giant was certified at the 12th Competition at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh in 1966.
Forty-four years later, the Johnson buck is still at the top of the P&Y list, in addition to being the fourth-largest typical taken by a deer hunter — gun or bow. The Johnson Buck remains the only North American big-game animal to receive both the Sagamore Hill and Ishi Awards — the highest honors bestowed by the Boone & Crockett Club and the Pope & Young Club.
Johnson expressed humility in an interview with Prairie State Outdoors, “It was just luck. That’s what it amounts to. 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.”
Error Threatens Title
After getting his monarch of the beanfield, Johnson made a measurement appointment with a curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The curator omitted a circumference measurement, throwing off the rack’s final score.
Upon receiving the curator’s results, Johnson was skeptical. Johnson compared his trophy to the John Breen buck, the world-record typical at the time. He soon contacted B&C, and the club eventually re-scored the buck and corrected the error, resulting in the Johnson Buck surpassing the Breen Buck (202 B&C).
Today, the Johnson Buck only ranks behind the Larry Gibson Buck (205), the Jim Jordan Buck (206?), and the Milo Hansen Buck (213?).
The Legend Grows
In the 1970s, Larry Huffman came to own the rack. He put the image on T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts and even dress ties. After Larry sold his Legendary Whitetails Collection to Bass Pro Shops in 2002, the image of this buck became even more pronounced in popular white-tailed deer hunting culture. The world-renowned wildlife sculptor Danny Edwards created the Mel Johnson Buck Bust — an inspiring cast-resin sculpture faithful to nature in every detail especially the distinctive grain on the 13-point rack.
Another collectible soon reached the market place when celebrated wildlife sculptor Tim Wolfe created a stunning lamp hand cast from an original clay sculpture of the Johnson Buck.
Michael Sieve in his “Glory Days” series faithfully painted the last moments in the life of the Johnson Buck in 2001. Hayden Lambson painted “The Two Kings” in 2005.
RonVan Gilder also offered a look at the buck in his natural habitat during the rut in his painting “Monarch’s Morning.”
The Johnson buck has been featured in numerous other media. Johnson Buck replica racks sell for $2,500.
Johnson never became rich by shooting the Beanfield Buck.
“People ask me what I got for killing that deer and I tell them I got a dozen arrows,” Johnson said in an interview with Prairie State Outdoors. “And they weren’t even good arrows.”
Today, at age 76, Mel Johnson continues to hunt white-tailed bucks whenever he can but with very good arrows and his favorite Martin compound bow. His trophy reposes in Bass Pro Shops’ King of Bucks Collection.
Want to take big bucks like Mel Johnson? Get a copy of "Whitetail Wisdom," by D&DH Editor Dan Schmidt. Click here to start your journey toward the record books.