Burnett County celebrates ‘Jordan Buck’ centennial

Danbury, Wis. — It’s the nature of hunters to tell and re-tell the stories of their hunting triumphs, but few of these stories survive more than a generation. But then again, few hunting stories involve deer as large as the buck killed by James Jordan.

Jordan killed his legendary deer on Nov. 20, 1914, in Burnett County near Danbury. Decades after the buck was killed, it was officially scored at 2061⁄8 inches on the Boone and Crockett Club’s scoring scale, and has been surpassed only by Milo Hanson’s buck in Saskatchewan under the club’s “typical” whitetail category. In an era when the hunting market is flooded with gimmicks to help hunters grow and shoot more trophy bucks, hunters believe it’s pretty amazing that this deer has stood the test of time.

A century later, the “Jordan Buck” still ranks as the Wisconsin state record and the largest typical whitetail ever killed in the United States. Burnett County will honor the 100th anniversary of the hunt for its homegrown deer with several events.

“Everyone’s excited about the centennial and our record buck,” said Mike Kornmann, Burnett County community development agent.

To honor the hunter and whitetail, a community art project will create a giant, animated Jordan Buck puppet. The project is led by Christopher Lutter-Gardella, a Minneapolis-based puppet builder. The puppet will be about one-third larger than the deer’s actual size and will be human-powered. It will be weatherproof and transportable and will make an appearance at various events celebrating the Jordan Buck. Kornmann said he hopes to display the puppet in parades around the state each year.

The Jordan Buck Centennial Extravaganza will be held in conjunction with the Crex Fall Fest at the Crex Meadows Wildlife Education and Visitor Center in Grantsburg on Oct. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors to this free event can have their photos taken with a replica mount of the Jordan Buck and view the Jordan Buck puppet. Jordan Buck centennial hats and commemorative programs with a copy of the original hand-written Boone and Crockett scoresheet will be available. The 32nd annual event also will feature a picnic, live music, exhibits, guest speakers, hands-on demonstrations, tours, a game-calling competition, and children’s activities. Wear camouflage to win a door prize.

Also on Oct. 4, the Burnett County Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited will have its banquet at the Northwoods Crossing Event Center in Siren. The banquet starts at 6 p.m. Attendees can have their photo taken with a replica of the Jordan Buck and will receive a commemorative guide with a map of the Jordan Buck Heritage Hike in Danbury, along the route Jordan took the morning he shot his record buck. The Jordan Buck puppet will be on site, as well. The Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club’s commemorative magazine with a tribute to the Jordan Buck will be available for purchase, as will Jordan Buck Centennial caps. A raffle with Jordan Buck prizes will also be held. First prize is a 1914-era Model 1892 Winchester in .25-20 – the same rifle Jordan used to kill his buck. Second prize is a painting of the Jordan Buck by Ron Van Gilder. Gordon Whittington, editor of North American Whitetail magazine and TV will be on hand. Tickets are $35; call (715) 349-2151.

Raffle tickets to win a replica mount of the Jordan Buck will be available at several places around the county. The replica antlers were done by Antlers by Klaus, and the mount was done by Wolf’s Taxidermy – a $4,000 value. Drawing for the replica will be Nov. 20 at the Burnett County Government Center at 3 p.m. on the 100th anniversary of the date Jordan killed the deer. Tickets are $10 each or 3 for $20 and must be purchased in person.

Those who would like to walk in James Jordan’s shoes may go on the Jordan Buck Heritage Hike. This self-guided 1.3-mile walk goes down the Gandy Dancer Trail south of Danbury near where Jordan shot his record buck.

Other events are planned to celebrate the Jordan Buck, as well.

“We’d like to get a Jordan Buck statue where the trail crosses Hwy. 77 in Danbury. We’re trying to collect funds for the project,” Kornmann said.

For more information on these events and activities, visit http://burnettcounty.com/index.aspx?NID=225.

The story

The story of the Jordan Buck is just as impressive as the buck itself. On Nov. 20, 1914, 22-year-old James Jordan and his friend Egus Davis set out from Danbury into some new-fallen snow. They followed the railroad tracks south, crossing over the Yellow River and heading toward Round Lake. The men soon cut fresh deer tracks and began following them. It looked like two does, two fawns, and a large buck. After just a few minutes of tracking, they spotted one of the does and Davis shot it. Davis had forgotten his knife, so Jordan lent him his own knife. Davis would gut the deer and drag it back to town while Jordan took up the track of the large buck.

Jordan followed the tracks north on a line paralleling the railroad tracks and heading right back to Danbury. As Jordan neared the site where the railroad tracks met the Yellow River, he paused to look for deer. While he scanned, an approaching train blew its whistle. At the train’s second whistle, several deer stood up from the snowy grass just 50 yards away. Among them was a 10-pointer with a massive rack.

All the deer took off running, crossing the railroad tracks. Jordan fired three times and thought he’d connected, but the buck kept running. Jordan was down to his last bullet.

Jordan soon found a blood trail and began following it toward the river. On a few occasions he thought he saw the deer ahead, but couldn’t risk taking a hasty shot with just one round remaining in his .25-20 Winchester.

As he approached the river, Jordan spotted the monster buck crossing the water. As it exited the Yellow River on the opposite shore, Jordan put him down with his last bullet. He was so excited that he waded into the ice-cold water to examine his giant buck. The buck was huge, and even if he’d had his knife, he knew it was too big to handle, so he left the deer and walked to town for help.

He returned home, put on dry clothes, then went to Davis’ house. Davis hitched his horse to a buck board and the two men, along with two of Davis’ sons, went to retrieve the buck. However, when they reached the place where the buck had fallen, it was gone. However, they discovered the buck about 200 yards downstream, washed up on a rock. After another dip into the icy water, the men hitched the buck to the horse and brought it back to town. At the feed mill, the deer weighed about 400 pounds.

The impressive whitetail drew a crowd of onlookers, including George Van Castle, of Webster. Van Castle offered to mount the buck for $5. Jordan paid up front and Van Castle disappeared with the rack, which Jordan wouldn’t see again for more than a half-century.

Soon after the transaction, Van Castle’s wife fell ill, so the family moved to an area near Hinckley, Minn. It was only about 20 miles from Jordan’s home in Danbury,  but in those days, traveling that distance required time and money, both of which were in short supply at the Jordan house.

A few months after killing the deer, Jordan traveled to Webster to see if Van Castle was finished mounting the deer and was shocked to learn that Van Castle – and the monster rack – were gone.

About a year later, Van Castle’s wife died. Three years after that, Van Castle remarried and moved to Florida. His house stood vacant for 40 years, with the enormous rack left inside.

The forgotten antlers surfaced in 1959. Someone bought Van Castle’s old house, and a secondhand store in Sandstone, Minn., was selling off the items found inside.
Bob Ludwig, a DNR forester, saw the antlers and inquired about them. The head mount was rough, and the antlers were nearly black. The shop owner sold the head to Ludwig for $2. Ludwig’s wife, Grace, cleaned the antlers and the couple hung the mount on their wall.

After admiring the antlers for some time, Ludwig wondered just how big they really were. Using the Boone and Crockett Club’s scoring system, he came up with a score that would make the deer a new world record. He sent in his completed scoresheet to Bernie Fashingbauer, who was an official scorer in St. Paul, Minn. Fashingbauer thought Ludwig must be mistaken, so he came to measure the antlers himself. He came up with a score of 2065⁄8 inches, which would indeed be a new world record.

When panel-scored by B&C, Fashingbauer’s measurements were accurate, but there was a slight mistake in addition. The final official score was 2061⁄8, making the deer an official world record.

Ludwig called friends and relatives to celebrate the good news. Among the people he called was Grace’s uncle – none other than James Jordan.

The Ludwigs transported the antlers to Jordan’s bar and dance hall. Immediately upon seeing the rack, Jordan shouted, “That’s my deer!”

Jordan was known as a great storyteller, however, and Ludwig was skeptical.

In 1965, the buck was listed as the world record in the Boone and Crockett Club’s record book. It was recorded as being taken by an unknown hunter near Sandstone, Minn. Soon after the book came out, several antler buyers contacted Ludwig. Eventually, Charles Arnold, of New Hampshire, purchased the rack for $1,500.

Ron Schara, who was an outdoor writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune at the time, heard about Jordan’s storytelling ability and his claim to the record buck. He traveled to Jordan’s bar in 1977 to hear the story for himself. After publishing his column about Jordan’s buck, officials with the Boone and Crockett Club, including Bernie Fashingbauer, investigated to see if Jordan really was the hunter who had killed the world-record whitetail.

Finally, at its December 1978 Records Committee meeting, B&C officially declared James Jordan as the hunter who had killed the world record whitetail and credited the buck as being taken in Wisconsin, not Minnesota.

Jordan had died two months earlier at age 86.

The Jordan Buck stood as the world record until Milo Hanson’s Saskatchewan whitetail, shot in 1993, topped it. Now 100 years later, it still ranks second in the world by score.

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