It all started with Rachel making the six-hour drive home from college, in Ohio, for Thanksgiving. She planned to stay the weekend and wanted to hunt Monday’s rifle opener with Mike. Though Mike enjoys time with his buddies at deer camp, he decided to skip out on hunting opening day with them. “I told Rachel I’d come off the hill ( a reference to his deer camp) and hunt with her behind the house,” Mike says. But she could hunt only until noon that Monday, before needing to make the trek back to Ohio, and, as the morning wore on with no bucks in sight, she expected to leave the woods without filling her tag, Mike says. But a five-point whitetail made the mistake of walking within range of her stand at 11:45 a.m.—just minutes before she’d planned to quit for the day. After hanging and skinning the buck, and saying goodbye to Rachel, Mike headed back to his stand at 1 p.m. for an afternoon hunt. He entertained hopes of seeing a massive buck, nicknamed “Goliath” by area residents, that had shown up on his trail-cam photos. As Mike enjoyed a late lunch in stand, he glanced over his shoulder and noticed sunlight glinting off of a gnarly set of antlers. The rack was attached to a buck steadily feeding closer to him. Lunch was quickly forgotten about as Mike watched the deer and shouldered his rifle. The buck ran only 20 yards before collapsing. After confirming that the whitetail was down for good, Mike called Rachel. In another stroke of good fortune, she hadn’t left for school yet, so she hiked back through the woods to congratulate her father and to help drag the buck home.
“Goliath” had 21 ring-hanger points, and 20 points at least an inch long. The buck green-scored 195 and 6/8 inches, which, if confirmed, will place it among the 20 largest bucks ever tagged in Pennsylvania. Mike says that the Pennsylvania Game Commission will send a scorer to measure the rack after a 60-day drying period. He doubts, however, that the official score will deviate much from the rough. “Two guys from my camp who have hunted all over scored the buck,” says Mike. “I trust them 100 percent.” Though the photos clearly show two distinct drop tines—which each measure about 9 inches—the buck actually boasts three, Mike points out. The third tine drops from the tip of the right main beam. Another interesting aspect of the deer is its body size. Mike says that the deer weighed only 122 pounds field dressed, and that there “was not one ounce of fat on him.” According to Mike, there may be a couple of reasons for this. “He’s been running does since October,” Mike says. “And he’s been seen running them everywhere.” Also, as he watched the deer, before pulling the trigger, Mike noticed that the buck had trouble feeding because of its antlers. “I watched him try to eat for about 7 minutes,” he says, “and he was having some trouble with those drop tines scraping the ground.” Mike says that a close-up look, when the buck was down, confirmed that the drop-tine tips were heavily worn.
Mike credits Pennsylvania Game Commission antler restrictions for producing a buck that he considers an anomaly for the Pennsylvania mountains. “Ten years ago, it was just about getting your buck,” says Mike. “Spike or ten-point, it didn’t matter. But now we let those small bucks go, and it’s paying off. We’re seeing larger and larger bucks.” Mike also credits his success to his years in the woods. “It’s probably because I’m getting older, too,” he says. “I don’t feel like I have to shoot every buck I see anymore.” A family home for Thanksgiving, a daughter’s last-minute deer, and then killing the buck of a lifetime—Mike Speaker has much to be thankful for.
In November, Mike Speaker harvested a triple-drop-tine whitetail—one of the largest bucks ever tagged in the state—near his home, in Bradford, Pa. But he wouldn’t have gotten it if not for his daughter.
Photographs courtesy of Mike Speaker. Numbers 1, 2, and 4 exclusive to Field & Stream_._