Legendary Whitetails - James Rath Buck

James Rath Buck

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As the summer of 1977 rolled along, a buck on a farm in Renville County, Minnesota, was growing an incredible set of antlers. Between haying and other farm operations, members of the Rath family frequently saw him foraging on the nutritious crops, his massive, velvet-covered headgear becoming larger each day.

Jim Rath had grown up on a generational farm in Buffalo Lake, and he’d seen sev­eral huge bucks over the years. But, none was as spectacular as this one. With only a spike buck to his credit, Jim wasn’t an experienced trophy hunter. Still, he knew he had to give this monster non-typical a sincere effort during the upcoming gun season.

The countryside in this area consists primarily of farmland with scattered pockets of trees and brush, ideally suited for producing bucks of magnum caliber. Jim, his dad, his brothers and an occasional friend often hunted together on the farm, making short drives or using other methods as the situation dictated. During the summer and fall, Jim’s dad had noted that the local monster buck favored a relatively narrow grove of trees about 300 yards long. Other good groves nearby couldn’t be overlooked as hideouts, but at least, this buck’s general range was known.

Finally, the two-day November gun season arrived and the hunt began. The first day was spent making drives here and there around the area, but the mega buck wasn’t seen. On the second day, Jim, his dad, and a couple of friends made plans to hunt together. They decid­ed to start off by driving the 300-yard-­long grove where Jim’s dad suspected the high-tined buck lived.

Jim and a friend were posted on the east end as Jim’s dad and another friend began the drive on the west end. Jim had a good feeling about his spot, as he visu­alized the big buck crashing through the trees. He knew a clear shot would be tough to get because the trees were very dense in this grove. He had picked out a 25-foot-wide opening that hopefully would afford a quick shot.

As the drivers made their way through the dense stand, Jim heard his dad yell, “A buck is breaking out to the side!”

Jim looked, but it was only a small buck. Then, he heard a loud crash in the brush. Another animal was headed toward him. As the hunter pointed his slug-loaded Ithaca 12 gauge toward the tiny opening 20 yards away, he caught glimpses of a huge buck. A wall of antlers entered the open­ing, followed by a huge, dark body, and Jim fired. The heavy slug caught the buck squarely in the neck, causing him to turn a somersault.

As Jim approached, he could hardly contain himself. He knew this was the largest rack he’d ever seen. The hunters field-dressed the animal and took the rack to a local sporting goods store, where it won the deer contest hands down. The buck’s field-dressed weight was an impressive 265 pounds.

Upon examination of the jawbone, game department officials esti­mated that this incredible buck was only 3 1/2 years old when shot. Even though at first this seems impossible, it could be true. Jim’s dad never had seen the buck before the summer of 1977, indicating he prob­ably had been a 2 1/2- year-old the previous sea­son and had carried a rack of more normal size.

If we were to conjure up a dream buck, our imaginations would have to work overtime to visu­alize a more spectacular trophy. This rack clearly has it all—height, mass, points, spread and, on a more subjective level, beauty. We can only imagine what this deer might have looked like if he’d survived another two or three years! Certainly, it stands to rea­son that his rack would have grown even larger if he’d made it into the “prime” of life. Even so, he’s still among the most impressive whitetails of all time.

The score doesn’t truly reveal how impressive this buck is. For instance, if the Rath Buck hadn’t grown any abnor­mal points (and the majority of 3 1/2-year-old bucks don’t), he would have netted 199 6/8 as a clean 5×5, making him a Top 10 typical. On the other hand, I’d say the average buck that scores around 230 non-typical (as this one does) will have close to 60 inches of non-typical points pre­sent, as opposed to the 31 4/8 inches this deer actu­ally grew. For sheer appeal to hunters, this Minnesota monster is tough to beat.


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