Skip to main content

Mel Johnson's Buck Still Stands Guard at Pope and Young Club Museum

If your vacation plans take you to the American Midwest, be sure to visit the St. Charles Museum of Bowhunting, a place where the Beanfield Buck still stands guard

Mel Johnson's Buck Still Stands Guard at Pope and Young Club Museum
(Photos courtesy of Rick Mowery and the Pope and Young Club)

As vacation season unfolds across the country, many whitetail hunters are traveling with their families as summertime heat takes hold.

The same heat that will keep at bay – for another few weeks, at least – the dream of chilly November mornings, the peak of the whitetail rut, and a heart stopping glimpse of antlers from high up in a treestand.

In time, fall will come yet again for impatient deer hunters. But until then, if vacation plans happen to take you through the Midwestern U.S. somewhere near the metropolitan triangle of Minneapolis-Chicago-Des Moines, consider making a slight detour to the southeastern Minnesota hamlet of Chatfield.

Home to the Pope and Young Club headquarters, the community of nearly 3,000 residents is also home to the St. Charles Museum of Bowhunting (Editor’s Note: The museum is located at 273 Mill Creek Road and is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday. For information, visit www.pope-young.org or call (507) 867-4144.)


Situated in the rolling hills and farm country of the region not far from Interstate 90, the museum details the history of the P&Y Club and bowhunting in North America, with the story of Ishi, Dr. Saxton Pope, Arthur Young, Glenn St. Charles, and many others being told through the various artifacts and objects on display.


One of those objects stands prominently in the building, one that dates to just a few years after the Pope and Young Club officially came into being on January 27, 1961.

And that’s the antlered mount of the massive Beanfield Buck world record, the 204 4/8-inch net typical whitetail that late Illinois bowhunter Mel Johnson took with a recurve bow on Oct. 29, 1965.

Standing guard over a portion of the St. Charles museum, Johnson’s buck in some ways has served as a sort of bedrock for the Club’s task of championing bowhunting as an effective means of hunting and conservation, along with P&Y’s longstanding leadership in promoting fair chase hunting and maintaining records of big game animals taken with the bow and arrow across North America.

With the story of Mel Johnson’s recent passing stirring up renewed interest in the legendary Beanfield Buck, just how important is that long-ago whitetail taken in a soybean field near Peoria, Ill.?


“Any animal that has held the World’s Record for as long as this buck has is very important to the bowhunting community,” said Rick Mowery, communications and marketing man for P&Y. “Mel’s buck is an iconic symbol that proves woodcraft and weapon efficiency are still the most important elements for bowhunters.”

As North American Whitetail editor Gordon Whittington alluded to while reflecting on the legacy of Johnson and his world record buck, the fact that the buck was taken early in the history of the P&Y Club helped the organization gain traction among bowhunters.

Mowery doesn’t disagree.


midwestern-shadow-a-half-century-later-mel-johnsons-beanfield-buck-still-stands-guard-at-pope-and-young-club-museum-2-L Beanfield Buck stands guard. (Photo courtesy of Rick Mowery and the Pope and Young Club)

“Mel Johnson was a senior member of the P&Y Club,” he said, noting that his membership in P&Y began in the early 1970s. “Mel was not boisterous or narcissistic. He was approachable, respectful and humble. His typical whitetail quietly has held the P&Y World Record since 1965.

“Both Mel and his buck set the bar pretty high. They are both very important to the Club and the history of P&Y.”

Curt Wells, longtime editor of Bowhunter magazine, said that from his own interview time with Johnson, there was nothing pompous about the bowhunter from Illinois.

“I think most regarded Mel as the “bowhunter down the street” who put himself in the right place at the right time and executed the shot,” said Wells in a recent interview about Johnson and his Beanfield Buck. “Not much to be jealous about there and I, for one, appreciated his humbleness about the accomplishment.”

With the Beanfield Buck being taken by Johnson as he hunted on the ground with a recurve bow, a fiberglass arrow, and a hand-sharpened broadhead, Mowery is like many, expressing surprise that the current world record has stood now for more than a half-century.

midwestern-shadow-a-half-century-later-mel-johnsons-beanfield-buck-still-stands-guard-at-pope-and-young-club-museum-3-L Pioneer signage at P&Y Headquarters. (Photo courtesy of Rick Mowery and the Pope and Young Club)

“With the improvements in equipment, game cameras for scouting, and food plot science, you’d think that this record would have been unseated after such a long period,” he said.

But it hasn’t, still to this date being the only big game animal to ever receive both the P&Y Club’s Ishi Award and the Boone and Crockett Club’s Sagamore Hill Award, both of those honors ranking as the highest awards that each organization gives out.

“It’s a testament to the quality of this animal, both the size and the symmetry (of the Beanfield Buck),” said Mowery. “Mel’s buck truly is a once-in-a-lifetime trophy.”

midwestern-shadow-a-half-century-later-mel-johnsons-beanfield-buck-still-stands-guard-at-pope-and-young-club-museum-L Mel Johnson and his Beanfield Buck in October, 1965. (Photo courtesy of Rick Mowery and the Pope and Young Club)

While many younger bowhunters know little of Johnson and the story of how he took his benchmark whitetail, most, if not all, wonder what it would be like if they were the fortunate bowhunter that gets to one day topple that longstanding mark.

In a world dominated today by social media likes, sound bites, and user uploaded video clips in the ongoing rush for big buck glory, Mowery is convinced that there are some timeless lessons that continue to be quietly taught by the longstanding legend of Johnson and his world record whitetail.

“Be humble, honor the animal and remember, woodcraft counts!” said Mowery. “Put in the effort, spend the time in (the) field. There are no shortcuts to this class of animal.”

At the end of the day, there is little doubt that more than a half-century after that fateful late October day in 1965, Mel Johnson and his Beanfield Buck remain a special chapter in the annals of bowhunting history.

“Absolutely,” said Mowery. “He is an iconic buck.”

And then some, a legendary whitetail worthy of a vacation stop as it continues to cast a large and impressive shadow over the sport of bowhunting.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist witnesses a hen trying to destroy one of his decoys while hunting turkeys in Kansas.

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best Saddle Options

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best Saddle Options

Most of these saddle options are offered in kit form with lineman and tree tether ropes plus carabiners, some with MOLLE-attached storage pouches for ropes, aider, drink and accessories.

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best Tree-Climbing Sticks

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best Tree-Climbing Sticks

Sectional sticks are the most popular tree-climbing method among saddle enthusiasts because sticks are safe, effective, easy to use, and you only have to hang three or four of them to reach heights of 17-22 feet if you add a lightweight climbing aider.

Daybreak Whitetail Bowhunt

Daybreak Whitetail Bowhunt

Bowhunter TV Editor Derek Mleynek has a chance to fill his buck tag on a mixed bag hunt in Texas.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

A recent study examines what does look for when choosing a mate.Does Antler Size Really Matter To Does? Whitetail

Does Antler Size Really Matter To Does?

C.J. Winand

A recent study examines what does look for when choosing a mate.

There are many benefits to putting a lighted nock on your hunting arrows. Let's break them down. Are Lighted Nocks Worth the Expense? Arrows & Broadheads

Are Lighted Nocks Worth the Expense?

Curt Wells

There are many benefits to putting a lighted nock on your hunting arrows. Let's break them...

2021 Sights: Aim small, miss small with these new, game-changing accessories.New Bow Sights for 2021 ATA Show

New Bow Sights for 2021

Tony J. Peterson - January 06, 2021

2021 Sights: Aim small, miss small with these new, game-changing accessories.

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian bulgogi sauce to the next level.Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe Recipes

Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Favorite Hunt? There's Plenty to Choose From. Stories

Favorite Hunt? There's Plenty to Choose From.

Dwight Schuh - January 03, 2017

"You guys are crazy," bush pilot Van Hartley growled as Roger Iveson and I unloaded the last...

Dwight Schuh explains why it's okay to be serious about bowhunting - but not too serious!Hunting for the Fun of It Stories

Hunting for the Fun of It

Dwight Schuh

Dwight Schuh explains why it's okay to be serious about bowhunting - but not too serious!

It's often said archers do it The Journey For A Longbow Super Slam Stories

The Journey For A Longbow Super Slam

Nathan L. Andersohn - July 31, 2018

It's often said archers do it "the hard way," but hunting with a longbow is, by far, the...

Although there was never any question as to whether my two girls would hunt, my first step wasWho Says Girls Can't Bowhunt? Stories

Who Says Girls Can't Bowhunt?

C. J. Winand - December 14, 2017

Although there was never any question as to whether my two girls would hunt, my first step was

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now