June 15, 2018
By Lynn Burkhead
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.