A double drop-tine buck taken during a deer drive—with a muzzleloader, no less—has a good shot at becoming New Hampshire’s next state-record nontypical whitetail deer. Initial measurements of the 14-point rack tallied a green score of 188 4/8, nearly 6 inches larger than the Granite State’s current top muzzleloader buck.
Jantzen Clifton, of Seabrook, tagged the deer on October 29, day two of the New Hampshire muzzleloader season, after he made a last-minute decision to join friends for a series of deer drives rather than stay at home and watch a movie. His decision paid off on the very first push of the day.
The party of five set Clifton and another hunter up as posters, and then the other three pushed through a small, 10-acre woodlot abutting a swampy area. Clifton had to walk only about 80 yards from his car to get in position. He had hunted the woodlot once before and missed an opportunity to take a doe because he'd made the mistake of leaning his gun against a tree. This time he resolved to stay alert.
“I sat in the same spot where I saw the doe last time, and in just a few minutes, I saw the boys coming through the woods,” Clifton told Field & Stream. “And I’m thinking, Well, this deer drive is over. Then all of a sudden, I catch movement on my left side. Just for a brief second I saw antlers. It was a buck, and it was coming right at me.”
As he waited for the deer to get closer, he noticed its rack was draped with vines and branches. “All kinds of junk was hanging off his antlers, like he must’ve been sneaking through some thick stuff before he came out,” Clifton says. He also noted a pair of long drop tines hanging off the main beams.
The buck didn’t see Clifton until it was only 15 to 20 yards away. “He locked up, and we were staring right at each other,” he recalls. “Within a couple of seconds, I put the crosshairs on his chest and pulled the trigger. He stumbled a bit and ran into the swamp and disappeared.”
Clifton remained calm before the shot, but after was a different story. “I started shaking uncontrollably. My friends were saying, ‘What happened? What happened?’ and I couldn’t even really speak for a moment. Then I’m like, ‘Guys, I either hit or just killed the biggest deer of my life.’”
Clifton has been hunting for 17 years, beginning when he was 20.
“When I started, I didn’t have anybody to bring me hunting. I didn’t know anything about hunting. Nothing,” he says. “I have just learned over the years from my mistakes. I’m a deer junkie. Any chance I get, I’m running into the woods with my bow or muzzleloader.”
He has shot 10 bucks, and his previous best was a small 7-pointer.
“I’m a meat hunter, not a trophy hunter. I’ve got a full freezer every year, and that’s what I’m happy for. I’m out for the meat. I’m out for the thrill of the hunt. I’m out for the challenge. I’m out just to be in the beautiful outdoors.” Clifton says he spends more time in the woods than anybody he knows, and he’s seen some nice bucks before. But nothing like the bruiser waiting in the swamp.
Winning the Deer Lottery
As Clifton tried to calm himself down after the shot, it was his buddies’ turn to get excited. They found a heavy blood trail and were telling Clifton, “You got him, you got him.”
“I’m like, ‘All right, just slow it down,’ because a couple of years ago I shot a big buck and it got away from me. I wasn’t celebrating at all until I could see the deer myself.” The five hunters started following the track and found the buck piled up 40 yards into the swampy area. “I was in disbelief,” Clifton says. “I couldn’t believe what just happened. It was mind-blowing. Still is. It’s like I won the deer lottery.”
Once the 60-day drying period passes, Clifton will have the buck officially scored and submitted to the New Hampshire Antler & Skull Trophy Club, which administers the state’s trophy buck program and whitetail record book. According to the group’s website, the current state record for a nontypical buck shot with a muzzleloader is 182 5/8. That deer was harvested in 1998 by Glenn Cummings.
“I didn’t ask to have the state record, and I certainly didn’t think that my first wall-hanger would be a state-record buck or even a contender,” Clifton says. “It’s a pretty incredible feeling to possibly have the record. It feels pretty good. People travel way up north or way out Midwest to go hunt these giants, but they’re really living right in your backyard,” he says. “That’s one of the things that amazes me about deer hunting: These monsters can be living right under your nose.”