HINCKLEY, MINN. – How exactly it came to pass that the Governor’s Deer Opener here this weekend is being spearheaded by a Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) chapter named for a Wisconsin hunter is a twisted tale indeed.
Highlights include a world record whitetail buck, an unusual caliber Winchester, a dance hall and — why not? — a tavern.
Star of this yarn, which is more saga than story, is Jim Jordan, who died in 1978 at age 86. It is for Jordan the Hinckley area MDHA chapter is named.
Born in Hinckley, Jordan was married and living just outside Danbury, Wis., in 1914 when he was 22. According to published accounts by outdoors writer Mark LaBarbera and Hinckley area innkeeper John O’Reilly, Jordan made a living trapping and logging.
He also hunted, and about six inches of new snow covered the ground in November 1914 on the day Jordan and a pal, Eachus Davis, followed the Soo Line tracks south of Danbury and crossed the Yellow River before continuing on for another mile or so.
Times were tough. Davis reportedly couldn’t afford a 50-cent hunting license, and Jordan had only five bullets for his rifle, one of which he used to kill a doe soon into the hunt. Davis, it is said, dragged that animal back to Danbury, while Jordan continued to hunt, following not only the railroad tracks, but a set of unusually large deer tracks.
Soon, a train approached, and its whistle prompted as many as four deer, including a monster buck with a spectacular rack, to jump up from tall grass about 50 yards away. Shooting three times at the big animal, Jordan would say later, “I thought I hit him solidly.”
Jordan instead tracked the buck back over the Yellow River before dropping him with his final cartridge. When returned by buckboard to Danbury, the animal tipped the Danbury feed-store scales “either just over or just under” 400 pounds, Jordan would say.
Now the weird part.
Jordan gave the buck’s antlers to a taxidermist named George Van Castle, who lived in nearby Webster, Wis. A few months later, Jordan learned Van Castle had moved to Hinckley, or thereabouts, to seek medical help for his wife. Lacking the money and time to travel to Hinckley, Jordan, he would say later, believed he wouldn’t see the antlers again.
Van Castle’s wife died in 1916, and when Van Castle remarried three years later, he boarded up the house he and his first wife had lived in on Grindstone Lake, northwest of Hinckley, and moved to Florida.
Fast-forward to 1959 — fully 50 years later — when Van Castle’s Grindstone Lake home was sold for back taxes and its contents, including Jordan’s buck head, were moved to a secondhand store. It was there a local Department of Natural Resources forester named Bob Ludwig stumbled upon the 10-point rack and bought it for $3.
Ludwig had the antlers measured and they scored 206 ⅛, the highest tally ever for a “typical” rack. In 1965, Boone and Crockett, the arbiter of such things, listed the antlers as the world record. The animal had been felled, the record-book group said, in Minnesota by an unknown hunter.
Which is where the story might have ended, had Ludwig not shown the antlers to Jordan, who, remarkably, was Ludwig’s wife’s uncle, and who by then had moved back to Minnesota and lived east of Hinckley, where he and his wife, Lena, operated a tavern and dance hall.
“That’s my deer!” Jordan is believed to have exclaimed upon seeing the rack.
For many years afterward, Jordan would recount to as many of his Grain Belt-swigging patrons as he could the tale of how he killed the world record buck that snowy morning outside of Danbury.
Not everyone believed Jordan, who had a reputation as a teller of tall tales. Doubters reportedly included Ludwig and Eachus Davis’ granddaughter, who argued her grandfather had shot the buck but gave Jordan credit because he lacked a license.
It’s also possible, some in the Hinckley area believe, that one of the Kroschel boys (maybe Gus) who moved to the Hinckley area from New Ulm in the late 1800s looking to buy logged-over land cheap, killed the buck.
Regardless, in 1968, Ludwig sold the antlers for $1,500 to a New Hampshire collector, who subsequently peddled them to Bass Pro Shops, perhaps for a six-figure sum.
Now jump to 1977, when retired Star Tribune outdoors columnist Ron Schara interviewed Jordan, who, despite not being credited for the record buck by Boone and Crockett, insisted he had waylaid the animal.
Schara’s subsequent columns about Jordan and the buck provoked an investigation by Boone and Crockett, which in 1978 determined Jordan’s story to be plausible and credited the world record buck to him, in the process moving the place of kill from Minnesota to Wisconsin.
The ruling, unfortunately, came two months after Jordan died.
Which is how the Hinckley area group, now in its 29th year and hosting the Governor’s Deer Opener this weekend, got its name: the Jim Jordan Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.