Dear Reader,

The following article is an accusation of shocking big game fraud at the highest level of our sport. It represents exhaustive research by one of the world's formost whitetail antler experts. Larry Huffman is the owner of the Legendary Whitetails Collection. He has the Hole-in-the-horn, the Jordan, the Illinois record bow-kill and hundreds of other world class racks. He has made a science of scoring racks simply from photographs using ratios from his famous collection. Larry sent me this article in the hope that it would shed some light on what he believes is a great injustice. The opinions expressed are Larry's and not necessarily those of whitetail.com. At the same time, we are publishing this so you can evaluate the situation with substantial new infomation.

John Miglautsch <><

Editor, whitetail.com

 

 ROMPOLA GATE

By
Larry L. Huffman
May 5, 1999

1998 was quite a year. It probably set a record for the number of scandals within a given year. We had Whitewater Gate, Travel Gate, File Gate, Zipper Gate, and China Gate just to name a few. Most of the scandals of 1998 were brought about by our current federal administration. But not all!

In the hunting world we also had a major scandal which I have appropriately named Rompola Gate. This scandal, like those at the federal government level, may never be solved. The world seams to thrive on controversy. The hunting world is no different.

The Rompola controversy started back on Friday, November 13, 1998. Yes, that’s right, Friday the 13th. On that date, Mitch Rompola claims to have harvested a buck, with bow and arrow that has a net typical score of 218 5/8 and had an outside spread of 38 inches. At that score, the buck surpasses the current world record typical buck by an even 5 inches. Milo Hanson’s world record typical buck officially scored 213 5/8. It was harvested in November of 1993. The Rompola buck was re-scored later at 216 5/8.

Rompola claims that he hunted for the deer for three years. He also claims to have photographed the buck from 20 yards away. Rompola said that he saw the buck several more times and photographed it again in 1997. He said he missed a shot at the buck on November 3rd when his arrow hit a twig. He claims to have harvested the buck 10 days later.

Rompola was using a bow set at about 58 pounds. He said that he decided to shoot for the middle. The arrow hit the middle of the deer’s body and angled forward. He further said that the buck ran out of sight and he heard it go down. Several minutes later he climbed down from his tree stand and even though he had heard the buck go down, he went home to get his video camera, without first going to see the buck.

Writer Eric Sharp of the Detroit Free Press has written numerous articles on Mitch Rompola and his controversial buck. His first article was dated November 20th, 1998 just seven days after Rompola supposedly killed his mystery buck. The article headline read, “Man Arrows Likely World Record Deer.”

All of these articles appeared on the Detroit Free Press web site of which the address is http://www.freep.com. After reporting most of the controversy surrounding the buck, Sharp’s article of March 18, 1999 stated that Rompola never claimed his buck was a World Record.

Rompola, a former measurer for both Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young, would not divulge the green score but said “ even if you lopped off two five inch tines projecting from the inside of the rack, it would still be way bigger than the Hanson buck.” If that is not claiming that he had shot a New World record buck then I don’t know what is.

In the April 1999 issue of Outdoor Life magazine, an Eric Sharp article was titled, “World Record or Record Hoax.” This buck is certainly not a World Record. It will never be a World Record because it is a fake. It is more than a Record Hoax, it is another whitetail scam. That’s right, I believe it is a SCAM. Let’s take a close look at all the facts and see what you think.

Over the years, there have been several scams in the whitetail world. Two major scams involved Texas hunters. Back a number of years ago, Austin hunter Bill Day removed the antlers from a buck he shot in Mexico. He replaced them with a set of antlers stolen from a taxidermist shop in Canada. Canadian outfitter Lloyd McMahan took the antlers to Mexico.

After magazine and newspaper articles reported the story of Bill Day’s trophy buck, an Alberta taxidermist recognized his stolen antlers. Day and McMahan were brought to justice. Day paid a very large fine and was put on community service for a lengthy period of time. McMahan was sentenced to two years in prison under the Lacy Act.

The other Texas case involved B. W. Morrow of Dallas. He bought a large set of antlers. He then killed a buck in Texas and replaced the antlers with the set he had purchased. Field photos were taken. Morrow then entered the buck in the Texas Big Game Awards and signed an affidavit that he had killed the buck in Starr County, Texas. An article in a magazine was Morrow’s undoing and he also was brought to justice.

There was a whitetail scam in Alabama. Back in 1984 a hunter claimed to have shot a new Alabama State Record white-tailed deer. Several months later, another man noticed a photo in a advertisement in a magazine of this new state record buck. He recognized the antlers as a set of shed antlers he had loaned to the hunter of record.

Shortly thereafter the Alabama scam artist said that he had sold the antlers to an unidentified man for $1,000.00. The antlers disappeared forever and the hunter was never charged with a crime. His record was thrown out by both the state of Alabama and B & C.

There was a Wisconsin case where a group of hunters shot a doe, opened up its cranium and installed a set of antlers on the doe. They sewed up the cape and then entered the doe in a big buck contest. They took first place. This was many years ago. These hunters did it more as a joke and not a scam. Obviously, if they didn’t admit their prank, they were just as guilty as those scam artists previously mentioned.

The above scams were attempted using real antlers. There have also been several situations where antlers have been fabricated using parts of other antlers. Main beams have been extended by splicing them together. Tines have been heightened. Splices are patched using a product such as Magic Sculpt. The fabricated antlers are then painted as an artist would paint an original painting. Some craftsmen are so good, it is almost impossible to tell a fake from the real thing. Certified measurers have been fooled by not being able to tell the difference.

The following photos show examples of fabricated antlers. I have personally held one of these sets in my hands and believe me they are well done. They are so good it’s almost scary. We may be facing the day when the Boone & Crockett Club will have to x-ray antlers as a standard practice.


240 class fabricated antlers



230 class fabricated antlers


Please notice that the above sets of fabricated whitetail antlers have real deer skulls. The coloration, especially the 230 class, is very good. You do not see color changes in any of the tines like those present in Rompola’s antlers. Also the coloring where the tines join the main beams is very consistent and is not the brownish/purple stain so prevalent with Rompola’s antlers. It’s easy to see how even an expert can be fooled.

As for Rompola, I believe that he fabricated his antlers. The coloration of the Rompola antlers is very suspect. Back several years ago, it was common practice to use Potassium Permanganate to stain antlers. This product produced a brownish/purple color. Today’s experts actually paint antlers using modern techniques. As I have said, some are so good it is almost impossible to detect. They no longer use Potassium Permanganate.

Old antlers turn somewhat yellow. Some more than others depending on where they have been hanging. If they have been hanging in a smoke filled room they can be quite discolored.

If you examine the photo of the Rompola buck you will notice a yellow tone on the three longest tines. These tines change color about three or four inches above the main beams. The color of the tines where they join the main beams is a brownish/purple color like that of Potassium Permanganate staining. This color is also quite evident from the skull out past the brow tines. The same stain or color appears where all of the tines join the main beams.

Another thing that is very suspicious is the distance between the burrs. I am the owner of the Legendary Whitetail collection. I have personally measured the distance between the burrs on most of the 84 trophy heads in this collection. This list includes the Jordan, Hole In The Horn, Breen, The Mel Johnson and many more. The widest distance I have found between the burrs on any of these trophy bucks is 3 ¼”.

The Rompola buck is said to have a 38” outside spread. Using this dimension as a basis, it is very easy to calculate the distance between the burrs. On the Mitch Rompola buck the distance between burrs comes out to 4 ¾”, a full 1 ½” greater than any buck in the Legendary collection. That would mean that the skull on the Rompola buck was almost 50% wider than any previous world record buck.

In the field photo of Rompola’s buck there is a very suspicious indentation in the skull just right of center. This along with the droopy ears and the blood in the deer’s right ear are all clues that the original antlers were removed and replaced with the fabricated antlers. Examination of the skull plate would be very interesting, but Rompola has taken steps to make sure that never happens.
In the video shown on “Michigan Out Of Doors”, Rompola is shown holding the antlers after they were removed from the buck. The skull plate is completely covered with what appears to be “Bondo”. It is impossible to see the actual skull plate or for that matter any portion of the skull. Rompola must have a reason to conceal the skull plate. What do you think that reason was?
Recently, Rompola announced that he had the antlers re-measured. He named the three measurers who were Gary Berger, Lee Holbrook and Al Brown. To date no attempt has been made to enter the score in the Boone & Crockett records. An official of B & C questioned one of these measurers. The official asked if the measurer had inspected the skull plate. He answered that he did not. Obviously he could not see it because of the way it has been totally encased.

Let’s go back to the video that was aired on “Michigan Out Of Doors”. The date of showing was November 26, 1998. The video shows footage of Mitch Rompola walking up to the deer as it lay on the ground. Many suspicious things show up in this video.

One of the first things is that the arrow was sticking out about 18” or so. Rompola was using a 58 Pound bow with carbon arrows. He shot the deer in its midsection. The arrow should have passed completely through the deer. Even if it had not, the deer probably would have pulled it out or broken it off while traveling the 70 yards Rompola said it went before it collapsed and died. An arrow sticking out of a deer like this usually means that the death scene was staged.

When a deer is dying there is always violent kicking of it’s legs as it expires. In the video the leaves around the deer have not been disturbed. It appears that the deer had been carefully placed in this exact position.

Another point that appeared in the video was that the cape was wet while the body was dry. Obviously the cape was wet because it had been washed. This is what I believe occurred. Mitch Rompola shot a buck. He then removed the cranium by skinning back the skull and sawing off the existing antlers from the skull. The fake antlers were then attached to the skull of the deer. The cape was then sewed up to conceal his handiwork. There would have been substantial bleeding from this operation. The cape would have to be washed to remove the blood before any field photos or video could be taken.

The video shows the buck laying on its right side. Later when still photos were taken, the right ear is covered with blood. The ear probably was washed out earlier however blood seeped out of the cranium and down into the ear as the deer was laying on the ground on its right side.There is truly no other explanation for the right ear being so bloody. This was overlooked by Rompola and is truly one of the main clues to why I believe it is a scam.

The droop of the ears is greater then any dead deer I have ever seen a photo of. I have looked at hundreds of photos and none of the ears droop to this extreme angle. When the cranium was skinned out the ear butts would have to be cut. This would allow the ears to droop in the manner shown in the photograph.

The only other field photo of a deer that I have seen with ears drooping this bad was Rompola’s 1985 buck. He is holding the deer in such a way that looks very suspicious. One hand is holding the antler while the other hand reaches under the buck’s jaw. It’s almost like he is holding the head together. But we are not dealing with that deer now. Let’s get back to the Rompola Gate issue.
Recently I had the privilege of meeting with two of the top taxidermists in the Midwest. We viewed the video. They noticed that the skull was not of proper configuration but noticed something even more important. There were wrinkles in the skin on the right side of the face, just below the antler base. When they seen this, they immediately announced that this deer is a fake. They said that the skin had not been reattached in this particular spot.

There are two other points I would like to make. Every deer hunter knows that bucks rub their antlers on trees. As a result of making these rubs, bark from the trees gets embedded in and around the bases of the antlers. On the Rompola buck the bases of the antlers are clean. There is no bark shavings embedded in these antlers. Perhaps this buck never rubbed his antlers on a tree.
In the video there appeared to be a visible splice between the base and the brow tine on the left main beam. Mitch Rompola promptly places his tag over this spot. Later he ties the tag over this spot. I believe this was done to conceal a visible flaw in the antlers.

It has been said that there are three important factors that affect antler growth. These factors are; age, nutrition and genetics. Of these, most biologists believe that genetics is without a doubt the most important of the three.

The subject can be somewhat complicated. Naturally, if you have superior genetics but have sub par nutrition the antler growth will not reach it’s potential. On the other hand, excellent nutrition with poor genetics will not produce antlers of trophy proportions. To produce white-tailed bucks with World Record antlers you must have outstanding genetics.

Grand Traverse County does not have the genetics required to produce a buck of the size that Mitch Rompola claimed that he shot there last November. In the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan’s records for Grand Traverse County, there are only two bucks listed that have made the Boone & Crockett minimum typical score of 170. One of those lists Mitch Rompola as the hunter. The other was harvested by Jim Thompson back in 1976. There are no non-typical bucks listed.

There are no listings in any of the neighboring counties. In the northern half of the lower peninsula of Michigan, there have only been eight Boone & Crockett bucks listed. Four of these are typicals and four are non-typicals. The largest typical buck ever harvested in this area of Michigan scored 182 7/8. The facts don’t lie. The genetics simply do not exist in Grand Traverse County to produce a trophy whitetail of the size Rompola claims to have harvested.

The May/June 1999 issue of The Journal of the Texas Trophy Hunters had a very interesting editorial on the Mitch Rompola buck. They openly said the antlers were fake. They pointed out that there must be a good reason that a hunter who claims he shot a world record buck won’t show the antlers to the public.

They mention Rompola’s brushes with the law and how he had been released by both The Boone & Crockett Club and The Pope & Young Club as an official measurer. The article mentioned that it was safe to assume that Rompola has an ax to grind with society. The editorial asks what would a hunter need to pull off a scam such as this. They went on to ask “What if” to every situation they could think of regarding Rompola’s actions. What if he fabricated the antlers, what if he had to go home to get the antlers, what if he reported his story to the media, what if he decided to hide from the world because his story got out of hand and what if the antlers disappear never to be seen again. The hunter could still exhibit a replica at deer shows and attempt to elevate his position in society. Naturally he could never let anyone inspect the fake antlers so they simply must disappear at some point.

The editorial made an interesting point. They suggested that when Rompola said he went home to get his camera that he actually went home to get the fake antlers. That truly makes a lot of sense because like most hunters you can assume that he always had his camera with him while hunting. He spoke of all the pictures he had taken of deer. He would not take the fake antlers with him until he had a use for them.

There is a standing offer of $10,000.00 if Rompola would have the antlers x-rayed. Rompola claims that he had it done however no one has reported seeing the x-rays. By the way, x-rays of replica antlers don’t count. An x-ray should be of the skull plate as well as the main beams and tines.
I would hope that the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan record committee would take all the precautions that B & C would take if they are considering listing Rompola’s buck as a state record. When you consider all of the controversy surrounding this deer and the fact that it may not be real, it could be embarrassing to list a fake deer in their records.

Finally, one should examine who is being damaged by the Rompola Gate scam. There are several companies who are attempting to profit from this situation. Are these firms part of the scam or are they victims? I don’t have a clue. One of the firms made a deal with Rompola a full year before Rompola announced that he had harvested the buck. Milo Hansen has been damaged as much as any body I can think of. Is legal action a possibility? You be the judge.

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