It must have been 25 years ago as I remember it. And to this date I have never seen a bigger buck… well, a bigger set of antlers anyway. We always refer to a deer with big antlers as a “big buck”. Body size has nothing to do with it.
You can occasionally have a buck that only weighs about 200 pounds with a big set of antlers. And occasionally you’ll see one weighing 250 pounds with puny antlers. The age of a buck has nothing to do with antler size, as I have seen bucks a few months after their first spring birthday with six or eight points. Others at that age may just be fork horns or even spikes.
You can age a dead buck by examining his teeth. And in his third or fourth year of life, he may well have smaller antlers than he had as a two year old. It is a proven fact that at two or three years of age in the wild, if his antlers are small, he will never have big antlers, even if he lives to be 10 years old.
All that can be manipulated if you raise deer in captivity, because even if he doesn’t have the genetics for a big rack, a super diet will help increase his antlers. The deer raisers, people who are enticed by the big money of big antlers on semi-tame deer, learned that long ago, and that’s why we have chronic wasting disease today growing throughout our wild deer in the Midwest. They learned that if you feed these herbivorous buck deer a carnivorous diet with meat and bone by-products mixed in, you could create heavier deer and great big sets of antlers. Of course, in conflicting with nature’s intent, they also introduced the disease, which we call ‘mad deer’ disease (chronic wasting).
It is no surprise that we have people so greedy they would do such a thing. A big buck might sell to a hunter who wants to hang a deer mount on his wall for $20,000 to $30,000. Even though it is raised in a pen, no one who stands before his fireplace will know that. And after all, if you are extremely rich, that kind of money is no big deal. That kind of hunter might never be able to kill any deer at all in the wild.
But it makes it tough on some Ozark hunter who wants to brag about the inches his wild deer antlers will score. His aren’t very impressive alongside a deer farm buck, which may have 20 points.
It is really out of hand now, with one buck in Ohio, named ‘Stickers’ that must have 50 points on a set of antlers that wouldn’t fit in a wheelbarrow. Some pen-raised bucks in his category nowadays actually are valued at $100,000 to $200,000.
If I think back to the time I saw that “big buck” it would have been easy to kill him, and I didn’t. I was sitting in a tree stand on some private land I had never hunted before, and an hour after first light a fat little six-point buck ambled by, following two or three does. I dropped him pretty much in his tracks. He was dead before the echo of that rifle blast had ended. I just sat there for a minute, thinking that my deer season hadn’t lasted long. I was just about to climb down and start working on him when a movement in a cedar thicket just past my fallen deer made me hesitate. And he just walked out behind a doe, this big-antlered beautiful whitetail. He stopped about 35 or 40 yards away, and just stood there, his head high, apparently oblivious to the rifle blast less than five minutes before. His antlers were heavy and thick and his tines rose high above his ears. How many points? I can’t say. Maybe 12 or so. I put my rifle sights on his heart and he just stood there.
It crossed my mind. Drop him and tag him, clean both deer and have a friend come in to tag the smaller buck. But I don’t break laws intentionally, and I couldn’t do it. That magnificent animal just walked slowly away, and I’ll be darned if the doe didn’t follow him, instead of fleeing with him chasing her as you so often see during the rut.
My office and museum is so full of things right now that hold precious memories that I don’t believe I would ever mount a deer head. There are elk and deer antlers here and there, and I don’t need any more. Besides that, the biggest antlers I have ever seen in the Ozarks are not even close to those I have seen on live bucks in Manitoba and Ontario, and Iowa and Nebraska.
In this day and time, with the amount of bait and deer attractants you see being sold in sporting goods stores, it becomes obvious how many of our big antlers which “score” high are being taken. If you want those antlers that badly, just get yourself one of the modern game trail cameras and start using that bait, and salt and mineral, and you can get them. You can use that camera to find out the times a buck comes past, and how often.
But if you are that obsessed with it, you are going to miss opportunities to catch fish, to hunt ducks or to take your son squirrel hunting. As much as I loved those hours spent sitting in a tree stand bow-hunting, I now want to walk as much as I can, to float rivers, maybe hunt a pheasant in Kansas or prairie grouse in Nebraska.
Just this past week, at my little cabin on the creek out in the middle of nowhere, I saw another great big buck. Huge antlers, for this part of the country. A Manitoba hunter would have called him mediocre, but Ozarkians wouldn’t. I hope I don’t see him while I am sitting somewhere on opening morning, up against a tree watching the chipmunks and squirrels, waiting for my daughter to kill one. I would rather see him and his antlers a few times over the winter, than everyday hanging over a fireplace, gathering dust and cobwebs.
Trophies are great, if you shoot pool or go bowling or pitch horseshoes. But killing a buck and having his head mounted does not increase a man’s stature one inch, and wild creatures should not be used to do so. We should have stopped that pen-raised buck craziness a long time ago, and now it is too late. It is greed that has brought us chronic wasting disease, and greed will bring us bucks with antlers so huge and heavy that a set of moose antlers won’t compare with them.
Million dollar antlers aren’t all that far away.
Join me on my radio program Sunday morning at 8 a.m. to give your own experiences, or your views on the outdoors. Tune in to 560 AM or listen on www.radiospringfield.com. My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.
PRICELESS FAWN – Tame enough to eat from your hand, this little fawn will spend his life in a pen, and when he is three years old he will be sold for thousands of dollars to someone who will shoot him inside a fenced area just for his head and antlers. His mother was purchased from an Ohio deer farmer for $20,000 and his sire is worth twice that much. He is a future “trophy.”