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On the Antlers of a Dilemma

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Published on: Feb. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

pay big dollars for trophy racks, no matter how they were acquired. And, for unscrupulous collectors, that includes poaching.

Trophy buck clubs think the poaching problem is overstated and also downplay the estimated values of mounted heads. "A typical eight point buck mount might sell for $200," says St. Louisan Paul Schwarz of Schwarz Taxidermy, the nation's oldest shop (it dates to 1888 and is in the fourth generation of Schwarzes). "But the poacher wouldn't get more than $30 for it."

On the other hand, the experience of an undercover conservation agent indicates antlers can have substantial value. In 1992, agents arrested a Northwest Missourian accused of stealing several sets of antlers from a taxidermist. Agent Steve Nichols posed as a gun shop owner and bought one set of antlers for $750, which resulted in the arrest. The man was convicted and received two four-year jail terms, suspended on four years probation.

"He had a whole stack of antlers," Nichols says. "He didn't pressure me to buy any particular ones because he said he had the rest of them sold. They weren't even that nice. I don't think any would have made the Big Bucks Club."

The Show-Me Big Bucks Club began in 1967 to honor trophy hunters, while the national Boone and Crockett Club dates to 1888 and was founded by Theodore Roosevelt.

A deer must score 140 minimum south of the Missouri River, 150 north to make the Show-Me Big Bucks typical rack list (Boone and Crockett minimum is 160/170 for a typical rack). A non-typical rack must score 160 minimum south of the Missouri and 170 north (Boone and Crockett minimum is 185/195). The first figure shown for the Boone and Crockett scoring goes into an awards book that is only kept for three years. The second figure is for an all time records book that is kept in perpetuity.

Nichols once worked undercover with a poacher who spotlighted and shot three bucks in one night. "He left them lying there," Nichols says. "Said they weren't big enough." And that's just one poacher on one night in one county.

Agents say a favored poaching trick is to take a legal buck during season, then kill a trophy buck out of season and claim that head as the one legally taken.

The problem is not unique to Missouri. Ollie Torgerson, the Conservation Department's chief of wildlife and former deer biologist, thinks it happens most often in

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