On the Antlers of a Dilemma

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Published on: Feb. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

the Corn Belt states, which are well-known for big deer. He has heard of poachers videotaping large bucks and showing the tapes to prospective buyers so they could pick the rack they want.

Iowa has reported antler poaching and there was an incident in another state where a "big buck" contest led to several antler-poached deer until the contest was canceled.

Conservation agents, through experience, think a rack scoring beneath the Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club minimum might bring as much as $500. A rack scoring above the Big Bucks minimum, but under Boone and Crockett's minimum can be valued at $500-$1,000.

The big dollars come from racks scoring above the Boone and Crockett minimum - from $1,000 to perhaps $50,000. A record buck - say, Gibson's rack or the No. 1 non-typical one - is basically priceless (both are in possession of the Conservation Department).

People hunt deer for meat, but many deer hunters prefer a buck and some are after the "buck of a lifetime," the bragging deer. Leave it to the psychologists. You could say it's male machismo, except that women hunt trophies too. Maybe it centers on the American penchant for competition: take any sport, no matter how restful and non-competitive, and Americans will figure a way to keep score.

The problem isn't with legal trophy hunting. It's when competition generates cheating that wildlife agents get irritable. "We decided to take a survey of our conservation agents to see how extensive poaching for antlers is," says Glover.

"We told the agents to report just what they physically saw," Glover says. "Reports averaged about four deer poached for antlers per county, with a high of 20." St. Louis County, as urban as it is, was one which reported 20.

The total of these deer taken for their antlers was a disturbing 406. That doesn't sound like many when the deer herd numbers over half a million. "Figure that's maybe one-tenth of what actually was poached," Glover says. "And these are the deer that every legal hunter wants to find."

What makes a trophy? Probably a combination of genetics, nutrition and longevity. Bucks steadily increase antler size for the first half-dozen years of their lives before old age begins to shrink their headgear. Of course, most bucks don't live a half-dozen years and others don't have the big-antler genes or lack high-quality food. So, like the New York Stock Exchange, there are only a few blue chips among many so-so investments.

That rarity is what warms a hunter's heart. If trophies were easy, they wouldn't be trophies. And that rarity also should be what warms a hunter's anger when he thinks of some crook shooting the buck-of-a-lifetime for no reason other than profit.

Aside from being illegal, it cheapens hunting. "I don't understand it," says agent Nichols. "Hanging a rack you didn't take on your wall is like hanging a plastic bass and telling people you caught it. Why not get one of the replica racks and hang that? You can't tell them from the real thing anyway."

Of the 406 deer taken for their antlers and found by conservation agents, about 10-15 percent were road-killed; agents say the rest were illegally taken.

New Missouri regulations still allow the sale of legally obtained deer antlers. Legally obtained antlers may be "bought, sold or bartered when accompanied by a bill of sale showing the seller's full name, address and the number and species of these (antlers) and the full name and address of the purchaser."

A person who buys a deer head must "retain a bill of sale for the period the heads or antlers are in his/her possession. The bill of sale shall include the transaction date and a signed statement from the seller attesting that the deer heads and/or antlers were, to his/her knowledge, taken according to the regulations of the state or country where taken."

No regulation will suit everyone (none ever does). And Missouri always will have a few big old bucks that survive to create other big bucks and to serve as a challenge for honest hunters. And poachers will continue, regardless of the potential penalties.

So, trophy antlers will be what they always have been: the horns of a dilemma.

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