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Published on: Nov. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

imagine what a noise his dying struggle must have made.

Like an investigator at a crime scene, I memorized every physical detail of the area as I tiptoed around the deer. He had evidently been the victim of a stabbing. He had multiple wounds everywhere I looked, including the undersides of his hams. His ample belly had been punctured a dozen times, as had his neck and shoulders. One eye was gone, and a long gouge along his muzzle ended at the socket.

This deer had plainly lost in a battle of titans. Despite all the blood and wounds, a broken neck was probably the fatal injury. The ground was furrowed 50 feet in every direction, suggesting the victor had continued to charge and gore his fallen foe. As massive as this buck was, the buck that bested him must have really been something.

The buck smelled rank, but I cut the head off carefully at the base of the skull and carried it away, leaving the carcass to the animals who take care of such things. After I explained the situation, my local conservation agent investigated the scene and gave me permission to keep the massive head and rack. I brought them to my own woods, wired them to a tree and let nature scour them with her own time and patience.

In late spring, when every flake of soft tissue had been used up and digested by the custodians for the forest, I brought the skull and rack home and told its story to an old neighbor. He ran his fingers over the bleached sculpture of bone and antlers.

"Well now, that's one big deer," he lamented. "Died to no purpose. What a shame."

Back then, I understood exactly what he meant. Most people tend to reduce things to practical human values, and Ozark folks are appalled by the waste of something useful. My neighbor didn't regret the loss of meat as much as he regretted the loss of thrill and personal satisfaction it would have given one of his kin to bring down a deer as fine as this, as well as the memories of the hunt that would have lasted long after the meat had gone.

In the Ozarks, a big buck is the legendary, story-telling stuff of a family's history. It's one of the elements that anchors an old home place to which wandering kids always return. In that setting, a deer's

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