column By: Lee J. Hoots | November, 18
As a kid who, at the time, had just bought his first pickup, I chased mule deer around as often as work and school would allow. During that formative time, school was less important than deer hunting. School was, to my adolescent thinking, less important than hunting just about anything – wild chukars, valley quail, feral hogs, waterfowl, skunks…you name it.
The first mule deer buck I ever shot with a bow was missing half of its crown. That hunt took place in the coastal California foothills above Pepperdine University in Malibu. (Imagine trying to get away with that now!) Of course, my older hunting chums quickly launched into good-natured ribbing and ultimately “helped me” decide that the deer should be mounted – though with a second, somewhat matching antler.
One of the fellows who frequented the bow shop where I worked was a pretty talented garage taxidermist, and he happened to have a shed antler that fairly well matched the confirmation and color of the half-rack Malibu deer. So, I paid the $250 entry and within a couple of months had a shoulder mount to hang on the wall.
I admired it at first, but over time it became less meaningful due to the fact that it was no longer the buck I arrowed. It was half the buck – with an odd, unfamiliar antler protruding from the skull cap. It was no longer “my deer.” It was a hideous “Frankenbuck” built with screws and Bondo. Too many years have passed to remember how and where that mount ended up, but Jack Ballard’s feature in this issue, “Freaky Fascination,” dredged up the old memory.
Like many hunters, today I would quite likely pass on a big-game animal if it had damaged or broken horns. There remains, however, an unusual fascination with oddball headgear. With the strange exception of whitetails (perhaps due to living in the Southwest), several muleys, a Coues’ deer and a couple of elk have been shot with unique and/or non-typical racks.
Obviously, game with unusual antler conformation – or not so unusual, depending where a hunter spends most of his or her time in the field – is stumbled upon unpredictably. In many regions of the country, truly non-typical antlers are fairly rare, especially deer antlers; I have, however, seen more – as beach bums might say in Malibu – “gnarly” antlered elk.
Pronghorns with truly malformed horns are even more rare, and Jack’s fascination with a couple of highly unusual bucks strikes home. Three days into a four-day Wyoming hunt a handful of years back, I bumped into an oddball specimen with its left horn bent nearly in half. As it ran off and the oddity was viewed more clearly from behind with binoculars, the buck was stalked and shot. It was a natural Frankenbuck – highly appealing in its own way. That’s the thing about oddities; sometimes they are highly interesting; other times they are equally appalling.