No matter what particular outdoor pursuit a hunter chooses, it requires putting forth one’s best effort and best behavior. No matter the species in question, we owe it fair chase and ethical conduct. Any trophy taken legally and ethically is truly a hard-earned prize and the success of the hunt is adequate reward for the hunter.
A good hunter does not need fame, adulation or the largest buck in the woods in order to derive pride and satisfaction from the hunt. Although huge antlers are coveted by any hunter — whether he or she admits it or not — they are not the all-consuming reason for hunting, nor should they be. While there is certainly nothing wrong with setting the bar high and holding out for a giant, the desire for records book game may lead some to go a bit too far.
During my law-enforcement career, the majority of trophy deer hunters encountered were ethical and legal sportsmen. They may have gone the entire season without pressing the trigger, but they knew where the line was and did not cross it. To do so would taint the trophy and make it worthless in their eyes. Unfortunately, that cannot be said for everyone.
Here are a couple of examples of situations where the desire for trophy deer overrode the constraints of legality, ethics and fair chase. Although these are rare and unusual cases, they are examples of some of the more extreme behaviors attributed to obtaining trophy deer by any means available.
Eye in the sky
Northeast Louisiana is known for rich farmland and big, riverbottom bucks. Firearms seasons in big buck country run to the last days of January. Several years ago, as the seasons were winding down, wildlife agents began receiving reports from landowners about suspected trespassing and poaching on their property. Initially, everyone assumed vehicle tracks and other evidence of unauthorized visitors was the work of night hunters, the most common deer poaching method.
This was in the days before trail cameras, so photo evidence of trespassing or missing trophy deer was not available. This went on for two or three years before an odd rumor began to circulate. Although hard to believe, the word was that an airplane was being used to locate big bucks in their beds during the day. With exact coordinates in hand, the poachers would travel by vehicle to the locations and kill the bucks.
I’ll skip over some details in the interests of protecting those who assisted in the investigation, but the offenders were ultimately apprehended and charged with violating deer-hunting regulations, airborne-hunting regulations and trespassing laws. Several trophy deer heads were recovered. The pilot who spotted the deer from the air was cooperative and described the technique.
He said that during late winter, the antlers of some bucks were nearly white and easy to see. Bucks were focused on recovering weight after the rut and could usually be found bedded near agriculture fields and other reliable food sources. One had even bedded among round hay bales stored on a field.
Take it to go
Some people just can’t resist things that catch their eye. Such was the case when a man walked into the foyer of a parish courthouse and saw several mounted trophy deer heads on display. The sheriff had arranged the loan of the trophies from the owners for display. The heads decorated the walls and were under the watchful eye of the deputy sheriff on duty at the desk. The visitor spied the largest buck and apparently decided he had to have it. He left the courthouse, devised a plan and returned later.
On Sunday afternoon, with hardly anyone around, our suspect walked in and told the desk deputy he was there to pick up the trophy deer mount for the owner who wanted it returned. The deputy asked him to wait while she called the sheriff to get authorization to release the head to him. The suspect, a smooth talker, told her to make the call; he would be getting the head off the wall and ready to go while she did so. He was quickly out the door with his prize and making for his car.
A patrol deputy passing by in his cruiser noticed the suspect hurrying to get the head into the car. Having been around long enough to know if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t, the deputy recorded the license number, which led investigators to the suspect’s residence, where the antlers were recovered. The mounted cape and head was missing, but the suspect ultimately admitted to having stopped on the way home to remove the antlers from the mount. He took investigators to the spot where he had dumped the mount.
The suspect had an extensive collection of trophy antlers at his home and said he was a collector with a fascination for trophy deer. He was arrested a few years later by wildlife agents for contest fraud after entering a large set of antlers in a big buck contest under a fake name. He claimed to have purchased the antlers in Texas.
Hunters are crazy about hunting — some more than others.