On the Antlers of a Dilemma

Maybe Missouri, this Johnny-come-lately among deer hunting states, had something going. Missouri already had the No. 7 typical rack, taken by Jeff Brunk in Clark County in 1969, which scored 199 4/8. There also were several Missouri racks in the 186-187 range, almost all from north Missouri.

Gibson's rack, taken behind his Randolph County house, scored 205 points and missed being No. 1, according to the complicated Boone and Crockett Club scoring, by less than two points because of an abnormality on one tine, which cost just enough points to bump it to second.

When the No. 1 all time non-typical white-tailed deer rack appeared on a dead deer in St. Louis County in 1981, it sent a nonarguable message: Missouri is big deer country. The rack scored 333 7/8, shattering the previous record of 286 points from a Texas rack taken in 1892.

But inevitably with fame comes infamy. Not only is Missouri a fine place to take a trophy buck legally, it also is fertile ground for illegal activity. Today, conservation agents feel there is heavy traffic in poached trophy deer racks.

Hunters have been fascinated with the headgear of hoofed animals since the dawn of man. Gods of the Greeks and Romans often wore horns. In Asia, powdered antlers are considered a potent potion (and a market for illegal horn/antler collectors).

Horns and antlers are similar, except that horns are for life; antlers are shed each year. Deer and their relatives - elk, caribou and moose - have antlers while cows, sheep and antelope have horns.

Antlers as trophies date at least to the 1500s when Queen Elizabeth (the first one) ordered officials in the New World colonies to send the finest heads home to England.

Missouri has about 400,000 deer hunters, a $7 million contribution in permit fees alone. According to an accepted formula, deer hunters spend around $100 million each season.

No one believes hunters will quit hunting because they think crooks are stealing the big bucks...but the economic reality of deer hunting makes any thievery a cause for concern. "We think the trophy market hunters detract from the true spirit of why we manage wildlife," says Ron Glover, chief of the Conservation Department's enforcement arm. "Hunters who hunt for the sport or the chase aren't interested in selling trophy racks."

For many, it is incomprehensible why anyone would want to display a trophy deer he didn't kill, but there are antler collectors who will