Bagging a record-book buck

There is something weird and wonderful about deer, moose, elk, and caribou antlers—and hunters—that defy logical explanation. Perhaps it’s a recessive gene that goes back to caveman days.
But place a big gorgeous rack amongst a group of hunters and they’ll touch it, savour it, pass it around, and talk about it for days to come. However, we’ll be talking about Darryl Friesen’s deer for a lot longer.
Friesen, who lives in Kenora, shot a magnificent Sunset Country whitetail recently that undoubtedly will go into the record books as one of the all-time largest non-typical animals ever harvested in Ontario.
The rack sports 25 points—21 of which are scoreable for official Boone and Crockett record-keeping purposes. Based on the elaborate evaluation procedure, the massive whitetail rack likely will tally between 215 and 225 points.
The reason I say “likely” is because there is an official 60-day period during which the antlers must dry before they are officially measured. Regardless, with a 195-point minimum to make it into the North American record book, Friesen’s deer is a “shoo-in.”
For that reason, the keen hunter, who shot the buck in late October, still is wearing a grin that stretches from one ear to the other. Also, he has been chasing the big fellow for more than three hunting seasons.
“I was actually getting a little frustrated,” Friesen told me. “The past couple of seasons, knowing that big buck was around, I kept holding off and holding off hoping I’d get a crack at him. Then the season would be over.
“So this year, I told my son, Kyle, who is in the Young Hunter Apprentice Program, that if I didn’t see a ‘150’ or ‘160’ animal, he could shoot his first deer under my supervision and on my tag.”
Kyle is going to have to wait another year. At mid-morning on Oct. 26, Friesen’s mammoth record-book buck poked his head out from the bushes, stepped into the open, and fulfilled his dreams.
Although it didn’t go quite according to plans.
“I was so nervous when I saw him,” the long-time hunter admitted. “I knew immediately he was the one I’d been chasing, but all I could see were antlers. He even had sticks and bits of bark hanging from them, so he must have recently been rubbing against trees.”
Trying to pull his eyes off the massive set of horns, Friesen aimed and pulled the trigger, but the deer simply hopped back into the woods.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Friesen recalled. “I just stood there chewing myself out. I mean, it was a clear 60-yard shot and I missed. I said to myself, ‘C’mon, you couldn’t have missed. Did you even aim?’
“I’d choked,” he added. “But then I looked up and the big buck turned around, returned, and stepped back into the shooting lane.”
This time Friesen didn’t miss. Still, he couldn’t believe his eyes when we finally approached the downed whitetail. The non-typical rack was bigger than anything he had ever seen.
Normally whitetail deer sport what are called a “typical set” of antlers, with one or more matching tines sprouting off each of the right and left main beams. Normally, the two beams are balanced and symmetrical.
That is not the case, however, in much rarer “non-typical” antler sets. In non-typical antlers, or atypical as they’re sometimes called, the tines branch off helter-skelter in any and all directions.
And quite often, one or more of the tines are palmatted like you’d see on a moose.
There are a host of theories about what causes non-typical antler development in deer. Some biologists and hunters believe that what looks like a “bad hair day” starts out as an injury to the deer’s skull—particularly a bad bump, bruise, or wound in the vicinity of where the antlers grow.
But injuries and damage to other parts of a deer’s body also are believed to result in non-typical antler development. Especially, surprisingly enough, injuries to the hind legs.
Kenora whitetail deer breeder Luke DeGagne, owner of L&LD Whitetail Farms, has another interesting theory. He believes the unusual—and often bizarre—antler development is partially the result of in-breeding, or “line breeding” as he calls it.
“In the wild, whitetails have quite small territories or home ranges,” DeGagne notes. “And despite what many hunters think, it is the dominant doe that rules the roost.
“She normally has one or two fawns each year, and when they’re big enough, she runs her sons [the young bucks] away so she can breed again.
“But the females stay together in doe groups. So, if she . . . and her daughters . . . breed with the same buck, the latter may be mating with their father. The genetic pool can be very tight.”
DeGagne also notes that when line breeding occurs in the wild, it is not uncommon for most of the bucks in a general area to all have what he calls “messy heads.”
But even the knowledgeable DeGagne is quick to point out that in-breeding can’t fully explain the unusual growth of non-typical anglers.
“I had a beautiful buck that I used for breeding purposes that for the first seven years of its life carried a typical set of antlers,” he said. “In fact, as a seven-year old, it was a 202-point Boone and Crockett whitetail.
“But then, after he lost his antlers over the winter, when he re-grew them the next spring, they came in as non-typical,” DeGagne added. “As an 11-year old, the buck sported a 195-point non-typical rack.”
Whatever the cause, Darryl Friesen isn’t complaining—although you might wonder what he has left to accomplish. Well, you simply won’t believe what happened two weeks later.
While driving, he had to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting a deer with his truck. It was another non-typical that ran across the road in the very spot he had been hunting.
Friesen couldn’t believe his eyes. It was his old buddy—the buck he has been chasing for the past many years. And he says it is even bigger now than this year’s record-book buck.

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