“If I had known how much grief these things were going to cause me, I would have laid them down in the pasture and driven over them with my dozer.”
Not every set of antlers or hunter-taken horns are held up for admiration. Some woodsman care very little for the headdresses of deer or elk and hunt for meat or to spend time with their friends and family. A trophy that might be of record-book caliber is of little interest to them and not much larger in reality than a few they have taken before.
For others, the envious light cast on their accomplishment leads to questions and speculation as to the location of a favorite hunting area or worse the methods used to take such a trophy. Some people by nature cannot stand the good fortunes of others and spread rumor and innuendo.
“I’ve seen that guy out spotlighting at night, I’m sure he takes most of his deer that way.”
“He uses those illegal bait blocks you can buy at the sporting goods store, that’s why he always shoots big deer. His family has a private ranch and they never let anyone else hunt. I know, because they ran me off just last year when I was just walking across their place during hunting season.”
The quote at the top, came from a neighbor who harvested a trophy caliber animal and stopped to show it to a friend in town. A picture was taken. That image spread like the wind and soon many who were never intended, had a copy of the picture and created their own background stories. Each one crafted by their own personality and embellished to highlight their prejudices.
The gentleman never wanted the press and many were pleased by his good fortune and the knowledge that there were areas in the Hills that supported animals to their maturity and genetic potential. But it only takes a few sour notes to ruin the experience and he wished that he had never taken the shot.
I have personally walked up on a relative’s trophy and rather than be excited for their good fortune been aghast at the spiteful few who I imagined would cast dispersions.
How many great animals merely hang from the rafters or are displayed only on garage walls rather than brought into the public spotlight.
There is a full body-mounted mule deer, one that would be in the top two or three ever taken in the state by an archer. Rather than disclose the location of his hunting hotspot, it goes unmeasured. A replica mount hangs in the hunter’s office, but the business man would rather have his privacy than adulation.
The same is reportedly true of perhaps the largest elk ever taken by a female bow hunter in South Dakota. Her husband is a professional hunter and knows of the pitfalls. Rather than have her subjected to speculation, her trophy remains private.
The list of rafter bulls and bucks might very well be larger than the number of those in actual record books. The biggest animals ever taken in the state could be hanging in your grandpa’s tool shed. Keeping his privacy and untarnished memories are more important than have his name and numbers recorded.
The final reason some trophies remain obscure is based on conscience. Some aspect of a hunt, be it location or members of the party, leave the hunter less than proud. A trophy taken on the wrong side of the fence, or only after a barrage of shots from a party of hunters does not stand as proudly in their minds.
It fails to pass an individual’s personal virtue test and antlers are handed over to the game warden for disposal. Some of the largest deer ever taken in the state have ended up in evidence lockers waiting for disposal.
I am always on the lookout for hidden horns. Their stories deserve to be told and even those who wish to remain unnamed have been witness to some of nature’s greatest works.