This beast of a buck was an eye-opening find, not only for the size of his neck, but for what hung from his antler.
November 28 was like most days spent deep in the woods, at least from outward appearances. The weather was unusually mild, the sun blazing high in the sky, and the wind had stopped blowing completely. That, however, is where the similarities end.
As a wildlife photographer with an intense fascination with whitetail deer, this fall has been an unusual one, to say the least. Bucks have been scarce during daytime hours, but frequent visitors to the trail cameras come dark. It has been frustrating.
Having spent much of the fall working an area adjacent to an expansive sorghum field, I made the decision to revisit a large stand of hardwoods that has been a gold mine for rutting bucks in previous years. As you'll soon see, it was a move I'm glad I made.
I arrived at a large clearing adjacent to the hardwoods at 2:00 p.m. Almost immediately, I spotted an eight-point buck standing just inside the treeline and watching intently over a doe and fawn some 100 feet away. He posed nicely for some shots before wandering up to a high ridge to feed.
As I made my way on to the ridge, I quickly realized the eight-point had company, and it came in the form of a curious and overly-friendly six-point. This guy was completely relaxed around me, at one point walking within 10 feet of the camera lens. When you get this close to whitetails, you definitely feel a connection.
I now had a pair of bucks, happily grazing on what was left of the still green leaves and rooting around in the snow for acorns. After photographing each deer for the next 10 or 15 minutes, I began to notice both directing their gaze off into the distance. While watching them do this, I knew it could only mean one of two things: another whitetail or a predator. With their tails down, however, I quickly ruled out the latter. It was then I spotted him.
Down in a small gully, approximately 100 feet away and just inside the treeline, stood a brute of a buck. I trained my camera lens on him and let out a 'wow.' This eleven-point buck, with a neck the size of a linebacker, was tending to a doe which was bedded 15 feet to his right. I steadied my shaking hands and began shooting.
Talk about an enlarged neck! Quite possibly the biggest I have come across in all of my years photographing these guys. And check out that sweet rack.
Now, I should probably point out, this is public land, located in Ontario, Canada, but it is off-limits to hunting. The whitetail population is healthy in these parts, and without the fear of being shot or arrowed, they are a bit more accustomed to the presence of humans.
I only had five minutes to photograph this trophy buck before something spooked the bedded doe, and he raced after her in hot pursuit. At this point, I decided to take a seat on a stump and review some of the shots. At this point, I made an unusual discovery. My first thought was "it's a vine." But after cropping in, I quickly realized what it in fact was. Snagged around his right antler, dangling freely below, was a length of barbed wire. That is a first for me!
Crazy, right?! From what my images show, the wire doesn't seem to be embedded in his body at all, although I can't ascertain whether any is dragging. He certainly had no trouble chasing after the doe, so he seems otherwise healthy. My main fear is if that wire becomes snagged on something, or worse still, wrapped around his neck, he could succumb to death. Antlers should begin dropping in a month or two from now, so if he can make it that far without incident, all should be good.
The day after I took those photos, I also scored this trail camera footage of Barbed Wire:
So many thoughts are running around in my head. Was he caught in the wire fence for a length of time? Is his neck so large from fighting to free himself? Did he break his one tine in the struggle? So many questions that will unfortunately go unanswered.
Although it is still up in the air, I captured this buck on my trail camera with the same G2 flyer back on October 24. It could be the same guy, and I can't positively rule out that 'Barbed Wire' doesn't have a split brow tine on the left from these images. I'll need to photograph him again to make a positive match or discount it. The trail cam was only 50 feet from where I spotted this one a month later.
Quite the fitting name, isn't it? I'll be out, over the coming weeks with camera in hand, hoping to run into 'Barbed Wire' once again. Fingers crossed he lasts long enough for those antlers to fall. And you can rest assured I'll be searching high and low if they do - because that would be a find I would forever treasure.
To see more of Justin's photography work, or to order canvas prints, check out his stock site here.
Photos Courtesy of Justin Hoffman