While there's nothing quite like bringing home a big trophy buck, sometimes the best deer stories are about the ones that got away or were never got to begin with. Such is the case with legendary non-typicals like the Hole-in-the-Horn Buck, found dead after being hit by a train, or the Missouri Monarch, the current record holder that was found dead of natural causes.
Then there are the bucks where no one knows their final fate because all they left behind were a few tantalizing shed antlers that had hunters wondering what could have been. These include the Minnesota Monarch, and both the General and the Kansas King, two bucks that likely were larger than Milo Hanson's buck from Saskatchewan, the current typical world record at 213 5/8-inches.
While these were all incredible bucks, there's still one we haven't mentioned that may top any of them. Back in the 1970s, a tank of a whitetail was apparently wandering the cornfields of Iowa. He left nothing but a single set of sheds behind, which are estimated to gross 240 inches, and net somewhere in the 230s, making him a world record. There's only one problem: one side of his antlers was carved up to make a hunting knife, earning him the nickname the Knife Handle Buck.
The Story of the Knife Handle Buck
Many details of the Knife Handle Buck's story have been lost to time, though Dick Idol, with North American Whitetail managed to dig some of it up back in 2010. As the story goes, in the early 1970s a man named Glen Wagner stopped and asked a farmer for permission to fish and trap turtles in his ponds. As they were chatting, Wagner noticed a massive pile of deer antler sheds inside the barn.
Just like the Kansas King story, the farmer did not care about antler sheds at all. He'd left them under a workbench where they'd sat for years, gathering dust, and then told Wagner that he could have them all, except for the gigantic rack with the 8 long tines. Apparently, the farmer was planning on saving that one for a friend who made knives out of deer antler tines. He did, however, let Wagner take the right side of the massive pair, which had a distinctive split brow tine.
The left side disappeared into history. Years afterward, Tom Sexton, a taxidermist and a sculpter, heard about Wagner's story and his huge half-rack and somehow managed to track him down. Tom recreated the left side of the rack so that the world could see the full glory of this massive typical from Iowa.
Just How Big Was the Knife Handle Buck?
While we only have one side of this great deer, the single shed is something to behold. The G2 tine measures 14 4/8 inches, while the G3 and G4 tines are each over 13 inches. Dick Idol measured this single side at a jaw-dropping 112 3/8 inches gross. It scored 106 even, making it the world-record single typical whitetail shed antler.
If the buck's left side matched the right, you're talking about a buck that grosses 224 inches without inside spread credit factored in. It's probably reasonable to assume the spread was somewhere in the 20 to 24-inch range based on the main beams. That's where most hunters get the 240+ inch gross number.
According to Wagner, the buck's left side looked very much like the right. There was some disparity between the brow tines though. The left side's brow is split with a 5 2/8-inch abnormal tine, the only one on the right side. Wagner said the left side had a single brow that was taller than the right side, perhaps why they decided to cut that side up for a handle instead of the left.
Reunited At Last
Some forty years after Wagner found the Knife Handle Buck's sheds at the farm in Iowa, the left side shed was finally relocated through the exhaustive efforts of antler collector Klaud Lebrecht. The left shed was missing the base and brow tine, presumably because they had been used for a knife handle, as the farmer had told Wagner. Lebrecht used what was left of the antler to create the most realistic recreation of what the Knife Handle Buck may have looked like.
Unfortunately, no matter how realistic the recreations are, we'll never know exactly how large this buck was, thanks to the destruction to the left side. However, that just seems to add to the buck's mystique.
As far as we know, no hunter ever came forward and claimed to have seen the Knife Handle Buck in the flesh. The idea that a buck of this caliber could wander around right under the noses of hunters in a state as heavily hunted as Iowa is mind-blowing. It just goes to show they are better at evading us than we'd like to think. The Knife Handle Buck will forever be known as one of the great ghost bucks of the wild, one that fooled all hunters, and one that never allowed anyone to know his true place in the pages of whitetail history.
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