Sometimes the best deer stories are about the ones that got away. Such is the case with legendary non-typicals like the Hole-in-the-Horn, the Missouri and Minnesota Monarchs which were all found dead. 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. Such was the case with the General and the Kansas King, two bucks that likely were larger than Milo Hanson's current 213 5/8-inch world record whitetail from Saskatchewan. However, one spectacular buck may have topped all three of those deer.
Because back in the 1970s an absolute tank of a whitetail was wandering the cornfields of Iowa. As far as anyone knows, this buck never met up with a hunter. Only a single set of sheds was found from the deer. Today, many whitetail experts have estimated this buck likely grossed 240 inches and netted somewhere in the 230s! The numbers sound almost too big to be true, but we do have proof of the massive animal's likely size thanks to one of the sheds. It's just a shame we'll never know the true size because the other side was carved up to make a hunting knife!
The Story of the Knife Handle Buck
In many ways, the story of the Knife Handle buck mirrors that of the Kansas King. Some of the details have been lost to time, but North American Whitetail's Dick Idol dug up more than most. In an old issue of North American Whitetail, he reported the story of this buck began with a farmer working his alfalfa field one spring in the late 1970s. The exact year of the find is not known. What we do know is that the farmer stumbled across one of the largest sets of sheds from a wild whitetail ever found.
Just like the Kansas King story, this farmer apparently did not care about deer or big antlers at all. Because he took the two massive sides home and threw them under a workbench. Allegedly, this is where they sat for years gathering dust. According to legend, the buck's antlers may have never been known to the whitetail world if not for a bit of happenstance. Several years later, in the early 1980s, a man later identified as Glen Wagner stopped by the farm to ask for permission to trap some turtles. While he was there, he spotted the massive antlers plus some others in the barn and asked the farmer about them.
To Wagner's amazement, the farmer told him he could have all the antlers he had. With one exception. This is where the story gets murky again. One version of the story says the farmer wanted to keep the left side for his own, another says he was holding it for a friend. Either way, the farmer intended for the left side of this incredible rack to be cut up and made into a knife handle! Apparently, there was no talking the farmer out of it because Wagner only walked away with the right side, which has a distinctive split brow tine. Well, at least he didn't cut both sides up!
How Big Was the Knife Handle Buck?
The one surviving side of this great deer is truly 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. Just think about that for a moment. 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.
Shortly after the discovery, taxidermist Tom Sexton re-created the lost left side from Wagner's description so the world could finally get an idea of what this great buck looked like. Many years after that, the cut-up left side was finally located sans the base and brow tine. This was found through the efforts of angler collector Klaus Lebrecht, who then used what was left to create the most likely and realistic depiction of what the whole rack was. It's from this replica that most hunters get those 230-240-inch figures.
Unfortunately, we'll never know exactly large this buck was because of the destruction to the left side. However, that also 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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