Deer antlers are not exactly an uncommon resource. There are millions of whitetails and mule deer wandering the wilds of North America these days. Yet we have noticed a trend where people tend to place a ridiculous dollar value on especially large or unique animals in the past. We saw it most recently with Stephen Tucker's 312-inch giant non-typical Tennessee whitetail. Mainstream media picked up on this deer and part of the storyline was the antlers were "worth $100,000."
Most seasoned deer hunters rolled their eyes at this type of proclamation and deservedly so. However, this is not the first time we have heard rumors like this and we suspect it won't be the last. In fact, almost every time a potential world record is downed, the rumors about Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops being interested in the animal. It may be true to some degree given how they do own some of the most famous whitetails ever taken or found dead. But we're a little skeptical of some of the numbers that are often thrown around when it comes to world class deer. Curious, we decided to do some more digging to see if we could find what one of these record deer might really be worth to someone who's serious about buying it.
How deer get overvalued.
When a huge buck is shot the rumors almost always start that Bass Pro Shops is interested in it. Which they are, sometimes. Johnny Morris has spent years building up the King of Bucks Collection that is housed in the Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield, Missouri. This museum is home to several notable bucks like the "Hole-in-the-Horn," the Jordan buck, and the Tony Lovstuen buck.
We suspect because Bass Pro Shops is worth millions, people automatically assume Johnny Morris is handing out blank checks to anyone with a giant whitetail just to display it in his museum. It doesn't help that due to the anonymity of the Internet, anyone can claim just about anything and make it sound like it is true. The fact that the dollar amounts are almost never revealed in these transactions seems to make people's imaginations run wild.
For that reason, we suspect most of these rumored giant price tags are simply the Internet skewing the facts slightly. Remember those playground rumors that escalated into something else entirely when you were a kid? The Internet is the new playground for the truth being stretched. Someone hears a deer sold for $5,000 and tells two other people. One of those people forgets how much it was and tells someone else it was $10,000. They tell four other people and those four tell more people. After a while, the price gets exaggerated up to $50,000 or more.
Case in point, back in 2009 and 2010, a set of photos of a piebald buck circulated the Internet with rumors Cabela's had paid $13,000 for the deer. Eventually, someone tracked down the wife of the man who shot the animal only to confirm the deer had not been sold. And someone had certainly not paid $13,000 for it. Another part of the rumor was the place of the harvest kept changing with each email and social media post. The first email said the buck was taken in Wisconsin. Later it was revealed the deer was really shot in Texas.
Another prime example of the facts getting skewed about a deer comes from that infamous "430-pound" buck that has circulated many an inbox since 2009. We're frankly sick of seeing this photo year after year. The deer was rumored to have been killed in Michigan, Maine, and Ontario among other places. It turned out it was really a high fence buck from Wisconsin, which explained the colossal size. In any case, see how quickly the facts on big deer get skewed? It is safe to say the Internet exaggerates the price tag on most big bucks too.
The real price of a world-class buck.
There seems to be this prevailing thought on the Internet that if you are fortunate enough to shoot a unique or world class deer, you are set for life. But this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, we can prove it thanks to Milo Hanson. His 213 5/8-inch Saskatchewan monster has stood as the typical world record since 1993. Unlike some other hunters who took world class animals, Hanson chose to hang on to his deer and do the hunting show touring thing. He's still the owner to this day.
In a 2010 interview with Outdoor Life, Hanson surprisingly went on the record and put an exact dollar amount on just what his giant buck had been worth to him financially. In the interview, he estimated he made $60,000 a year off the deer for about a decade. That means he made around $600,000 from a combination of endorsements, replicas, and outdoor show appearances. While that is a huge chunk of change, it is hardly enough to retire or live the easy life. Hanson also shot down rumors of a deer being worth millions when he stated no one ever offered him anywhere close that $600,000 figure to buy the antlers outright. If the world record typical of 30 years isn't worth hundreds of thousands or millions, then it's unlikely any other deer is either. Last we heard Hanson still works full-time as a farmer with the occasional outdoor show appearance. In fact, in an interview with the Spokesman-Review in 1994, Hanson said he started working more than ever after shooting the deer. Hardly what we would call life on easy street.
We can gain a little more insight into the actual dollar amount attached to a deer with the Tony Lovstuen buck we mentioned earlier. Lovstuen was a teenager when he shot the famous buck in 2003. Less than four months later, in February of 2004, the family sold the rack to Bass Pro Shops. The Internet went ballistic with speculation immediately. One rumor going around was Bass Pro Shops agreed to pay for the teen's college education, or they gave the family a new pickup truck to sweeten the deal. It seems the truth is that the Lovstuens probably got way less than that. An article from the Star Tribune in 2004 speculated the antlers were worth upwards of $100,000, a rumor that was shot down immediately by the teen's mother Christy Lovstuen.
"No, not even close," Lovstuen told reporters.
That's not the only proof against a world class deer being worth six figures. Just look at the infamous Johnny King buck. It was thought this Wisconsin monster would dethrone Hanson's world record typical shortly after being taken in 2006. Outdoor Life later reported King sold the deer for a price tag that reportedly was $35,000 to antler collector Jay Fish. At the time he was pushing Boone and Crockett for a panel scoring session while hoping the deer would be crowned the new typical world record. While $35,000 is not a confirmed number, it seems a more realistic number than the six-figure estimates some hunters throw around for a potential record book. Last we heard from Johnny King, he did not retire after the sale of his deer.
Still, those pesky six-figure rumors persist every time a potential world record goes down. It happened again in 2016 when Stephen Tucker downed a 312-inch non-typical in Tennessee. The buck was shortly the world record for a hunter-killed non-typical. It didn't help that the fans were flamed by Jared Steele of Great Basin Antler Buyers. He was interviewed multiple times on the subject and estimated the antlers were worth $100,000. As you might expect that kind of figure drew worldwide headlines. Of course, the rest of Steele's full thoughts on the buck were often buried far beneath the lead.
"It's hard to put an exact number on it, but to the right buyer it could be worth a hundred grand," Steele told the Tennessean. "Especially if it turns out to be a world record because there are people who collect stuff like that who are millionaires. To them it might be worth more than $100,000. You never know."
The key words here are MIGHT and "right buyer." In the end, things are only worth as much as people are willing to pay for them. Until someone confirms that a big buck has sold for more than $100,000, we choose to take many of these reports with a grain of salt.
Especially considering noted antler replicator Antlers by Klaus sells replicas of many famous bucks in the $2,000 to $5,000 range. A replica of the Johnny King buck goes for $3,750 to $4,050 according to their website. If you really want a set of world class antlers, it probably makes more sense to spring for a replica. But that is just us. Someone who MUST have the original may be a little more willing to open their wallet than us.
We suppose the lesson here is to not believe everything you read on the Internet. You may be able to make a significant chunk of change from a big deer, but do not expect to get rich anytime soon.
For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram For original videos, check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels.
READ MORE: THE JOHNNY KING BUCK: THE WISCONSIN RECORD WHITETAIL THAT WASN'T