What is the real value of a monster buck?
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."
This is not the first time we have heard rumors like this. 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. But how realistic are some of the numbers we hear thrown around?
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. With 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 never revealed in these transactions seems to make people's imaginations run wild.
However, we also suspect most of these rumored giant price tags are simply the Internet skewing the facts slightly. 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. In fact, case in point. Around 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. 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. However, the truth is far from it. In fact, we can put an exact dollar amount on how much a world record may be worth to a hunter thanks to Milo Hanson. His 213 5/8-inch Saskatchewan monster has stood as the typical world record since 1993.
In a 2010 interview with Outdoor Life, Hanson put an exact dollar amount on 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 on. Hanson also noted no one ever offered him anywhere close to that for the deer, so you can shoot down rumors about the world record being worth millions too. In fact, it seems Hanson still works full-time as a farmer with the occasional outdoor 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. All sorts of rumors started to fly in the aftermath of the deer being sold. For instance, 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. However, the truth is probably 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 by the teen's mother Christy Lovstuen.
"No, not even close," Lovstuen told reporters.
Make of that what you will. However, there is more precedent for the actual price being much lower for a world class rack in 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, who was hoping the deer would be crowned the Boone and Crockett world record.
While that 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. We think most of that hype came from the earlier-mentioned headlines about the Stephen Tucker buck. In multiple interviews, Jared Steele of Great Basin Antler Buyers was the one quoted with the $100,000 estimate that drew worldwide headlines. However, it is worth noting 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.
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