Entangled racks tell story of deadly battle


Mar 11, 2001
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Playing a little rack and roll at this stag party

November 28, 2001

BY DALE BOWMAN, Chicago Sun-Times

The two deer didn't see this in the cards. And Pete Stegman and a couple of buddies certainly didn't expect to see what they found while duck hunting near Wedron on Oct. 27.

"I saw two bumps sticking up [in the Fox River],'' Stegman said. "I thought it was brown foam. Then we figured it was the bellies of two deer.''

There's the beautiful side to nature. And the side you don't see in cutesy Disney movies.

Stegman and his friends had stumbled on a once-in-a-lifetime example of nature's version of sex and violence. Two massive bucks had died after their racks became entangled during a rut battle.

Even during rut, such deadly battles are rare.

"Generally speaking, racks are for intimidation and display purposes,'' said Paul Shelton, Forest Wildlife Program manager for the Illinois DNR.

"Most dominance and hierarchy [issues] are settled simply by threat or threats that end short of a fight. In younger deer, it is much more common to see them [battle] playfully. In older deer, it is much more serious. In most cases, deer know their place.

"It has to be a little bit like playing Indian poker because you don't know what you have on your head.''

In this case, both deer obviously thought they held the higher hand, the more dominant rack. One had a rack of 13 points, the other nine.

"Size of rack and size of body establish you in the hierarchy,'' Shelton said. "The serious battles are limited to two bucks that are convinced they are top dogs. Those situations are the exception rather than the rule.''

This was such an exception. After the battle, there must have been some gruesome days of togetherness for the entangled bucks.

"The bigger one died first,'' said Stegman, who judged that from the condition of the deer. "The nine-pointer dragged the 13-pointer around for a couple of days. I figure he got into the water and drowned.''

Stegman, a heavy-equipment operator for Local 150, and his friends struggled to lift the roughly 600 pounds of deer from the river.

"We couldn't get the deer out of the water,'' Stegman said. "Finally, I stood in the water up to my waist cutting [the heads] off.''

Then he and his father spent several hours trying to disengage the two racks without success. The entwined racks were taken to taxidermist Denny Robinson for mounting.

"There is a drop tine about an inch long on the one,'' Robinson said. "It is buried into the other rack. Imagine how strong those animals are, the pressure they hold each other. When [racks] get woven, they are like a basket.''

Drop tines grow downward instead of with the usual upward flow.

"I did another [set of entangled racks] a guy found,'' said Robinson, who owns Robby's Taxidermy in Tomahawk, Wis. "They were sitting on a log and saw a point was sticking out. They went digging through the sand. They were all cleaned off, like they were bleached. That was a 13 and nine, too. Maybe there is something about the odd number of points.''

Stegman has a vision for the mount of his entangled racks. He wants them on an old hedge post with rusty barbwire stuck on the side.

"So it will look like they are in a field,'' he said.

BIG BUCKS: Because of bucks with racks the size of those found by Stegman, Illinois is becoming one of the most popular designations for hunters seeking a whitetail trophy.

"All those people in Illinois don't realize what they have,'' Robinson said. "The hunting there is as good as anywhere in the world.''

Robinson should know. He is mounting a 23-point buck killed by a bow hunter that he thinks will challenge Bill Brown's non-typical archery record for Illinois: a buck taken in Fulton County in 1999 that scored 251-6/8 inches.

Deer racks are scored by taking various measurements (tine length, rack width, rack height, etc.) in inches.

Shelton had expected harvest in the first firearm deer season Nov. 16-18 to be down from last year's record. But preliminary information indicates hunters not only took fewer deer but, with the warm weather, waited on trophy bucks. For herd control, more hunters need to take does in the second firearm season that opens Thursday and runs through Sunday.

"The first season was heavily skewed toward buck harvest,'' Shelton said. "People were out headhunting and the proportion of does was fairly low.

"This is the season that will make or break us. We would like to see them get out and take some antlerless deer this time around. It looks like we will have the weather for it.''

The forecast calls for colder temperatures and even snow in parts of the state.

E-mail Dale Bowman at out doordb@aol.com.

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