The whereabouts and meanderings in recent years of the world-record 8-point buck were known only to a select few hunters. These hunters followed the rule of fair chase in pursuing the big buck not only because they abide by game laws but, more importantly, because they respected the regal animal and its ability to stay alive against long odds. News from the DNR that the monster whitetail nicknamed "Fred" might have been poached on Halloween evening near White Rock, Minn., in Goodhue County was received "like a punch in the gut," said one hunter, whose interview appears below. The hunter asked not to be named.

Q In recent years, you've watched and hunted the big 8-point buck the DNR says was poached near Cannon Falls.

A Yes. We could have shot it various times, if we would have done it illegally, or out of season. We've seen him several times. Sometimes crossing a road at night. Or after legal shooting hours.

Q When did you see him first?

A Four years ago, the Thursday before the gun season. I was brushing my teeth that morning, looking out a window, and saw him. He was following a doe. I could see that he was unique right away. Wide, with good mass. And, like now, he was an 8-pointer.

I would guess his inside spread back then might have been about 22 inches, compared to the 28 or so he is now. He was just a really good deer. Nothing of the caliber he turned into. But really good.

Q Did you hunt his sheds in winter and spring?

A I did, but I didn't find the first pair until after the hunting season of '07. We also found the ones that grew in '08. They just kept getting bigger. They were huge. I thought, "This is a great deer." This year they got bigger again, when I compared last year's sheds to the ones of the deer killed on Halloween. Not so much in the spread or tine length. The tine length actually went backward a little. But in mass. We always figured one year he would regress in antler size. But he hadn't yet. It's my belief he was 7 1/2 or 8 1/2 years old.

Q Who knew about this deer?

A As far as I know, there were two guys and one woman, myself included. We've been really tight-lipped. The first year I saw him I took some video and I shared the video with some friends. I didn't do it right away. But finally, I just had to show someone and said I can't keep this to myself anymore. So for the last three years we've had tremendous camaraderie centered on this deer. We knew what we were hunting. Then again, we figured that because there were only three of us hunting specifically for this deer, it probably wasn't going to happen.

Q What do you know about the habits of this buck?

A He was nocturnal, as you would expect. He would slip up occasionally, which gave us hope. Somewhat surprisingly to us, he was shot about 4 miles away from what we believe was his home range. We knew he stayed close for the most part, and we knew where he spent most of his time. We never bothered him there.

Q Did you ever shoot at him?

A I took a shot at him four years ago with a muzzleloader during the muzzleloader season. It was about a 100-yard shot. I had my muzzleloader zeroed at 100 yards with bipods. But shooting with bipods is different than shooting when you are excited. It was a clean miss.

Q Outside of the hunting season, how often did you see him?

A Every once in a while, my neighbor or I would see him. You just knew with that spread that it was him. We probably had six confirmed sightings of him among the three of us over the last few years. Which raised a question for us: Did he also have a summer range that he moved to? Maybe. But we don't think so. In our hearts we believe he lived year-round near us.

Q In Zone 3, which is southeastern Minnesota, are there many deer drives during the firearms season? Are there deer drives near where you live? If there are, it would seem this deer wouldn't have been able to hide for as long as he did.

A I agree. But around here, there really isn't much deer driving. I know a lot of my neighbors and they all stand-hunt.

Q Did you score any of the sheds you found?

A Yes. Last year's sheds, for instance, were in really good shape when we found them. When I add in the spread of the antlers taken on Halloween, I'm guessing they would have scored 180-185 typical. Symmetry was the nicest thing about this buck. In my mind it's the fact that he had only 8 points that made him so special. And his mass and spread were unbelievable.

Q Did this buck, elusive and ghostlike that he was, inspire you as a hunter?

A He did in many ways. One was that I knew as I hunted him and thought about him that I could never, ever, ever live with myself if I killed him any way except by legal hunting. The guilt and regret you'd feel the rest of your life would be unbearable.

Q Did he have offspring in the area that were noticeably similar?

A I shot a deer Nov. 1st I thought might be him actually, or a son of his. My deer wasn't as wide. But we hadn't seen Fred -- we called the big deer Fred -- this fall yet. So I thought this might be him. I called my neighbors and said I may have shot Fred. They came over to help find him. I wasn't convinced it wasn't him. We were divided because of the similar characteristics. Some said it had to be him. Others said no it can't be.

Q What did your buck score?

A He grossed around 165 as an 11-pointer. I think I have 8 to 10 inches of deductions, so he'll go about 155 typical as an 8. I was very happy shooting that deer. It's the biggest deer I ever shot.

But I've come to realize in recent days that my deer wasn't Fred. That didn't bother me. But hearing that Fred might have been taken illegally was like a punch in the gut.

I feel robbed, and I hope other Minnesotans feel robbed also, especially everyone in the area. They were all robbed. Particularly my neighbor's kids and grandkids. Just the thought that there was a giant deer in our area killed illegally changes their perspective on hunting this year.

I have friends who had deer poached near their homes. These big bucks are smart and they're nocturnal. You see this too many times, that these deer are killed illegally.

We have a new shining law this year, and I'm glad we do. In accordance with that law I've posted my land against shining. In the past all you could do is watch them shine your property and your neighbor's property and wait to see if a gun goes off. Now, if you're posted and someone shines your property, all you have to do is call the DNR.

People need to be vigilant. Keep the Turn In Poachers number handy. Plug it into your cell phones. Call the DNR. Conservation officers would rather have too much information than not enough. Let's try to make a positive out of this tragedy and reduce how often it happens in the future. These are everyone's resources.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com