How rich the irony, says Matt Stans, that the Department of Natural Resources seems tempted to dance with the same devil that has long enchanted poachers worldwide: money.
The DNR is considering selling the rack from a world-class 8-point buck that was killed illegally near Cannon Falls in 2009.
A bow hunter, and an ethical one, Stans knew well the lore and legend of the big whitetail. He and others who live in the countryside near him even had a nickname for the animal -- Fred -- and sightings of the big buck, usually fleeting and almost always after legal shooting hours, became part of the area's mythology.
"My neighbors and I spent a great deal of time and effort hunting for Fred," said Stans, a corporate pilot whose flight assignments take him to ports worldwide.
Stans' fascination with Fred knew no seasonal bounds. In summer he cultivated a food plot on his property, sometimes hauling buckets of water by hand to help the plantings prosper when rain was scarce.
Come hunting season, he would be in his bow stand as often as possible. And in spring, Stans hunted for Fred's sheds, two sets of which he was fortunate enough to find.
Then at 8:30 on Halloween night in 2009, Fred was gunned down in the dark by a shotgun during archery season, killed by a poacher.
Subsequently, Troy Alan Reinke of Cannon Falls pleaded guilty to three wildlife-related counts, including illegally possessing the trophy buck. At Reinke's sentencing, a Goodhue County district judge sent him to jail for a year and ordered that the antlers be used by the DNR to educate people about the public thievery that occurs when wildlife is killed illegally.
Today, Stans and his hunting neighbors are aghast, if not irate, that the DNR has yet to formally include Fred's magnificent 8-point rack -- perhaps the most magnificent of its kind in history -- on its traveling "wall of shame" that displays the headgear of other illegally killed bucks.
The exhibit is intended to demonstrate the treasure -- literally the cream of the state's whitetail crop -- that is at risk when poaching, whether done for pride or profit, is allowed to fester without public condemnation and stiff penalties.
"At least the DNR by now could have mounted the rack on a head and cape and placed it in the DNR headquarters as an example of the cost to hunters and the public of poaching," Stans said.
That might happen some day. Until it does, if it does, the DNR is exploring other options -- including outright sale of the antlers, which by some estimates could fetch $200,000 or more -- or their "cloning," in which replicas would be made and possibly sold.
"It really hasn't gotten past the discussion stage," said DNR enforcement director Col. Jim Konrad. "But, really, this situation isn't any different from other confiscations we make and sell. We sell moose quarters, for instance, if we get them, and at one time we sold deer that we confiscated, or guns or other equipment."
Not so fast, says Stans. "The DNR doesn't own those antlers," he said. "They belong to the people of Minnesota and shouldn't be for sale. What's the difference, then, between the DNR selling them for profit and the poacher selling them for profit? What kind of message is that sending to the public?"
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr has joined the discussion about the antlers' fate, confirming in an e-mail to Stans the possibility of selling the original rack and keeping replicas for the Wall of Shame or other exhibits.
"If we can make some good money and still demonstrate the size of the antlers," Landwehr said, "then I think it's a good outcome."
Counters Stans: "The antlers are not theirs to sell. The DNR possesses them, but they do not own them. When I heard the DNR was considering selling the antlers, I almost fell over. My neighbors and I sent them e-mails letting them know how wrong it would be to sell the originals, and what an incredibly bad example they would be setting.
"How could they not see this themselves?"
Konrad cuts a wide swath among DNR higher-ups. But any decision regarding disposition of the antlers ultimately will be made at a pay grade higher than his, he said.
Or perhaps not made at all.
"Before anything can happen with those antlers other than using them to educate the public, the judge would have to vacate his order," Konrad said. "No one has asked him to do that yet."
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org