The massive antlers are unlike anything seen in Minnesota.
And the half-million hunters out Saturday on Minnesota’s firearms deer opener almost certainly won’t see a whitetail like it this season — or in their lifetimes.
Only in their dreams.
But now the world-record rack from an 8-point Minnesota whitetail deer killed by a poacher in 2009 will get plenty of exposure. Seven nearly identical replicas of the now-famous Goodhue County buck, including four that will mounted on deer heads, are being made and will be displayed for hunters to admire beginning this weekend at the Governor’s Deer Opener in Fergus Falls.
The four shoulder mounts will go on the Department of Natural Resource’s Turn in Poachers “Wall of Shame’’ displays with other poached trophy bucks, collections that always draw crowds at county fairs, sports shows and other events. Of the three remaining racks, one will be displayed in Goodhue County, one will be used for education purposes by the conservation officer who handled the poaching case, and one will be kept at DNR headquarters in St. Paul.
The antlers, unofficially called the Minnesota 8, are the stuff of legend — the largest 8-point “typical” rack recorded by the Boone and Crockett Club.
“It’s absolutely breathtaking,’’ said Chris Wallace, 52, of Ham Lake, an avid hunter and owner of Wings & Things Taxidermy, who did the shoulder mount with replica antlers that will be displayed this weekend at Fergus Falls.
“It’s a freak of nature,’’ he said. “It’s so impressive, you have to see it to believe it. Photos don’t do it justice.’’
Said Dale Livingood, 60, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., who owns Autumn Legends and Artistic Antlers and made the replicas for the DNR: “Its insane. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the largest 8-point typical in the world.’’
The inside of the rack measured 28 ⅜ inches, and under Boone and Crockett’s scoring system, its gross score was 190 ⅝ and its net was 181 — unheard of for an 8-point North American whitetail.
Even side-by-side, the replicas are impossible to distinguish from the real deal, said Maj. Roger Tietz of the DNR’s enforcement division. The original antlers, estimated to be worth $50,000 to $75,000 or more, likely will remain under lock and key at DNR headquarters.
“It’s a state artifact, and we needed to take steps to protect it,’’ Tietz said. “It’s a part of Minnesota history.’’
The DNR had considered selling the antlers, after making replicas, but rejected that idea. A Goodhue County district judge who handled the case ordered that the antlers be retained by the DNR. So the agency paid Livingood about $5,100 for the seven replicas.
Donations from Bluffland Whitetails Association are being used to pay about $600 each for four of the replicas to be mounted on deer heads, which will travel the state on TIP’s Wall of Shame displays.
The DNR turned down offers for rights to reproduce the antlers, and is keeping the mold made by Livingood.
“I would have offered $15,000 to $20,000 for the molding rights,’’ Livingood said. “But I understand why they don’t want to do that.’’
Said Tietz: “We don’t want any profit made from this illegal act.’’
Had the buck been taken legally, the lucky hunter could have made money either selling the rack, selling rights to reproduce it or selling rights to display it. Other promotional money could have flowed in, too.
But that went down the drain when the buck was poached. Troy Alan Reinke of Cannon Falls, Minn., pleaded guilty to three wildlife-related counts, including illegally possessing the trophy buck. He was sentenced to 245 days in jail, paid more than $2,100 in fines and restitution, lost his archery equipment and had his hunting privileges revoked for five years.
And he left the DNR with one of the biggest whitetails in state history.
“We inherited a very unique problem,’’ Tietz said.
The original rack has been displayed at the State Fair and Deer Classic show, among others, always under the watchful eye of a conservation officer. But officials feared it might be damaged or stolen, so the replicas were made recently.
Using the original antlers, Livingood casts a mold, then uses polyurethane “plus a trade secret’’ to make the reproductions.
“The rack is as heavy as the original,’’ he said.
But the plastic is almost white and must be painted. And a good paint job is key.
“It’s all done with brushes and oil paint, no airbrushes,’’ Livingood said. When painted correctly “the majority of people can’t tell the difference.’’
Said Tietz: “I’ve had them side by side, and you can’t tell which is real.’’
He said the DNR can tell the public about the problems of poaching and why they need citizens to report suspected cases, but the antlers on the Wall of Shame displays — which now will include the Minnesota 8 — make an impressive visual argument.
“It’s an eye-opener for the public to see that this goes on,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Tietz, a deer hunter, gets almost giddy talking about the antlers.
“It looks more like an elk rack than a deer rack,’’ he said. “You can put a very quality 8- or 12-point rack between this one, and it’s just dwarfed.
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org