It is one of the most impressive deer to ever walk wild on the planet -- a Minnesota whitetail with stunning world-class antlers that still provoke amazement nearly 20 years after they were found.
But mystery, controversy and some confusion also surround the so-called "Minnesota Monarch.''
The 39-point "non-typical'' buck roamed northeastern Minnesota in the late 1980s and early 1990s -- apparently unknown to most hunters. Even now, long after its death, the story is not often told.
But it wasn't just another big buck. It was something very special.
The story goes like this:
A man who fed deer during the winter photographed the Minnesota Monarch and recovered its sheds in the winter of 1989-1990. The antlers were non-typical (or not symmetrical) and included a funky 13 2/8 drop tine on its left side The massive rack scored a remarkable 310 under the Boone and Crockett scoring system -- putting it into a class by itself.
"It's the world record non-typical,'' said Mark Miller, president of the North American Shed Hunters Club, based in Lyndon Station, Wis.
The greatest set of whitetail sheds ever recovered.
"It's definitely an exceptional deer,'' he said.
Add its estimated 23 3/8-inch inside spread -- had the deer been killed or found intact -- and it would have scored 334. That would have made it the largest non-typical deer on record.
"It's one of the greatest deer heads in the world,'' said Klaus Lebrecht of New Richmond, Wis., a taxidermist and maker of antler reproductions. He is one of the few people to have held the massive sheds in his hands.
Lebrecht purchased the rights to reproduce the antlers from their current owner, Stewart Valentine, a Colorado collector. Lebrecht will have a reproduction, mounted on another deer, at the 2008 Minnesota Deer Classic, which opens Friday.
"The Minnesota Monarch is a true freak of nature,'' he said. "It's just one of those deer that happened to have everything going for him.''
More to the story
The tale began up north, with the man who first spotted the deer and fed and photographed it. He didn't want his name revealed back in the 1990s when word of the world-class buck became public, because he didn't want deer hunters flocking to his area.
But that happened anyway, he said this week.
"I'm sorry I didn't hide them. They brought too many people out and put too much pressure on the herd. The big bucks I've had here, they've killed all of them,'' said the man, now in his late 70s. "I'm not anti-hunter; they should just stay away from where people are feeding deer. That's not hunting.''
(Deer feeding was legal then and is now, though the Department of Natural Resources has discouraged it in recent years.)
The man still doesn't want to be identified, but it's clear he's bitter about how things transpired with the Minnesota Monarch. He eventually sold the antlers but said he was never fully compensated in various agreements he made.
Still, he keeps a photo of the big buck on his wall. And he said he's never seen another deer like it.
"You're not going to see many like that again,'' he said.
The man guessed the deer was 8 or 9 years old when it lost its record antlers -- old for an animal to produce a peak rack. He recovered a second, smaller set the following year, which he also sold to Valentine, the collector. "That second year, he was already on the decline,'' he said.
Lebrecht thinks the deer was much younger and produced only one truly magnificent set of antlers.
Reports in North American Whitetail magazine in 1992 said the man recovered a third set earlier in 1988-89, but the man said this week he only saw the big buck two winters and recovered two sets of antlers. The man said there was a second big buck, which he thinks was the Monarch's twin, and he recovered antlers from it. That deer eventually was killed by a hunter, he said.
Was Monarch harvested?
So what ever became of the Minnesota Monarch?
The evidence is fuzzy. The man who fed the deer believes it was killed by a hunter in fall of 1991.
"He didn't come back the third year; I'm sure he got shot,'' the man said. But no one ever registered a deer with antlers of that magnitude.
It's also possible the deer was killed by wolves or died of natural causes.
But Lebrecht has a different take. He believes a woman shot and killed it in fall of 1991, but by then its rack wasn't nearly as massive as it had been. It still scored 228 4/8, and ranks No. 20 in the Minnesota Record Book for non-typicals.
Though that rack is much different than the Monarch's, there are similarities, Lebrecht said.
"What convinces me is the markings of the deer," he said. "It was a very red deer. And he had a very distinct throat patch. The one she shot had that. I think it is the same deer.''
Genetic testing could solve the mystery.
Regardless, Lebrecht said, "It's one of the most interesting deer stories in the world.''
Meanwhile, the legend lives on.
Said the man who first discovered the Minnesota Monarch: "His genes are still out there.''