Is that big mule buck legal?

Right from its start, Dinosaur Park became home and sanctuary to a substantial herd of mule deer. Badlands are classic mule deer security terrain and the ban on hunting in the park only added to its allure for Alberta’s native deer.

Right from its start, Dinosaur Park became home and sanctuary to a substantial herd of mule deer. Badlands are classic mule deer security terrain and the ban on hunting in the park only added to its allure for Alberta’s native deer.

But, during the November-December rut, big mulie bucks will frequently cross the park boundary onto adjoining public and private lands in search of willing does. The only time, years ago, I staked out a trail coming out of the park and onto private land, the only mule deer buck that appeared was the largest spiker of the species I have ever seen, his two single tines nearly a meter long.

Obviously this was either an old buck on the way down, or a young buck of an inferior gene pool being protected by the ill-advised rules then in force that made it lawful for hunters to kill only the most promising animals with at least three or four points a side, excluding the brow tines.

Very soon after we got rid of those unwise and mis-named “trophy rules,” we started seeing true trophy mule deer again in Alberta, particularly in places like Dinosaur Park. In about mid-November last year, I started hearing from readers who know of my life-long interest in the truly huge-antlered mule deer bucks I call “Horseshoes,” all telling me about seeing a monstrous mule deer buck in Dinosaur Park with a breathtaking rack that “just took my breath away.” That is my measuring criterion for a Horseshoes on the hoof, so I resolved to get down there and try to get some pictures, but the sudden, vicious onset of winter ended those plans.

All was quiet for about six weeks. The big buck was either still safely in the park, or had come out and one of the many hunters who were watching got him. Inevitably and recently cyberspace has sprung atwitter with emails and hero shots of three anonymous gents, all of whom somehow seem familiar, with what is thought to be “the new Alberta record” typical (four points a side) mule deer buck, said to have been taken outside the park’s east boundary, near Iddesleigh.

The buck’s antlers apparently “green-scored” (less than the mandatory 90-day drying period for Boone & Crockett entry) 205, and one emailer asked me what was the score of the current Alberta record typical mule deer anyway? Well, the 11th edition, the latest, of Records of North American Big Game of the Boone and Crockett Club show the Alberta record typical mule deer scored 206 and was taken in 1996 near Crooked Creek by a Chad J. Lyttle. But, since more than a decade has passed since the 1999 publication of the 11th edition, I contacted Jack Graham of Edmonton who keeps the records for the Alberta Fish and Game Association. Jack replied that Lyttle’s buck was still the Alberta record typical mule deer, but a new #2, scoring 205, had been taken in 2003 by Brigden Ester in Wildlife Management Unit 308.

By this time the inevitable rumours and gossip were starting to fly and fill my inbox: the “Iddesleigh” deer had actually been taken and had been seen to be taken illegally in Dinosaur Park on the last day of the season; that the whole matter is under investigation; that, in fact, charges have been laid. But nobody will go on the record, least of all, and, naturally, wildlife officers.

I passed all this scuttlebutt on to Jack Graham who just chuckled and commented “so what else is new.” Jack has heard this sort of thing before in his 27 years as an official Boone and Crockett scorer, particularly whenever alleged new record heads are in issue. He also cautioned that, inevitably, the score will shrink if and when the head is ever officially measured for the Boone and Crockett records after the mandatory drying period. “Hunters measuring a green head always give themselves the benefit of the doubt,” Graham said, “and ignore the deductions from the score for ‘sticker’ (small off-shoot) points and measurement differences from side to side in typical antlers.”

Interestingly, Graham advised me that the new 12th edition of Records of North American Big Game will, for the first time, also include the gross scores (without deductions) in all categories.

No proven, illegally-taken head is eligible to be entered in any record “books” I know about, and Jack Graham advised me that great strides are being made in Alberta in wildlife prosecutions by the use of DNA evidence to show whether or not an animal, particularly bighorn sheep, was taken in a park or sanctuary. Apparently if you do that sort of thing you better not leave a gut pile, or even a drop of blood, a single hair, etc., at an illegal kill site. All this stuff is fascinating, but it just flies faster and twitters louder than it used to before these days of the Internet and email.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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