What to do if you find a dead buck this winter
It’s common for those of us who shed hunt or small-game hunt throughout the winter months to stumble across dead deer. Most of the dead-heads I find tend to be bucks, and most of the time, they’re holed up in rabbit cover. Occasionally it’s obvious they were gut shot and not trailed properly, but I’ve run across quite a few that died of mysterious causes.
I’ve also found a few that have hung up on barbed-wire fences. Having had a touchy situation with a barbed-wire fence last fall, and a few others earlier in my career, I can’t imagine trying to jump a fence only to get impaled either by a fence post or get a leg twisted between two strands. The latter is more common farther south when you’re dealing with smaller deer from what I’ve seen on turkey hunting trips to Texas.
Here in Minnesota, if you should happen to find a deceased buck that is still holding his headgear, you can’t legally take it without a possession tag. In other states, the laws vary on this rule. I’d say this might be one of the most disregarded game laws and might seem like overreach by the state. But it’s in place to make sure that anyone who possesses certain parts of a game animal can back up their story on how they came to own them.
You might think this would be an awful tough law to get busted over, but imagine finding a huge dead buck. Nothing stirs jealousy among hunters quite like 180 inches of antler, and if someone decides he doesn’t like it that you found the buck he had trail camera pictures of for three years, you might suddenly find yourself in a must-explain situation or worse.
I found a buck of that size while fly fishing several years ago and while I don’t bother with dead-heads anymore, I made an exception for this buck. He was an amazing animal, so I called a buddy of mine who is a conservation officer. He issued me a possession tag and I took the rack home. It didn’t take long before the kid who had wounded the buck the previous fall tracked me down. Honestly, it was a pain in the neck overall but I ended up giving the buck to him. He had a history with it, had put an arrow into it, and wanted it for his wall. I had no attachment to the buck and he did, so I gave the deer to him.
If you spend some time in the winter woods in the next month or two, make sure you know the laws surrounding sawing antlers or skull plates off. You might just be surprised what you have to do to stay on the right side of the law.