Ever since we broke the story last August of a huge Colorado Springs mule deer that kept showing up in suburban back yards and peeking through the windows of a construction company office, horn fanatics have speculated about how high this freakish rack might score, with guesses ranging from 300 to no more than 230. Once the buck–which locals have called “Goliath,” “Double-Beam” and “Elvis”–made it through last hunting season unscathed, a small army of shed hunters started jockeying to become the first to lay hands on one or both of these unique antlers. Now,_ Field & Stream_ has the exclusive story of the shed hunter who picked up these prizes.
Goliath first turned up at the offices of J.E. Dunn Construction Co. in April. Impressed by the buck’s early antler growth, foreman George Kroll snapped this photo. “He was a monster then, and I figured he was going to be unreal in a couple of months,” Kroll says. “And that’s how it turned out.”
Throughout the summer Kroll and his office mates got plenty of opportunities to admire the buck’s ornate rack–and grab a few close-ups to boot. “When it’s really hot, he likes the coolness and the shade of the mulch right next to the building,” Kroll said of this remarkable summertime shot of the buck in velvet. “He’ll lay right outside the window, and when he gets up to turn around he’ll look right in the window at you standing there behind the glass. It’s unbelievable.”
Then in November, amateur photographer Danny Banks captured these photos of the gigantic muley lounging inside the Colorado Springs city limits, and also shot video of the buck shadowing a doe. Banks spoke for many hunters when he mused that if he came across Goliath on a hunt, he’d probably let him walk. “I’d rather find his sheds and do a mount of those,” Banks said. “I mean, everyone wants one of those deer.”
Indeed, others were watching Goliath too. A small band of shed hunting fanatics were keeping close tabs on the buck, posting photos on shed hunting blogs and shadowing its daily movements, hoping to be first on the scene when those massive antlers finally dropped. One of those hunters, Grant Ambroz, captured this photo of the massive buck as he watched and waited with the others.
Among them was shed hunter Noah Wendland (left), who works in the Colorado Springs area as a wildland firefighter through the summer and fall. In January, Wendland says, he was surfing the Internet with his friend Neal Keifer, looking at big deer, when they came across the_ Field & Stream_ coverage of Goliath. “He said to me, ‘You’ve got the time on your hands to pick up this deer’s antlers,'” says Wendland, whose job gives him plenty of downtime in late winter and spring. “He said, ‘You’re going to find them.'”
Wendland spent three weeks trying to locate the buck, which he calls Double Beam. “I found a lot of other big deer in the process,” he says. “It’s amazing how many big mule deer live within the city limits in Colorado Springs.” Photo by Grant Ambroz
After he located the big muley in February, Wendland began checking on it four times a day. Not every check-in produced a sighting; once the buck disappeared for nearly a week. But overall, he was able to keep a pretty close watch on Goliath as the buck roamed its core area. Photo by Grant Ambroz
He wasn’t the only one: Wendland estimates 15 to 20 other shed hunters watched the deer as closely as he did. One retired shed fanatic seemed to be there every time Wendland showed up, ensconced in a lounge chair. The man even went so far as to create “antler traps” at various locales in Goliath’s range. “He’d put grain in a hollow tree or under a beam,” Wendland says–any place where the buck might dislodge a loose antler while feeding. Photo by Grant Ambroz
With everyone’s eyes focused on the same prize, the potential for conflict was high. But Wendland says the competition remained friendly. “Everyone in the shed hunting world knows that if you find it, it’s yours,” he says. The topic did come up on the shed Internet forums. “Probably our worst fear was three people would see them drop, and then there’s gonna be all kinds of drama. Or what if he drops only one and carries the other around for five days, and now tons of people are lined up on the road watching him. But my experience with big animals is that usually both will drop within two or three hundred yards of each other. And that’s what happened here.” Photo by Grant Ambroz
On St. Patrick’s Day evening, Wendland located the buck during his twilight check-in. Goliath was still carrying both horns. The next day, Wendland got a late start on his rounds, and he didn’t locate the buck until around 11:30 a.m., about a mile from where he’d last seen him the night before. The big muley had dropped both antlers. Photo by Grant Ambroz
Wendland had run the scenario through his head hundreds of times. “I figured with the amount of people watching him the only way I’d get my hands on the sheds was if they dropped during the night,” he said. “I was excited that the day had finally come, but at the same time I had quite a bit of doubt. I couldn’t see how these things would be on the ground longer than 30 minutes of daylight after they dropped.” Now he was kicking himself for getting a late start. Photo by Grant Ambroz
He searched for three hours, backtracking to where he’d sighted the buck the night before, but found nothing–except a half-dozen other shed hunters looking for the same antlers. The mood, he says, was friendly but anxious. “We were excited. We all just wanted to see them. We didn’t want them to drop in someone’s yard and they just put them in the garage and nobody sees them again. It was kind of a hopeless feeling, thinking that could happen.”
About 3 p.m. he started calling local property owners and other shed hunters he’d been in contact with. “There had been six to seven hours of daylight by then, and I figured someone had to have picked them up by now.”
But no one had. The news gave him a second wind, and taking the advice of a friend who encouraged him to keep trying, Wendland decided to search a spot he’d never seen the buck use before. Photo by Grant Ambroz
“It was my last option spot,” he recalls. “I came up a pretty steep hill, and with my naked eye spotted the first one about a hundred yards away. I actually looked over it once, because it looked like brush sticking out of the grass. But I knew without a doubt it was his right side. My heart rate was going absolutely nuts; walking up to something like that I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Wow, I found one side, and that’s really all I want.'”
Wendland headed back to his vehicle, trying futilely to conceal the big shed under his jacket. After stowing it safely, he headed out again. “I thought, ‘Well, he’s on a trail’–so I headed back to the trail and went another 300 yards before I spotted the second one about 20 yards away at the top of a hill.”
Wendland is hard-pressed to say which was more thrilling–finding the first shed with the double-beam and the drop tine, or finding the second one to complete the set. “It took me five days to stop shaking from all the adrenaline,” he chuckles. He told only a couple of friends and even continued to make his rounds for a few days so the other shed hunters would not know he had the horns in his possession.
He finally decided to contact_ Field & Stream_ with his story, since that’s where he first read about the buck everyone calls Goliath. “I put myself in the shoes of other shed hunters. I figured that like me they’d want to know they are in good hands and people are enjoying them.”
In early April, Wendland took to the antlers to Ron Newman, an official scorer for the North American Shed Hunter’s Association. Field & Stream was on hand with camera rolling as Newman put the tape to what surely must be the most storied mule deer sheds ever found.
Newman came up with a gross score of 268 inches and a net score of 238 5/8. Neither of those numbers includes a spread, which the scorer estimated at 26 inches. With the spread added in, the rack would indeed approach a gross score of 300.
This is the second time Wendland has had the sheds measured. The first score came in at 273 inches without the spread.
Either way, the right side ranks as the No. 1 mule deer antler in the Shed Antler Records of North American Big Game maintained by the North American Shed Hunters Club. The big double-beam with a curling 15-inch drop tine tallied 156 7/8 inches, blowing away the previous No. 1 of 140 inches.
“You imagine in your head how much they weigh, what they feel like,” says Wendland of finally laying hands on Goliath’s massive antlers after spending 20 hours or more a week tracking the buck throughout the spring. “I’ve been within 10 yards of the deer and I felt like I knew every nook and cranny of his antlers, but to actually hold them was an experience I can hardly put into words.”
“The amount of mass and weight and the amount of uniqueness involved in these antlers, it’s a feeling unlike any other. I told my brother, ‘If I’m this happy on my wedding day I’ll be married forever.'”
The right side weighs a whopping 5.2 pounds, the left 3.7 pounds. Wendland has picked up sheds since he was 10, gathering several hundred by now, and he says he’s never before seen a mule deer antler that weighed more than four pounds.
The biggest surprise, he says, is the amount of velvet still on the horns. “There’s just so many nooks and crannies that he couldn’t polish off. On the splits there’s still a lot of velvet.”
Only 12 to 15 people have gotten the chance to heft these celebrated horns, and each has the same reaction, Wendland reports: “How is this possible? What is this deer drinking or eating? Everyone is just flabbergasted.”
More folks may get to see the antlers up close: Wendland has been approached by a couple of companies interested in taking Goliath’s sheds on a public tour. Private antler collectors have also been in touch. “I’ve been offered a substantial amount of money for them, but it will be very hard for me to part with them,” he says. “I put so much effort and energy into finding these antlers that they’re going to be tough to let go.”
For now, it seems Goliath’s remarkable story has come to the best possible conclusion: The rack is preserved, and the big muley that made headlines for his one-of-a-kind headgear lives on.
“It’s absolutely the ideal outcome,” Wendland says. “This animal is probably going to have two or three more really, really good years where he produces an amazing rack, and people get to enjoy it. I think he’s gotten so much publicity that if anybody did poach him, they’d never get away with it. Everybody in America in the deer-hunting world knows about this deer. I think the publicity probably saved his life.” Photo by Grant Ambroz
Ever since we broke the story last August of a huge Colorado Springs mule deer that kept showing up in suburban back yards and peeking through the windows of a construction company office, horn fanatics have speculated about how high this freakish rack might score. Now, a local wildland firefighter, Noah Wendland, has found the massive sheds. See what kind of numbers they racked up in the hands of scorers in this F&S exclusive.