If you’ve ever seen a picture of a pair of antler-locked deer that died because they were unable to free themselves, you’ve undoubtedly asked yourself, “What are the chance I’ll ever see something like that in the woods?” If you ask Chuck Baker, a 44-year-old father of three from Nekoosa, Wisconsin, he’d tell you it took him about 35 years of hunting with an average of 50 days a year in the field before he came across his first set of locked whitetails. He never considered himself a lucky person, but said he now realizes how fortunate he was that November day.
Chuck and a few of his friends have been hunting in southern Illinois for the past 18 years after helping a local farmer with a stranded tractor while the group was in the area shed hunting many years ago. They wanted to find an area to hunt that could produce trophy whitetails with reasonably priced tags they could obtain every year. The group secured permission to hunt on a number of farms in the area and rented a small home on one of the properties to provide them a place to stay when they made their annual trips.
November 13 was the 6th day of their trip and the morning temperature was cooler than on the previous few days, so Chuck was excited to get to his stand and see what the day had in store for him. He and his hunting partner, Bob Anderson, had been hunting together on the same farm for a couple of days to eliminate an extra vehicle on the property. Bob took a Nice 140-inch buck the evening before, filling his tag, so that morning he told Chuck he would field dress any deer he shot if he could sleep in and join him at lunch time.
Chuck had a pretty exciting morning, sighting several nice bucks, including a 160-inch, 10-pointer, but he just couldn’t convince him to come inside 65 yards before he turned and walked away. Chuck returned to the house late in the morning to get lunch and retrieve Bob for the afternoon hunt. After returning to the farm at about 1 p.m., Bob decided to walk to the top of a ridge that they both felt was a good area, but neither had hunted yet. Chuck took his climbing stand and returned to the area he had hunted that morning to see if the buck he saw would return.
Chuck was walking on a narrow trail between a cornfield and the bottom of a hardwood ridge with a deep ditch on one side on his way to the area he hunted earlier in the day, taking his time to survey the ridge to his left.
He heard some commotion from about 30 yards away on the trail behind him and turned around to see the body of a deer with his head down where he’d just walked. He slowly and quietly set his climbing stand on the ground and bent down to put an arrow on the rest of his bow. The deer hadn’t moved and Chuck was concerned the buck had spotted him so he remained motionless and studied the animal.
The buck was breathing hard and grunting with every breath, which caused Chuck to become concerned over his physical condition. He seemed to jump and move backward, but never changed location, leading Chuck to initially suspect the buck had become tangled in a fence or a section of wire.
Moving slowly over the trail, he looked into the ditch in the direction of the deer and saw a second buck lying motionless, facing away from him. After moving a little closer it was clear that he was looking at two bucks locked together by their racks and the one on the ground appeared to be dead. He made a wide circle around the pair and slowly approached from behind the live buck, confirming that he was indeed locked onto a dead deer.
He walked back to where he had set his treestand on the trail and was going to call Bob when his phone started to vibrate. It was Bob calling, so Chuck quietly answered. Bob asked, “Can I really hunt anywhere up here?” referring to the top of the ridge. Chuck replied, “Don’t worry about that get down here as fast as you can.” It took Bob about 20 minutes to make his way to the top of the ridge.
When Bob was getting close, Chuck motioned for him to make a wide route and stay down. He followed his hand signals and was soon kneeling next to him. Chuck explained what was in front of them, since the live buck had lain down in the ditch so both animals were hidden from view. They discussed what they should do next and Bob suggested trying to free them, but whenever they approached the hooked deer began to buck violently trying to escape from his dead partner. They saw it wasn’t going to work so their next move was to call the state Department of Natural Resources and explain what Chuck had found and get some advice.
Chuck walked a short distance away and made the call, describing the scene to a game warden over the phone and was surprised at what he was told. The warden told him he could shoot the live buck and the DNR would tag the second animal and Chuck could keep them both. When Chuck asked if game wardens wanted to come and attempt to free the live buck, he was told the DNR usually doesn’t get involved in natural incidents and that in many similar cases, the freed buck had suffered a neck injury or internal injuries as the result of dragging an entire deer around while trying to free itself. The warden told Chuck to call back when they had both deer out of the field and they would meet up with him in town to tag the already dead buck.
Chuck thanked the warden for his help and crept up to Bob to explain what he had learned. Bob suggested he should walk in front of the deer and get the live buck to stand and give Chuck a clean, broadside shot at 20 yards. His shot was true and the buck didn’t move, sinking to the ground less than a minute after Chuck’s arrow passed cleanly through his heart.
Bob looked to Chuck and said, ” Do you realize you just shot a pair of locked bucks?” Chuck replied, “It hasn’t set in yet.” Chuck approached his trophies and immediately had a new respect for the power of nature.
The two bucks had collided so hard that the dead buck’s neck appeared to be broken in several places and its nose was wedged under the live buck’s jaw. The buck that survived the collision appeared to have been dragging the dead buck for at least a day judging from his condition. The dead buck was noticeably older and much larger and carried a nice 9-point rack, while the younger buck sported 15 scoreable points with a much wider spread.
Bob returned to the truck and brought a trailer to the animals while Chuck phoned a few friends in the area to see if they could lend a hand loading them. When Bob returned, Chuck reminded him of the promise he had made earlier that morning to field dress anything he shot today in exchange for sleeping in. Bob looked at Chuck and said, “How bad could it be?” Chuck replied, ” You have to let me know because I’m moving up wind.” Chuck help move the animals, but Bob kept his word and field dressed both bucks.
It took a while, but with the help of brothers Chris and Pat Marzofka and friend Bill Lancour, they strapped the deer to Bob’s safety harness and literally gave him a hand in tough spots and eventually got the locked pair loaded on the trailer and headed to town to get a tag for the buck that wasn’t killed with an arrow.
The pair of heads remained locked together until Chuck returned home where he enlisted the help of good friend Les Smith to help him separate the two and remove the capes on both for mounting. The racks were under so much tension that they couldn’t be separated until one was removed from its skull.
Les Smith provided the following gross measurements of the two racks:
– The dead buck was 6 ½ years old and had a gross score of 137″ with a 16″ inside spread.
– The live buck was 4 ½ years old and had a gross score of 169″ with a 18″ inside spread.
Chuck plans to have them mounted as a pair as close to the way they were locked as possible. When asked how he felt about the soon-to-be new addition to his trophy room, Chuck replied, ” It’s something I’m pretty sure I’ll never see again. I know it was just my lucky day.” “It would have been nice if we could have freed them and hunted both bucks another year,” he added.
Last month, Chuck Baker, 44, of Nekoosa, WI came upon a tragic sight in Illinois that, after 35 years of hunting, he thought he would never see: two bucks locked in combat. But it seemed this battle would wind up a draw for the deer, as one was already dead and the other’s rack was firmly tangled in that of his former foe. After a quick call to the game warden (what would we do without cell phones?), Chuck walked away with two trophies. Eugene Mancl got the full story.