- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

How big is the market for live, trophy-sized deer or even just deer antlers? Most people wouldn’t give a wooden nickel for a set of deer horns, but ask the Maryland Natural Resources Police how they feel about the subject. There’s money in them thar hardened tines of calcium and assorted other minerals.

For example, the NRP not long ago charged a Baltimore County man with nine violations - one of them criminal - as a result of an investigation dealing with the illegal selling of deer parts - deer antlers in particular.

It all started when wildlife officers were alerted to an online auction Web site that found the man trying to sell two sets of white-tailed deer antlers. Next thing you know, several NRP officers posed as buyers and went to the seller’s residence. That wasn’t all.

After the game wardens identified themselves, they seized as evidence 13 other sets of deer antlers, one sika deer skull with attached antlers, and a loaded .225-caliber rifle that was found in the seller’s vehicle.

The man was charged with six counts of offering deer antlers for sale; having a loaded weapon in a vehicle; and failure of harvest reporting, which is required for deer. A court date of March 19 has been scheduled in Baltimore County District Court.

Selling deer antlers as part of an Internet auction apparently isn’t new, but there’s even more to this. It involves people who raise large buck deer in captivity, removing the semen and selling it to other breeders no differently than the people who run special insemination facilities to see if they can’t come up with bigger, better cattle.

Sammy Nooner of Hondo, Texas, is one of those who’s cashing in big-time with a monster white-tailed buck named Stickers.

Stickers lives a life of leisure at Nooner’s ranch. The locals say Stickers might be the biggest buck ever to consume protein in the state. He carries an incredibly massive 46-point antler rack that scores a mighty 334 with official Boone and Crockett Club record-keeping scorers.

Other Texas deer breeders estimate he’s worth $1 million, maybe more. The 6-year-old Stickers’ semen alone commands up to $5,000 per straw, as bull breeders call the tiny container.

Nooner isn’t saying how much he paid for the prime deer. The man who sold Stickers to Nooner, Tommy Dugger, who also is a deer breeder, said, “It’s probably as high as anybody has ever paid, but we’re not letting it out.”

Damon Thorpe, who is the director of operations for the Texas Deer Association, said Stickers is definitely among the three biggest white-tailed bucks in the United States.

“It’s not inconceivable at all to think a deer like that is worth $1 million,” he recently told the Lone Star Outdoor News.

Even if Nooner paid $1 million for Stickers, he would have to sell only about 200 straws of semen to get his money back, Thorpe figures.

And every year when such a royal specimen as Stickers sheds his antlers, what kind of offers do you think an auction Web site would receive?

It’s scary to imagine how much money can be made with an animal most of us believe comes along free, wandering about in the woods. Few bucks will be as big as Stickers, but some get pretty close. For example, Maryland resident Bill Crutchfield Jr. two years ago shot a state record 28-point nontypical buck in Charles County. Scuttlebutt has it that he’s turned down an offer of $70,000 for the antlers alone. Other offers have also been made, but Crutchfield only smiles when asked about it.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Read Mueller’s Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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