By Mike Handley
Linda Landon of Fort Wayne, Ind., waited 10 years for the 10-minute hunt that yielded her second-ever deer. It's No. 2 among velvet-clad Irregulars in the BTR's blackpowder category. Photo Courtesy of: Linda Landon
Up top, Linda Landon's 2005 whitetail is all buck - and a glorious one, to boot, one of the largest felled in Indiana that year. In fact, the fuzzy set of antlers is second only to the world record in its class.
Down below, however, the velvet-clad 23-pointer lacks the appropriate plumbing.
It wasn't an antlered doe. So it must be a male, right?
Technically speaking, perhaps. The source of the testosterone necessary to grow pedicels and antlers was one partially-descended testicle. But the deer had neither penis nor vagina, just a tiny flap of skin under its belly through which to urinate. Reproduction wasn't possible.
Of course, Linda didn't venture a look until after capping the monstrous whitetail - an achievement that has gained her celebrity status in Fort Wayne. Not to sound sexist, but for one thing, the blue-eyed blonde mother doesn't exactly fit the mold of Average Joe deer hunter.
More importantly, the deer she shot is by no means a typical buck.
This is one of the 101 trail camera photos a neighbor collected of the unusual buck during a two-year span. Photo Courtesy of: Linda Landon
Linda's addiction to hunting took root a decade ago when she married Butch Landon. They learned and hunted in tandem until their son, "Bear," was born five years later. Nowadays, they take turns so one can stay home and take care of the boy.
Last Dec. 9, during the first real snowstorm of winter, it was Linda's time at bat. Butch, who had already taken a nice 13-pointer and a doe for the freezer, called her from the body shop where he works to say that he'd be home early, if she wanted to hunt.
They both love to hunt in the snow.
Linda's preference is bowhunting, and she's admittedly picky when it comes to arrowing a buck. In 10 years, she'd taken only one - a 9-pointer - and was patiently waiting for the opportunity at a larger specimen.
The 2005 season had been frustrating to that point. Every decent buck she saw was well beyond her arrow's reach. Weary of the range problem, she broke down in early December and bought a muzzleloader license. That's the weapon she took afield.
As arranged, Butch came home about 4:00 that day. It was cold, the wind was howling, and it was snowing like crazy. Linda decided it was too windy to hunt from her treestand, so she'd planned to sit on a stump that her husband had once babysat. Neither was she interested in a long walk in the snow.
They drove the 1 1/2 miles to a neighboring farmer's property, which they had permission to hunt. Their destination was a tiny 3-acre woodlot surrounded by corn and soybean fields, a magnet for deer. Bucks in particular loved to bed in the pines there, and the stump was near a perfect funnel.
As the truck rolled to a stop near the stump, the Landons' jaws dropped. Standing right in front of them were a big buck and a doe.
"I really thought I'd blown my chance," Linda said. "I should've listened to Butch and walked in there."The deer, of course, vanished post haste. Yet Linda got out, waved goodbye to her hubby and planted herself on the stump - prepared to sit until dark.
Less than 10 minutes later, the same buck and doe circled back in front of her.
"I had no idea they'd come back," she said. "And when they did, they had no clue I was there. It was snowing so hard, I was almost completely white in only a couple of minutes."
Linda touched off her .50-caliber muzzleloader, the buck was a mere 30 yards away. Afterward, it bolted as if nothing had happened.
"I wasn't even sure that I'd hit it, to tell the truth," she said. "He never once acted like he'd been hit."
When the snowman that was Linda eased up and walked over to the spot, however, she found blood and immediately called Butch, who had just arrived back home and taken off his shoes.
"Come get me. I shot one," she announced. "The SAME buck!"
When Butch returned, they followed the trail almost 70 yards to where the buck had done a "face-dive" in the snow. Only then did Linda realize how big - and strange - it was.
She hadn't paid much attention to detail up to that point. She'd never noticed the velvet; never stopped to count points.
"Even after 10 years, I'm just now starting to get over buck fever," she admits. "But really, I didn't have time to get shaky. People always say that ... how 'Everything happened so quickly.' But, in my case, it was absolutely true. There simply was no time for me to get buck fever.
"I had to shoot," she said. "The whole hunt lasted 10 minutes!"
When husband and wife lifted the buck's head from the snow, they gaped.
"Both of us were just blown away," Linda said. "Sure, the antlers had a lot of points. Even more that weren't scoreable. But it had a huge body, too. When we got the tenderloins, they were as big as those on beef. It was rolling in fat as well!
"The deer weighed 275 pounds with everything," she added. "I've never seen one even close to that big."
Even with the deer at their feet, Butch and Linda didn't notice the rack was in velvet until after they'd marveled at the number of points. It took even longer to realize that something wasn't quite right about its underside.
Curious and hungry for an answer, the couple preserved the lone testicle and urinary tract in formaldehyde. A state biologist later concluded that it was indeed a buck.
Such animals are usually called cactus bucks or stags. Their racks, often deemed unscoreable by other record-keeping agencies, are usually encased in velvet and never shed -following an injury to the testicles. Linda's specimen hadn't been injured; it never had the equipment.
Not that it matters to her, since the rack tallies nearly 200 inches (even without an inside spread measurement).
Not everyone in Allen County, Ind., looks fondly upon her buck of a lifetime. One neighbor, in particular, is heartbroken.
The man had been hunting this deer for two years. He'd put out minerals for it, and his trail cameras had photographed the rascal 101 times.
"Poor guy ... I thanked him," Linda added.
Official Score: 197 1/8"
Composite Score: 213 1/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine