By Dan Kibler
-- David Deck is a hunter, but he never goes into the woods. His scouting trips involve poring over the classified section of the newspaper in his hometown of Roanoke, Va., looking for signs that will lead him to the right place.
When he sees evidence of his prey, he often arrives at the spot early in the morning, sometimes waiting 30 minutes to an hour before he can even get close enough to fully examine the territory.
If he finds what he's after, he usually has to pay before he can haul it out and put it in the back of his truck. Sometimes, he pays a little; sometimes, he pays a lot. Often, his "hunting trips" lead to a tidy, little profit.
"I'm a hunter, not of animals, but of antiques," said Deck, a retired fire inspector for the city of Roanoke who dabbles in scouring yard sales, moving sales and estate sales, for bargains that he can bring home, shine up a little and sell for a few extra dollars. "We've always bought all kinds of weird stuff, mounted stuff, anything from a mounted wild turkey to deer antlers that people might want to decorate with."
Deck's grown son, Jeff, describes his father as, "an antiques dealer. He looks in the paper, goes to sales, buys stuff and resells it and makes a little money on things like that."
Last fall, David went on a hunting trip - for antiques. He wound up with one of the biggest white-tailed deer in history.
At an estate sale, he entered a plain, two-story house in an older section of Roanoke and started canvassing it the way he usually does - "from the top down."
Starting upstairs, he worked his way down to the main floor and then to the rough-finished basement, looking for knick-knacks or collectibles that he might pick up for a few dollars. He had already picked out one or two items when he looked up and saw a spike buck's antlers hanging from a wall. Next to them was what he thought might be the antlers from a young bull elk - elk were native to Virginia and could be found in some remote mountain counties through the first half of the 20th century.
"They weren't in any place of grandeur, just basically hanging up on the wall to get them out of the way. I really thought it was a small set of elk antlers," Deck said. "I figured somebody was bound to want them to put over their fireplace."
So Deck pulled another bill from his wallet, purchased the large set of amber-colored antlers and left with them. Once he got home, he carried his purchases out to his garage/shop and left them there.
Three months later, Jeff was visiting his parents one afternoon. When he got ready to leave, instead of going out through the front door, he left through the garage.
"Usually when I go over there, my mother's car is in the garage, so I walk around. This time, it wasn't there, so I went through the garage," he said.
Walking through, he spied the antlers, just sitting on a pile of other stuff.
"I said to myself, 'What a great set of antlers!'" Jeff said. "Then I thought, 'I'm going to have some fun with them.'"
So Jeff asked his father if he could have them. David had no problem letting Jeff take them home - he didn't expect to make a huge profit off them anyway.
But there was one difference between the two Decks. Jeff is a deer hunter. He immediately recognized the big set of antlers as having once rested on the skull of a white-tailed buck - a huge white-tailed buck.
"If I hadn't walked through the garage, I never would have see 'em," said Deck, who admitted that he had no idea exactly what he was taking home - other than a big set of antlers with which he could have some fun, at the expense of friends.
The night he got them, he headed off to a basketball game, but not before stopping at a house where a handful of his hunting buddies were hanging out. He took the antlers into the house, showed them off and left them there until after the game.
"I didn't want to leave them out in the car while I was at the game," Jeff said. "When I came back, every one of them had had their pictures taken with them. A lot of them were saying, 'They almost look real.'"
Maybe because the antlers were so huge, Jeff's friends suspected that they were fakes. The patch of hair left on the skull, between the two antlers, should have given them away as being the real McCoy, but their size was still unbelievable.
Within two or three days of rescuing them from his father's garage, Jeff called a friend who is an ardent deer hunter, Dwayne Webster, and brought them by his house in Hardy, Va., a suburb of Roanoke. "I walked in with the antlers, and he was standing up. He just sat down in his chair for a couple of minutes."
Unlike the Decks, Webster knew exactly what he was looking at. Hanging in a place of honor in his own house is the largest white-tailed buck ever taken in Virginia by a bowhunter, an enormous 10-pointer he killed in 1999.
Webster knew he was looking at what was possibly the biggest 8-point buck of all time.
"Jeff was kind of joking with me on the phone," Webster said. "He said, 'Did I ever show you the antlers off the deer I killed during bow season?' I told him I knew he hadn't done much bowhunting, and he told me he was just joking.
"When he walked through the door with 'em, I just dropped everything I was doing. The first thing I thought of was a story I'd read about a woman who had killed the biggest 8-pointer ever. And this one looked just like that one. I dug around until I found the article - I'd saved it - and they looked almost the same," he said.
Webster held up Jeff's 8-point rack, comparing it with his own huge 10-pointer - and his buck's antlers could fit inside Deck's, the 8-pointer's spread being more than four inches wider.
So the "small" set of elk antlers turned out to be one of the most impressive sets of deer antlers ever on record.
"I guess I was deer hunting," David Deck said. "I just didn't know it."
-- Dan Kibler
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