Lost and Found

A hunter struggles to recover his 240-class buck.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

In November 9, 2000, Rick Dye, of Knoxville, Iowa, shot what at the time was the second biggest non-typical whitetail ever bagged by a bowhunter in his state. But even though the hit was fatal and the buck died only a few hundred yards from Dye's tree stand, a bizarre set of circumstances kept the hunter from laying eyes on the antlers again until June 2001. Related here is a bowhunter's dream hunt turned nightmare.

With the rut near its peak, Rick Dye climbed into a stand with his bow before first light with the idea that he would try to stay there all day. He was still on stand early in the afternoon when the most magnificent buck he had ever seen came down the trail. He drew back, shot and caught a brief glimpse of blood on the deer's shoulder as it ran off. Thinking the shot was fatal, Dye went home and asked a friend to help him trail the buck. They rushed back and were able to follow a blood trail for a couple of hundred yards but had to stop where the buck had crossed a road and entered another landowner's property. The land was posted and it was getting dark, so they decided to wait until the following morning to ask for permission to pursue the buck.

"Upon knocking on the landowner's door the next morning, the landowner told me there was no way I was going onto his property," Dye recalls. "I backed off and tried to call Craig Cutts. Craig was away from the phone so I called the Sheriff's office. They sent a deputy out. I took him to my stand and then to where the blood trail crossed the road. But when I pushed him to make a decision, he immediately sided with the landowner. It was at this moment that Alfred Ditmer and his son Scott happened to be driving by and stopped to see what was going on. The Ditmers hunt that same general area and know the landowner."

The Ditmers knew of the buck Dye had shot because they had been hunting it too. In fact, the previous summer they had videotaped the buck. With the deputy running out of patience, the Ditmers asked the landowner if they could pursue the deer. The landowner conceded to this last plea and the Ditmers assured Dye that if they found the buck he would get it.

Dye went home and the Ditmers tracked the deer until the blood slowed and the deer circled a couple of times, but unfortunately, they got a call about a frozen water pipe at home so they had to pull out. Alfred did come back again, but he didn't find the buck. Dye learned later that they were within a few yards of the deer more than once but couldn't see it because of thick cover. In fact, the buck was lying only 60 yards from the spot where it had crossed the road.

Dye asked Cutts to go with him to take another look for the deer, but Cutts knew the Ditmers and was confident in their tracking skills. He assured Dye that a complete search had been made, so Dye gave up on ever recovering the deer.

If Dye had gone to the Iowa Deer Classic that year he would have found his buck. Jerry Sinclair, from Milo, Iowa, had entered the giant non-typical in the shotgun category. Alfred Ditmer, however, was at the show and immediately recognized the buck. He called Dye with the news shortly after the event.

A week later Cutts also called Dye and explained that in Iowa it is illegal to possess or transport antlers from a deer that was not properly tagged. If the story was true, Sinclair would have done both, says Cutts. This law gives Iowa's conservation officers a tool that allows them to investigate suspicious "found dead" bucks in an effort to curb poaching. Cutts was going to find out.

"I stopped at Sinclair's home several times to try to get his side of the story," Cutts explained. "Finally, I caught him a few weeks after the Classic. When I told him why I was there he said, 'Come on into the house,' and my heart sank. I could tell from his tone that the rack was gone."

"Sold it," he said.

"Then the ory came out," added Cutts. "Sinclair and the landowner's son had found the buck. Upon finding it, the son had told Sinclair, 'I can't keep it, my dad (the landowner) will find out.' So Sinclair took it."

According to Sinclair, John Huebner, who lives in southern Iowa, was just driving along when he saw the antlers and stopped for a chat. A short time after the Iowa Deer Classic, Sinclair says that Huebner gave him a snowmobile for the rack.

Some time around turkey season Randy McPherren, the conservation officer in Huebner's area, ran into Huebner along the road. Huebner invited McPherren to his house to show him a "giant rack." McPherren knew of the case and told Huebner not to do anything with the rack until he had a chance to find out more about the deer. McPherren had every right to seize the rack but was satisfied that Huebner would cooperate. McPherren called Cutts on a Wednesday; the following Saturday, Cutts was at Huebner's home.

Cutts says that when he asked Huebner to see the antlers he said, "They're gone. I just traded them for some Indian artifacts yesterday."

"To whom?" asked Cutts.

"I don't know," answered Huebner.

Huebner then insisted that he had bought the antlers in good faith and that he had done nothing wrong. "He hadn't broken any laws," said Cutts. "But, just like the trade of stolen goods, illegal antlers can be confiscated and the current owner is not entitled to compensation.

"I left feeling sick to my stomach," said Cutts. "After meeting Huebner, I visited with Dye. I wanted to help him get the antlers back because I felt bad about all the unfortunate circumstances that had kept him from finding the buck. Huebner and I talked over the phone several times, but by early spring discussions had broken down. Huebner insisted he wasn't going to lose money and Sinclair didn't want to give up the snowmobile. I finally gave Huebner Dye's name and phone number and gave Dye Huebner's number."

According to Dye, John Huebner called him and started by asking if he was recording the conversation. Next, Dye says, they haggled and then finally agreed on a price-Huebner told Dye that he just wanted to recover his losses on the rack. But Huebner didn't show until the second weekend of June. Dye says that Huebner showed up at his house unannounced. Dye's wife called him on the cell phone and said, "You're not going to believe who's sitting here."

Dye says, "Huebner told me he had already sold the antlers but that if he hurried he could still get them back. He then added that it would cost me more. I decided to go along with it. What was I going to do? Huebner drove me in his car to my bank where I cashed in a CD. We're not rich and the amount was a lot for us." (Dye would only say that it was several thousand dollars.)

Huebner says that he was offered $15,000 for the rack from a man in Houston but decided to give the rack back to its rightful owner. According to Huebner, the money he received from Dye was for a hunt (Huebner is a part-time outfitter) so that he could recover his losses on the antlers.

"He drove me to southern Iowa and pulled into the middle of a big CRP field," says Dye. "He then got out and looked all around for anyone who might be following. He even looked up in the air for helicopters. Finally, when he was satisfied that the DNR wasn't going to swoop in and seize the rack, he made a call on his cell phone and his friend brought the antlers in another vehicle. After seven months of frustration, I finally got to see the biggest deer I have ever shot."

Craig Cutts was disappointed. He said, "This antler obsession has really gotten out of hand. We even have people fighting on the side of the highway over road kills. I cringe every time I get a call that involves a big set of antlers. Things always end badly."

Despite the bitter memories the buck evokes, it's now displayed on Dye's den wall. e buck evokes, it's now displayed on Dye's den wall.