Photos of a 9-year-old mule deer buck lying dead and partially devoured in a snowy sagebrush expanse recently popped up on Facebook. They’re shocking enough to make you wonder: Do mature bucks really just drop dead in a field like that? They certainly have been this winter in places like Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado.
While the photos aren’t from this year, they harken back to another brutally cold winter in the West. They show Jeffrey Dworek, Jr. with a giant deadhead that he found with his dad in Wyoming. The 13×11 mule deer buck scored over 222 inches, and Dworek tells Outdoor Life the antlers are still the biggest he’s ever laid hands on.
Dworek explains that in November 2013, he was out on a late-season cow hunt with his dad near La Barge, Wyoming. They were driving across private land in a side-by-side when he noticed some antlers sticking out of the snow, so they stopped for a closer look.
“We saw all these birds fly off, so we slowed down and approached it slow from the road,” Dworek recalls. “We looked over and saw this buck laying there. I could tell he was a decent sized buck, but we didn’t know how big he was.”
The duo called the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, but they didn’t have anyone to send to the scene right away. A sheriff showed up instead. The two men were careful to not step off the road or approach the buck, since they were on private land and didn’t want to leave their tracks in the snow.
“They were suspecting that it was poached. A lot of locals in that area will poach a deer then later claim it as a winter kill,” Dworek explains. “So we waited for Game and Fish to show up. It was kind of a hectic morning. You could hear the coyotes going off nearby, they were eating on the buck all night.”
While Dworek and his dad were waiting near the side-by-side, someone punched a hole in a gas can on their truck’s trailer back at the parking area. He suspects some locals had been watching the buck from afar and got mad when they called it in. Eventually, a game warden showed up.
“He did an inspection with the metal detector looking for a bullet, trying to see if there was evidence of poaching,” Dworek says. “He couldn’t find anything at the time. So they took it back to the shop and had the lead officer do a really thorough inspection of the deer. He couldn’t find any bullet holes or other signs it had been poached. He called me back the next morning and asked if I wanted to come get the buck, so we drove back over there to get it.”
Dworek will never forget the moment that he saw the buck’s antlers in their entirety.
“When he pulled that head out of the snow, I about dropped to my knees at how big the deer was. I couldn’t believe it. I was just praying nobody poached him because he was so beautiful,” he says.
The warden guessed that the buck went through a tough rut before a polar vortex hit Wyoming. Coyotes probably chased it around and harassed it for a day or so, he figured, waiting until it was weak enough for them to go in for the kill.
Dworek kept the skull and antlers during the mandatory three-month drying period before getting it measured. The deadhead’s official score came out to 222 3/8 inches across at least 17 points. The buck went on tour with the Mule Deer Foundation for a few months, and then a man in Green River bought the mount from Dworek for $3,000. Dworek says he and his dad spent the money on new hunting gear so they could keep chasing 200-class mule deer and maybe harvest one of their own.
“It was fun. I’ve never found anything bigger and haven’t shot anything bigger yet, but someday, I’ll have a score of a lifetime,” Dworek says. “We didn’t kill him, we didn’t get to lay our tag on him. So we decided to give him to someone who would really enjoy him.”