I bagged a beautiful buck last week without firing a shot, but it's hard to feel good about my windfall. The buck is a heavy, wide 5x5 whitetail that I found on my Missouri farm, nearly stumbling on it in the dense oak and hickory woods. I was returning to the farmhouse after a busted morning hunt when I spotted what looked like a bedded deer in a bramble of raspberry and buckbrush.
I had a doe tag to fill, so I glassed the deer, savoring my luck at walking up on an oblivious doe just yards away. But the body was contorted in a strange angle, and it didn’t take long to realize that it was dead, not sleeping. Further glassing revealed that it was a pretty good buck, and I figured it a deer that had been wounded by hunters. I dropped my pack, unslung my rifle and fought my way through the bramble and was amazed and disgusted by what I found. The story of the buck’s death was told in thrashed oak leaves and scoured black earth of the Missouri woods.
It had been rubbing a sapling when a tine on its right beam hooked the slender tree. In an effort to get free, the buck must have turned his body and his back wedged under a limb of deadfall elm. Like the opposing angles on some diabolical torture device, the more the buck pulled against the sapling, the more wedged his neck became under the deadfall. Had the buck worked out from under the deadfall, I think he would have freed himself, but I’m guessing the mind of a trapped whitetail doesn’t think analytically.
I don’t know how long the buck suffered, but the amount of spinning and twisting he did had plowed the dirt around his carcass and rubbed a groove in the sapling’s trunk. White foam had dried on his nose and hip bones were visible beneath his skin. Some scavenger had started eating out his rump and had pulled intestines out of his body, but the death was recent enough that he was not yet decayed or even bloated.
I turned the carcass over and inspected it for a bullet or arrow wound. Other than the scavenging, he was intact. I don’t think he had been dead more than a week or so.
I thought I might like to have his rack, so I called the local game warden, who looked over the situation, determined the death was natural, and gave me permission to own the head. Imagine it was you, pinned beneath your bed for a week, gradually becoming too weak to pull free, slowly slipping into a helpless coma. Not the way I’d like to check out.

Close up photos of a deadfall buck spotted by Hunting Editor Andrew McKean in Missouri.