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Buck With Busted Skull Squares off to Fight Decoy

White-Tailed Deer


Buck With Busted Skull Squares off to Fight Decoy

Posted 2024-01-22  by  Josh Honeycutt

After three years of viewing trail camera pictures, Melissa Bachman finally learned why the old buck always grew an odd antler on one side

Rack Report Details
Buck:150 inches
Time of Year:Nov. 4, 2023
Weapon: Bow 
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Melissa Bachman shot this great buck, which had a broken skull plate, over a decoy. Image courtesy of Melissa Bachman

Melissa Bachman is a veteran of the hunting industry, with years of big-game experience. But she believed there was something missing in her life. She and her husband wanted to own their own hunting property. A few years ago, they signed on a promising 74-acre tract, and this great buck called it home.

“We had three years of history,” Bachman said of the deer. “This is an Illinois farm we bought three years ago. It was our dream to own our own land.”

There’s a lot of pressure in Illinois. It’s been publicized for decades, and that’s taken a toll on the buck age structure there. Bachman had a remedy for that. “We wanted to do everything we can to build up the deer herd as good as possible,” she said. “We hoped to create habitat plans, plant food plots, and give them the least amount of pressure. A lot of these deer are running around scared. We thought if we could give them our property as the main sanctuary for that area, we’d be in really good shape.”

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The deer seemed to have a busted skull for several years. Image courtesy of Melissa Bachman

For three years, they didn’t shoot a deer on the property and only hunted it a couple of times each year. They deployed five trail cameras, kept disturbance to a minimum, and allowed the property to rest. As a result, more whitetails moved in and became more relaxed. And the buck age structure improved. One buck that hit trail cameras the first year was a deer Bachman called “Eye Hook.”

“His antler was coming out of his left eye,” Bachman said. “We didn’t know what it was. It was almost like a little spike.” The next year, the deer was still there, and that spike was a little larger. Still, it was easy to see something was off about the buck. His rack wasn’t quite right.

Fast forward to the 2023 season. Eye Hook returned again, and the point had grown and started hanging off to one side. “We were never really sure what the problem was with it,” Bachman said. “But he was by far the most mature looking buck on the farm. We have other nice bucks, but he’s a really neat deer.”

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Despite a messed-up skull, the deer still had a desire to fight. Image courtesy of Melissa Bachman

As the rut approached, she decided to hunt the deer. Unfortunately, several days of effort proved unfruitful. Even though it was November, temperatures were fairly warm, and deer weren’t moving much. But on Nov. 4, 2023, it finally worked out. Bachman almost decided to not hunt but fortunately opted to give it one more try. “Why not give it one last hurrah?” she thought.

Bachman likes to deer hunt with a decoy. So, before the morning hunt started, she put out a buck deke. After daylight, a small forkhorn worked into the decoy and postured up. As he left, Bachman looked up and spotted the big buck walking straight toward it. He was ready to fight that fake deer.

She looked at the buck out of one of the blind’s side windows and couldn’t get a shot. But the deer wasn’t going anywhere. He postured with hair standing up and ears laid back. She knew the buck was focused on the decoy and decided to let him do his thing.

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This old buck expressed a unique rack. Image courtesy of Melissa Bachman

“He turned around and started walking back toward my decoy,” she said. “He gave me a broadside shot.”

Bachman drew, anchored, exhaled, and eased the shot off. It connected, and the deer ran into the timber. It died down in a ravine.

When Bachman and her cameraman walked down to get the deer, they realized how cool it was. They also realized the weird side of the rack was quite loose. They dragged it out by one antler and a leg.

“It still blows my mind this buck came into fight,” Bachman said. “Because I later found out he had a broken skull plate. His entire skull plate is cracked, and that whole piece is off. I’m not sure if it has been disconnected the entire time, but it’s obviously an old injury, because his antler has never been in the right position. It’s always been a little off.”

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Every whitetail has a unique rack, especially Bachman’s Illinois buck. Image courtesy of Melissa Bachman

When they caped out the buck, they could see brain matter, and the entire antler fell off. There was a clean break around it, but it had somewhat calcified and healed over. Incredibly, there was no damage in the brain.

“It was amazing to see,” Bachman said. “Who knows what kind of injury it was, or if it [occurred] while fighting, or [if the buck was] hit by a car. I don’t know. But it had been broken for at least three years.”

Even so, he came in to fight, which shows you the power of the rut. The 6½-year-old buck scored about 150 inches.


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