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412-Pound Deer Killed - Analysis

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Part 1: Text and Photos
Part 2: More Photos

CIRCULATING VIA email since December 2005, these images generated a good deal of skepticism among hunters, game wardens, and even sports columnists when they first appeared online. It was originally claimed that the deer was killed somewhere in Nebraska. Later variants specified Clarion County, Pennsylvania as the actual hunting ground.

But it wasn't the locale that proved to be the biggest bone of contention. It was the alleged weight of the buck — 412 pounds, a figure characterized by a deer biologist quoted in the Toledo Blade as "biologically possible" but unlikely.


Not that deer weighing 400 pounds or more have never been documented — they have, on rare occasions, just not in the state of Nebraska. Speaking to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission big game manager Kit Hams said he had never heard of a 300-pound whitetail deer being shot in his state, let alone a behemoth 400-pounder. He also said that to his knowledge no one had come forward to claim the kill, which struck him as suspicious.

Skeptics cited apparent discrepancies in the photos, spinning various theories as to how they might have been faked. The antler rack is too small for the body, some observed, while others noted a subtle difference between the color of the buck's head and that of its body — both signs that the images may have been Photoshopped. Still others pointed out that the hunters appeared to have positioned themselves well back from the carcass when the photos were snapped, fudging the perspective to exaggerate the deer's size. It was also suggested that the carcass looked bloated, as if the deer had already been dead for a time before the pictures were taken.

The hunter speaks

After a few weeks of rampant speculation, Dennis Anderson of the Star Tribune finally managed to locate someone willing to take credit for the kill, an Arkansan named Stan Whitt. The deer was real, Mr. Whitt insisted. He felled it with a single arrow during a November 2005 hunting trip in Nebraska. The reason state game officials could find no record of the kill, he explained, was that it took place on an Indian reservation.

The carcass never actually made its way to the scales, Whitt admitted. With a tribal wildlife official in attendance, its weight was estimated at 412 pounds based on measurements of its girth taken with a special measuring tape. According to Whitt, the method is supposed to be accurate within a 6% margin of error.

One point of speculation was confirmed in Whitt's version of the story, namely that the carcass was swollen when the photograph was taken. The deer bolted and disappeared after it was shot, Whitt told Anderson, and its body wasn't found till the next day, by which time it was "somewhat bloated" and beginning to stink.

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Sources and further reading:

Claim Staked on Huge Deer that Caused Internet Stir
Star Tribune, ? February 2006

Authorities Don't Buy Photos of 400-Pound Deer
Toledo Blade, 31 January 2006

Buck Unlikely to Be 412 Pounds
Observer-Dispatch, 29 January 2006

Last updated: 12/11/10

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