MISSOURI -- From the saddle of her Foxtrotter horse, Sarah Anderson viewed a bizarre sight during a ride in late December.
Lying on the ground were two huge whitetail bucks, their antlers locked together, with torn-up ground and trampled grass giving evidence of a relentless battle.
"I looked around and could see hair everywhere," recalled Anderson, 23. "They fought across that whole area. It was a pretty amazing. I've never seen anything like that before."
Both deer were clearly dead. At first, she thought they might have been killed by poachers. But their antlers were entangled so tightly neither buck could escape, and neither appeared willing to yield. It clearly had been a fight to the death.
"I could tell one's neck was broken," Anderson said. "I took a bunch of pictures and then rode back and picked up Dene and Sue."
Dene and Sue Lenhnen are third-generation owners of the property in rural Montgomery County, east of Columbia.
Dene Lehnen, 57, said he has hunted deer since he was 15 but had never encountered two bucks entangled like that. He looked over the area and pieced together a story of nature in the raw.
"There was an area 30 feet in diameter where the weeds and brush were knocked down and tore up from them fighting," Lehnen said. "The 11-pointer died first and he was pretty well ate up by coyotes when Sarah found him. Most of the body was gone, but they left the head alone. It looked like it had been dead for two or three days.
"The bigger one, a 12-pointer, you could tell it was only dead for about 24 hours. Coyotes got him too but most of him was left. He probably watched coyotes eat up the other one before he died, and knew what was coming. He just wore out."
Lehnen contacted a Missouri Department of Conservation agent and got permission to keep the two bucks. Lehnen said the animals were fresh enough that it would be possible to have their heads mounted by a taxidermist. A chainsaw was employed to sever the heads, which remained locked together.
"You could grab ahold of them and shake them and there was maybe a quarter inch of play," Lehnen said. "They were definitely locked together. What's amazing is that through all of that fighting, none of the points got knocked off. They're both monster deer."
Randy Hamilton, a taxidermist in Mexico, Missouri, now has the job of creating a most unusual wall mount for the Lehnens. He scored the antlers at 155 1/4 and 150 3/4 and began the process of untangling the antlers so he could work on the heads. A saw was employed to cut the antlers from the skull of one of the deer. They'll be reattached later.
The final mount will be a challenge to display.
"That's gonna be part of the fun," Hamilton said. "We talked, and it's going to have to be a corner mount, in the same position they were found. They're two pretty good bucks."
Lehnen said he and his wife have a corner in their home already picked out for the unusual mount, which he thought would be ready in six months or so. Lehnen noted he has a hunting stand not far from where the bucks butted heads.
"I could have seen them from my stand if I was there," Lehnen said. "It would have been one hell of a fight to see."
(KnoxNews - Jan 17, 2017)