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Illegal trophy could reveal poacher

GOLD HILL — For the past three years, the big blacktail buck that made his home in the backyards and pastures of Hodson Road acted more like an ambassador for the neighborhood's backwoods fauna.

Though normally secretive by nature, this buck was nurtured at Claude Mix's place, where the deer munched acorns in the yard, drank from the chickens' water bucket and snoozed behind the barn.

And his disposition belied a long and unusually wide three-point antler rack. Though bred to battle, the deer acted almost patronly to Mix's 4-year-old grandson, Kyle.

"He was so tame that he'd let Kyle get within three feet of him," Mix says. "He was amazing to watch, just so beautiful.

"No one in the neighborhood would hurt him."

But those traits that made this buck special also led to its demise, and now neighbors and police ironically hope that what helped cause the buck's death in turn will help put metal bracelets on its killer.

The backyard buck was illegally shot and killed about 2 a.m., Oct. 8, in a Hodson Road field. The poacher or poachers severed the head, and fled with it and its long-tined antlers, leaving the carcass to rot.

With no leads in the investigation, Oregon State Police troopers hope the deer's unusual antlers will help lead them to the culprit.

OSP senior trooper Jim Collom plans to circulate photographs of the deer and its antlers among the hunting community in hopes that someone who has seen these antlers and knows the poachers will step forward.

Maybe the killer entered it in a big-buck contest, or tacked up pictures of him or her and the ill-gotten trophy at a local sporting-goods store.

Maybe a newspaper reader remembers seeing these antlers and the skull recently at an acquaintance's house.

Maybe it's photographed on a Christmas card.

Regardless, anyone who would poach a big buck at night in a neighborhood setting and flee with just the head is probably far too arrogant not to share the kill and the accompanying lie to cover how he or she truly shot it.

Collom hopes he's successful in following a poacher's shot in the dark with an investigative one of his own.

"If you kill an animal like that, somebody's going to be bragging about it, Collom says. "I guarantee somebody's heard something about that deer."

The Hodson Road community has been talking about this particular deer ever since it first wandered into the neighborhood, settling down among the does and horses that also find these fields to their favor.

And why wouldn't it? The acorns were plentiful on Mix's spread. The neighbors enjoyed seeing such a big buck up close, so they never bothered him. The houses are so close that no one allows rifle hunting on their parcels.

And the does were plentiful and willing to carry his DNA during winter gestation periods.

"He's got quite a few sons up there, too," says Keith Mix, Claude Mix's son. "You can see some smaller three-points and forked-horns that I'm sure were his sons."

Normally, he moved in and out of the area through power-line accesses in the Galls Creek area. But early on Oct. 8, he wandered across Hodson Road and into view of some rifle-toting criminal looking for a big buck.

A neighbor recalls hearing shots about 2 a.m., Collom says. The decapitated carcass was found the next morning.

The long, thick antler tines that made him so beautiful made him irresistible through the cross-hairs of a poacher's scope.

"He was safe his whole life, but he made the mistake of crossing that road that night," Keith Mix says.

Since that night, Mix and others have amassed some photographs from their digital caches taken over the years.

All the while, Collom has laid in wait. By seemingly ignoring the investigation, he hopes to have lulled the poacher into a false sense of security.

With no buzz from the fuzz, perhaps the poacher did pull the antlers out of hiding and create a cover story for how he shot it.

Someone heard the story, perhaps now recognizes the antlers and does the right thing by talking to Collom, he hopes.

For those in need of a little incentive, information can be provided anonymously through the Turn In Poachers program administered by the Oregon Hunters Association, at 1-800-452-7888. If a tip leads to the poacher's arrest and conviction, the tipster is eligible for a reward of $250, the standard payout for helping solve a poached deer case in Oregon.

"It's before Christmas," Collom says. "People might be looking for a little extra spending money."

Regardless of the intentions, Collom hopes that someone will do justice to the old buck and not let its killer get away with keeping the unusual antlers and retelling a cheap lie to cover his or her tracks.

"It's big enough that I don't think they'd let it rot in an attic," Collom says. "Somebody knows something.

"Who knows?" Collom says. "It's a shot in the dark."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

The blacktail buck is photographed in the Hodson Road neighborhood before its death on Oct. 8. - Photo courtesy of Keith Mix