Ennis, Mont. — FOR A WORLD RECORD, THE ANTLERS UNDERWHELM: You expect more, somehow, than 43 points sprouting like witch's fingers from a clump of skull mounted on a tiny metal slab. It is a fine rack, the color of caramel-streaked dark chocolate, yet it hardly seems worthy of a custody battle that began decades ago in Canada and ends here on the cold, green floor of a trophy hunter's office.
Before Don Schaufler nabbed the rack in an online auction and added it to his collection in this small town framed by the Madison mountain range and river, the rack had a long history of inspiring pride, desire and greed. Brothers and sisters lied, argued and sued over it. One went to jail. How, you wonder, could antlers rip apart a family the way the Broder Buck did?
In the wild
Edmund Broder almost tailed the moose instead of the deer but, with daylight dimming, decided to go for the easier kill. He and two buddies had chugged west in Broder's 1914 Model T to a sawmill camp about 100 miles from his Edmonton farm. From there, the men hired a horse-drawn sleigh to haul their gear to Chip Lake, a shallow pool dotted with islands. They stumbled upon a cabin that saved them from staking a tent.
It was a late November day in 1926. Broder, a 35-year-old farmer and carpenter, set off alone into the woods around 1 p.m., he recalled years later. He threaded the poplar and aspen, boots crunching a foot of new snow, and soon spied the tracks of a large deer. Its trail meandered off a timbered ridge and through a jack-pine swamp, then crossed paths with fresh moose prints.
Broder paused. Moose move too fast, he figured, and a long chase might take him too far from the cabin after dark. He had time to stalk a mule deer.
As the afternoon waned, the temperature dropped into the teens. Broder puffed out vapor as he trudged along the deer tracks to higher ground. Finally, in a clearing 200 yards away, he spotted the buck. It was foraging on shrubs with its back to him. Broder froze. He raised his .32 Winchester Special, waited for the buck to lift its head, aimed high on its spine and held his breath. Crack. The animal collapsed.
What a rack, he thought.
Others who knew the challenge of stalking the crafty mule deer that roam the Canadian Rockies would be more effusive. To kill a "gray ghost" with antlers as big as Broder's, says environmental scientist Valerius Geist, "You have to be kissed by the gods."
Broder had the deer head fastened to a piece of plywood and eventually hung it in the living room of a three-bedroom house that he built. It glared from the wall for nearly half a century. Hazel, Broder's wife, dangled her stockings on its points to dry them. The eight kids occasionally singed its fur with the kerosene lamp. That made Dad mad.
"That was his treasure," recalls his son Richard. "That was gold to him."
Antlers and the pursuit of antlers define the valley southwest of Bozeman that contains Ennis: Antler chandeliers light the chain-hotel lobbies and silk-screened elk bugle on gas-mart sweatshirts. "Welcome hunters" signs dot the main strip.
In an outbuilding on Schaufler's nearby property, antler bits litter an office floor and, on one wall, a door opens to one of six antler warehouses. Thousands of smooth racks shed by elk, deer and moose cascade from stacks 15 or 20 feet high.
A transplant from San Diego, Schaufler at first made his living here 30 years ago by logging and guiding big-game hunters into the backcountry. He also began to collect elk antlers that had been shed naturally in the wild and sold them to a local taxidermist, who in turn sold them for export to Asia. In time, he hired workers to craft his cache into rustic home decor including a candelabrum, hallway mirrors, coffee tables and lamps.
While running his business, Schaufler, 58, developed a reputation within the antler trade as a stalker of giant racks. He would scan the record books from hunting clubs such as Boone and Crockett and Pope & Young and cold-call the racks' owners. Might they want to sell? On vacation in Utah and Arizona with his family, he would grill locals to find out who had bagged the biggest trophy around. By 2001, Schaufler had amassed close to 100 of the top mule deer trophies in North America. He sold them to the outdoors retailer Cabela's, which displayed them in its Sidney, Neb., and Kansas City, Kan., stores.
But one rack swirling across the pages of his record books remained elusive: the Broder Buck. Of course, he would stalk it like a man with a loaded gun. "This is the crown jewel," Schaufler explains.
Though a drawing of it was included in the 1939 edition of "Records of North American Big Game," the rack had never been measured by official record-keepers. Finally, in 1960, after some prodding from outsiders, Ed Broder warily crated and shipped it from Edmonton to New York. "When the deer wasn't in his house my dad wasn't the same guy," the oldest son, Don Broder, once told a Colorado newspaper.