The two massive bucks were stone dead, lying head to head with their horns locked. Standing aside them in the photo with this look of amazement was Logan County, West Virginia resident, Bernie Ellis. Mr. Ellis, who recently passed away, told me back then that the two big bucks were still warm when he came upon them. And, they hadn’t been there the day before. So just how many other antlered deer meet their maker in such a gruesome manner?
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I came to know Mr. Ellis while getting my ears lowered down at the Guyan Barber Shop in West Logan. Longtime proprietor Glen Grimmett was snipping away when I noticed the enlarged photo of the horn-locked bucks on the wall. As a bona fide deer fancier, I asked Grimmett, “Are they not the bucks that locked up at Chief Logan State Park several years back; you know, the ones that Park Superintendent Bruce Collinsworth was displaying for a time?”
Grimmett responded, “Nope, that’s Bernie Ellis and the photo is recent.” That’s when I contacted Mr. Ellis for the rest of the story. He found the dead deer, literally in his backyard. What’s more, the site was within a few miles of the very same state park the other duo met the same fate. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought.
Aren’t horn locking battles to the death supposed to be a rarity, a freak of nature? Until this time at least, I had always thought so. I did have this self-published, mini black and white book chapter account by Bob Latimer. I came to know Bob as a friend in the 1970’s before he passed. Latimer was a Pennsylvania Game Commission icon of the early deer restoration days there.
Latimer goes to great lengths describing his 1930’s horn locking account, again by two massively antlered whitetail bucks. The difference is that one of the bucks was still alive! It was in a vicious state, literally flinging around its dead opponent as if it were a rag doll. Fearing for their safety in an attempt to free the surviving beast, they dispatched it with a shotgun instead.
Regular readers may recall the Chief Logan State Park and vicinity horn locking accounts as they were reported here individually back when. The combined accounts later appeared in a West Virginia Game & Fish Magazine feature, which we were able to share with Mr. Ellis. To top all this, a photographic report from the Ohio DNR later showed not two, but a trio of massive horn locked autumn bucks lying dead at the bottom of a small pond!
Since we’ve been doing this for 25 years now and in the memory of Mr. Bernie Ellis, we thought it appropriate to take a look back in time. And as those annually grown antlers approach their maximum fighting size just about now, they too should be ready for this fall’s mating competition. And when you hear the rattling of antlers, yet another gruesome battle to the death may very well be in progress.