The Tarantula Buck

The Tarantula Buck stops deer hunters in their tracks. Killed in January 2010 by Josh Seddon of Mystic, Iowa, and publicly unveiled last March at the Iowa Deer Classic, the buck's rack is a gnarled mass of twisted, blunt-tipped tines, often grown together into palmated beams, entirely covered with thick velvet. The common response among deer hunters who see it for the first time is to grin, shake their heads in disbelief, then step closer for a better look. Exact measurement has been difficult, but experts think it measures at least 200 inches and possibly more, depending on who wields the tape and how they make their measurements.

It took special "circumstances" to grow the unique rack, a concerted, multi-year effort to bag the buck, and a combination of high-technology and expert taxidermy skills to preserve and mount the delicate, velvet-covered trophy.

FOUR FRIENDS AND ONE DEER

The story begins four years ago, when avid deer hunter and professional taxidermist Terry Davis of Mystic, ("Taxidermy by Davis", 641-647-2906) first heard of an unusual buck.

"My neighbor mentioned he'd had a shot at a buck with a funny-looking rack with hair all over it during early bow (hunting) season," said Davis. "Every time we'd talk, he'd bring up that buck and say, 'Man, I wish I'd got that deer, 'cause he was really different.'"

"When the second shotgun season came around, me and my hunting buddies have access to a piece of ground close to where my neighbor saw the buck, so we decided to push (do a drive on) that piece, just to see what we could get out of it. We pushed through the piece and ended up at the top of a big draw with a lot of timber. We decided to send some guys around the top, and I was going to set up and block in a spot where I could see the top and bottom, where we knew deer usually came out.

"We'd kind of forgot about that particular buck; nobody had seen him for a year. I watched a couple does come out, then a couple small bucks came out, then I heard something or there was some motion that drew my attention to a big multiflora rosebush. I froze, kept watching, took a couple steps to the side to get a better view, and that buck busted out. He slammed on the brakes when he saw me, but he was in a bunch of saplings and I just didn't have a good shot. But I got a good look at his rack, and he actually sort of shocked me 'cause his rack was so unusual, with tines going every which direction.

"At that time, he had four extra 3 1/2- to 4-inch brow tines coming out of the base at both sides," recalled Davis. "The main shaft beams went straight up and made an L on both sides. It didn't look exactly like it does now, but similar."

Davis said the big buck spooked, went over the hill in high gear and disappeared. Literally. "We talked about it, decided we wanted to get him, so the four of us (Davis, brothers Josh and Travis Seddon, and friend Ben Voth) agreed to keep our mouths shut and hunt him hard. But that buck just flat-out disappeared. We put out trail cams, even upgraded to fancy infra-red cameras, but we never saw him through the spring, summer or fall. The only time we'd get a glimpse of him was during the winter, after second shotgun season."

THE LEGEND GROWS

Josh Seddon saw the buck during hunting season in 2008, got a good look at the unique rack, but was unable to get off a shot. Ben Voth got a shot at the buck during muzzleloader season, but the startling appearance of the rack, combined with the heavy cover favored by the big buck, prevented anyone from tagging what the foursome had begun calling "Ol' Mossy Horns."

"We talked about him a lot, tried to pattern him, and as best we could tell, he wasn't from around here," said Seddon. "We decided he spent most of the year somewhere else, and only moved into the section where we saw him every winter after pressure from the shotgun season moved him into that section. We're the only ones who can hunt that piece, and it's pretty rugged with a lot of cover, so we figured it was where he moved to avoid hunting pressure and stay warm for the winter."

THE PURSUIT

The group of hunting buddies kept the secret of Ol' Mossy Horns to themselves through the hunting seasons of 2009. They hunted him hard, but didn't cross paths with the big buck again until early January 2010, during the late muzzleloader season. On a frigid January morning, 34-year-old Travis Seddon coerced his 32-year-old brother Josh to go deer hunting.

"I'd worked till midnight; couldn't sleep because I had deer hunting on my mind, so at 4 a.m. I called Josh and told him we were going hunting," said Travis.

Josh wasn't entirely enthusiastic. "It was miserable cold that morning, I could hear the wind blowing outside the window, and I asked him if he was really sure he wanted to go hunting," recalled Josh. "He was already in his truck, on the way, so I didn't have much choice. But, man, when I walked out the door it was seriously cold."

After considering the arctic conditions, the brothers decided to hunt a heavily timbered draw that would provide deer (and them) shelter from the numbing wind chill. Travis remembers the dashboard thermometer in his truck registered -13 when they arrived, with a stiff wind from the north. With the wind in mind, they entered the south side of the 15-acre tract of heavy timber at dawn.

"We spread out about 75 to 100 yards so we could keep each other in sight, then started in real slow," said Josh. "We'd move forward a few feet, then stop and look around. We've had good luck sneaking in on deer that way. There was a lot of snow on the ground. Between the snow and the wind, it was easy to sneak."

The brothers eased into the timber carrying identical Knight Disc Extreme .45-caliber muzzleloaders loaded with 90 grains of 777 powder behind Hornady SST bullets. Both guns were topped with Bushnell 2 1/2- to 7-power shotgun scopes. The brothers are members of the Appanoose County Shooting Club and had spent a lot of time at the range earlier in the fall working up loads and sighting their guns.

"I know I'm 2 inches high at 100 yards, which puts me 5 inches low at 200 (yards)," said Josh. "I've got see-through mounts, which makes it shoot high at close range. That was almost bad for me, that morning."

The brothers worked down into a broad, heavily timbered draw till they came upon a cedar thicket they knew deer favored during extreme weather. Wordlessly, they split around the thicket, working uphill.

"I was moving uphill and a small buck stood up," said Josh. "When he did, I saw Ol' Mossy Horns bedded on the edge of the evergreens. I was downhill from him, so he must not have been able to see me, but the young buck did, and didn't like it. I could see the bigger buck's rack, but he was laying down on the edge of all the evergreens and I didn't have a good shot. So I froze to see what would happen. The younger buck was nervous, moving a little bit, and when big buck turned his head to look at him, I took a step or two sideways, trying to get a shot. That spooked the little buck and he took off. When he left, the big buck stood up and I had my shot."

Brother Travis, standing on the far side of the thicket, watched the situation unfold. "I saw the little buck stand up, I could see Ol' Mossy Horns lying there, and I knew where Josh was. It was a shot I could make, around 150 yards, but I knew Josh was closer, so I waited for him to take the shot."

Josh settled the crosshairs on the buck's chest, squeezed the trigger and then waited for the muzzleloader's smoke to clear. He scanned left, right, and uphill for signs of the fleeing deer, preparing to track his trophy. Nothing moved.

"That buck dropped where it stood," recalled Travis. "Josh was so close, less than 50 yards, that he shot high. The bullet hit the spine, and that buck was done."

The brothers converged on the deer, but their celebration was brief. "It was so cold, we didn't waste a lot of time," said Travis. "We field dressed him in record time and hauled him back to my truck. It was so cold, and he was so big and heavy, that my lungs hurt for two days from sucking in that cold air while we were dragging him to the truck."

Cell phone calls notified Voth and Davis that Ol' Mossy Horns had finally been tagged. The brothers stopped at their parents' for quick photos, then the deer was delivered to taxidermist Davis for the challenging job of preserving the unique, relatively delicate trophy.

TAXIDERMY CHALLENGE

"I'd thought a lot about what it would take to preserve that rack if one of us ever got it," said Davis. "I've been doing taxidermy for more than 25 years. I specialize in whitetails, and I know that racks in velvet are really touchy. They're soft tissue, they'll spoil, and the velvet tends to slough off. I knew it was going to be a real challenge."

Davis' first step was to take dozens of photos to use as reference during his work, then he and Josh carefully, patiently removed the cape.

"The bases of the antlers were so thick there was less than an inch of skin between them," said Davis. "I had Josh hold the rack to protect it as I skinned and cut around the bases. It took 40 minutes just to get them cut out. Then we had a real challenge working the hide around the antlers, 'cause they weren't hard like normal antlers. They were actually soft to the touch, you could sort of bend the tines, and it was easy to scrape and damage the velvet if you weren't careful."

Once the hide was off, Davis and Seddon removed the skull cap and their trophy went into Davis' freezer. Carefully placed antler-side-down in the freezer, the fuzzy, twisted rack earned its new name: "We looked at it and said it sort of looked like a big tarantula spider sitting there," said Davis. "He's been 'The Tarantula Buck' ever since."

The next morning, Davis hand-delivered the Tarantula rack to a company that specializes in freeze-drying soft-tissue to prepare it for mounting.

"The freeze-drying process removes all the moisture and preserves the tissue, right down to keeping the velvet on," said Davis. "It's a slow process; it took them six months to process Josh's rack, but it looks just like the day he shot it, and it won't have any problems with deteriorating in the future."

Once the rack was properly preserved, Davis meticulously developed the rack into an eye-catching display that stopped traffic when it was unveiled at the Iowa Deer Classic.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime buck," said Josh Seddon, the rack's proud owner. "I got it, but there were four of us working together. It didn't matter which one of us got him, as long as it was one of us."

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