It had to have been a scene worthy of an “Animal Planet” documentary on territory dominance.
Two bucks – male deer – one maybe slightly past his prime, the other raring to show his prowess, fight to claim breeding rights. They charge each other with force and determination, their magnificent antlers morphing from showy display of virility into weapons of destruction. It would be a battle to the death – literally – as their antlers became hopelessly interlocked. No one would emerge victorious; both would fall to their death, forever intertwined.
The fact that such a confrontation played out, not on a TV screen but on the grounds of Norris Woods Nature Preserve, makes the new display at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center that much more fascinating.
A glass case just inside the Center’s entrance, positioned fittingly beneath the donated trophy head of a White-Tail Deer, is the final resting ground for an interlocked pair of antlers belonging to two deer caught in just such a struggle. Young Buck and Drop Tine, as the pair came to be known, were familiar to the ecological restoration resources team who regularly oversaw maintenance of Norris Woods. Amid a landscape of torn-up plants and dried leaves, their bodies were discovered in November, 2014.
Their conjoined antlers told the story of what happened.
“We think that one of Young Buck’s tines flexed and became stuck behind the oddly shaped point on Drop Tine’s rack,” said Pam Otto, Manager of Nature Programs and Interpretive Services. “They were unable to disengage and so both bucks fell together and died.”
Due to the unusual nature of their demise, as well as the extreme size of their rack of antlers, the decision was made to preserve the skulls for education purposes. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police was called to the site and tagged each deer to signify that the manner of their death was natural. Otto and other members of the naturalist staff harvested the bucks’ heads and buried them 6 feet underground where natural decomposition could occur safely below the frost line. Six months later, in May, 2015, the skulls were exhumed and, over the course of another year, were further processed to ready them for display.
“Because this is the kind of thing that you only think happens out in the wild, we thought it would be worthwhile to show visitors that, no, nature is nature and such animal behavior can happen right here in your own backyard, too,” said Otto. “These are massive animals – in excess of 300 pounds probably – and the force of what they’re capable of can only be imagined. I’m sure they were ferociously stomping the ground and grunting loudly as they fought each other.”
This wasn’t the first time two territorial White-Tail Deer were locked in mortal combat on Park District property. A similar situation occurred several years ago, according to Otto.
“We didn’t discover those two deer until it was too late to preserve them properly for display,” said Otto. “But because we remembered that earlier pair of bucks, we knew we had to act quickly to secure Young Buck and Drop Tine.”
At no point in the harvesting, burying, exhuming or restoration process were Young Buck’s and Drop Tine’s antlers ever unlocked. They are positioned in the display case exactly as they were found. Time, however, did loosen the lower jaws of both deer and these, too, are displayed to help show the relative age difference between the two. By comparing the size and wear on the intact teeth, one can infer that Drop Tine was older than Young Buck, although their exact ages cannot be determined.
So, although they once battled for supremacy in their St. Charles territory, Young Buck and Drop Tine are united in their new mission – educating visitors about the habits and habitats of the White-Tailed Deer. Hickory Knolls Discovery Center is proud to give these once majestic animals a permanent home.