Bewildered On The Bayou

Bewildered On The Bayou

When "Peanut" Walker saw this amazing buck come out of a Louisiana swamp on the dead run, the hunter wasn't sure just what he was looking at. Seconds later, he found out.

Sammy H. Walker - "Peanut" to his friends - stared in amazement at the creature before him. He thought it was a deer, but he really wasn't sure!

The dogs were close, and this "thing" was running flat out as it crossed the narrow logging road. Its body looked like that of a deer, but on the head was a pile of something that caused the animal to appear more like an apparition than a whitetail buck. Besides the apparent mass of antlers, which jutted in every direction, broken branches also adorned the head. To top it off, the entire mess was laced with vines, which draped in long streams alongside the body. But whatever it was, Peanut decided to shoot it!

Louisiana is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, in the form of streams, rivers, bays, swamps, extensive forestlands and a vast array of wildlife species, so it's only natural that this enchanting land has evolved a culture around the sporting life. Alligator hunting at night, trotlining for catfish, fishing for huge alligator gars, crabbing, frog gigging, shrimping and running bayou bucks with hounds are but a few of the dozens of outdoor rituals performed in this state each season. As the license plates state, Louisiana is truly a "Sportsman's Paradise."

Like his father before him, Peanut grew up in the outdoors. Besides all of the usual sporting activities most "swamp rats" engaged in, Peanut was a hound man and deer hunter . . . in that order.

For those who haven't tasted the rich and ancient ritual of hunting deer with hounds, criticism of the sport should be tempered with understanding. For one thing, deer hunting with dogs primarily evolved in the South and Southeast, where the habitat isn't conducive to more conventional tactics. Vast stretches of swampland with heavy timber and underbrush that remains green all year constitute a substantial portion of the deer habitat, making it difficult even to walk through some areas, much less hunt them. For decades, the use of hounds to move deer has been the accepted way of hunting these areas.

The massive rack of "Peanut" Walker's Louisiana non-typical would be a state record . . . but for one problem. Photo by Tom Evans.

Without a doubt, traditions, cultures, tactics, hunting knowledge and habitats themselves are changing, and not in favor of dog-hunting for deer. The biggest problem lies in the fact that dogs don't read "Posted" signs well; they would just as soon run a buck through a subdivision or golf course as across a vast swamp. They actually prefer to chase deer through outdoor church services on Sunday mornings (popular in the South) and are especially fond of baying across posted land and private hunting clubs.

All of this, of course, makes the deer hound an unpopular fellow today. In 1958, however, deer hunting with hounds was the thing to do in Louisiana, and Peanut liked nothing better. After work every Friday during deer season, he'd gather his sons and his hounds and go to the woods.

Peanut's two redbones and two Walker hounds were good and fast, which is important when running deer. The dogs must keep a buck "lined out," so that he doesn't run tight circles to confuse them. Also, it helps if the dogs don't give the buck much time to think, so he can't get in with other deer and thus throw the dogs off his track.

For much of his life, Peanut had hunted the bayous and swamps in the parish of Grosse Tete, and he knew many of its backwater areas well. One of his favorites for bucks was Bayou Blue, which most local folks just called "Bay Blue" for short. On Jan. 2, 1958, Peanut repeated a ritual he'd acted out many times before. Long before daylight he gathered his dogs, sons and friends, then headed toward Bay Blue.

For more than one reason, this was not a usual day. The South was under the grip of a bitter cold spell, as the temperature had dropped to 20 degrees. (Trust me when I say that 20 degrees in Louisiana's humidity is "bitter.") To make conditions even worse, an ice storm had hit the area the previous day, coating the brush with a heavy glaze. This was real winter in the Deep South!

Sammy knew where the deer fed, and he was well aware of all of their crossings once they were pressured by the hounds. Escape routes are of vital importance in dog-hunting, because quite often bucks (more than does) will be so far ahead of the dogs that they'll cross roads or other potential ambush sites long before the dogs are even within hearing distance. Therefore, it's very important to know the favorite crossings in advance. This is where Peanut had the advantage, because he'd hunted Bay Blue many times before.

On that fateful morning, Peanut drove his pickup down a rough back road to a spot where he knew deer had been feeding on new winter wheat. This was a tactic that had worked before, as deer which had fed during the night left fresh tracks in the black "gumbo" mud.

Just after daybreak, Peanut found a big track and dropped the tailgate for the four dogs to begin to do their thing. The cold-trailing continued for several minutes, with the howls coming sporadically in long, drawn-out notes. All at once the pace picked up, and excited, choppy tones blended into one high-pitched chorus. The buck had been jumped, and the race was on.

As the dogs went in one direction, Peanut had his clan head in the other. He quickly dropped off standers at favorite crossings and eventually posted on the last crossing himself. In the distance, he could hear the chorus making its way through the swamp.

Excitement was heavy in the air as the frozen limbs cracked from the slightest winds. The dogs seemed to turn Peanut's way, and he peered hard in their direction.

Although it's difficult to say what caused the Walker buck to grow such a strange rack, those antlers make him a one-of-a-kind trophy. Photo by Tom Evans.

A quick flash to his right caused him to jerk his attention in that direction, but it turned out to be only a pair of wrens chasing each other through the limbs of a small cypress. Peanut's wait for the deer continued.

Soon the dogs were close, and the hunter knew the deer couldn't be far away. Except for the dogs, there was silence all around. Then, as if traveling alone, a mass of antlers bounced over the

tops of the frozen brush.

Without thinking, Peanut slipped off the safety of his Stevens 12-gauge pump shotgun and fired one shot as the buck crossed the right of way. The deer was broadside, and the buckshot found its mark, causing the animal to drop instantly.

As Peanut began his walk to the buck, he wasn't sure what he'd shot. The sticks, branches and long, trailing vines entangled in the deer's rack indeed made for a sight few hunters ever have witnessed. After careful examination, he found he'd actually killed a buck with a wild set of antlers!

For quite a while Peanut was the talk of Bay Blue, as nobody ever had seen anything like this deer. The buck also was exceptionally large-bodied.

When the buck was killed, his rack was mostly covered in velvet, meaning he was almost certainly a stag (a buck without functioning testes). Although some hunters advocate that such bucks have lost their "privates" jumping fences or going through thick brush, most are born without them. These bucks do not breed or go into the rut, and are basically social outcasts. Their antlers never shed their velvet, and the antlers themselves never are shed.

Characteristically, antlers on stag bucks have an overabundance of points and almost always lack a well-defined typical frame. But while I've seen many such racks, I've yet to see another with these drooping main beams, or one with so much mass and bone, as the Walker buck. Overall, this is one of the most unusual whitetails I've ever seen.

The rack has 22 points on its right side, 26 on its left. The greatest spread is 28 inches, and the right and left sides feature greatest circumferences of 10 and 13 inches, respectively. Not counting any main beams, spread or circumference measurements, the rack has 190 3/8 inches of antler, and it weighs more than 10 pounds!

The buck has been scored by veteran Boone and Crockett measurer Dave Boland at 291 3/8 non-typical points. But Dave cautions that the buck could be rejected by B&C as a "freak." It probably would require the judgment of a panel of scorers to make the final call, and no such determination ever has been made.

Without a doubt, this buck is a scorer's nightmare in every way. It's difficult to determine which portion (if any) constitutes the main beams and which points (if any) are typical in nature. Even measuring the length of the most likely main beams is difficult, because so many points come off the back of the rack. Determining the origin of many points is also tricky, as the majority of them sprout off the two masses of antler just above the bases. Actually, there's nothing simple about scoring this buck!

It would be easy to make the argument that this Louisiana whitetail is a "freak" and therefore non-scorable. But is the Missouri world-record non-typical (333 7/8 points) not also a "freak"? Are some wild-looking non-typicals more "freakish" than others? How can several of the top bucks in the record book be accepted for entry and the Walker buck not be? In time, some standardization must occur if the record book is to provide an accurate record of the biggest deer racks in history.

Regardless, there's no doubt that this immense deer makes Peanut Walker's "book." It's the highlight of his many years of whitetail hunting and perhaps always will be known as the biggest buck to come from Bay Blue.

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