Puzzle Pieces

On The Shoulders Of Giants With Andrew Curtis.

Andrew Curtis | September 27, 2023

Leigh Curtis and her husband Andrew with her first deer. It only had one antler, although the other antler was later discovered.

“Look, Mr. Francis, there’s an antler in the ditch!”

My father-in-law and I were riding on the golf cart in front of his house in Coffee County and noticed an antler sticking up out of the weeds in the road ditch. It was the beginning of February 2013, and I thought it was unusual for a buck to shed his antlers quite that early in south Georgia. I picked up the left-sided antler, and it had three points. Upon closer inspection, we saw that a large chunk of skull was still attached to the base of the antler, and the outer curvature of the main beam had pavement scrapes on it. We assumed the buck had been fatally hit by a car, lost his left antler from the impact and was probably loaded into a truck and hauled off. We also learned, sadly, that we had trail-camera pictures of this same deer just months before.

Well, winter turned to spring, spring to summer, and summer back to fall. My wife, Leigh, had never killed a buck before and was determined to get one. It was November 2013, and my father-in-law shot two nice bucks while he was sitting in an old cow pen overlooking a pasture across the road from his house.

On Nov. 10, 2013, Leigh and I decided to try the lucky spot for ourselves. As the sun started to set, we saw several does feeding on the opposite end of the cow pasture. It wasn’t long before the does began acting nervous, looking over their shoulders into the woods. Suddenly, a buck burst out of the woods, scattering the does. With daylight fading, I could not make out how big the buck was. Leigh looked through the scope of my 30-06, and said, “It’s a nice buck, but it only has its right antler… I don’t think I want to shoot this one for my first buck.”

After much debating, Leigh finally decided to pull the trigger as the buck came all the way across the pasture straight toward our location in the old cow pen. She hit the buck well, but he made it out of sight.

With minimal tracking, we found her first buck. Sure enough, it had only one antler on the right with three points. The left side had a large crater in the skull that looked infected. I hoped we would be able to find the left antler since it was likely broken off somewhere nearby (the infection and wound appeared fairly recent to me). It wasn’t until we began taking pictures that I remembered the antler we found in the road ditch back in February. It was a match for sure, but the right side had obviously grown bigger than the year before, making the rack look lopsided when I inserted the smaller broken-off left antler in place.

Leigh said, “I’m still happy, but I wish the deer had the matching left side from THIS year.”

I began to wonder if the buck had grown another left antler in spite of the obvious trauma the previous winter or if there was too much damage to the pedicle.

Well, deer season faded away, and spring 2014 began to roll around. My father-in-law was burning off the field across the road from his house and saw something white sticking up from the briars. It was a left antler that had three points, and wouldn’t you know, a large chunk of skull was attached to the base. We put the antler on the skull of Leigh’s deer, and it locked into place just like a puzzle. We had finally found the matching left side of Leigh’s first buck, only a few hundred yards from where she shot her buck! The newly discovered antler did not have a single rodent tooth mark on it, only the bleached effects of the sun.

We concluded that Leigh’s deer must have been hit by a car in front of her parents’ house the previous winter but had survived the encounter with a sore head and a broken-off left antler. He then must have grown another set of antlers back with remarkably little change from the year before, despite the damaged skull on the left side. Perhaps he then knocked this new left antler off in the field while sparring with another buck; the antler could have popped off due to a weakened pedicle from the trauma not even a year before.

I guess we will never know the exact story of this buck, but at least we have enough “puzzle pieces” to stir our imagination!

Leigh Curtis later found the matching antler to her first buck and had it mounted like that. The antler below was picked up in a nearby roadside ditch the winter before.


On The Shoulders Of Giants With Andrew Curtis

Andrew graduated from UGA in 2006 with his undergraduate degree in Animal Health and from UGA’s veterinary school in 2010. His passion for fishing and the outdoors began when he was a young boy spending time with his grandfather at Lake Oconee. Now he enjoys passing on what he has learned to his two young boys at their home on the Alapaha River. Turkey hunting and south Georgia river fishing are among his favorite pastimes, but his main interests involve mentoring kids in the outdoors while spreading the Word of Jesus. Andrew has discovered the joy and power in writing and hopes to benefit others through his words.

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