Every trophy-class buck has a story behind it, but one state record is backed by a sordid tale of crime, greed, and celebrity.
The Letterman Buck stands atop the record book for typical mule deer bucks for the state of Montana. Killed in 2004, the buck officially scored 207 7/8 inches.
If you look at the state record book, there is no hunter name listed with the buck. The head is in public ownership by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, since it was seized as evidence of a crime.
Police seized the antlers from a man named Kelly Allen Frank. Frank was a painter employed by David Letterman, the former king of late-night talk shows. Letterman’s TV show was filmed in New York City, but he owned a ranch northwest of Great Falls, Montana.
In 2005, a friend of Frank’s alerted police, saying Frank was plotting to kidnap Letterman’s son and nanny, planning to hold the pair for a ransom of $5 million.
An informant also dished to police that Frank had killed an enormous mule deer buck after the close of hunting season. With a warrant, police searched Frank’s home looking for evidence of the crime. They saw the antlers, confiscated them, and charged Frank with possession of illegally obtained wildlife.
The buck is a jaw-dropper with the classic combination of width, heavy mass and long tines. The buck beat the previous state record by two full inches, snapping a record that held for the previous 20 years. The confiscated buck has held the top spot for almost 20 years since.
Montana has plenty of mule deer, but is not known for producing giants. In fact, only seven typical mule deer bucks in the state’s record book surpass 200 inches.
Frank was never charged with any conspiracy to kidnap. He was charged with embezzling from Letterman’s bank account, obstructing an investigation, and possession of the ill-gained antlers. He reached a plea bargain with prosecutors. Frank told the judge he had not killed the deer, but acknowledged he knew it was taken illegally when he had them in his possession.
While the story of a celebrity kidnapping plot garnered national headlines, the news of the record-shattering buck was more subdued. The wildlife violation was a felony because the state’s anti-poaching law set the value of the buck at $8,000.
In 2007, Frank escaped from state prison in Deer Lodge and briefly disappeared into the Mission Mountain Wilderness with no shoes or socks. He was captured and returned to prison, and eventually was released on parole.
And the buck now has a nickname associated with a certain gap-toothed, wise-cracking comedian from New York.
Images via Montana FWP.