Fact Checker: Do Outdoor Stores Pay Big Money for Big Mounts?

Fact Checker: Do Outdoor Stores Pay Big Money for Big Mounts?

Myths, lies and old wives’ tales loom large in the outdoor pursuits. Here at MeatEater, we’re dedicated to separating facts from bullsh*t, so we created this series to examine suspect yarns. If there’s a belief, rumor or long-held assumption you’d like us to fact check, drop us a note at factchecker@themeateater.com.

Claim
Big box stores like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops will pay premium prices for exceptional deer mounts.

Origin
Every time a record book buck is shot, rumors swirl around the fistfuls of cash offered in exchange for the antlers. These claims often seem to originate in a hunting club, coffee shop, or bar room.

My earliest encounter with of one of these stories goes back to middle school when a classmate declared that the 4×4 sheds on his wall were worth thousands of dollars. The enormous whitetail rack was picked up by his grandpa and had become an heirloom, which is allegedly why the family turned down the increasing annual offer from Cabela’s.

Facts
I reached out to hunters that have taken once-in-a-lifetime deer to see what their experience has been with potential buyers.

Joshua Bruce, who killed a 268-inch whitetail in 2012, said he started getting offers shortly after word of his deer spread. What’s the second biggest buck in Mississippi’s record book worth? According to Bruce, one antler collector in Louisiana was willing to pay between $30,000 and $35,000.

While mulling the bid, Bass Pro Shops presented a “better offer,” which Bruce ultimately accepted. Due to language in his contract, Bruce isn’t allowed to discuss specifics of the sale, but he did divulge that the exchange included a significant amount of money, replica mounts, and the deer being part of the American National Fish and Wildlife Museum’s King of Bucks display (which is owned by Bass Pro).

Robert Schoenfish, who killed a 231-inch whitetail in 2015, sits eighth in South Dakota’s record book. The giant buck’s antler palmation gives it a moose-like appearance, making it one of the most unique whitetails killed in recent years. He said that a few places “showed interest” in buying the antlers, including Scheels Sporting Goods, but no official offers were ever made.

Luke Brewster, who famously killed the new world record whitetail in 2018, has only received one offer for the 320-inch rack. An unnamed business mogul called Brewster’s taxidermist the day after he killed the buck and said he’d basically give him a blank check. Brewster declined, and hasn’t received another inquiry since.

“People always ask me what places like Bass Pro have offered,” Brewster said. “I wish I knew the answer. I’m not going to do it, no matter the amount, but am still curious what the number would be.”

None of the trophy curators I reached out to were willing to provide any figures for what they pay. One in-the-know former Cabela’s employee told me that big offers are becoming a thing of the past, however: “They’re sitting on so many mounts that some don’t even make it to store floors.”

Takeaway
Antler collectors and outdoor retailers will pay big bucks for big bucks, but it’s much rarer than you think. A more common exchange is that mounts are “borrowed” by stores and restaurants, where the hunter maintains the right to take back the mount whenever they want.

As for the 4×4 sheds that still hang in my buddy’s childhood home? I gave his dad a call to see if those schoolyard rumors were true.

“No one has ever offered us any money for those sheds,” he laughed. “A guy in town did say he’d trade me a new wash machine for them. But we figured his wife would divorce him if she knew he offered a wash machine for antlers, and my wife would divorce me if she knew I turned him down.”

Feature image via Bass Pro Shops.

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