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Charitable conservation: Trophy buck rewards hunter, feeds the hungry

When Tim Phillips harvested the deer of a lifetime, he knew two things: The organic, high-protein meat would go to charity; the 31-point antlers would reside on his wall.

Phillips had been hunting this deer for years. It had been documented by remote trail cameras since 2012. He saw it opening day of the 2014 firearms season, but had to vacate his stand because a friend was getting married that day. A buddy had named the deer "Walter." (Hunters commonly name bucks so that they can speak to each other about an individual deer they're watching over seasons.)

"Everybody in town was basically hunting this deer," said Phillips, a St. Paul parishioner in St. Paul. He'd seen the buck several times earlier, in the archery season, most often in the darkness before and after shooting hours, while going to or from a tree stand. "He'd be, like, standing there by my truck, just kind of mocking me" Phillips quipped. "We would just stare at each other. He wouldn't even be scared. He like, knew, you know?"

Nine days before, Phillips' dad had shot Walter with an arrow. They tracked the buck, and even used a tracker with dogs to follow the blood trail for a mile. But the arrow passed straight through the neck and wasn't lethal.

Then, with about 15 minutes left of shooting time on Nov. 11, Walter appeared again — this time in the woods about 70 yards out. Phillips raised the .30/30 rifle given to him by his grandfather when he was 13. With the cross hairs of his scope on the vitals, right behind the shoulder, Phillips sent the .30-caliber bullet and killed Walter cleanly.

News of this world-class deer spread quickly. Phillips started getting texts even before he'd shared anything on social media. As required, he took the deer to a Missouri Department of Conservation site for Chronic Wasting Disease testing. He arrived right at closing time, and workers there had already heard the news. "They were waiting for us to show up with it," Phillips said. Because he was planning on mounting the deer, the lymph nodes were left and the deer wasn't tested. (CWD is a contagious neurological disease that affects deer. Testing for the disease is being done in some parts of the state, but some trophy deer bound for taxidermy aren't tested, at the department's discretion.)

At first, Phillips counted 39 points on the antlers, but a Boone & Crockett Club scorer counted 31 scorable points (at least 1 inch long) and unofficially scored the rack at 228⅛ using a formula that considers overall length, girth, points, length of points and other aspects of a deer's unique antlers. That score is 43⅛ more than required to be considered a B & C trophy for non-typical antlers.

Now that old buck, hunted and elusive for years, will be remembered on Phillips's wall, and the meat will help feed the hungry. Phillips donated all of the meat to Share the Harvest, which brings in almost 200,000 pounds of venison annually to distribute to food pantries.

That's the sort of charitable conservation to which Catholic hunters are called.

Phillips is the editor of the St. Louis Review and a radical conservationist. He and his family are members of St. Ambrose Parish. His occasional column, God's Outdoors, explores conservation and outdoor recreation through a Catholic scope. He is not related to Tim Phillips. 

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