OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The sun was heading toward the horizon on the plains of southwestern Oklahoma when hunter Michael Crossland decided to see if any deer were lurking around a tree-lined creek bottom.
What the 25-year-old farmer and rancher didn't bargain for was a legal dispute over what is expected to be the largest whitetail deer ever killed in Oklahoma, a monster buck with a 31-point set of antlers worth thousands of dollars.
Crossland said that on Nov. 23 he was with the landowner's hired hand, who went to retrieve a four-wheeler and gave Crossland his rifle in case he spotted any big deer.
``I walked around the bend on the west side of the creek,'' Crossland said. ``First I saw a doe, and then I saw the buck come around.''
After quickly loading the rifle, Crossland lined up the large animal in his scope from about 70 yards away and dropped it with one shot.
``I didn't know he was that big until he fell,'' Crossland said. ``He fell and he rolled his head, and that's when I said, 'Oh my gosh.'''
But as word quickly spread about the huge deer taken in Tillman County, problems started to mount for Crossland.
A misdemeanor charge of hunting without permission was filed against him at the request of landowner Ryan Hunt, 26. The antlers were seized by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. A July 1 court date was set, and Crossland said he intends to fight the charge.
If convicted, Crossland could face a fine of up to $200, 30 days in the county jail, or both. It would then be up to the court to decide who gets to keep the antlers. If found innocent, he would get them back.
``It's been a heck of a mess,'' Crossland said.
Crossland and Hunt have known each other for years and attended Grandfield High School together. Crossland said he considered Hunt a friend, but they haven't spoken since the deer was shot.
``I said 'hi' to him the other day in the co-op, but he ducked his head and wouldn't look at me,'' Crossland said.
Hunt wouldn't specifically say whether he and Crossland were friends or whether he gave Crossland permission to hunt on his land.
``I'll say that our family has a lot of land, and it's always been known that no one hunts on our property without permission,'' Hunt said. ``It doesn't matter if it's fishing, turkey or a little bitty doe.''
But Crossland said he's previously worked for the Hunt family and was told he could hunt on their property as long as he was with a member of the family or Greg Platner, the farmhand who was with Crossland on the day he took the deer.
Crossland said he doubts there would be any controversy at all if it was doe or a small buck he had shot. Platner called the landowner's family shortly after the deer was shot to pass the word about the big buck.
``The next thing I know, everybody's mad,'' Crossland said.
What's not in dispute is the size of the deer's antlers, possibly the largest ever taken in Oklahoma.
``They're big, they're real big,'' said Col. Larry Manering, chief of law enforcement for Wildlife Department. ``I don't know exactly how big, but it's a trophy in anybody's category.''
Although the antlers have not officially been scored under a standardized system, Yukon taxidermist Gerald Hillman measured the horns and said he's confident it will be a new state record for non-typical antlers, which refers to a lack of symmetry on each side of the rack.
``I think it will wipe out the old record,'' Hillman said. ``It's a very impressive rack.''
Hillman estimated the antlers will score about 246 or 247 points. The current non-typical state record in Oklahoma is 240 3/8 from a whitetail taken in Hughes County in 2003.
According to the Boone & Crockett Club, a Montana-based club that maintains big game statistics, the world record for non-typical whitetail antlers is a 44-point rack from Missouri that scored 333 7/8.
Carl Eddy, the owner of Eddy's Northern Whitetails in Independence, Iowa, said the mounted head and horns of the deer shot by Crossland would likely be worth between $20,000 and $30,000.
But Crossland said he hasn't been offered a cent for the antlers, doesn't plan on selling them and just wants them back.
``I want to keep it,'' Crossland said. ``That's a once-in-a-lifetime deal there.''