A Cabinet secretary in the administration of Gov. Laura Kelly convened an unadvertised auction in a state senator's office Thursday to sell the second-biggest typical deer antler rack in recorded Kansas history that was at the center of a celebrated ownership feud because the buck was shot by a poacher in Osage County.
Possession of the 14-point rack inspired an emotional legal and political dispute between landowner Tim Nedeau, who claimed rights to the trophy illegally shot in 2011, and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism officials who contended Nedeau shouldn't receive the ill-gotten mount worth thousands of dollars. Even after conviction of poacher David Kent, of Topeka, and changes to state law giving landowners first-refusal rights to game from illegal hunting, the rack remained in the agency's hands.
The monster's head will soon be on the move.
Brad Loveless, secretary of the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said in an interview he took the initiative to resolve the conflict by convening the meeting and conducting the accompanying auction in the office of Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley. The Democratic senator said he was surprised by the deal-closing auction because he thought the gathering was about negotiating a settlement.
Loveless said invited bidders were Nedeau and a representative of Bass Pro Shops, which made an opening offer of $10,000. Nedeau responded with a bid of $10,001. That back-and-forth cycle repeated itself until Nedeau prevailed at $16,001.
"We didn't advertise it. We didn't go through that process," said Loveless, who solicited involvement from Bass Pro Shops. "By no means were we trying to shut anyone out. We wanted to give him (Nedeau) a chance at this."
The Cabinet secretary said proceeds from the sale would be deposited in the Operation Game Thief account, which provides rewards to people providing information to authorities leading to conviction of poachers. The secretary said consideration was given to burning the antlers, but the decision was made to generate needed funding for the anti-poaching program.
The method of sale went against the grain because Kansas government agencies frequently dispose of surplus equipment and materials through the Manhattan-based Purplewave online auction house. The state sells everything from used prison denim jackets to snowplow trucks on a website open to the public for around-the-clock bidding.
Nedeau, who previously won an $8,000 court judgment from the poacher, said he didn't want to discuss the transaction until he was in possession of the antlers.
"No comment," he said.
Rep. Ken Corbet, a Shawnee County Republican who advocated at the Statehouse on behalf of Nedeau's claim he should be given the deer's head, said he attended the meeting along with Hensley and state Rep. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka. All three serve constituents involved in the case.
Corbet said the decision by the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to conduct a closed auction with participation of Bass Pro Shops meant the hunting, camping and fishing supply retailer based in Springfield, Mo., would set the minimum price Nedeau would pay to acquire the trophy. Decor of the company's stores includes taxidermy mounts native to the local area.
"This was no more than Wildlife and Parks being a bully, thumbing its nose at the Legislature and landowners," said Corbet, who owns Ravenwood Lodge, a hunting and shooting facility outside Topeka. "I thought it would be a resolution where they just give him the antlers."
Hensley said he had been told the meeting in his Capitol office would be to discuss a resolution, but he wasn't warned about the auction. Hensley said the Cabinet secretary used a cellphone to bring the Bass Pro Shop representative into the conversation.
"I had no idea that this is what was going to happen," the Topeka Democratic senator said. "I had no idea they were going to have an auction. I think it was really mishandled."
Kent told state wildlife officials he was driving to get firewood on Nov. 11, 2011, when he saw the buck near the intersection of 133rd Street and Wanamaker Road, a rural area south of Topeka. He fired two shots from a 9mm Glock. The animal went down 50 yards from his vehicle. Kent ran to the buck, decapitated it with a knife, wrapped the head in a blanket and drove off.
In 2012, state wildlife department officers seized the antlers at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, where Kent entered them in the Mossy Oak Buck Classic. Nedeau sought a salvage tag for the buck since it died on his property in Osage County. In 2013, Nedeau appealed to Gov. Sam Brownback to release the antlers to him.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2014 granting landowners first chance to claim animal parts if game was taken illegally on their land, but the measure signed by Brownback wasn't retroactive. The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism subsequently balked at giving the antlers to Nedeau after determining the land where the buck died was owned by Nedeau's mother.