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Antler-spray flap yields odd looks

Showgoers ogle one biggest bucks Friday Field   Stream Deer   Turkey Expo Springfield. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times

Showgoers ogle one of the biggest bucks Friday at the Field & Stream Deer & Turkey Expo in Springfield. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:31AM

SPRINGFIELD — Darren Rottmann of Downstate Highland asked the right question about deer-antler spray.

‘‘I would like to know the first guy who thought of it,’’ he wondered.

Rottmann, wearing a blue St. Louis Cardinals shirt, was walking through the Field & Stream Deer & Turkey Expo on Friday at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.

But allegations connecting deer-antler spray with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis weren’t the talk of the deer show. In fact, when I asked vendors and showgoers, most gave me a blank look.

For hunters, the show is more about the innovations on deer blinds, tree stands and scent-blockers or dispensers. With the explosion of bowhunting for deer, many innovations have come.

I liked the Bale Blind, which is made from rolled hay. The technological advances in tree stands are mind-boggling. Some Amish carpenters from Downstate Arthur started building swank deer stands in the last year.

In the last year, Buck Cage has come out. It’s an advanced way to soak up scent and hang it without having to touch it. Hunters use many scents, including deer urine. That’s the selling point.

Jessie Emel said he found out about the deer-antler-spray story from an Ohio state trooper when he was stopped for an infraction while driving on the interstate from the mountains of central Pennsylvania. He was one of the few who knew about the story.

Local 1 ironworker Ed Potts of Darien said he didn’t follow football. Potts was there with Camo Patch, a glue that patches all sorts of camouflage. It’s one of those handy niches entrepreneurs or ironworkers waiting on work find.

There were the usual booths at such shows for the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever and the National Rifle Association.

A growing number of booths targeted women and girls in hunting, though I think the Pink Rack Project might be aimed to catch boyfriends and husbands, too.

The big draw of the deer expo remains the chance to have big racks measured and to ogle them.

Tim Walmsley, the lead measurer and a show anchor for the last couple of decades, said he had ‘‘kinda heard about some sports dude and this antler-spray story, but I don’t have a clue what it is.’’

He asked some vendors who didn’t have a clue, either.

‘‘Traditionally, I think velvet was available as a powder or a pill,’’ Paul Shelton, the forest wildlife program manager for Illinois, emailed last week. ‘‘This spray is just a different twist on that. It is sprayed into the mouth. I don’t know what other proprietary components besides velvet the spray contains.

‘‘The controversial component of the spray is insulin-like growth factor, which is a banned substance in certain sports venues. There is disagreement over the ‘enhancing qualities’ of IGF-1, particularly since — when taken orally — a lot of it would be broken down.’’

I called Frank Williams, the president of the Illinois Taxidermist Association, last week. He hadn’t heard of it, but he had a deer expert in his shop who said antlers from pen-raised deer often end up being ground for that.

The thing that struck me most is that the Super Bowl isn’t as ubiquitous as some of us might think.

‘‘We call it measuring season,’’ said Dan Hollingsworth, a Missourian helping to measure. ‘‘We go from hunting season to measuring and shed season.’’

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