It was a moose that had become a myth, an animal so imposing and elusive that it had turned into the Bigfoot of Quebec's forests.
The so-called Monster of Matane – a moose with a set of antlers described as both wondrous and unique – is dead. But the battle over the beast is only beginning.
A Quebec hunter has filed a $97,000 lawsuit against his hunting guide and the province's parks agency, claiming that the guide surreptitiously took the prized, four-legged bounty during a trip in Matane, Que.
The suit, filed in Quebec Superior Court, lifts a curtain into the high-stakes world of trophy collecting; according to estimates, the Matane moose's antlers are so exceptional that they could fetch anywhere from $100,000 to $1-million, probably among trophy collectors in the United States.
"No one has ever seen anything like it," says Georges Landry, a Quebec taxidermist and official measurer for the Boone and Crockett Club, a U.S.-based group founded by Theodore Roosevelt that keeps records for big game. "Getting those antlers is like winning the Stanley Cup."
For a time, the Monster of Matane was considered more legend than real. The world got its first glimpse of the magnificent animal when amateur photographer Langis Paradis ventured into the Matane Wildlife Reserve in the Gaspé Peninsula early one morning in 2009 and couldn't believe his eyes. The antlers on the animal before him were so expansive, Mr. Paradis thought two moose were standing one in front of the other.
A Quebec hunting magazine published Mr. Paradis's photo and the animal's reputation spread, along with a sense of skepticism. "For some, that moose was like a flying saucer," Mr. Paradis said Tuesday from his home in the Gaspé. "Unless people could touch it, they didn't think it was real."
The skeptics were silenced after another hunter videotaped the beast during a trip to the Matane reserve a few months later, and the images were posted online. Word began to spread to hunting forums around the world.
The average adult moose has 16 to 28 points on its antlers; this one had about 60, according to those familiar with it. Any moose antler span over 50 inches is considered a good trophy; this one measured 55 inches.
In the competitive world of trophy hunting, every detail of an antler is counted and measured to within a fraction of an inch. Non-typical antlers like the ones on the Matane moose are so rare, the Boone and Crockett Club – the reference for trophy records in North America – doesn't even keep a category for it.
"It is a very unique trophy," Justin Spring, assistant director for big game records at the Boone and Crockett Club, said from the group's headquarters in Missoula, Mont., after seeing a photo of the Matane moose. "I've never seen anything that looks like that. For a hunter, it would be the trophy of a lifetime."
That could be what pushed Jérémy Boileau, a resident of Quebec's Laurentians, to seek damages in court. In his statement of claim, Mr. Boileau says that he spotted and fired at the Matane moose during a hunting trip last September; the apparently wounded moose got away. His guide, Claude Lavoie, told Mr. Boileau that his shot was off, and convinced him to abandon his search, the statement says.
The lawsuit claims that Mr. Lavoie and three other parks employees then returned to retrieve the moose later that day, thus "illegally appropriating" the antlers of Mr. Boileau's catch.
In the claim, Mr. Boileau says Quebec wildlife protection agents told him in February that they were investigating an attempted sale of a set of antlers, obtained at the date and location of Mr. Boileau's expedition, for $100,000. The antlers were seized by agents before the sale went through; Mr. Boileau wants them for himself.
For Mr. Paradis, who first brought renown to the Matane beast, the wrangling over the bounty is bittersweet. He would have preferred to have the astonishing antlers be celebrated on the living, breathing animal. "For me he was like a king, and those antlers were his crown," Mr. Paradis said of the moose. "It was a symbol of what makes this area so special."