Jackson County in the northeastern corner of the state has a reputation for turning up some outstanding bucks. But someone occasionally says the county is past its prime, that it just doesn’t produce the bucks it once did.
The truth is that the county is still a winner when it comes to big deer. A big buck contest sponsored by Harbin Ford in Scottsboro showed that very thing last season.
The contest was limited to bucks taken within 100 miles of the dealership, which pretty much limited it to Jackson County and the edges of a few surrounding counties. They ended up getting too many 130-inch bucks to count and 11 bucks that scored 140 or better.
The top five deer all scored 150 or better and the contest winner went 160 1/8 and ended up being the new state-record non-typical taken with a muzzleloader as recognized by Alabama Whitetail Records.
Brothers Tanner and Win Harbin — the fourth generation of the family to oversee Harbin Ford — are avid deer hunters and organized the contest. The scoring was based on gross Boone and Crockett Club system measurements.
The brothers said the contest generated a lot of excitement, not just among the hunters in the Scottsboro area, but also even among dealership employees who don’t hunt.
“Someone would pull into the parking lot and you could tell he had a buck in the back of his truck,” Win Harbin said. “Everyone would crowd around to see what he had.”
The Monster From’Scrub Ridge’
John Hardman, a 31-year-old civil engineer from Scottsboro, checked in the first big buck of the season at Harbin Ford. His buck was a 14-point non-typical that stretched the tape at 160 1/8 inches.
He got his buck with a muzzleloader during the state’s early primitive weapons season. Incredibly, that buck hung on to win the first place prize, despite one 150-incher after another being checked in later in the season to challenge him.
“Hardman led the contest from start to finish,” Tanner Harbin confirmed. “He would call about once a week to check to see if he was still in the lead.”
Hardman has been part of a hunting club near Fackler since 1982. He literally grew up hunting there.
The place hadn’t produced a lot of top-end deer previously, and the club members had nicknamed it “Scrub Ridge” as a result. Hardman’s previous best bucks were a couple of 100-inchers, one a 6-point and the other an 8.
He had once misfired on a big buck with a muzzleloader and had been distrustful of the weapons afterwards, preferring to stick mostly to rifle hunting.
“My brother, Jere, bought an in-line and that got me thinking about muzzleloader hunting again,” Hardman said. “I had borrowed his a couple years ago and hunted with it, but I didn’t shoot anything.”
The chance to get in an early hunt during the special muzzleloader season was his motivation to get back in the blackpowder game.
Hardman wanted his new gun to have 209 ignition, as he figured that would end any problems with misfiring. Such an ignition system uses a No. 10 cap ordinarily designed for use in a muzzleloading shotgun. According to Dave Meredith of Black Powder Industries — the parent company of Connecticut Valley Arms — such a cap delivers 10 times the spark to the load, very seldom misfires and is much more dependable than traditional No. 11 rifle caps.
Hardman eventually settled on a CVA Kodiak Magnum in a .50-caliber rifle. He sighted-in with 245-grain Powerbelt Aerotip bullets and 100 grains of Triple 7 and was ready to hunt.
Hardman hunts mostly from climbing tree stands, but had bought a ladder stand a couple years earlier and it had just sat in a box in his garage.
In August before the deer season started, he and his brother put it up in a thick area of the hunting club where a climber really couldn’t be used. Hardman credits his brother with helping him find the location for the ladder stand setup.
“No one had hunted it much because there weren’t any real good trees to climb,” Hardman said. “My brother mentioned that he knew some good bucks had slipped through that area and gotten away from us there in the past.”
A couple weeks before the muzzleloader hunt, Hardman went in and bowhunted his ladder.
He saw a few fresh rubs in the area and even saw a buck, but wasn’t sure what kind of antlers it had because the area was so thick.
“I really thought I might have messed up by putting it in such a thick area,” he pointed out. “I wondered how hard it would be to get a shot opportunity in there.”
He took off work on the opening day of muzzleloader season to get in a hunt before everyone else hit the woods with a gun. His father went with him.
“I thought I would just be scouting for opening day of the rifle season,” Hardman said.
He doesn’t like to use a flashlight in going to his stand and walked in right at daylight. At 8:20, the first deer of the morning — a button buck — came by.
“I probably would have shot a doe, but I didn’t want to shoot a button buck,” Hardman noted.
About 9:20, he caught sight of a buck about 120 yards down the mountain. He could tell it was a buck, but he didn’t know just how good it was.
He watched and waited for it to close the distance before he tried a shot. He wasn’t nervous at first, but got a little more uptight as the buck closed and he could see just how good it was.
“I knew I didn’t want to mess up this opportunity,” he said.
The buck was standing at about 30 yards when Hardman touched the trigger of his CVA. There was smoke and then a lot of crashing as the buck tore down the mountain.
Hardman stayed in his tree.
“I was going to wait 30 minutes,” he said. “I made it to 25.”
His heart sank when he got to where the buck had been standing. There was no blood whatsoever.
“You could see where the buck had gone off the mountain,” Hardman described. “I decided to just follow the trail off before I went to get my dad to help me look.”
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