Brooks County Giant Buck Bonanza

In early December of 2010, Mike Holland climbed into his Brooks County deer stand for a late afternoon hunt. This was Mike's first season on the recently acquired hunting lease and after several weeks of scouting and hunting the area, he was more than pleased with the numbers and size of deer that he and his companions had seen.

"Prior to leasing the property, I checked with several of the surrounding landowners," Mike noted. "Just about all of them had some type of management plan or hunting criteria that limited the taking of young bucks, which exactly matched the guidelines that we planned to follow."

On this particular afternoon, the hunter was positioned near the tip of a small finger of pines, overlooking one arm of a large harrowed cotton field. Shortly before dark, he saw a buck step out of the trees, approximately 300 yards away along the opposite woods line. Within seconds, another buck walked into view just behind the first deer.

"The lead buck headed out into the field, but the second deer turned to the right and remained near the edge of the woods," Mike said. "The first buck continued across the field, somewhat diagonal to my position, and stopped at about 160 yards. It was the biggest deer I had seen the entire season, definitely a 150-class buck. Under normal circumstances, I would have never hesitated to shoot, but I couldn't keep my eyes off the second buck, which was clearly bigger. Twice, the distant deer looked in my general direction and I could see the rack's incredibly long brow tines."

The hunter eventually lost track of the first buck as his focus shifted entirely to the bigger deer. Unfortunately, the buck remained near the opposite woods line and with light fading fast, his brief opportunity ended.

"I had a .243 caliber rifle with me that afternoon," Mike said. "I quite possibly could have hit the deer, but considering the extreme distance and low light conditions, there's just no way I would have risked wounding a buck of that size."

Despite hunting the location several more times during the remainder of the season, Mike never spotted the big deer again. Additionally, the buck was never photographed by a trail camera or sighted by any of the other hunters.

"Basically, we were pretty satisfied with our initial season," Mike noted. "We only took two bucks; however, our expectations were not really high simply because the plan was to shoot only mature bucks, judged solely by body size and conformation. On the other hand, a number of younger bucks were sighted with racks that showed great potential."

Prior to the beginning of the 2011 season, trail cameras on the lease had recorded several bucks in the 130-plus-size class, but not the big buck Mike had sighted the previous December. Nevertheless, most of the surrounding land holdings included the same type of old plantation habitat; upland tracts of mature timber, with hardwood lined drainages, interspersed with various acreages of fields and agricultural crops. The general feeling was that the big deer might still be nearby, but in all likelihood the best chance of encountering the buck would be during the November rut.

With this in mind, Mike arrived at the deer camp late in the evening on the second Thursday in November. The following morning, before dawn he went to the same field where he had seen the big deer. In this instance, the cotton was still standing; however, due to extremely dry weather during the growing season, the plants were not very high.

"Having not hunted the site recently, I moved approximately 300 yards east of the narrow finger of pines to a stand bordering the biggest section of the cotton field," Mike said. "The primary purpose of changing stands was that this location provided a greater view of the surrounding field borders, which increased my chances of spotting deer activity."

About 30 minutes after daybreak, Mike saw a doe walk out of the woods approximately 100 yards to his left. After taking several steps, the deer stopped and looked back.

"It was the classic pose that all hunters hope to see," Mike said. "But nothing else appeared, and the doe continued on along the edge of the field in my direction. As she got closer, I began to feel very conspicuous sitting on top of the ladder stand, because I hadn't taken time to hang any burlap or camouflage around the platform area. Sure enough, 12 feet from the base of my stand, the doe abruptly stopped and looked directly up at me."

At practically the same time, Mike detected movement off to his left, near the spot where the doe had first appeared. However, the bright early morning sun had created dark shadows along the edge of the field and he was unable to clearly see anything.

"I was pretty sure I could make out the outline of a walking deer, but that was all," Mike said. "Within seconds, the deer broke out of the shadows into full sunlight and stopped about 80 yards away. My first sight of the buck was incredible, one I will never forget; the long tines and massive antlers were breathtaking."

The big whitetail had spotted the doe that was still standing statue-like, staring at the motionless hunter. Mike's dilemma was obvious, and a wrong decision could easily result in a lost opportunity at the buck of a lifetime.

"With the doe being so close, I figured there was no way I could ease my hand to the rifle without her detecting the movement," Mike said. "Knowing I only had seconds to make up my mind, I decided to move quickly and hope for the best.

"The instant I reached for the rifle, the doe snorted and bolted under the stand into the woods behind me. Had the buck made a similar move and headed straight for the woods, I would have had no shot opportunity. But thankfully, the big deer ran out into the standing cotton."

Although spooked, the buck was responding to the doe's actions rather than the hunter's presence and its route through the field actually reduced the shooting distance to 60 yards. Additionally, Mike's elevated position, coupled with the shorter than normal cotton plants, provided fairly good visibility for the shot.

"I was able to see the deer's head neck and back as it crossed in front of the stand," Mike said. "When I fired, the buck stumbled momentarily and then began running faster, but after traveling about 40 yards he went down. I continued to sit and watch the location for about 30 minutes just to make sure the deer didn't get back up."

The short wait also provided the hunter's nervous system with a much needed break. After climbing out of the stand, Mike quickly walked to where the big deer had fallen.

"My first up-close look at the buck was a very surreal moment," Mike said. "The white background of cotton almost seemed like snow, and the massive 10-point rack was much larger than I had realized. In all honesty, the buck was definitely bigger than anything I ever imagined taking in South Georgia."

The deer's body size was also impressive. In fact, Mike and a companion needed several attempts to eventually load the buck into the back of a pickup. Although no official weight was taken, conservative estimates placed the deer's live weight at well over 250 pounds. An examination of the jawbone revealed an age of 5 1/2 years.

Following the required 60-day drying period, the buck's huge rack was officially measured. Antler statistics include long main beams of 27 and 26 inches, with an antler spread of 21 5/8 inches outside, and 19 3/8 inches inside. Without question, tine length is the rack's most outstanding feature, with amazing 10-inch brows, followed by equally long paired G-2s and G-3s, all of which tape between 11 4/8 and 9 2/8 inches. Antler mass is impressive throughout the rack.

In regard to scoring, the rack grosses 181 3/8, and nets, following deductions for asymmetry between the right and left antlers, a final typical Boone ans Crockett Club score of 173 3/8, qualifying the deer for B&C's All-Time record book. This also ranks the buck as one of the top whitetails of the 2011 season.

JASON CLONINGER'S

BROOKS COUNTY 13-POINTER

Last fall, when Jason Cloninger of Homestead, Florida received an invitation from his longtime friend, Mark Cornelius, to come deer hunt with he and his dad on their Brooks County, farm, he jumped at the opportunity. Jason first began deer hunting while in his teens, but in recent years, business and personal reasons had taken most of his time, so this was an outing he eagerly anticipated.

Scheduled for the first weekend in December, Jason arrived on Friday afternoon in time to check his rifle's accuracy and take a tour of the property with Mark. After shooting, he discovered that there were only five bullets left in the box. Mark jokingly told him not to worry, because he only needed one!

While checking out the various stand locations and food plots, they found where a buck had recently rubbed the trunk of a huge cedar. Considering the amount of freshly shredded bark and deep gouges in the tree, there was little doubt in either hunter's mind that the rub had been made by a very large buck. Later that evening, on the way back to the house they jumped a doe and buck within 150 yards of the rubbed cedar. Neither man got a good look at the animal, but they both agreed it was a very big deer.

"That night, while discussing our morning hunt plans, Mark indicated that he was going to put me in a stand not far from the big cedar," Jason noted. "However, the following morning after checking the direction of a light breeze, he decided to put me in a different stand about 300 yards away."

However, a short while later, while walking to their stands, Mark suddenly stopped and whispered to Jason that he had changed his mind again and was going with his original stand choice near the rubbed cedar. After leading him to the location, Mark disappeared in the darkness.

"It was a cold morning, with the temperature in the 30s and frost everywhere," Jason said. "Directly in front of the stand, a narrow lane over 100 yards long had been cut through the timber. Shortly after daybreak, a large buck suddenly appeared at the far end of the lane and began rubbing its antlers and head against an overhanging limb. Looking through binoculars, the buck's size literally took my breath."

Jason's immediate impulse was to reach for his rifle. However, knowing Mark and his dad's harvest criteria was to take only mature large antlered bucks, he decided to wait a few seconds and check the deer again with binoculars.

"The second time, the buck appeared even bigger," Jason said. "I immediately picked up my rifle, moved into a solid shooting position, aimed and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the big deer took off like a rocket."

Within minutes, Mark arrived on the scene, and Jason, who was still shaking with excitement, quickly recounted the morning's hunt. Afterward, the hunter's walked to the end of the lane to begin searching for the buck, which turned out to be a relatively easy task. Once Jason pointed out which way the buck had gone, Mark quickly headed in that direction; within minutes, he hollered for his buddy to come take a look.

"The deer had only traveled about 30 yards," Jason noted. "I really couldn't believe the buck's size. Lying on its side, the antlers, which had 13 points, came up to my knees; I was completely speechless."

Needless to say, the two friends spent a considerable amount of time celebrating the event. As Jason said later, "It was better than Christmas morning!"

Jason's giant whitetail has an awesome 6x5 typical frame that exhibits great tine length. For example, all four of the paired G-2 and G-3 tines exceed 10 inches. Additionally, the main beams measure over 25 inches and the inside spread is 18 inches. Antler mass is impressive, with all eight circumference measurements taping between 5 and 4 inches.

The 11-point typical frame grosses 176 5/8 and nets 171 3/8. However, the rack also includes two abnormal points, totaling 8 6/8 inches, which must be deducted, bringing the final typical B&C score to 162 5/8. This places the deer in B&C's Awards record book.

While it is certainly remarkable that both of these giant whitetails were taken in the County during the same season, it is even more amazing to consider that an even bigger buck was also taken in Brooks in 2011. For the hunt story and photos of this outstanding deer, be sure to see the October 2012 issue of Georgia Sportsman.

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