The Georgia Big Deer Contest

This competition is the oldest continuous big-deer contest in the Peach State. Who's behind it, and what's it all about? (July 2006)

While receiving his Big Deer Contest award, Ian McTurk of Valdosta displayed his No. 1 non-typical firearms buck from the 2004-05 season.
Photo by Dottie Head.

On the pages of Georgia Sportsman each September, hunters can read about the winners of the previous year's Georgia Big Deer Contest. For some, it's a shot at recognition for that once-in-a-lifetime deer; for others, it's a chance to dream of earning a spot on next year's list.

But what exactly is this contest? Who sponsors it? And what's the best place to hunt in order to maximize the likelihood of your making the list?

Let's start with some history. The Georgia Big Deer Contest is the oldest continuously-operating big-deer competition in the state. It's not the only contest, but it does have the longest uninterrupted history. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources founded the annual contest back in 1968 for deer harvested during the 1967 season. Deer hunting was just making a comeback after years of restocking efforts by DNR, and the contest was a means of recognizing some of the larger animals harvested. Today, the DNR doesn't promote trophy hunting per se, but since many hunters take high-quality bucks each year, the contest is a vehicle for taking note their accomplishments.

Over the years, other sponsors have joined to help with the program -- the first being Georgia Sportsman, which has been involved with the contest on and off for 30 years. Then, in 1991, the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association teamed up with the DNR and Georgia Sportsman to provide a venue for presenting this award. GOWA, consisting of outdoors media and communications professionals, hosts an annual awards banquet each spring. It is at this event that the sportsmen and women harvesting the largest bucks in each of the four categories are honored.

The Big Deer Contest recognizes winners in the categories of Archery Typical; Archery Non-Typical; Firearms Typical and Firearms Non-Typical. Deer harvested by means of crossbows are eligible for entry in the firearms categories.

The minimum scores for entries are 120 Pope & Young Club points for archery typical, 145 P&Y for archery non-typical, 145 Boone and Crockett Club points for typical firearms and 170 B&C for non-typical firearms kills. Of course, to be recognized, individuals must enter the contest.

Over the years, many winners have been lauded for taking many impressive racks. Let's take a look at the last 10 years of the contest and track the locations in which the biggest deer have been harvested.

From 1995 to 2004, the top deer in the archery typical competition scored 160 7/8 Pope & Young Club points; David Campbell took that Macon County buck in 2003. The largest archery non-typical deer, killed by Wyman Brooks in Henry County in 1999, scored 182 6/8 P&Y.

In the firearms typical category, Tony Lewis claims overall bragging rights with the whitetail he downed in Dooly County in 2004; it scored 180 4/8 Boone and Crockett Club points. Taken by Blake Voltz in Muscogee County in 1997, the largest deer in the firearms non-typical contest scored an amazing 231 2/8 B&C.

The Peach State is carved up into 159 counties -- more than any other state in the nation except Texas. Fifty of these counties posted no entries in the Big Deer Contest in the past decade -- but others posted some big numbers. If you're looking to add your name to the annals of the winners, consider these counties, all of which have generated a passel of entries in recent years.

Lee County in southwest Georgia has garnered more entries in the Big Deer Contest than any other county in the past 10 years -- an amazing 31. The biggest deer taken in Lee County during this period was Patrick Holton Jr.'s 178 B&C non-typical firearms kill from 2004.

Following closely behind with 29 entries each are Fulton County -- right, smack dab in the middle of metro Atlanta -- and Worth County in southwest Georgia. Since places to hunt with firearms in Fulton County are limited because of human population and development, the bulk of this county's entries were in the archery competition. The biggest deer harvested in Fulton was a 179 2/8 non-typical archery entry taken by William Hudson in 2002.

Worth County exhibits a more typical breakdown, the majority of its entries being posted in the firearms categories, including a 190 5/8 B&C non-typical taken in 1997 by Skip Houston.

Macon County, also in southwest Georgia, takes fourth place for the total number of deer entered: 27. Emily McDaniel is one of a handful of women on the list of successful hunters, but her massive 192 2/8 B&C non-typical deer, killed in 1995 certainly made a mark, as did a 178 5/8 typical firearms buck from 1999 that was slain by Brent McCarty.

Now under Quality Deer Management regulations, Dooly County was the No. 5 county with regard to numbers of entries, posting 21. Tony Lewis' buck (mentioned earlier) was the largest typical firearms deer taken in the past 10 years in the Georgia Big Deer Contest. Having come from Dooly County, it testifies to the sort of quality that's come from this great hunting destination.

Colquitt County, also in southwest Georgia, racked up sixth place with 18 total entries, including a 200 1/8 firearms non-typical buck taken by Jacky Stanfill in 2002.

To break it down by category: Of 323 total entries, the top counties for entries in the firearms typical category were Lee, with 25, and Worth, posting 23 qualifiers. Though the past decade saw only 22 total entries in the firearms non-typical category, three of those came from Mitchell County, and two each from Colquitt and Lee counties.

Of 224 total entries in the archery typical category, a whopping 25 came from Fulton County. Finally, in the archery non-typical category, the nine total entries were spread out over nine counties.

For complete rules (including directions on entering the contest), pick up a copy of the September 2006 edition of Georgia Sportsman and check out the "Georgia In The Field" column.

Georgia Sportsman will present plaques to the winners for the top bucks of 2005-06 season in each category at the 2007 GOWA Spring Awards Banquet, along with an award certificate from the Georgia DNR. Articles on contest winners and lists of all bucks meeting the contest minimums will be included in future issues of the magazine.

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