A Cotton State Whitetail Triple

Most hunters are lucky to put even one deer in the record books -- but this Cullman County hunter managed the feat three times! How? (August 2006)

Realizing at the age of 6 that his calling in life was to hunt, Tim McKoy of Logan devoted all of his spare time to the outdoors. Eager to learn as much as he could, the youngster jumped at the chance to go trapping with his grandfather.

Early on, McKoy also learned this lesson from his father: "One shot, one kill." That process began at age 7, when McKoy got his first shotgun, a 12-gauge single-shot. His dad was also gave him two shells to go squirrel hunting, along with some powerful words that have been influential to McKoy's hunting career.

"When my father handed me those two shells he told me for each shell I didn't bring back I had better have a squirrel in its place," McKoy recalled. "That's where the one-shot-one-kill method came into play. I have taken that challenge seriously ever since."

Back then, McKoy chased squirrels and rabbits. But after his first encounter with a deer, his focus quickly turned to whitetail hunting. He's been passionate about the sport ever since.

Self-employed now, McKoy has always scheduled time off so that he can be in the woods during the prime hunting periods. With numerous trophy racks scoring over 120 inches under his belt, McKoy has a bit of a statewide reputation as a successful hunter.

McKoy attained his most phenomenal achievement during the 2005-06 hunting season when he secured a place in Alabama whitetail history by being the first person ever in Alabama to put buck in all three categories of Alabama's Whitetail Records. When you take into consideration that McKoy took all three bucks from Cullman County, which is not typically known for producing monster bucks, the feat appears all the more exceptional.

Eight years ago, after discovering that no one in the Cotton State has ever taken record-book-quality deer with modern firearms, archery tackle and muzzleloading gear, McKoy was determined to be the first. The wheels were set into motion quickly during the 1997-98 season, when the hunter knocked two of the three categories out in one season.

RECORD BUCK BY BOW

"I spotted this buck during the summer before the season opened coming into a big clearcut and using two or three different trails to travel from his bedding area to where he would go to feed," McKoy recalled.

On opening day of bow season in 1997, McKoy got into his tree stand before daylight. After a slow morning and a break for lunch, he was back on stand by 1 p.m. About an hour later, a doe came through, followed by a 6-pointer and a nice 8-pointer that most hunters wouldn't have let walk.

"Behind the 8-pointer, I could see another deer," said McKoy. "I decided to hold my shot -- and the 8-point came within 15 yards of my stand."

McKoy's decision paid off in a big way: The other deer turned out to be an even bigger 9-pointer. The buck moved down the trail straight to McKoy, stopping to eat acorns along the way and ending up only yards from the stand. In the meantime, the 8-pointer had circled and gotten downwind of the hunter, picked up his scent, and run off snorting.

"The 9-point buck was only yards from my stand, and I knew he was getting ready to bolt after the commotion the other buck had made," McKoy said. "The only shot I had was head-on. I usually do not take a head-on shot, but the buck was only about 18 yards from me, so I was confident I could make the shot."

McKoy drew his bow and let the pin sight settle just above the brisket before releasing his arrow. The deer was hit in the chest cavity and went down less than 100 yards from where McKoy had released the arrow. The buck scored 135 1/8 Pope & Young points and weighed in at 230 pounds.

BAGGING A RIFLE RECORD

During the 1996-97 deer season, McKoy came across a thick cutover area that he believed held a big buck. He hunted there a few times that season but never saw the buck. Before the next deer season opened, he scouted that same area, finding trees the size of his arms that had rubs on them. He quickly cut several shooting lanes spreading out from the only tree in the vicinity in which he could hang a stand.

The right wind conditions finally came the first weekend of December 1997; McKoy spent all day in his stand and didn't see anything. The following day he hunted from that same stand again, but still saw nothing. In fact, the third day was almost over before he saw a deer at 4:40 p.m.

"It was windy and spitting snow that day. I knew I only had about 20 minutes of daylight left. I heard a noise, and then saw antlers above the brush about 75 yards away from my stand. I knew then that the buck was a definite shooter," McKoy recounted.

The buck stayed in the heavy cover for about 10 minutes before stepping out into one of the shooting lanes McKoy had cut. With the 10-point buck in his cross hairs, McKoy took his shot and the buck dropped 60 yards from his stand. The massive 10-pointer scored 158 2/8 Boone and Crockett Club points and weighed 255 pounds.

After such a tremendous season to start his quest, McKoy never dreamed that six more years were to pass before his goal was realized. He came close to meeting the minimum requirements of the muzzleloader category several times. During the period, he even took one buck that would have scored in the mid-140s had not been one side of the rack been found to be broken off.

The hunter could have easily gone to another county in which prospects for taking the final buck of his quest might have been better. But, determined to finish the quest in Cullman, McKoy kept scouting and hunting there.

MUZZLELOADER

RECORD BUCK

After the 2004-05 hunting season, McKoy scouted an area with thick cover that he felt could be holding a nice buck. While scouting he had found some large rubs and scrapes along with some large tracks. "I wasn't sure the buck that was using that area had made it through the season," he noted.

Hoping that the buck was still around, McKoy started cutting shooting lanes and fertilizing the browse. September finally rolled around, and McKoy eased back into the location to confirm whether or not the buck was still using that area. Several large fresh rubs provided all the confirmation he needed.

"As excited as I was, it was hard staying out of the area during bow season," he recalled.

Although McKoy didn't disturb the area, it did

receive some pressure from a few bowhunters. When muzzleloader season finally opened, unfavorable winds limited McKoy to hunting the location only two times. Then on the morning of Nov. 29, cold weather and the right wind made conditions perfect for the site.

"I saw a doe coming out of the bottom at a fast trot. Moving at a steady pace not far behind was the big 8-pointer I had been waiting on," McKoy said. "With the wind in my face and the sun at my back, I had the perfect setup,"

McKoy waited patiently and let the buck come closer into range of his .50-caliber rifle. The buck stopped broadside to look around for a moment. Taking advantage of the situation, McKoy let his smokepole do the talking. The result was a shot that dropped the 8-pointer in his tracks.

"As I walked up on him I knew he would easily make the book. I had finally put a buck in all three categories. It took me eight years and a lot of ups and downs but was worth every bit of it," he said.

The 8-point buck McKoy took by muzzleloader scored 126 4/8 B&C and tipped the scales at more than 200 pounds.

THE COUNTY

"I am proudest of the fact that I was able to take all three of the bucks from Cullman," McKoy stated. "I wanted to prove that it was possible to harvest record bucks from a county that wasn't known for its trophy bucks."

To date -- and including McKoy's bucks -- only 17 deer have been added to the state record book from Cullman County. Three of that number were bucks were in the "open" category, which means either that they were taken in an enclosed area or that the racks were picked up after the animals were dead. Five of those deer were taken by bow; the minimum score for that feat is 115. Seven were downed with a rifle, which required a score of 150. Finally, only two have fallen to muzzleloaders; they scored more than 125.

Cullman County's book entries are considered few, especially when compared to top-ranked Jackson County. That north Alabama county has produced 76 bucks for the book.

According to McKoy, it's a combination of small-tract property owners, hunting pressure, and the lack of deer management being practiced that makes harvesting a quality buck so difficult in Cullman County.

HIS TACTICS

So how did this hunter beat the odds? McKoy keeps detailed journals of each of his hunts, noting any deer sign he finds while scouting. So that they're easily accessible whenever he needs to refer to them, they're divided into volumes by season, and date back as far as 1989.

"If I go through a period without seeing deer movement I can always go back to previous seasons to see what the deer were during around that time. I always write down temperatures and whether or not it was raining or snowing. This helps to predict deer movement with the current weather conditions," McKoy stated. "Journals also help in determining what time of day deer movement is the best and when the rut usually takes place."

Hunting with favorable winds is the first rule of thumb that all successful hunters should follow. The best defense a deer has is its nose. "For every stand location you prepare, know what wind you will need to hunt that particular stand," McKoy advised. "No matter how good a place is set up to hunt, if the wind is not in your favor, the stand is useless."

Once McKoy finds a spot that he thinks a big buck is using, he picks the best stand site, figures the favorable wind direction, and then starts cutting shooting lanes.

The best time to start scouting, according to McKoy, is right after deer season ends. This enables you to tell more about how a buck behaves during hunting season; you can see where he's been traveling and what he's been eating. Look for his scrapes, rubs and sheds.

Another trick to make sure that the buck keeps using that area is to fertilize natural browse, such as honeysuckle and privet hedge. The technique is untapped by most hunters, according to McKoy. "You wouldn't believe how the deer are drawn to natural browse that has been fertilized. They will pass up other food sources to get to it," he said.

Hunting travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas is one of McKoy's basic techniques. He calls it "ambush hunting." McKoy sets up as close as possible to the bedding area without disturbing the deer.

Wary older bucks are also watching their surroundings, so, McKoy suggests, prevent those deer from patterning your behavior. Break the traditional cycle of hunting from daylight to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to dusk -- try hunting midmorning until mid-afternoon instead. McKoy uses this simple tactic quite often and has gotten results from it. A quick glance back in his journals indicates that deer quite often move in this time period.

McKoy also adheres to what he calls his "three-day theory," which he has developed during 34 years of hunting experience. He surmises that big bucks more than likely move at some time during a three-day period. So if you have reason to believe an older buck is present, you should hunt the site a minimum of three consecutive days if possible.

where you can see him," the veteran hunter explained, "and if you only put two days in of hunting that stand, you might not ever see that buck. If I know a buck is using an area, I will hunt that particular area for at least three days if the winds are favorable."

Another tip that McKoy offered might seem a bit obvious: "Hunt where the deer are, not where you want them to be." But do we really do that?

Many hunters have been guilty of hunting a greenfield just because of its convenience, but if you're trophy-hunting, you have to go where the bucks are -- which usually means going into thick cover and setting up.

Finally, in order to take trophy bucks you must pass on the smaller ones. "Dead deer don't grow," McKoy emphasized.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Tim McKoy has hunted exclusively with a bow or a muzzleloader since 1999, but his next goal is to take a new state record with his muzzleloader from Cullman County. To do the trick, he'll need to harvest a whitetail with a rack scoring in the mid-150s. It's a challenge that he's already working on. McKoy started scouting in February of this year, laying plans for his quest. Personally, I wouldn't bet against him!

Tim McKoy's involvement in hunting goes beyond his ability to harvest trophy bucks season after season. He has worked closely with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries in doing mapping and communicating with landowners to secure release sights for a turkey-restocking program in Cullman County.

McKoy has taken several courses in wildlife management and in 2003 he completed the curricula to earn the title of "Master Wildlifer." Management of his 60-acre farm in Cullman County has qualified him as a "Treasure Forest" owner.

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