A Second-Chance Alabama Buck

When Daniel Dillon arrowed that good-looking buck last October, he had no idea it would be the end of January before his cousin finally claimed the trophy! How'd that happen? (September 2007)

Brad Avery (left) and Daniel Dillon show off the 8-point whitetail that took them almost four months to claim!
Photo courtesy of Daniel Dillon.

Apart from being cousins, Daniel Dillon and Brad Avery, of the Birmingham area, have long been best friends. The young men work, hunt and fish together. You could almost say that they're inseparable.

A few years ago, their boss, Vaughn Rives of Rives Construction, helped them get into his hunting club, a great tract in the Black Belt of Marengo County that's managed for big bucks -- and that resulted in the pair coming to share a very special 8-point buck!

But before we get on to that story, let's take a look at the hunt club's property and its whitetail prospects. All three of the hunters had already taken bucks that sported racks with 150 inches of antlers from the site. In fact, that's sort of the standard for the club.

Daniel Dillon specializes in finding places on the tract that no one else goes into and slipping into them to hunt -- and it was in just such a place that the story began: a funnel-type spot, discovered through extensive scouting. One of those out-of-the way sites that just jump out at you as you study it.

"If you look at the aerial photography of our property long enough, you see it," he remarked. "It's just a perfect funnel. What's even better is that it hadn't been hunted in quite a while."

He eased into the spot on the first weekend of bow season last year; unfortunately, he also jumped a buck going in. "I had seen enough and I was sold," Dillon said. "I picked a spot on the buck trail for my climber. It wasn't a great tree, but it was where I had to be."

The next weekend he was back, and the wind was perfect for his set-up. But his expectations weren't very high early on that fateful October morning. It was sticky and hot, and he just didn't think the deer would be moving much.

"In my head I was just passing time," he recalled. "Then I heard a twig snap."

Dillon saw a buck at 20 yards -- a striking image, as the deer had only recently shed its velvet and blood still stained his horns. The hunter watched as the whitetail hit a "licking branch" and then slid up through some thick stuff right down the trail on which the stand was set up. The archer thought that the deer would score about 140.

"The buck just kept coming," Dillon said. "He was only about 10 yards out when I shot, but I was only about 10 feet up the tree. Limbs wouldn't let me climb any higher."

The shot went horribly wrong: The arrow hit the buck high in the back, more or less in the tenderloin. "The deer whirled and ran," stated Dillon, "and I saw most of my arrow sticking out of his back. He got out of there like he'd stole something.

"My heart sank. I put my head between my hands, because I knew I'd blown it. I was just sick."

Quietly retiring from the area, Dillon went back to the clubhouse, where he sat in the dark in a recliner, waiting for the rest of the hunters to come in from their morning afield. "We waited eight hours," he said, "then got a friend, Dan Negus, and his champion tracking dog and went back."

The dog led them to the broken back half of Dillon's arrow. After another 200 to 300 yards, the trail went cold; no blood was ever found blood. "We never really pushed into what I though was the deer's core area," Dillon noted. "We just eased out of there."

The bowhunter was -- to say the least -- blue. For quite a while.

PREMONITION

Though Dillon's wife Cori isn't a hunter, she's very supportive of her husband's outdoor pursuits. She was extremely encouraging after he'd shot and lost the buck.

"She told me that I would look this deer in the eye again," Dillon remembered. "I thanked her for the consolation, but wasn't as confident as she was." He said that he knew in his heart that the buck was still alive, and that he longed for the saga to come to a successful conclusion.

Meanwhile, the business of deer season went on. A couple of areas at the club had the potential to hold the buck, and when the wind was right, Dillon would hunt them in hopes of seeing the 8-pointer. "I guess I hunted those areas maybe four or five times," he said.

Dillon's father and his cousin Brad Avery's mother were brother and sister. When the senior Dillon passed away in 1988, Avery's father always included Daniel on weekend trips to Twin Rivers Hunting Club in Sumter County.

Said Dillon, "I'm the youngest of four boys, and B.A." -- which is what Daniel affectionately calls his cousin -- "is like the little brother that I never had. We were always together on trips growing up. He is my first cousin, my best friend, my business partner, and last but not least my favorite person to break day with."

The two kinsmen, who've killed some great deer at the club in Sumter County, have also chased turkeys, ducks and deer together for over 20 years. Early on in their combined hunting careers, the duo learned that getting way off the beaten track into low-pressure areas would quite often lead to success.

Dillon and Avery discussed the possibility that the latter and not the former might get the buck. Dillon had a kind of feeling that it might well play out that way -- but of course he had no way of knowing for sure. Still, they talked about the buck a great deal as the season wore on, and Daniel found himself wishing that B.A. would kill that buck that got away. He even frequently told his cousin so.

THE END COMES

January arrived, and on the last weekend of the season, a large crowd of members and guests descended on the club for the occasion.

"There were two different fields where we thought the buck could be killed," Dillon said. But he made the decision that he was going to a location pretty far away from where his bow buck was thought to be living.

"I was the last one to leave the camp," he said. "As I pulled down the road, I met B.A. He asked where I was going and I told him I was going to 14. I told h

im he ought to go to 16, that the wind was right. 16 is one of the fields where we thought we might see the bow buck."

Avery initially told his cousin that he'd be going somewhere else. But then, as Dillon was on the side of the road putting on his Scent Blocker clothing for the afternoon hunt, B.A. drove by and told him that he would in fact be heading for 16.

"I told him to go kill a buck with an arrow sticking out of his back," Dillon said.

Dillon didn't hear his cousin shoot that afternoon, and, indeed, didn't realize that anything at all had happened until he got back to camp -- and Avery told him that he'd shot a nice buck running a doe.

"I just had a hunch that buck had an arrow in his back," Daniel said.

Talk of forming a large search party to look for the deer gave way in the end to agreement that Avery and Dillon would do the chore alone. "We drove a Mule close to where B.A. shot the deer," Dillon said. "On the way in, we stopped at a creek crossing and prayed for a clean kill. There was a lot of sentiment."

The hunters couldn't find blood at first, but then they found a good trail, and presently came on the buck piled up in a brushtop, still alive, but barely -- and fulfilling Cori's prophecy that her husband would again "look the buck in the eye." They quickly administered the coup de grâce.

The left side of the buck's rack was noticeably larger than the right, which had fooled both hunters into thinking that the 125-inch buck was more like a 140-incher. "When we got the buck, I wasn't sure at first it was the deer I had shot," Dillon said. "I'd thought he was bigger.

"When we flipped him over, there was a hole in his back. The fur had healed over, but there was still a leathery-looking spot there. The hunt was over."

Back at the skinning shed, the knife hit metal as they were removing the buck's tenderloins. After a bit of impromptu surgery they found Dillon's G5 Montec broadhead and 6 inches of his arrow embedded in the flesh. That definitely eliminated all doubt about the identity of the whitetail.

"The buck was 3 1/2 years old," Dillon noted. "The average 3 1/2-year-old at our club will weigh 200 pounds. This buck had lost 50 pounds from being injured and running does during the rut."

Dillon characterized the kill as an "answered prayer" -- especially since he got to share with his cousin and best friend the moment in which the buck that he thought he'd lost was recovered. "The Lord allowed us to finish the game," he asserted.

As it happens, the landowner and club leader at first started to admonish the cousins somewhat sternly, because the buck wasn't quite up to normal club standards. But after hearing their incredible story, he decided to let it slide.

The club's rules aren't based on a set of specific measurements, or on anything else so concrete; they just try to kill big-bodied mature deer. "We look at the age more than the antlers," Dillon admitted.

"B.A. is a real hunter," he added. "He knows how to read the wind and put himself in the right place at the right time -- and that's what he was doing when he got this buck." He went on to say that his cousin also shoots his .270 Winchester with deadeye accuracy, and was able to make a difficult shot on a running target to drop the buck.

On the other hand, Dillon didn't kill a buck last season -- mostly because he became very choosy after first arrowing and then losing the buck. The season before, however, he did better, starting off by taking an old gnarly 6-pointer that weighed an almost unbelievable 245 pounds and then following up by dropping a 14-point non-typical on club property -- a rifle kill that gross-scored 157 1/8 B&C points.

Daniel had seen the big 14-pointer the season before. He homed in on the spot to hunt the deer during off-season scouting. Their property is on so-called "prairie" land with lots of fallow Conservation Reserve Program weedfields.

"The place where I felt the 14-pointer was using was one we'd never hunted," Dillon said. "B.A. helped me stand up a tripod in a fence gap so I could watch a long CRP field for the buck. You could see for thousands of yards, and a big planted pine thicket bordered it."

On Jan. 13 -- a Friday -- Dillon entered the spot to hunt the stand. The wind was howling out of the north; it had rained, and the creeks were running high. The hunter slipped going in and got wet up to his waist.

"I was cold," he said. "About all I could think about was going back to the camp house and getting into some warm clothes."

It started to rain. Dillon was worried that the tripod might tumble over in the strong winds. Then three does trickled out into the field in front of him, which convinced him to hang around for a while. A few minutes later, three more does came out -- and the big buck was behind them.

"I had already killed the big 6, and I guess I was in shock from the cold or something, because I wasn't real sure he was a shooter," Dillon recalled. "I filmed the deer with my video camera for 15 minutes before I decided that he was the man."

When the deer got broadside at 150 yards, a single shot from the hunter's .270 Weatherby Magnum did the trick. "I never knew this deer was in the world," Dillon acknowledged. "I hadn't found his sheds or anything like that -- I just knew from the sign that a big deer was in there, and I knew that the stand hadn't been hunted."

Needless to say, at the time the 14-pointer was a trophy of a lifetime for the young hunter.

During that same timeframe, Avery also took a trophy of a lifetime: a big 9-pointer with a drop tine, whose rack scored in the 150s, that he downed at Hood Bottoms in Aliceville while he was hunting with their good friend Duncan Moore.

"Hood Bottoms is right across the river from Westervelt," Dillon explained. Westervelt Hunting Lodge is a legendary 14,000-acre tract that consistently yields impressive whitetail bucks.

Although he's had great success on big bucks lately, Daniel Dillon still considers himself more of a bird hunter. He loves duck, dove, quail and turkey hunting.

"Vaughn Rives got me more interested in deer hunting four years ago when he got me in this club," Dillon conceded. "Deer hunting is really enjoyable when you've got a place where you can hunt big deer."

SUMMING UP

The cousins chipped in and shared the cost of having the "second-chance buck" mounted, and it now hangs in Daniel Dillon's home in Vestavia Hills. High on the back of the shoulder mount

you can see the leathery patch where his arrow hit; the broken arrow is mounted beneath the deer.

"It's not the biggest buck either of us has ever killed," Dillon admitted. "But it sure is a neat story. I doubt there will ever be another buck that is so special to both of us."

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