Alabama'™s Big Metro Bucks

The region around our largest city produced a surprising number of impressively large whitetail bucks last season. (September 2008)

Handsome as it was, Stephen Hall's last buck of the season would have been even more stunning had it not broken off one brow tine.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Hall.

When you think of big-buck hotspots in the Cotton State, large rural counties like Pickens and Jackson come to mind. The urban and suburban sprawl surrounding Birmingham certainly doesn't seem like big-buck territory -- but don't try to tell that to Stephen Hall and Steven Posey.

These good friends don't hunt together, but they do talk often, and share information. Last season, they took three bucks apiece in the woods of Jefferson and St. Clair counties. Their deer were all nice ones, their top specimens achieving Boone and Crockett scores in the 140-point range -- a career-best deer for many Alabama hunters.

"There's just not a lot of hunting pressure where I hunt," Posey said. "It's mountainous terrain in the foothills of the Appalachians, and it's rough. Plus I think we've got really good genetics in our area. The lack of pressure and the genetics are the keys."

Both men also emphasize that nearly year-round scouting with trail cameras also leads to successful hunts. Hall likes to put out Trophy Rock mineral blocks in late summer and set up a camera over them; this, he feels, gives you a good idea of what's available in the area. He then backs away from the mineral licks and begins looking for trails that the bucks are using; that helps him key in on the places he wants to be in when hunting season opens.

Here, then, is each hunter's story -- both remarkable narratives of a remarkable season of hunting on the outskirts of Birmingham in 2007-08.

SECOND TIME'S THE CHARM
Like a lot of Alabama hunters, Stephen Hall has had his share of ups and downs when it comes to keeping a place to hunt. He'd been in clubs previously in Pickens, Tuscaloosa and elsewhere in St. Clair County. But every club he's ever belonged to either lost its lease or had the land sold out from under it after he'd spent only a couple of seasons on it. It was frustrating to learn a piece of ground only to lose it, and have to start over from square one somewhere else.

Hall's current club covers 6,500 acres in St. Clair County. There are some streamside management zones with hardwoods, but most of the place is pine trees in various stages of growth, with lots of cutovers. "It's typical Alabama hunting land," he said. He didn't do a whole lot the first season he was on the land -- but he "kicked in the doors" during his second season there.

Hall is a self-taught deer hunter. While he's 40 years old, he didn't grow up with the sport, and has been hunting deer only about 10 seasons. In fact, he introduced his father Jerry to deer hunting several years ago, and now every fall sees the father-son duo spending lots of time together in the woods. Although the club's just 14 miles from his house, Hall stays in a camper with his dad when he hunts because he views that as part of the experience.

Hall is dead serious about the sport, usually taking off from work to hunt four or five days at Thanksgiving, a week at Christmas and another week at the end of the season. He stays in the woods all day when he goes.

Last year, the season opened with a bang for Hall: He'd won a contest through Trophy Rock mineral supplement that involved his traveling to Ohio to hunt on camera with people from the company on their property. He ended up arrowing a nice 10-pointer in mid-November.

"It was different to hunt with a cameraman," he confided. "I felt the pressure a little bit. But my cameraman, Gene Price, was great."

The experience was so good that Hall has made plans to return to Ohio with his dad this season.

With the out-of-state buck under his belt, it was time for Hall to get serious about the hunting closer to home. It didn't take very long for him to break the ice.

"My first gun hunt was the Saturday after Thanksgiving," the hunter recalled. "It was exactly seven days after I got the 10-pointer in Ohio and I got an 8-pointer at the club."

His club is supposed to take 50 does a year as part of its management plan. Hall saw four does that morning, watched them a long time and finally decided to take one. He downed one with his new Browning 7mm Magnum.

"I still get excited about taking any deer, even a doe," he admitted. "And I always tell people to take their time and enjoy the moment."

Hall was still up his tree doing just that when four bucks came out of cover and ran a ridgeline about 175 yards away. "I picked out what I thought was the biggest one and I got him as well," he said.

It was a new season, with a new gun, and Hall already had two deer down. He recovered the doe fairly quickly, but called his father to help him find the buck. His dad saw the deer as he was riding to the scene on his 4-wheeler, but didn't let on; rather, he let his son wallow in the suspense.

The "heart-attack hill" on which Stephen Hall was hunting required a nearly seven-mile 4-wheeler ride just to get there and then a lengthy walk -- no easy place to hunt by any means. "If you get a deer there, you're going to work," said Hall.

He was to strike again in the same area about a month later. Hall works in the mail department for Alabama Power Company and, just as at the U.S. Post Office, the weeks leading up to Christmas were stressful ones. He went to hunt his honeyhole on Christmas Eve morning, knowing that it would be just a morning hunt before he headed home for Christmas festivities. Still, he was happy to be away from the pressures of his job and heading to the woods.

"I told my wife, 'Wouldn't it be something if I got a big buck on Christmas Eve?'" he ecalled. "I don't know what prompted me to say that."

But it was exactly what happened. He downed an 11-pointer as an early Christmas present to himself! And, once again, his dad was there with him to share the moment.

Hall was having a great season -- but it wasn't over yet. His last buck of the season fell on Jan. 6 after a dramatic hunt. The buck was a 7-pointer with long tines. "I don't know that the deer were actually in rut," he stated, "but they were getting itchy.

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