Double Trouble For Mountain Bucks
September 28, 2010
These twins each downed 8-point bucks in the Alabama highlands on opening day on public land last year. Here's their story. (December 2006)
The Martin-Skyline Wildlife Management Area in Jackson County is a place notoriously tough for killing a buck -- but don't tell that to 9-year-old twins Cord and Cade Mason!
Incredible as it might seem, each of the boys -- the sons of Rick and Katrina Mason of Guntersville -- killed 8-pointers at Skyline within an hour of daybreak on opening day of the 2005-06 deer season! Cord tagged his buck at about 6:30, and then Cade connected around 7:30. The two were afield with their dad and uncle, Edwin Mason, when they got the bucks.
For the price of a $16 WMA hunting license, Skyline offers access to more than 40,000 acres of public hunting ground. Since it's close to the large population center of Huntsville, it feels significant hunting pressure, especially early in the season. Area managers schedule several weekends of gun hunting each season, and the Masons, who've been hunting there for years, try to make several of the sessions each year. In this instance, pressure may have actually played to their advantage -- but that prospect wasn't readily evident early that morning.
Indeed, the day started out somewhat unpromisingly for the family group of hunters. On top of it being the opener, Skyline was coincidentally staging an either-sex hunt that day, and the combo had apparently drawn a big crowd. "When we got to the checking station to get our permits, more than 300 people had signed in ahead of us," Edwin recalled. "We were grumbling -- we thought it was going to be so crowded we wouldn't have a place to sit." And as two different check stations are present at the WMA, the Masons were really seeing only half the mob.
They had a really good idea of where they wanted to go within the area, since the uncle was a member of the private Carter Hunting Club, which had formerly leased land now contained within the WMA's Walls of Jericho tract.
The Masons like to set up on an particular oak flat adjacent to a cutover; according to Edwin, the site's only about 300 yards off the blacktop of State Route 79-N, a major road that divides the Jericho tract. Despite all the other hunters afield that day, no one was in their spot when they got there, because many of the other hunters were going deeper into the heart of the WMA. That apparently was a major factor favoring the Masons' choice of location.
"We could see the lights of 4-wheelers in the distance," Edwin said. "People were bailing off the mountain on ATVs everywhere. I think that someone probably spooked these bucks and ran them to us."
Once on the flat, the group split up, Rick and Cord taking one spot, Edwin and Cade another. "We were probably only about 150 yards apart," reported Edwin. They were sitting on the ground, not high in the tree stands that so many hunters like to use nowadays.
Cade is a big, strapping boy, even though he's only 9 years old -- and he was using a big gun for his age: He knocked the buck down with his daddy's .30-06. "The buck Cade shot just came walking up beside us and stopped," Edwin recalled. And less than an hour later, Cord, armed with a .30-30 got his 8-pointer. The party dragged the two deer out of the woods and loaded them in the back of the truck for the ride home.
But the adventure was really just beginning for the little band -- because they really weren't prepared for the reception the bucks would get.
Few people they encountered afterwards could believe the incredible story of such young twin brothers both getting 8-pointers on the same morning -- and on opening day, no less! It became something of a "shock-and-awe" type of show.
The biologist at the check station was the first person that they wowed. Cade's deer was unloaded first, and the professional outdoorsman manning the station pointed out appreciatively that the 8-pointer was really a great buck for Skyline. Aged at 2 1/2 years old and weighing 108 pounds field-dressed, the animal boasted a 15-inch spread.
And then they pulled Cord's buck out of the truck. The biologist's jaw really dropped when he laid eyes on the 4 1/2-year-old buck. Weighing 134 pounds field-dressed, its spread taped to 19 inches!
More and more people got a good look at the two deer, and heard the tale -- and all were more or less incredulous that a pair of 9-year-old twin brothers had really taken those bucks. Even Edwin and Rick's other brother, Andy, ragged them about it. "I think something is up," was his comment when he saw his nephews' kills for the first time.
Rick swears that everything happened just as Edwin and he reported -- though he admits to having trouble believing it himself sometimes. "I told them to pinch me on the drive home," he offered, grinning, "because it felt like I was dreaming."
"We could hunt another 20 years and never do this again," Edwin added. "Luck played a big role in it."
By noon of opening day, the Masons were back at their home on the outskirts of Guntersville, where a gang of hunters had gathered in the yard to marvel at the whitetails and to be regaled with the account of their taking.
This was the third whitetail for Cade, who's been crazy about hunting since he was old enough to walk. He'd shot one deer during the previous season, and killed a spike on the special youth-only hunt at Skyline a week earlier in about the same place as the two trophies were taken.
On the other hand, Cord had never shown a great deal of interest in hunting until right before the start of last season, and the 19-inch 8-pointer was his first deer ever. "I told him he might have a hard time ever getting one bigger," Rick said. "I don't know if there's much left in our spot now.
"I couldn't have been prouder of the boys -- it was just so unbelievable. I was more tickled than I've ever been with any deer I've ever killed."
The happy outcome of the Skyline hunt really lit a fire under the twins, who are planning on building on the adventure this year by camping out at the WMA the day before the hunt starts. "It will be hard to top last season," Rick noted. "But you can sure bet we're going to be trying this year."
While seeing his boys take such topnotch deer ranks among his best-ever hunting memories, the old man was not to be outdone: A week and a half after the boys got their bucks, Rick killed a nice 10-pointer on private land in Marshall County -- and like his boys' kills, his harvest makes a marvelous story.
Rick was up on
a hill when he saw the buck on the move in a sage-and-briar patch 200 yards below him. It would a long shot, but the hunter from Guntersville was prepared to empty his Remington 7400 semi-automatic if need be. He shouldered the gun, squeezed off a round and dropped the buck in its tracks on the very first shot.
"There was a lot of blood on the deer's head when I got to it, but I couldn't find a bullethole anywhere," Rick said. "I wasn't sure where I'd hit it for awhile." Closer inspection revealed that he'd made a stunning shot, the bullet having entered the deer's ear, plowed through its brain and exited by way of its other ear. ("I wasn't trying to do that," Rick modestly stated afterwards.) And so it was that, within a span of a couple of weeks, sons and father had all three of them brought down wallhangers.
A patient, persistent buck hunter, Cade and Cord Mason's dad Rick spends a lot of time in the field every fall and winter. His nearly 30 years of chasing the deer of Skyline WMA have seen the area surrender him 15 to 20 bucks. His advice for those heading there is to spend some time looking around before the hunt. While many go deep into the woods, Rick rarely hunts more than 150 to 200 yards from the road.
"I look for acorn flats with thick cover around them," he offered. "If you can get inside the thick stuff and go up a tree, it's probably even better."
Once other hunters start stirring, the deer naturally head into the thick cover. "I've had my best luck on Skyline bucks hunting the edges of the thickets," Rick asserted. "You see them sneaking through the thick stuff."
If you're looking for a nice buck of your own, you might want to consider the Martin-Skyline area yourself this season. In the opinion of area biologist Frank Allen, a 130-class deer like the one Cord Mason tagged is a great buck for the area. "But there are bigger ones here," he offered.
Skyline has long figured among the better whitetail-producing units of the state's WMA system, but recent performance has led to its being considered an up-and-coming area. It ranked No. 1 in the state last year for sheer number of whitetails harvested (the 441 brought to its check stations far outpacing No. 2 Choccolocco's 299) and No. 12 in the state for older-age-class bucks harvested (37 animals aged at 2 1/2 years old or older).
"Our harvest has been up for two years now," Allen said. "We've added about 12,500 acres of new property, and a big part of the increase can be attributed to that. We don't have the numbers of deer that they have in Bullock or Barbour County, but we do have a herd that is quite adequate."
Martin-Skyline WMA is actually composed of four different areas: Poplar Springs, the Walls of Jericho, Jacobs Farm and Big Coon. A quick review of each is order.
At the Poplar Springs section of the WMA (the one closest to headquarters), area staff has done a tremendous amount of work during the last 10 years. Roads once impassable are now surfaced with blue gravel and can be driven on in a car. Pine thinning and burning has taken place, and numerous greenfields and other food plots are planted each year. It's an easily accessible area, so it's subject to a good deal of hunting pressure.
Topographically, the mountaintop tract has the characteristics of a plateau, its terrain flat to rolling rather than made up of the tortuously steep hillsides typical of other parts of the WMA.
Further north is the Walls of Jericho tract, divided by SR 79-N. A recreational destination popular with hikers and other outdoor users as well as with hunters, it features a hiking/horseback trail that drops into the canyon known as "the Walls of Jericho." The geological feature from which the tract takes its name, it's regarded as one of a kind in the Cotton State. The west side of this section of the WMA is closed to all motorized vehicles.
"It offers a hunting experience that is quite unique in Alabama," Allen noted. "There's a campground at the bottom of the mountain, and you can pack in with horses or mules and camp and hunt."
A few adventurous souls even backpack into the canyon with their supplies and gear and hunt for a few days, but, Allen pointed out, day-hunters visiting that part of the WMA often only hunt in the mornings. "If you go all the way down into the area, you know you have a two-hour uphill hike to get out," he said.
That part of the WMA gets very, very little hunting pressure because of its rugged terrain; ATVs are not allowed there. "Some of our best deer come from this area each season," Allen said. "We do allow successful hunters to use ATVs to retrieve a deer. But that's the only time they can be used."
Access to the Jacobs Farm area, situated in scenic Roach's Cove east of the Poplar Springs and Walls of Jericho tracts, is had by way of SR 72 and some side roads. "There is an area of this part of the WMA that is difficult to hunt without a good 4-wheeler," Allen said. "The other portion is farmland planted in row crops, with loblolly pine strips for wildlife travel corridors." He added that those plantings -- soybeans, corn, millet and sorghum -- are designed more to benefit game birds than to feed whitetails. "But," he observed, "I see a lot of deer in that area." Some winter green plots are planted as well, however.
North of the Jacobs Farm section is the Big Coon tract, perhaps the roughest landscape in the entire WMA. Its mountains and valleys are laced with a network of logging roads and 4-wheel-drive trails -- and good thing, too, as you pretty much have to have an ATV to hunt it. It offers a true "big woods" experience.
Martin-Skyline is also a site on the state's trail for physically disabled hunters. "We have five 8x8 shooting houses with wheelchair-accessible ramps," Allen said. "All the shooting houses are over double food plots, with winter green plots in one direction and summer plantings in the other."
Disabled hunters have first to register through the Montgomery office of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and then to make a reservation to use one of the shooting houses. "We stay pretty well booked up," remarked Allen, "and the hunters on these areas harvest a good many deer."
More land has been added to the Martin-Skyline WMA this season, such that the tracts together in total come to 43,457 acres. It's big enough, and offers enough hunting dates, that you could spend nearly the season afield there.
Find more about Alabama fishing and hunting at: AlabamaGameandFish.com