Marshall County Monsters
September 28, 2010
This northern portion of this Alabama upland county has given up some great deer in recent years. Pause for a bit to take a look at some of Marshall's best. (December 2007)
With a population pushing 80,000 people and new subdivisions being built practically all the time, northeast Alabama's Marshall County isn't really known as a haven for big bucks.
But one part of the county continues to produce better than average whitetails year in and year out: the portion north of the Tennessee River.
Danny Jordan, a Guntersville taxidermy shop owner, has seen the trend for years. Of the 73 nice bucks that Danny's shop had taken in to mount by the end of last season, well over half came from northern Marshall County.
The northern part of the county has some riverbottom areas along both the Paint Rock and the Tennessee rivers. But a great deal of the deer hunting here is done on one of four large mountains -- Grant (shown on maps as "Gunters"), Merrill, Bishop and Lewis. Grant Mountain is perhaps the best area north of the river for high-quality bucks, but, Jordan reported, Merrill Mountain isn't too far behind.
One of the better bucks to come into Jordan's shop last season was an enormous 9-pointer killed by Grant police chief Alan Edmonds. The buck had an 18 1/2-inch inside spread, but what was so striking about the rack is its mass; it's one of those sets of antlers that are just thick all over. "It's a moose," Jordan kidded.
Chief Edmonds said he saw one that was even bigger the week before he got the 9-pointer. He does most of his hunting on the slopes of Grant Mountain.
His hunting buddies are Sonny Wooten, Rodney Bodine, Sam Norton, Corey Wooten and Jerry Pendergrass. They've all taken nice deer over the years, with most of them also getting good bucks last season in the county.
Norton took a giant 15-point non-typical on Grant Mountain in December 2004 that was featured in the August 2005 edition of Alabama Game & Fish.
Chief Edmonds got his big buck at 3:45 the afternoon of Jan. 20 last season. The hunter was sitting on a high vantage point overlooking a scrape line in the woods in which he was afield. It took him a half-hour to hike to his spot; there he sat down and sprayed some doe scent.
"I hadn't been there 20 minutes," Edmonds said, "and here he came." The chief thinks that the doe scent played a role in the quick appearance of the buck.
That big whitetail capped off a streak of really nice luck for the chief. He'd killed a 4-pointer and a 6-pointer the weekend before. In a span of a little more than a week, he'd downed three bucks.
Edmonds has been hunting most of his life, but the 9-pointer is the best buck he's ever killed. Taxidermist Danny Jordan estimated that the deer scored in the 140s by the B&C measuring system.
Why is the northern part of Marshall County so good when it comes to hunters taking nice bucks? Apparently, lots of ing factors contribute.
"There's a lot more land area than in other parts of Marshall County," Jordan said. "Near Merrill Mountain, you've got the Jones farm and the Moss land that doesn't get hunted a lot. That's thousands of acres that serve as sort of a preserve."
The mountains here tend to be rugged, with lots of boulders and bluffs. That translates into great hiding places for deer difficult for hunters to access. It gives bucks a distinct advantage in surviving to trophy size.
Jordan said that people are getting pickier about what they shoot too. That allows smaller bucks to grow bigger. "People aren't shooting spikes much anymore," he noted. "They're letting them walk and that helps."
Sonny Wooten said that there aren't a whole lot of deer in the northern part of the county, but what they've got tends to grow big. The genes are simply there for some 150- and 160-class deer.
"We don't see a whole lot of does," Wooten said. "I might have seen 20 all bow season and I was hunting food sources where you would see them. I let them all walk."
He did note that his buck hunting improved when he quit shooting does and small bucks. "I like to eat venison," he said. "I used to shoot 10 or 11 deer a year to eat, but I didn't get many good bucks then."
Wooten said that "rut season" in January provides by far the best hunting of the year in the northern part of the county. It's when the majority of nice bucks are taken.
But early season can be extremely good too. Just ask Jason Morrison, of Grant.
Only two bucks from Marshall County have ever been entered in the Pope & Young Club all-time record book for archery kills. It was while bowhunting on Grant Mountain on Oct. 31, 2005, that Morrison took one of them -- a 130-inch 10-pointer.
"I really didn't know this deer was around," said Morrison, who is a 4th grade school teacher at nearby Grassy Elementary School. "We'd never seen him, but we had seen his tracks."
Morrison and his brother-in-law Eric Largen hunt on a 2,400-acre lease with 10 other hunters. They were riding a 4-wheeler together going from spot to spot scouting for places to hunt when they came across a water hole pockmarked with deer tracks in a logging road.
"It was no more than a puddle really," Morrison said. "And there was a persimmon tree near it."
The young men had also found another good spot in addition to the water hole and good naturedly argued over who would hunt the beside the puddle.
"I told him to just hunt it and I'd go back to the other place," Morrison recalled. "He said, 'No, you hunt it.' We were going back and forth when he got my tree stand and threw it off the 4-wheeler.
Largen then told him that he may not hunt there, but if he didn't he was probably going to lose his tree stand!
Morrison would soon be thankful for his brother-in-law's insistence.
Shortly after settling into his stand, six bucks came to the watering hole together. Morrison shot the 10-pointer at 35 yards with his Mathews bow. The deer went about 70 yards before piling up.
"There were two other shooters in the group," the hunter recounted. "They were both eights."
on Largen before recovering the deer since he needed a more powerful light. The hunt wasn't exactly a bust for his brother-in-law either.
"He'd seen 14 deer at the other place and arrowed a 4-pointer," Morrison said.
The P & Y 10-pointer had an 18 1/2-inch spread. Its longest tines were more than 8 inches.
"It's real symmetrical," Morrison said. "It grossed 130 3/8 and netted 127 7/8."
Like other north Marshall hunters, Morrison thinks the ruggedness of the mountains, the lack of houses and more abundant woods contribute to the number of bucks in the area. But he thinks more is at work than just that.
"There's still agriculture just across the county line from us in Madison County," he said. "I'm not so sure that some of the deer in our area don't go over there to feed on crops and then come back to the mountains to bed. All that separates the mountains from the fields is the Paint Rock River."
Morrison's family also has property on Merrill Mountain and he's had good luck hunting there too.
"The year that I got the 10-pointer at Grant, I took a nice 8-pointer on Merrill Mountain," he reported. "I also got two 7-pointers at Grant. It was a good year."
He finds that he's getting more and more selective these days, as many north Marshall hunters do once they've been at it awhile. Morrison passed up a 7-pointer and some other bucks with his bow last year that he might've shot in previous seasons.
Of the 73 nice bucks that Danny Jordan's taxidermy shop in Guntersville had taken in to mount by the end of last season, well over half came from northern Marshall County.
"I know of several 160-inch deer that have been taken in the Grant area," he said. "It makes it easier to pass up some smaller deer when you know what the area is capable of producing."
Taxidermist Danny Jordan's hunting buddy Junior Dixon is another north Marshall hunter who had great luck last season. He killed a big 10-point buck hunting on Grant Mountain one weekend, then got a big 8-pointer on Merrill Mountain the next weekend.
Jordan held the racks from the two bucks side by side. "It doesn't get a whole lot better than two bucks like this on back-to-back weekends," he mused.
Several of the north Marshall bucks he got in at the shop last season had unusual characteristics that made them special. There was a highly unusual 6-pointer that came from the Conners Island area just north of Guntersville: It had 5 points on one side and an 18-inch spike on the other.
Another buck had essentially a second main beam on its right side. It was a basic 8-pointer, but the extra main beam made it a nine.
Alan Edmonds' big buck was aged at 5 1/2 years old. A lot of the racked bucks killed on any given hunting ground in Alabama are just 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 when they're taken. That extra couple of years no doubt makes the difference in whether a rack is massive like Edmonds' trophy or thin and spindly, Jordan said.
"People pay thousands and thousands of dollars to go to South Alabama and other places to hunt deer and we've got this right in our back door," Jordan pointed out.
If you'd like to hunt northern Marshall County yourself, there are some limited opportunities for doing so on public land.
The Tennessee Valley Authority owns a good deal of land along the shoreline of Guntersville Lake. In many places -- particularly in the Claysville/Bishop Mountain area -- there are wide bands of TVA property next to the shoreline that are open to public hunting.
A good knowledge of back roads is necessary to access some of the TVA tracts; to others, the best access is by boat.
The TVA also has a 475-acre bowhunting only tract along the road leading to Guntersville Dam on the north, or New Hope side of the dam. The tract runs from flat ground in the bottom up onto the side of Bishop Mountain. There have been reports of some bruiser bucks being seen in that area, but few reports of any being harvested.
You can find out more about public hunting opportunities on TVA land in Marshall County by calling TVA's Guntersville Land Management Office at (256) 571-4280.
Steve Kennamer of Kennamer Cove has hunted northern Marshall County for 30-plus years and was one of the first to start hunting this area when there weren't very many deer present.
"The vastness of the area is what makes it so good," he said. "We've still got big woods. It's not patchy with a lot of houses like lots of other areas are in Marshall County." A great deal of logging has been done over the years in the area, he added, so the timber growing back is at a lot of different stages and that just amplifies the cover for the deer.
"We've still got some agriculture in the cove, including corn and bean fields," Kennamer concluded. "More and more people are practicing management, and I would say our deer population is as good as it has ever been."