Northwest Bama's Big Bucks

This corner of the Cotton State is fast becoming a hotbed of trophy whitetail action. Let's look at some of the big bucks the region produced last season. (December 2008)

Marion County gave up this 14-point buck to Matt Oden. The rack scored 159 B&C as a typical.

Photo courtesy of Matt Oden.

The part of northwest Alabama stretching from Pickens County through Lamar, Marion and Winston Counties is about as good an area as any in the state for trophy bucks.

These are the stories of four hunters who took better-than-average bucks in that part of the state last season, keeping a trend alive for trophy whitetails coming from that corner of the Cotton State.

LAMAR COUNTY DROP-TINE BUCK

For several seasons now, Lamar County has been one of the state's premier locales for big bucks. It proved that to Brian Marquis in the 2007-08 season.

A main-line conductor on the Burlington, Northern & Santa Fe Railroad -- a lot of his hunting buddies call him by the nickname "Boxcar -- Marquis, 32, lives in the West Jefferson area. A lifelong hunter, he estimates that he has killed about 300 deer in his career, including several above average bucks. But he'd never taken anything like the 14-pointer with an 8-inch drop tine that he got while hunting private land in Lamar County on Dec. 18.

The hunt for the buck had actually started the season before. He and a friend had found extra large deer sign in the area and had hunted it a good bit the previous year.

"I killed a 10-point that scored in the mid-130s in there and thought I'd killed the deer making all the big sign," Marquis said. "But I went back a week later and all the big sign was still fresh."

The magic place included a strip of hardwoods surrounded by a 3-year-old cutover. When Marquis went back in there during the 2007-08 season, he found the old scrapes had been freshened and the buck was rubbing on "softball-sized trees."

"The sign started showing up the last week of October," Marquis said. "I bowhunted in there about seven times and passed on a couple of small bucks."

The scraping activity got even more intense once rifle season came in. "I was seeing other bucks, but I never could see the big deer," he explained.

On the fateful day, Marquis was hunting with good friend Shawn Alexander and cousin Shane. They'd hunted some other private ground and had been driving cutovers.

"My cousin had killed a real nice 7-pointer, and my buddy had killed a doe," he said.

The other men knew Marquis had been hunting a big deer at the other location and they got after him to go push that cutover too. He initially declined, but they stayed after him and he soon relented.

"They talked me into it," he admitted. "But I told them we were going to have to do it my way."

The cutover at the big buck spot covered about 57 acres. It was basically two big draws. Nothing got up in the first draw.

"Shawn volunteered to walk the other draw since I had walked first all day before that," Brian Marquis said.

It took a good bit of positioning to get ready for the drive. Marquis had to get on a ridge so he could see the rest of the cutover. Shawn had to circle through some hardwoods to get to the bottom of the draw so he could push up through it.

"As soon as he started into the cutover, two big does got up out of some chest-high pines," Marquis recounted. "With those does in there, I thought there ought to be a buck around."

Shawn went 20 more yards by a big tree and a brushpile -- and then the whole brushpile shook as the buck got to its feet. "It jumped a ditch, and I shot one time with my BAR .30-06 and hit it behind the shoulder at about 140 yards," Marquis stated.

Having done lots of cutover walking over the years he knew he had to make the most of the first good shot he got. It knocked the buck down immediately.

"I thought it was just a pretty good deer, but my buddy went straight to him and hollered, 'Lord have mercy! This is one of the biggest deer I've ever seen in my life!'"

Marquis had killed a 140-class buck in Illinois earlier in the season. He asked his buddy if it was bigger than that and Shawn told him it would dwarf that deer.

"I finally got down there to it and it looked like it had a rocking chair on its head," Marquis said.

He kind of hated to tell that he walked the deer up.

"But I've killed a lot of big bucks over the years and I can tell you that these 5 and 6 year old bucks are a totally different game," the hunter pointed out Marquis said they don't walk much in daylight hours once they get that big, as anyone with a game camera can attest.

A flood of emotions swept over Marquis after he took the big buck. He thought about another best friend, Jeff Terry, who had found the place with him the season before, but had died in September before hunting season came in.

He also thought about his dad, whom he lost in a car accident on a hunting trip when he was just 15 years old.

"It was just very, very emotional for me," he admitted. "I've got a lot of places to hunt and a lot of good friends I enjoy hunting with and I just feel blessed."

The big buck green scored 181 3/8 on the Boone and Crockett Club scale.

Marquis said the big buck corridor in Lamar County seems to be from about Vernon and Sulligent to Winfield and Guin, including the Crossville area.

"I know some hunters who feel that the next state record will come from that area," he said. "Genetics is part of it and there aren't so many deer that they're crowded."

MARION COUNTY THICK-HORNED BUCK

Marion County is just north of Lamar and it too is an excellent place to kill a better-than-average buck. Just ask Matt Oden of Birmingham, an emergency room RN who lives in the Pleasant Grove area of Jefferson County.

Oden grew up hunting in the Black Belt of southern Alabama, but made the switch to northwestern Bama a few seasons back and said he hopes to hunt the region for the rest of his life.

On Dec. 29, Matt killed a mainframe 8 with stickers giving it a total of 14 points. It scored 165 7/8 B&C non-typical and 159 typical. But what's so incredible about the rack is that the mass of its 7-inch bases carries throughout the antlers.

"I knew there was a good deer in the area from my game camera scouting," Oden said. "But I thought it was just a pretty good 8."

His honeyhole was a hardwood draw adjacent to a greenfield. "It was open timber," he said, "and there were scrapes and rubs in there, so I knew it was a staging area for the greenfield."

The hunter found the location in bow season and had not been in there a lot before taking his big buck.

"I went in there on a Thursday afternoon," he explained. "It had been raining, but it had cleared up. I saw two does and some smaller bucks early and the rain picked up again. Right before dark, I saw a small eight and then I saw the big buck. I could see eight good points and knew he was a shooter."

Oden shot the buck at 30 yards, but it was pouring down rain.

"I looked for 2 1/2 hours and never found a drop of blood," he said.

He went back the next morning and hunted the same draw until about 9:30 before getting down to look for his buck.

"I went back to where I'd stopped the night before and I had walked all around him before my light burned out," Oden said.

His brother-in-law Shane Helms helped him get the deer out.

"It was a good mile walk in there," Oden continued. "This buck weighed 210 to 215, but it wasn't the biggest bodied deer we've taken on the property. Shane killed one that weighed 250."

Matt Oden thinks good genetics and a deer herd that isn't overpopulated is helping to grow big deer in that area.

"There's still some farmland in this part of the country," he said. "You don't see 20 or 30 deer on a greenfield like you do in South Alabama."

He still goes south sometimes to hunt with his dad and still enjoys it, but northwest Alabama will continue to be his main hunting ground.

BIG BUCK FOR A LADY HUNTER

Robin St. John of Guntersville has been hunting since she was 15 -- but a true monster buck eluded her until last Dec. 29. She and her husband Ross are members of a hunting club that straddles the Pickens and Lamar County line and they also own a small piece of land there.

St. John had already taken two does with her bow and a 7-pointer with a muzzleloader and was holding out for a big buck at the point.

"I was hunting by myself," she recounted. "Ross had to work. I went over to our place and went up in the shooting house."

About 8:00 a.m. three does came through and a big cow horn spike was chasing one of them. That let St. John know the rut was on and she had an idea the hot doe passing through might bring a bigger buck on the trail later.

"About 8:30, I heard a deer running through the woods," St. John described. "I tried to stop him but I couldn't. I put my scope on an opening in front of him and when he came into the scope, I pulled the trigger."

The shot from St. John's .270 drilled the buck right through both front shoulders at about 70 yards. The buck went down, but still kicked on down through the woods.

The hunter nearly jumped out of her stand rushing to get to the trophy.

"I don't get scared until I shoot," she admitted. "I was just afraid he was going to get away."

After getting to the buck, more panic set in. She knew she'd never be able to lift it into the truck by herself, and had to make several phone calls before finding some help.

The buck had 13 points, but was scored as an 11-pointer because two weren't a full inch long. It scored 151 1/8 B&C. A unique feature of the rack is that its main beams overlap in the front.

SMALL ACREAGE, BIG BUCK

For all those sportsmen who hunt small acreages, Chris Todd of Haleyville may be your kind of hero. He downed a 17-pointer that gross scored 189 B&C points last Dec. 23 while hunting on his father Randall Todd's 20-acre tract in Winston County.

"My daddy saw the deer two weeks before in a pasture about a mile down the road," Todd noted. "I hunted the deer just about every day after that until I got him."

The hunter is only 25 years old and guesses that he's hunted his dad's place for 15 seasons. He's also in some hunting clubs elsewhere, so it's not the only place he targets.

He only lives about three miles from his father and he slipped over to the close-to-home hunting hole in the afternoons after work. He works in the lumber and mobile home businesses.

"I only shoot deer at my dad's that are big enough to mount," he said.

He killed a 150-class 10-point in nearly the same spot as the 17-point about 10 years earlier.

"I used to be in a club below York," he pointed out. "We had to drive four hours to go hunting. We didn't have many deer here until about 10 years ago."

His spot is only five miles or so from the Bankhead National Forest, but he never hunts there.

"I don't hunt public lands," he admitted. "I almost got shot once on a management area and I haven't been back."

The area where he hunted the big buck has a horseshoe bend in a creek with nearby thickets and a big sage field. The exact spot is really just a crossing where deer went from one thicket to another.

"I was having a problem with deer spotting me in my tree stand in there, so my daddy and I built a ground blind one night," he explained. "I put it up and killed the buck three days later. I caught him crossing the creek."

Another buck and six does were with the big boy when he crossed.

"The other buck was fired up and was grunting," the hunter recalled.

When Todd first saw the big deer, he thought it had been rubbing and had a small tree caught in its horns. That's just how big the rack looked when the buck appeared at about 4:50 in the afternoon.

Todd had hunted with a Ruger .300 Win. Mag. for years, but downsized awhile back to a Ruger Compact 7mm-08. He said it's the best shooting, best grouping rifle he has ever owned.

A single shot from the little gun put the big

buck down in it tracks from about 80 yards out.

"I didn't realize just how big the deer was until I got down there to him," Todd said.

The buck, which weighed about 200 pounds, hadn't been officially scored at press time, but Todd's taxidermist said that it would score 189, or possibly better. It has a 20 3/4-inch spread, and its main beams exceed 26 inches in length.

The bases are 6 inches around; the circumferences hold at nearly 5 inches all the way almost to the end of the rack.

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