Last Year's 'Young' Bucks

Last season was one when younger hunters harvested some outstanding deer in Alabama. Here's a look at three of those.

By Zack Glover

I was approached a couple of years ago to consider writing the ultimate book about hunting monster whitetail bucks. My files are bulging with stories and photographs of North America's finest whitetails, and you'd think - and indeed the publisher thought - that compiling the best would be child's play.

I never wrote that book. The publisher envisioned dozens of chapters filled with hardcore how-to-shoot-monster-deer stories. His dreams were shattered when I told him that 90 percent or more of the world's biggest bucks simply got caught in the wrong place at the right time.

I have page after page of proof that it isn't what you know, how long you've known it, or even where you hunt. When it comes to taking real trophy bucks, you need a big dose of luck!

"Nobody wants to read that," he said.

I disagree, of course. Knowing that a record-book buck could be around the next bend, regardless of where I'm hunting, keeps me in the game. Such stories should offer hope to novice and veteran hunters alike.

That said, sit back and enjoy this trio of tales from the 2003 season, which wasn't a particularly great year for Alabama deer hunters - at least, those who could point to their years of experience in the woodlands.

Three of the most unusual bucks collected during the Heart of Dixie's 2003 hunting seasons fell to the guns of young, inexperienced hunters. The largest, an 18-pointer that made it into at least one record book, was a Tuscaloosa kid's first buck. The boy shot it within minutes of downing a fat doe for the freezer. Also, a 17-point specimen was taken in Escambia County, one of the last places in this state where one would expect to see such a critter. And the last of this trio was a 13-pointer with an unusual "unicorn" antler sprouting from its forehead. It was also taken by a nimrod.

Their stories might not offer any lessons beyond the importance of making a shot count. But they do offer hope and, for me, fond memories of youth!

Cody Crawford downed his 18-point buck while hunting with his grandfather, Don Clements, on Dec. 26, 2003. Photo courtesy of Don Clements

CHRISTMAS-GIFT BUCK

"Pop, please make it stop."

Afraid that speaking aloud would literally rouse the dead, the boy's plea was barely a whisper. Though he had long forgotten the doe he had shot a half-hour earlier in the green field to his left, 9-year-old Cody Crawford's eyes never strayed from the fallen buck in a similar field to the left.

The shooting house occupied by Cody and his granddad sat at the junction of two food plots on the property of an uncle in Hale County. An acrid, yet unnoticed, smell of gun smoke hung in the air. A couple of spent .243 cartridges were lying on the plywood floor.

Like the Red Sea under Moses' gnarly staff, the grin on the face of Don Clements was spreading - threatening to sever his chin from the rest of his face. Try as he might, even Don's firm grip could not make his grandson's leg stop shaking.

Clements, however, was much less concerned than his grandson. He was drinking in the scene and sensation like an absorbent paper towel lapping up a spill. This was Cody's first buck, and it was going nowhere fast. Nor was the forgotten doe, which Cody shot about 3:45 p.m. after Don gave him the go-ahead.

The decision to remain in the stand in case a buck showed was a good one. A half-hour later, another doe entered the left green field. Don told his grandson it was OK to look at the deer through his riflescope, but not to shoot it.

While Cody was mesmerized by the doe, Don noticed a second deer - a buck - stick its head out of the clearcut from which the doe had emerged.

"I told Cody, 'Look about 30 yards to the left of that doe,' and he did," Don recounted. "He lit up then and said, 'Pop, that's a buck!'

"I didn't think it was going to step into the field, even though I'm pretty sure it was there to keep an eye on that doe," Clements resumed. "So I told Cody to take his time like we've practiced and take the shot."

The head-on shot sounded, and the deer fell right there.

Cody was a nervous wreck afterward. He had shot at a buck before, but they hadn't found it. He was sure that this one was going to get away from him somehow.

"Cody's leg was just shaking," Don said, laughing as he recalled the scene. "I had to put my hand on it to stop it. He wanted me to take the gun and shoot it again if it got up, but I told him that it wasn't going to happen."

"I couldn't help it," Cody explained. "My leg just started twitching. It was twitching when we were getting out of the shooting house, too. It didn't stop until we walked over to my buck."

Getting a first buck is one heck of a Christmas present - Cody shot his the day after Christmas - but this gift wore no ordinary bow.

Although they had been staring at the deer for several minutes after the shot, it wasn't until they reached it that they realized how big it really was. When the buck fell, the impressive left side of the rack was on the ground. All they could see until they were standing beside it was the right side, which was only half as big.

"I knew it was a good one. The mass was obvious," Don said. "But we couldn't believe it when we saw it up close."

"It looked kind of like an 8-pointer," Cody chimed in. "It was about 75 to 100 yards away. It just looked like a normal buck to me.

"When we got there and looked at it, I thought I'd shot a 12-pointer," the youngster added.

When Clements pulled out his cell phone, called Cody's stepfather and announced that the boy had killed a 17-pointer, Cody had but one word.

"What?' he gasped.

Turns out, Clements' evaluation was also low, requiring the addition of another point. Cody's was one of the biggest whitetails felled in Alabama during the 2003 season. While record-keeping organizations do not record a hunter's age, it might well be the largest buck ever harvested in this state by someone so young.

T

he rack is a mainframe 3x3 with 10 abnormal points on the left and another couple on the right - 18 scorable points in all. If the right side had been equal to the left, the rack would have pushed 200 inches. As it is, nearly 93 of the total 169 gross inches are on that strangely configured left side.

The buck was one of four deer that Cody took during his third hunting season. He shot his first at age 7 and took another the following year.

"Boy, deer hunting is a lot more fun than shooting possums," Cody said, beaming.

GRANDDADDY OF THEM ALL

Even in the dim glow of the truck's overhead cab light, Richard Coleman could see the rivulets of sweat sliding down his son's glistening brow. He might have seen the broad smile even without the light, if he'd been paying closer attention.

Thirteen-year-old Tyler was out of breath as well. Not content to wait for his dad to pull up to the food plot amid the planted pines, he had just run a quarter of a mile, bursting-at-the-seams eager to share the news.

Probably shot a coon, Richard thought as the boy climbed in beside him.

"I shot a 20-something-pointer!" Tyler blurted.

"Sure you did," his dad responded.

Escambia County might have lots of whitetails, but not big ones. Certainly not bucks sprouting 20 plus points in their racks. In fact, a 10-pointer would be enough buck to justify a town meeting.

However prone to exaggeration Tyler might be, he didn't miscount by much. When a stunned father and his son got through twisting the 18 1/2-inch wide rack this way and that, they agreed it had 17 points. That it tipped the scales at 182 pounds was equally as outstanding, as it is uncommon to find such a heavy deer in Alabama's southernmost reaches.

"He didn't believe me until we got up to it," Tyler said, grinning. "After that, he said that it was the biggest deer he'd ever seen."

Obviously, it was also the biggest the 7th-grader at Flomaton Middle School had ever laid eyes on. It was only the second buck he'd shot since he started hunting.

Had it not been for instinct, the new addition to the family's den wall would bear Richard's name instead of Tyler's.

"My daddy was supposed to hunt that food plot that evening, but I talked him out of it," Tyler said. "I just had a feeling. Every time I'd hunted there before, I always heard deer while I was walking out after dark."

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Tyler and Richard ended up hunting separate food plots. The land they lease in Escambia County is mostly covered with pine plantations, so they plant green fields for the deer.

The pea patch on which Tyler sat covered about 1 1/2 acres. His stilted shooting house backed up to the edge of the plot and was about 16 to 18 feet high. The boy was inside by 4:30 p.m.

Right before dark, while he was glassing the food plot, Tyler heard deer approaching. He looked out the side window and saw not one, but two bucks walking together. Their white racks seemed identical.

Since daylight was fading fast, Tyler didn't spend a whole lot of time ogling the antlers. He quickly decided that the buck closest to him was the one he wanted.

"I knew they were bucks. But I was too nervous to think," he said. "I just knew I'd better shoot one before they ran off or something."

After the shot, Tyler watched only one buck bound away, its tail high. His cheek was still glued to the stock of the .30-30 rifle.

The youngster descended several minutes later, dug out his flashlight and walked over to where he'd last seen the deer that hadn't run off. His heart sank when he couldn't find it, but he discovered soon enough that he was looking in the wrong place. As he frantically waved his flashlight, the beam passed over the fallen animal's bright underside.

"Man," he later told his grandfather, "I got the granddaddy of them all!"

Indeed, he had. The buck's rack sported 17 points, in a basic 5x5 spread, with two extra ones on the left and five on the right.

THE 13th POINT

"Urrrrrrrrp, urrrrrrrrp, urrrrrrrrp."

Eyes the size of coasters, 11-year-old Anderson Casey whipped his head toward the source of the sound. It was close, almost right on top of him.

He had been watching a doe, now standing in the open after having passed within 30 feet of the bottom rung of his metal ladder stand. Barely 25 yards behind her, a buck took shape, grunting almost continuously as it followed.

"That's the first time I ever heard a deer grunt in my life," he admitted. "But there was no mistaking it. It was loud!"

Anderson was hunting alone that day. In fact, the 2003 season was his first to venture afield without an adult. Nobody was there to tell him what he was hearing. But still, he knew.

The boy was supposed to accompany a friend on that balmy afternoon of Jan. 15, but the buddy did not call to confirm. Perhaps sensing his son's disappointment, Decker Casey offered to drive Anderson to one of seven ladder stands overlooking food plots on the 100 acres behind their Montgomery County home. By 4:15, the young hunter was almost 18 feet aloft, watching a long dove field and a nearby turnip patch.

A half-hour later is when the doe passed almost within spitting distance of Anderson's oak tree en route to the field. Then the youngster heard the buck before he ever saw it.

The size of the rack registered immediately. No need to scrutinize it. When the buck was only 15 yards away, Anderson squeezed the trigger on his .243 and watched, stunned, as the deer took off running instead of falling. Though later determined to have been hit squarely in the heart, the whitetail decided not to stick around for a second dose.

Anderson fired again as it ran.

The buck covered a mere 35 yards before collapsing. Though gravity had claimed it, Anderson - who wasn't about to chance its getting up and leaving - shot it twice more for insurance.

"I don't remember what I thought," he said. "I just knew the deer had a big rack, and I didn't want it to get away!"

Though Anderson had taken three bucks in his short career as a hunter, none were anywhere near this big. After running over to the deer and glancing only briefly at it, barely long enough to count 12 points, the boy ran almost a mile back home to shar

e the news with his dad.

It was still daylight when father and son reached the downed buck. Only then did Anderson notice the point, No. 13, protruding not from the rack itself, but from the buck's forehead.

Beyond the rarity of this condition, little has been written about "unicorn" bucks. In two decades of collecting information about Alabama's best and weirdest whitetails, I have come across two other unicorns. In one case, the third antler grew on the side of the face, near the buck's eye. In the other, the buck had been hit in the muzzle by an arrow, and the antler grew where the broadhead was still embedded in its skull.

Biologists know that antler growth is connected to the presence of the same tissue - periosteum - that covers the standard pedicels, or stalks, from which antlers grow. Scientists have even grafted the tissue onto all parts of deer - including legs - and grown antler.

How that tissue got from the pedicels to other parts of a wild deer's skull is unknown, but biologists believe genetics might have as much a role as any natural accident.

Young Anderson, by the way, doesn't care. He thinks his buck is pretty cool!



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