Three Tennessee Wallhangers


These three Tennessee hunters found some great trophies last season. Here's how they did it. (December 2008)



An 8-point frame with 5 additional abnormal points, Chris Fox's buck scored 173 6/8 and is the highest scoring non-typical ever recorded in Polk County by the Tennessee Deer Registry.

Photo by Bill Cooper.

From his home in Etowah, Chris Fox has a great view of the Chilhowee Mountain Ridge, just south of where the Hiwassee River makes a deep cut through the Cherokee National Forest on its eastward run to the North Carolina state line. The national forest provides a variety of recreational opportunities to a great many Tennesseans, but for Fox and many other local residents, deer hunting ranks near the top of the list.

Hunting on the national forest is managed through a cooperative agreement between the Forest Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), which divides the 620,000 acres of forestlands into different management units within their wildlife management area (WMA) system. Types of hunts, dates and bag limits are also set by the TWRA.

Fox primarily hunts the South Cherokee portion of the WMA in Polk County, which includes the Chilhowee Mountain area. During the fall of 2006, while hunting on a special bear and boar managed hunt, Fox encountered one of the biggest whitetails he had ever seen in the national forest.

"The buck had stopped and was standing broadside within easy shooting distance," Fox said. "The deer's rack was extremely massive from the bottom to the top, but all I could do was look. I went back and hunted the area during the next scheduled deer hunt but never saw the buck again."

Last fall, Fox hunted the WMA during the same managed hunt for bear and boar. In this instance, he did not see any big deer; however, three other hunters reportedly did spot a buck with an extremely big rack.

"All of the sightings came from approximately the same area of the WMA, but I obviously had no way of knowing if the other hunters had seen three different bucks or if they had all seen the same deer," Fox said. "I was familiar with the area, having hunted there previously, but this was not the same part of the WMA where I had encountered the big buck in 2006."

The following week, the WMA had a scheduled deer hunt and Fox decided to hunt within the area where the buck, or possibly bucks, had reportedly been seen. The terrain of the primary hunting location included a series of hillside finger ridges and adjacent hollows situated between the top of a high mountain ridge and an adjacent deep valley.

Shortly before daybreak on a very cold December morning, the hunter drove his pickup along a narrow woods road that followed the crest of the mountain. After parking the truck, he picked up his rifle and gear and began walking out to a nearby finger ridge, looking for a good vantage point to watch the hillsides below.

"In spite of never having much luck with the technique, I had decided to try rattling that morning," Fox said. "There was no wind and I knew the sound would carry really well, but after going through several rattling sequences without having any response, I decided to walk back to the truck and drive a little farther along the top of the mountain."

On the way back to his vehicle, Fox jumped a doe, which offered some encouragement that at least a few deer were moving on that cold morning. After reaching his second location, the hunter quickly grabbed his rifle and headed off down another narrow ridge.

"I had walked about 200 yards and was looking for a good spot to stop and rattle when I heard a noise on the hillside below," Fox said. "Looking down the hill, I immediately spotted a buck standing approximately 100 yards below me. Initially, I didn't realize how big the buck was until its head turned, but before I could react, the deer suddenly took off running."

As the big deer was going down the hillside, it flipped a 4- to 5-foot limb up into the air and, amazingly, the stick hung in the buck's rack. After continuing on for several more yards, the deer abruptly stopped and began shaking its head in an attempt to dislodge the limb. This provided Fox with a clear shooting opportunity and he dropped the buck in its tracks.

"Needless to say, I had never seen or heard of anything like that happening before," Fox said. "But lucky for me that it did, otherwise, I'm not sure I would have even gotten a shot at the deer. I'm still not exactly sure why the buck started running since there was no wind to carry my scent, and the deer never looked in my direction."

The entire sequence of events had taken place in a matter of seconds and at that point, Fox only knew that he had taken a big buck. After taking a few moments to gather his thoughts, the hunter made his way down the hill to where the deer was lying; up close, the massive rack was truly awesome.

"The size of the buck's rack was certainly an exciting surprise," Fox said. "I'm especially grateful the antlers were big enough to snag the dead limb out of the air."

From an appearance standpoint, the rack has a great combination of height and width. Officially, there are 13 scorable points, 8 of which comprise the basic 8-point typical frame. The 24-inch main beams hook outward to form an inside spread of 20 inches. Tine length is outstanding, with amazing brows (G-1s) that exceed 9 inches, G-2s that tape 12 and 11 2/8 inches, followed by G-3s of 9 and 8 1/8 inches. Antler mass is impressive throughout the entire rack.

After grossing an impressive figure of 161, the 8-point frame nets 157 6/8. After adding in the five abnormal points, totaling 16 inches, the rack's final non-typical Boone and Crockett score is 173 6/8. According to the Tennessee Deer Registry, this is the highest scoring non-typical ever recorded for Polk County.

STEVENSTONE'S AMAZING FENTRESS COUNTY 15-POINTER

Hunting in the rugged mountainous terrain along the Cumberland Plateau, Steven Stone left his vehicle well before daybreak to make the mile and a half hike to his stand location. The hunter was positioned on a small point overlooking a predominant saddle in the mountain ridge. Mature hardwoods covered most of the ridgetop; however, a dense thicket of saplings and brush occurred within the low depression of the saddle.

"I have no doubt that deer have been crossing through that gap in the ridge for as long as there have been deer in Tennessee," Stone noted. "As a general rule, I normally wait until after the start of gun season before hunting the location. By then, deer activity is usually on the rise as the bucks start cruising the ridges looking for

does."

This marked the third straight morning Stone had hunted the location. During the previous two days, he had sighted eight to 10 does and three small bucks, but there had been no significant sign of major rut activity.

"The young bucks I saw were trailing after the does, but there was no real chasing," Stone said. "Additionally, the weather was unseasonably warm for late November and I believe that definitely was a factor in regard to the small amount of deer activity I had seen."

Unfortunately, warm weather continued into day three of the hunt, with early morning temperatures hovering near 60. Not long after daybreak, Stone spotted a deer approximately 80 yards away, moving through the thick brush in the saddle.

"In terms of my visibility, the deer was in the worst possible location," Stone said. "Even with the aid of binoculars, I could only get an occasional glimpse through the undergrowth; however, I was able to eventually determine that the deer was a buck, and from its body size, I was reasonably sure that it was a mature animal."

Additionally frustrating was the buck's extremely slow movement through the thicket; every few feet the deer would pause for several minutes. However, on a slightly more positive note, the buck continued to gradually advance toward the hunter's position.

"After about 30 minutes, the deer eventually reached the edge of the thicket and the open hardwoods," Stone said. "At this point, I could finally see most of the buck's rack, and it was definitely impressive."

Although the big deer had now approached to within 60 yards, Stone still did not have a clear shooting opportunity. As the hunter continued to wait and watch, feelings of frustration, anticipation and excitement began playing havoc with his nerves.

"Thankfully, the deer finally moved forward a few steps and stopped," Stone said. "As soon as I had an open shooting lane, I fired, and the buck bolted straight ahead, running directly toward me through the open woods, eventually crashing to the ground less than 30 yards away."

Not surprisingly, after watching the amazing culmination of his hunt and seeing the big whitetail's rack up close and completely in the clear, Stone's excitement level went off the chart. For several minutes, he remained in the stand, staring at the buck and remembering the moment.

"To be honest, at that time, I don't believe I was capable of immediately climbing out of the stand," Stone said. "When I did finally calm down, I immediately called my dad, quickly related the hunt story and sent a couple of photos to his cell phone; it didn't take him long to get there!"

From an appearance standpoint, the rack exhibits great character, including long, sweeping main beams that hook widely outward and then up, bladed G-2 tines, and impressive antler mass throughout. Official antler statistics include 14 scorable points, 26-inch main beams, an inside spread of 19 1/8 inches and four tines that measure between 10 6/8 and 8 6/8 inches. The 9-point typical frame grosses 157 3/8 and nets 153. After adding in the 5 abnormal points, totaling 12 2/8 inches, the final non-typical score stands at 165 2/8.

JEFF STARKEY'S 'HOMEGROWN' NEW YEAR'S EVE 8-POINTER

Jeff Starkey of Burns lives and hunts on a tract of land in Dickson County that was once farmed by his grandfather many years ago. Shortly before the 2007 bow season, one of Starkey's trail cameras on the farm recorded a photo of an extremely impressive 8-point buck.

Starkey never sighted the buck during bow season; however, that was partly because he and his 9-year-old son, Austin, were attending juvenile deer hunts on Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge and the Land Between The Lakes area. On those weekends that he did bowhunt, there was little deer activity because of the extremely hot and dry weather.

"One corner of our farm borders a 3,000-acre state park, which has a significant wooded acreage, including a very large cedar thicket," Starkey said. "I was fairly confident that the buck was probably spending most of its time on the park. However, when the buck remained missing during the entire month of November, I began to think that the deer might have fallen victim to the EHD outbreak that had swept through portions of Tennessee and Kentucky."

Not surprisingly, a great deal of the deer activity on Starkey's farm normally occurs in a section of woods that borders the park boundary. However, late in the season last year, deer also began using a small wood lot and pasture located directly behind the cattle barn, an area the hunter can see from his house. In early December, he decided to move one of his trail cameras to the location.

"Shortly after setting out the camera, I got a night photo of the big 8-pointer," Starkey noted. "Although I continued to watch the location, I never sighted the deer, nor did the camera record any more photos of the buck."

On New Year's Eve, Starkey left work early in the afternoon. Although the weather had been very warm, a strong cold front was moving through the state.

"I felt sure the sudden change in weather conditions would initiate some deer activity," Starkey said. "When I arrived home, I glanced over at the hillside above the barn, approximately 700 yards away, and there were already several deer out feeding; I wasted no time in changing clothes and grabbing my rifle.

"As I was leaving the house, I happened to glance up toward the hillside and saw a big deer jump one of the pasture fences. Even at that distance I was able to see the deer's rack and I immediately headed for the nearest woods line to begin working my way toward the location."

After maneuvering to within 250 yards of the hillside, Starkey sat down at the edge of a wood lot and began scanning the area with his binoculars. At first, there were only several does in sight, but as he continued to look, he suddenly spotted antler tines sticking up above a slight rise in the field.

"The buck was down in a low depression and all I could see from time to time was the rack and part of the deer's head," Starkey said. "As I was watching, one of the does began snorting and blowing, which got all of the deer alerted and moving around on the hillside. Luckily, this caused the buck to walk several yards up the hillside and stop, giving me a clear broadside shot, and I didn't miss."

For Starkey, there could have been no better way to welcome in the New Year than by taking a buck he had been hunting for several months. The buck's near-perfect 8-point rack included 23-inch beams, an 18-inch inside spread, and paired back tines (G-2s) that were over a foot long; the rack grossed a great score of 148.

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