Last October Randy Dover of Gainesville used a few of his well-earned vacation days to hunt the last week of bow season on his Jackson County deer lease. On Friday, his final morning of hunting, Dover was positioned in a tree stand overlooking a hardwood creek bottom that bordered a large and very dense privet thicket.
“Oaks are the primary tree species in that particular section of the bottom and most years, acorns are plentiful,” Dover noted. “Since deer regularly bed in the privet thicket there is a natural movement pattern between the two areas. The surprising thing that morning was that I hadn’t seen a single deer by 10 o’clock.”
A short while later the hunter suddenly spotted two bucks as they ran out of the thicket and began heading in his direction. Quickly picking up his bow, he moved into shooting position as the deer continued their approach.
“The first buck was an 8-pointer,” Dover said. “The second deer had a much smaller body, but once I got a good look at its rack, I completely forgot about the 8-point. The buck’s antlers seemed to be sticking out in all directions.
“The deer were coming straight toward me, and with every step the weird looking rack seemed to increase in size. As the buck closed to 20, 15, and finally, 10 yards, I tried grunting and every other noise I could think of, hoping the deer would pause just long enough for me to take a shot. Unfortunately, neither buck gave even the slightest indication of slowing down. I watched the deer continue on through the bottom for well over a hundred yards before they finally disappeared from view.
“There’s no doubt something had spooked the deer, but it was a little strange because they were running with their tails tucked down instead of with the usual white flags up in the air. My best guess is that a coyote or two jumped them out of the thicket. In the past, I have almost always been able to stop a buck, at least momentarily, regardless of whether the deer was running or walking, but that certainly wasn’t the case in this instance.”
Later, after leaving the stand and walking back to his vehicle, Dover met with a hunting companion who had accompanied him that morning. When the hunter asked if he had had any luck, Dover’s reply was a little out of the norm.
“I told him that while I didn’t know exactly how many points the buck had, or exactly what it would score, I had just missed a chance to take a deer that would have been the new Jackson County non-typical bow record,” Dover said. “Not surprisingly, he looked at me like I was a little crazy.”
Although the area was occasionally hunted during the first two weeks of gun season, the buck was never sighted. During this same time period, Dover moved a couple of stands to locations that he believed would be better suited to spot the deer once rut activity began.
On the first weekend in November, Dover welcomed two guest hunters, Kenny Walden and his son, Charlie, from Montgomery, Ala. Kenny, a longtime friend of Dover’s brother, Rick, had hunted the farm a number of times in the past; however this was only Charlie’s second trip. Since the men arrived about 8 o’clock in the morning, Dover had them quickly change into hunting clothes and positioned each one on a deer stand.
“For whatever reason, moon phase, or some other factor, the deer had seemed to be moving later in the morning,” Dover said. “I told Kenny and Charlie we would hunt to around noon and then, depending on what was seen, possibly try a different stand location during the afternoon.”
Dover placed Charlie in a small 1/4-acre pocket of trees called the “Island Stand.” The name was derived from its location in one corner of a large hayfield, approximately 80 yards from the nearest woods line.
“I really had an excellent view of the field borders to my left, right, and directly in front of the stand,” Charlie Walden noted. “In fact, only minutes after getting settled, I spotted a buck off to my left, about 250 yards away. After crossing an open strip that had been bush-hogged through the high grass, the deer jumped a bordering field fence and disappeared into the woods. At that distance, I really couldn’t tell much about the rack, but I figured it had to be pretty big since I had no trouble seeing antlers.”
About 20 minutes later and from the same general direction, Charlie suddenly heard a buck grunt two or three times. Assuming it was the same deer he had sighted, there was no doubt the buck had now moved closer.
“At that point, I quickly took out my call and grunted twice,” Charlie said. “Within minutes, I heard a buck grunt again, but in this case, I had a little problem determining the deer’s location. In fact, for a moment or two I thought there might be a second buck off to my right. I grunted one more time and put the call away.”
Although the hunter was unsure of the deer’s exact whereabouts, he knew that many bucks often make a wide circle before coming in to a call. Being a left-handed shooter, he maneuvered into a shooting position where he could watch the woods line to his right.
“Within two minutes of getting situated, the buck suddenly jumped the fence directly in front of the stand, about 80 yards away,” Charlie said. “I quickly swung the rifle around, mouth bleated to stop the deer, and pulled the trigger. The buck dropped in its tracks.
“I immediately received a text message from Rick, who was hunting nearby, asking what I had shot. At the time, all I really knew was that I had taken what I thought was a pretty decent buck. Once the deer jumped the fence, my entire focus was on making the shot, not looking at antlers. Additionally, from my stand position, I now really had no view of the rack due to the high grass and broom sedge.”
Charlie waited a few minutes to gather his thoughts before climbing down and walking to where the buck was lying. By that time, Rick Dover had also arrived on the scene.
“My first look at the rack was a pretty intense moment,” Charlie noted. “I’d seen bucks with bigger spreads, but never anything with so many antler points. It was definitely an incredible sight. I was really amazed when Rick commented that he believed I had just shot the biggest buck ever taken on the property.”
Randy Dover was hunting another area of the farm that morning, but he had heard the shot and received a text message from Rick, stating it was Charlie who fired. About 20 minutes later, Randy received another text from his brother; one that he was totally unprepared for. The message simply read, “Charlie killed your deer — 23 points.”
“I immediately quit hunting, walked to my truck and drove over to the hayfield,” Dover said. “By that time, they had loaded the buck and it was lying on the tailgate. The instant I saw the rack I knew it was the same buck from bow season. Of course, I really wasn’t surprised since there was practically no chance of there being two bucks on the farm with such unusual antler growth.
“However, in all honesty, I couldn’t have been happier for Charlie. His dad had said that he really hoped his son could kill a good buck and that’s exactly what he did. In fact, once Kenny arrived and saw the deer, he immediately announced that they were packing up and heading back to Alabama. He figured there was no way to top the buck they had. As they were leaving, I told Charlie his single hour of hunting may have been a little costly in terms of license fees, but he certainly couldn’t complain about the results.”
The trophy whitetail’s unusual rack includes 23 scorable points, eight of which form the basic typical frame. However, the remaining 15 abnormal points, which total an amazing 57 3/8 inches, do an excellent job of camouflaging anything that might appear typical about the rack. The paired brow tines are about the only antler growth characteristic that looks normal. The inside spread is fairly narrow, measuring 14 7/8 inches, while the outside spread is 20 inches.
In regard to scoring, the non-typical rack grosses 180 6/8. The only deductions are for minor asymmetrical differences between the right and left antlers, within the 4×4 typical frame. The result is a final Boone and Crockett Club score of 175, ranking the buck as one of the top non-typicals of the 2010 season.
This score certainly qualifies Randy Dover’s early size estimate of the buck made during bow season. The impressive whitetail now officially ranks as the biggest non-typical ever recorded for Jackson County.
MIKIE NEWSOME’S STRANGE 17-POINTER
Last fall during the second weekend of November, Mikie Newsome of Sale City was scouting and hunting a section of woodlands on a farm in Mitchell County. After discovering an area on the property that contained a number of very fresh rubs and scrapes, the hunter decided to relocate his deer stand.
“I spent several minutes walking around trying to decide exactly where the stand needed to be positioned,” Newsome said. “While following an old woods trail, a buck suddenly jumped up from a clump of small pines directly in front of me. The deer continued running across an open bottom of big hardwoods, heading toward a distant fence line about 150 yards away.”
The hunter fully expected the buck to cross the fence and keep going, but surprisingly, the deer abruptly stopped, turned, and began slowly walking along the fence line.
“The buck was moving parallel to my location and clearly visible through the open woods,” Newsome noted. “I quickly moved into shooting position, waited for the buck to stop, and pulled the trigger. The deer dropped where it was standing.”
Newsome was naturally elated to have taken the buck under such unusual circumstances. However, his biggest surprise occurred after walking to where the deer was lying.
“The shape of the buck’s rack was certainly unlike anything I had ever encountered,” the hunter commented. “The right antler was simply a cluster of long tines sticking outward in all directions. Additionally, some time in the past the buck had severely broken its right leg at the first joint, just above the hoof and dewclaws. The break had healed, but the hoof was twisted over at a right angle to the leg. Basically, the deer had been walking on the joint and bottom of the leg bone. In fact, a black callous-like pad had developed where the leg pressed down against the ground. Obviously, the buck had adapted to the disability without any major problem, because it was in excellent condition.”
The oddly shaped rack has 17 scorable points. However, the near lack of a typical frame, which would require significant asymmetry deductions, negates the need for deriving a final non-typical B&C score. Nevertheless, the rack’s gross total of 148, includes 38 5/8 inches of abnormal points.
It is interesting to consider the different contributing factors that resulted in the two whitetails mentioned in this article to develop non-typical antlers. Genetics are certainly important and no doubt were the primary contributing factor for the Jackson County whitetail’s rack. However, another important, but often misunderstood factor is injury. This injury can be either directly to the velvet antler during the growing cycle or to the deer itself.
A direct link between body injuries and unusual antler growth has been documented in numerous whitetails from all over North America. Interestingly, which side of the rack is affected depends on which end of the deer is injured. For example, rear leg injuries almost always affect antler growth on the opposite side of the body, while front leg injuries usually affect the same side.
In all likelihood, the very abnormal antler growth exhibited by the right antler of the Mitchell County buck was a direct result of the right front leg injury. Research has also shown that over a period of two to five years, depending on the severity of the body injury, the antler may gradually revert back to a more normal growth pattern.