By Zack Glover
Though many Cotton State bucks wear calcified crowns worthy of the den wall, for which taxidermists from Mobile to Huntsville are thankful, few actually qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) record books.
There are about 20 or 30 a year that surpass the 150-inch gun minimum for Alabama Whitetail Records, the privately published book that’s been around since 1989. But it takes one heck of a set of antlers to make the B&C grade.
For starters, you need to know that there are two sets of entry-level scores – one is for the “awards” record book, and the other for the club’s “all-time” records. In order to qualify for the awards book, Records of North American Whitetail Deer, typicals must net at least 160 B&C points, whereas the bar is raised to 170 points for the all-time book, Big Game Records of North America. For non-typicals, the minimums are 185 and 195, respectively. These B&C minimums are the same, regardless of weapon used.
Of all the humongous deer that you’ve seen hanging at deer shows in Birmingham and Montgomery throughout the years, you’d be surprised at how few have actually been entered into the B&C records. Ten currently reside in the typical category, while there are a mere seven non-typicals. The state record book, by the way, lists more than 1,000 bucks in those combined categories.
Fortunately, Steve Pinkerton of Sulligent doesn’t have to worry about those minimum scores. The buck he took out of Lamar County last January qualifies for them all. Even with more than 15 inches of deductions, the west Alabama whitetail surpasses B&C’s all-time minimum by more than a yard.
With an unofficial net score of 211, it ranks No. 5 among the non-typicals from Alabama recognized by B&C. It’s also the largest ever recorded from Lamar County, which is fast becoming our state’s epicenter for trophy bucks.
You’ll have to take my word for that, too, since you wouldn’t find a single buck if you were to confine your search to the B&C or Pope and Young Club (bow) record books.
I’ve been keeping tabs on Alabama’s cream of the crop for a couple of decades now. I’ve often put Lamar at the top of my list whenever asked to predict where the next monster bucks will fall. I love it when my predictions ring true!
Yet how many of us would pass up such a shot in broad daylight, albeit a risky one, if we thought it was the only chance we were going to get at a once-in-a-lifetime whitetail? In the split second that it takes for a signal to travel from brain to trigger finger, very few deer hunters are going to think about what others might say or think. And afterward, we probably wouldn’t care!
Pinkerton knew only that a better-than-average buck, like the doe it was chasing, was about to dash out of sight. He thought he missed with his the first shot, so his reaction was to squeeze the trigger again instantaneously. As it turned out, neither shot missed.
The 36-year-old mobile home hauler’s story brings to mind that of Sgt. Alvin York, whose prowess with a rifle was legendary.
York, for those of you who missed the black-and-white movie that garnered Gary Cooper an Oscar in 1942, is considered the greatest American hero of World War I. The Tennessean’s marksmanship was largely responsible for forcing the surrender of 132 Germans to a misplaced company of nine Americans in the Argonne.
In the Hollywood version, picking off German machine-gunners was as easy for York as winning a turkey shoot in the rocky hills of his homeland. The feat was accomplished in much the same fashion – by getting them to raise their heads.
Steve Pinkerton might not have grunted or bleated to get Lamar County’s biggest buck to poke its head out from around a tree. But he did make the shot count when the buck offered such a football-sized target.
Although he’d never seen the buck before he shot it on Jan. 3, 2003, Steve had a good idea that a big one had been traveling through the 300-acre parcel he was hunting. They might not have been on the biggest of trees, but the savagery of the deer’s rubs convinced Steve that their maker was no ordinary animal.
Steve first discovered the rubs during Alabama’s 2001-2002 season. The buck favored ridge-top saplings no bigger around than a half-dollar, and the deer apparently delighted in destroying the young trees – some of which were twisted so severely as to be uprooted.
More proof came later that year, when the aggressive buck established a scrape line along the same ridge. Some of the scrapes contained the clear hoof prints of a very large deer.
With sign so plentiful, that’s where Steve decided to set up shop. He came to know every tree and bush on that ridge as well as he knew the furnishings inside his own living room.
“I just knew that I was hunting a big buck,” he said, adding that he was watching that ridge from his climbing stand at every opportunity throughout the 2001-02 season.
Hoping to catch a glimpse of the buck became an obsession, and Steve’s wife grew accustomed to hearing his tales of woe – even after the 2002-03 season opened.
“I’d come home at the end of the day and tell my wife, ‘I can’t find him,’ ” he sighed.
Ordinarily, when a friend or relative shoots a nice buck, you’re supposed to slap the hunter on the back, exchange high-fives and marvel at the rack.
But when his brother-in-law, Bobby Ives, telephoned to say that he’d shot a monstrous 10-pointer, Steve’s smile was forced.
“Where?” he almost choked.
His worst fear was realized when Bobby said he’d shot the deer on land adjacent to where Steve hunts.
“It broke my heart,” St
eve admitted. “I was convinced that he’d shot my deer, and I figured there was no reason for me to go back there.”
But the season was entering its final month. Where else could he go?
By 7 a.m. on the day of the kill, Steve was back in his climbing stand, hoping – but not really expecting – to see a buck. He’d stopped climbing at almost 20 feet up his favorite white oak, an elevation affording a perfect view of the junction of five different ridges.
A long couple of hours later, he spotted a doe slipping toward him through the hardwoods. When she was within 50 yards, the deer stopped behind a tree. Her next move was to dash into a hollow.
Within seconds, the loping form of a buck materialized on her back trail. It stopped behind the same tree and would obviously next have disappeared into the same hollow.
“I didn’t know how big he was,” Steve said. “All I knew was that he was a buck.”
Aware that his window of opportunity was about to slam shut, Steve’s finger wrapped around the trigger of the .280 rifle. As soon as the buck turned to follow the doe’s trail, Steve swung his rifle past the moving animal and picked out a narrow opening in front of it. When the buck passed through the lane, he shot.
“It’s real open under the limbs – just open hardwoods – but (visibility) is limited from that high,” he explained. “If I’d been on the ground, I would’ve had a clear shot the whole way.”
At the rifle’s report, the buck changed its mind and reversed course – gaining an additional 50 yards before stopping behind yet another tree. Had it not been for the doe, it would’ve probably never stopped running.
Convinced that his first bullet had flown high over the buck’s back, Steve decided to take the only shot left to him.
“All I could see was the right side of his horns,” he said. “When he poked his head out, I shot.”
The buck crumpled immediately. Steve descended his tree in record time and eased toward the last place he’d seen the buck. As he neared the spot, he noticed the still-moving deer and administered the coup de grÃ¢ce from 30 yards. He didn’t realize it then, but all three bullets had found their marks.
Afterward, Steve blinked hard. He could not believe what he was seeing. He practically leapt upon the buck to lift its massive rack.
“When I knelt down to count his points, I hollered, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ ” he said.
Steve left the woods with a spring in his step, so unlike former trudges back to the truck. He was elated, eager to retrieve his four-wheeler and to share the news. His sons were still asleep when he arrived, so he woke them. He also called his wife at the convenience store where she was working.
“Honey, I found him!” he gushed.
Steve would’ve been more than happy to shoot a buck the size of his brother-in-law’s 10-pointer. He had no idea that a buck of this caliber lived on the small tract of land.
The buck’s incredible rack is a mainframe 7×6, with another 13 abnormal points. The non-typical growth accounts for 51 of its 226 4/8 gross inches.
Twenty-six scorable points aside, one of the most impressive things about the 5-year-old 175-pound buck’s antlers is the mass. The bases measure 6 1/8 and 6 3/8 inches, and even the smallest circumference stretches 4 6/8. That last measurement is as big as an average mature buck’s bases.
Word spread quickly about Steve’s 26-pointer – partly due, he’s guessing, to his 17-year-old son’s calling numerous friends. When he drove the deer to the local newspaper office in Sulligent to have it photographed, it took him six hours to get out of town.
Everyone wanted a closer look at the monstrous deer in the back of his little truck, and Steve was more than happy to indulge them.
The last two, from 1999, were 8-pointers. It takes a lot for a 4×4 to make the grade.
The largest was taken during a dog drive at the Blowhorn Hunting Club near Vernon. Johnny South of Winfield finally put it down after unloading his shotgun at the fleeing buck. That’s five loads of buckshot! South’s 8-pointer grossed 167 4/8 inches.
Less than two weeks later, Hueytown’s Hunter Flynn earned a place in the book with a 4×4 that grossed an even 150 inches, helped by a 20 6/8-inch inside spread.
Yet the 25 in the most current edition of the Alabama record book do not include some very fine specimens taken in the three years since.
Though several beefy bucks fell there in 2000, Jamey Sickafoose of Dora shot the largest, just two days before Christmas. His 18-pointer – one of three handsome bucks he bagged that season – grossed 194 6/8 inches as a non-typical. Until Steve shot his monster buck, Jamey’s was king of the hill in that corner of the state.
Nine days after Jamey scored, Richard Moore of Sulligent connected with a gorgeous 5×5 that grossed 176 4/8 B&C. After deductions, the 10-pointer still made the all-time B&C minimum of 170.
In case you don’t remember or didn’t see the story about his three bucks in this magazine last year (A Cotton State Triple by Chris Lollar, October 2002), Chris Lollar of Curry made some Lamar County news in 2001. Like his friend, Jamey, did the year before, Chris took three great bucks – the largest being a 12-pointer that made the Alabama record book with a gross score of 158 1/8.
There’s no telling what awaits deer hunters in this northwest Alabama county when the 2003 season opens, but chances are great that more awesome bucks may continue to fall.
Lamar County isn’t one of those places that make the average deer hunter drool whenever he’s driving through it. Its red clay hills and vast stretches of adolescent pines look a lot like northern Clarke County.
The main reason this area is yielding so many outstanding bucks is that, unlike Clarke and other counties in central and south Alabama, the deer population has not yet reached the carrying capacity of the land. You would probably have to go to the Bankhead National Forest to find a deer herd in such great shape and with so much potential. There’s plenty of food, far less hunting pressure than in any other areas, and some mighty fine genetics.
The hunter-favored Black Belt also has the genetics, but many p
ortions of it are bordering on overpopulation – meaning the competition for the available food is stiff. Since the market fell out of soybeans some years ago, there simply hasn’t been a lot of food available to deer.
All of which is to say that Lamar County is fast closing in on the big-buck reputation of that storied portion of the Cotton State.
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