Photo by Bill Cooper.
Two years ago Devin Key experienced an event that many deer hunters across the Peach State can relate to. He lost his deer lease.
While that alone is a big problem, along with it comes the even bigger dilemma of finding another hunting location. Living near Stockbridge, on the outskirts of the Atlanta suburbs, didn’t help the situation. High population growth and development has basically placed all land there into two categories: Either no hunting is allowed, or the hunting rights have already been acquired.
“I’ve been hunting since my teens, and it really bothered me not having a reliable place to go whenever I had a day off,” Key said. “I really wasn’t interested in a big club, just a small acreage location that I could occasionally hunt and take my two boys, Colt and Cal, that are 12 and 9.”
Finally, last October, Key was given permission to deer hunt a small block of land only a short distance from his home. The landowner’s only stipulation was that he could only use a bow or shotgun.
“At the time, gun season had just opened the previous weekend,” Key noted. “I had an afternoon off, so I decided to do a little scouting, put up a ladder stand for my son, and hunt the remainder of the evening. However, just as I was about to leave, I got a call from David McCoy, my preacher at Peoples Baptist Church in McDonough. He was out of town and had just gotten a call from his 82-year-old father. During an apparent burglary, his dad’s door had been kicked down and he asked if I could help with getting it repaired and the house secured. I assured him that I would.”
Being a general contractor, Key knew he had time to make a quick stop at the hunting land to set up the ladder stand before continuing on to take care of the door repair. During his initial trip to the property, he had found a couple of small rubs and one scrape near a thick stand of young pines. After parking the truck, he picked up the ladder and headed straight for that location.
“As I approached the pines, I was really amazed at the dramatic increase in buck sign,” Key said. “Immediately evident were several freshly rubbed trees and two or three large scrapes. Normally, I prefer to position the stand a fairly good distance away from that type of sign, just to make sure there’s no possibility of spooking any deer. But in this instance, knowing the distance limitations of a shotgun, I realized that wasn’t an option.”
After getting the stand secured, Key drove to the elder McCoy’s home, took a few measurements, picked up a new door from a nearby home supply store, and by 9 o’clock that night the job was completed. Earlier, the church’s assistant pastor, Ray Turner, had also stopped by to offer his help. As Key was leaving, Ray stopped and shook his hand.
“Devin, the Lord’s going to bless you so much for helping God’s man,” he said. “The next time you go hunting, you’re going to kill one big as two 10-pointers.”
The following morning, Key awoke to sounds of wind and rain. Weather reports indicated a strong storm system was beginning to move through the North Georgia area.
“It sounded like the wind was blowing 100 miles an hour and the rain was pouring down,” Key said. “I checked the local weather reports and radars for any forecast of possible severe weather or tornadoes.
“After learning that the rain and wind were the only real threats,” the hunter continued, “I began getting my hunting gear ready. I would never have considered taking my son out in such a mess, but having been in the construction business a long time, I know that many of my off days are going to be when the weather is bad, and I’ve learned not to pass up many hunting opportunities.”
Driving to the property, Key’s primary concern was the wind, which seemed to be swirling in every direction. Having placed the ladder stand within shotgun range of the scrapes and rubs, there was a high likelihood that his scent would be a prohibitive factor when it came to sighting deer.
“Fortunately, as I was walking to the stand I began smelling a skunk, and the closer I got, the stronger the odor,” Key said. “While it wasn’t pleasant, I certainly couldn’t think of anything better to mask my scent.
“My only other concern was the shotgun. I was using my 12-gauge Beretta duck gun, but I had no idea of its accuracy in regard to shooting rifled slugs. In fact, my confidence level was to the point that I loaded two rounds of buckshot behind the slug, just in case my first shot completely missed.”
Because of the steady rain, the hunter brought along a small umbrella that he had received as a gift a couple of years earlier. The bottom of the umbrella’s shaft was threaded, allowing it to screw directly into the tree.
“The umbrella was a definite asset in regard to keeping the rain off,” Key said. “But the raindrops sounded like they were falling on a drum. I kept thinking every deer in the county could hear the noise.”
Key had positioned the ladder stand in open hardwoods approximately 30 yards from the edge of the thick pines. A year or so earlier, the big pine timber had been selectively cut, but the hardwoods were left alone. A few pockets of thick undergrowth were scattered about, but for the most part, the hunter had a relatively good view of the surrounding woods.
The combination of wind and rain had virtually eliminated all natural sounds from the hunting equation, therefore Key had to be constantly alert to detect any sign of deer movement. About 30 minutes after getting settled, the hunter glanced to his right and spotted a buck about 35 yards away walking in his direction. Within seconds, the deer disappeared in the thick pines behind him. Rain blowing into his face had made seeing extremely difficult, but he was sure the buck’s rack extended out beyond its ears.
“I tried every way in the world to stand up on the rungs of the ladder and look behind me, but I just couldn’t see the deer,” Key described. “I knew the buck had a fairly good spread and a few tall tines, but I couldn’t count points or determine much else.
“I continued to watch, particularly around the pine thicket, but the buck seemed to have vanished,” Key noted. “After about 20 minutes, I took out a grunt call and grunted two or three times. I felt sure th
e buck was still nearby and I thought that might trigger some activity.”
In this instance, Key couldn’t have been more correct. Within minutes of blowing the call, a huge buck walked out of the pines and stopped 30 yards away, facing slightly away from the hunter’s location.
“The deer looked bigger, but since it came from the same direction where the buck disappeared, I naturally assumed it was the same animal,” Key said. “Problem was, I couldn’t see any antlers. The deer had obviously been rubbing on trees and had somehow broken off a branch that was still lodged in its rack; the large cluster of leaves completely covered the antlers.
“When the buck first walked out, I immediately raised my shotgun, but without being able to see the rack, I hesitated, eventually putting the gun back in my lap. My dilemma was possibly shooting a buck that I might normally pass up in hopes that my son would eventually get a chance at the deer.”
The buck had initially stopped behind a small hickory tree that partially blocked Key’s view of the entire shoulder and chest cavity. However, as he continued to watch, the deer took a couple of steps forward, moving most of his body completely into the clear.
“At that point, the buck looked really huge, too big to let go I decided,” Key said. “Having only a few acres to hunt, I realized the odds were high that neither I nor my son would probably ever get another chance at the deer.”
Still slightly nervous about the shotgun slug’s accuracy, he carefully aligned the front bead with the buck’s shoulder and pulled the trigger. At the shot, the buck bolted straight ahead and quickly ran out of sight.
“The deer gave no indication it had been hit,” Key said. “In fact, the buck ran like it had been shot out of a cannon. There was never an opportunity to even think about shooting one of the buckshot loads. I remained in the stand for several minutes, but I knew I couldn’t afford to wait too long or the rain would wash away all traces of a blood trail.”
After walking to the approximate spot where he had last seen the deer, the hunter discovered there had been no need to worry about finding a blood trail. The buck hadn’t gone far and was lying behind a big log with part of its rack sticking up in the air.
“When I first saw the antlers, I thought, Good gracious, what a buck,” Key said. “I hurried to where it was lying, reached down and pulled up the deer’s head so I could see the entire rack, and my legs actually buckled from the shock. I simply couldn’t believe the size of the buck’s antlers, much less that I had killed the deer a short distance from where I lived.”
The left side of the rack included a long drop tine with dried velvet covering the end of the point. Key had remembered seeing the dark brown tine sticking out from the cluster of leaves on top of the deer’s head, but he thought the antler was part of the tree branch.
“While kneeling next to the deer, I decided to make a quick count of antler points and came up with about 25 or 26,” Key related. “I immediately thought of Brother Turner’s blessing the previous evening about me killing a deer big as two 10-pointers, and remarkably, this buck even exceeded that figure. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a buck of this size and I truly thank the Lord for allowing me to take such a great animal.”
Following the required 60-day drying period, Key had the buck’s antlers officially measured. The results of that taping session reveal some very interesting statistics. The rack includes 24 scorable points, 11 of which make up the basic typical frame. Tine length and antler mass are impressive, with brows (G-1s) that measure nearly 7 inches, plus four additional tines that tape between 9 and 10 inches. All eight circumference measurements fall between 4 and 5 2/8 inches. The inside spread is 19 1/8 inches.
In regard to scoring, the 11-point frame grosses 166 6/8 and nets 161 7/8. The 13 additional abnormal points total a whopping 49 6/8 inches, which brings the final non-typical Boone and Crockett Club score to 211 5/8. In addition to qualifying for B&C’s Awards and All-Time record books, the giant whitetail ranks as Georgia’s top non-typical of the 2008 season.
In May, Key attended the annual Georgia Outdoor Writers Association Awards Banquet in Augusta, where he was presented a plaque and certificate for taking the best non-typical whitetail in the Firearms Division of the Georgia Big Deer Contest for 2008. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Sportsman, and the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association are joint sponsors of the competition.
Within Rockdale County, the deer stands as the biggest whitetail ever recorded. It is also the state’s biggest non-typical gun kill in the last 11 seasons. It ranks as the No. 4 non-typical from Georgia in the Boone and Crockett All-Time Record book and stands at No. 7 among all non-typical firearms kills ever reported in the Peach State.
While many people may consider it unbelievable that a buck of this size could be taken on a small acreage hunting area right in the middle of a county currently undergoing rapid development and population growth, it certainly will not come as a shock to most of the Atlanta-area bowhunters. Basically, the whitetail habitat in Rockdale is similar to Fulton, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Cobb and Forsyth. All are undergoing similar economic growth and development, and all have produced their share of big bucks in recent years.
Like Rockdale, all of these counties have deer habitat where hunting is allowed, but there is a lot more acreage where hunting is banned. This means, on average, bucks have a much greater chance of reaching the trophy-producing age-classes of 4 1/2 years and older. Key’s record-book buck was 5 1/2 years old.