By Bill Cooper
In the Deep South, the tradition of hanging trophy deer mounts in offices and business locations is about as common as growing cotton and peanuts. In fact, even those people not particularly interested in deer hunting accept this practice as merely an alternative choice of wall decor.
For most, these mounts, regardless of size, provide only a passing interest. However, to hunters, the trophies recall camaraderie and good times of past hunts, while antler size determines the buck’s status and rank. In this regard, most communities include a few enthusiastic individuals, often referred to as “whitetail addicts,” who possess an extensive knowledge of nearly every big-antlered deer, mounted or not, that has been taken within a given county or region.
A couple of years ago, Fudge stopped by the local Ford dealership to have his truck serviced. While there, he was shocked to see the mount of a giant whitetail hanging in one corner of the showroom.
“Actually, I was standing outside when I first spotted the mount through the building’s plate glass windows,” Fudge related. “Although I had been to the dealership several times in the past, I couldn’t remember previously noticing a deer mount in the showroom, and I was positive I had never seen one with such an enormous rack. In fact, the antlers appeared to be so big I thought they were being somewhat distorted by the glass. However, after walking inside, the rack seemed even larger.”
Upon examining the antlers more closely, Fudge could see that the mount was very old and somewhat in disrepair. However, that took nothing away from the awesome rack, which he felt sure had record-book potential. He immediately began inquiring as to when and where the giant buck had been taken and who had downed it.
It is not uncommon for old deer mounts to periodically turn up in barns, attics and even yard sales with no known history of where they came from or who the hunter may have been. Fortunately, that was not the case in this instance. Fudge quickly learned that the mount belonged to an acquaintance, Steve Everett, who happened to be general manager of the dealership, and that the deer had been taken over 30 years ago in Brooks County by his late father-in-law, Donald Duren.
Information contributed by Steve’s wife, Patti, and his mother-in-law, Latrelle Duren Burkholder, paints a vivid picture of the hunter, his love for the outdoors, and the exciting hunt for the huge whitetail.
During the 1960s, Duren and his wife moved to Coolidge in northern Brooks County. A natural outdoorsman, he quickly discovered that the new location provided a wealth of hunting and fishing opportunities. One of his favorite haunts for both of these pursuits was a nearby area known as the Little River bottoms. He especially enjoyed fishing while wading the river’s sandbars, and whenever possible he took along his young son, Pate, and his daughter, Patti. Even though the family often took fishing trips to other places, such as Florida’s St. John’s River, the Little River area near his home remained Duren’s favorite.
Coincidentally, during this same period of time, Georgia’s Game & Fish Commission (forerunner of the current Department of Natural Resources) was involved with a long-term statewide deer restoration project. Deer restocking was an integral part of this ongoing program, and one of these stocking sites happened to be the Little River drainage lying along the Brooks-Lowndes county line. Records show that several deer obtained from Wisconsin were released there during the early 1960s.
Not surprisingly, by the late ’60s Duren often encountered deer during his fishing or small-game hunting trips near the river. Most of the deer were does, fawns or young bucks, but on at least two occasions he spotted a giant whitetail with an enormous set of antlers. Like most Georgians at that time, Duren had little knowledge and no experience in regard to deer hunting. Nevertheless, getting a glimpse of the huge buck was an exciting experience, and he anxiously looked forward to the time when he could pursue the deer with a gun.
That opportunity came in the fall of 1970 when Brooks County was opened to deer hunting. On a crisp November afternoon, Duren was situated at the edge of a large grown-up clearing a quarter of a mile from the Little River when, shortly before dark, he saw an enormous buck walk out of the woods approximately 200 yards away. The combination of distance and late-evening light made the shot opportunity extremely difficult, but when he pulled the trigger the big whitetail hit the ground.
Extremely excited and also afraid that the buck might get back up, Duren ran all the way across the clearing. However, the big deer was already dead by the time the hunter reached its location. After taking a few moments to admire the awesome buck, he left to get help.
Later that evening, with the assistance of a neighbor, Sammy Vickery, Duren attempted to weigh the giant deer. However, the scales quickly bottomed out at their capacity of 300 pounds. The men estimated that the deer probably weighed at least 40 to 50 pounds above that mark.
While there is no way of knowing, it is interesting to speculate whether or not the buck Duren shot was the same giant whitetail he had seen in previous years when there was no deer season. The inclination is to say there surely couldn’t have been two bucks of such an enormous size in the same river bottom. However, with the combination of excellent habitat, an expanding deer population, no hunting, and a number of upper-age-class bucks in the population, anything is possible!
The buck was mounted and hung in Duren’s home, but nothing else was done in terms of documenting the size of the deer or its rack. However, it should be noted that at this particular time, Georgia deer hunting was in its infancy. As mentioned previously, the state was still involved with deer restoration efforts and hunters were adapting and learning about this new game animal. For most, record books and antler measuring were stil
l unknowns. Consider, for example, that another 13 years would go by before the Georgia Wildlife Federation’s first Buckarama.
Many years later, Duren moved the mounted buck to a hardware store that he owned in Lake Park. It would be a gross understatement to say that the deer attracted a lot of attention, especially from out-of-state travelers on nearby Interstate 75. Several attempted to buy the mount, but he always declined their offers.
Tragically, within a short few months during 1997 and 1998, both Duren and his son, Pate, were killed in separate vehicle accidents on State Highway 133 in Brooks County. Following this very difficult period, the mounted deer was eventually moved to the Ford dealership in Valdosta.
Understandably, the giant buck was more than just a hunting trophy to Duren’s family, and whether or not the antlers had record book potential was totally irrelevant. Fudge was well aware of this fact, but was careful to explain the significance of the deer’s size in relation to where it had been taken. Plus, he emphasized that both Duren and the buck deserved a chance for recognition on Georgia’s all-time list of record whitetails. He also offered to make arrangements for the antlers to be officially measured and, if the family was interested, have the rack remounted.
Some time later, Fudge received a phone call from Everett, who told him that his family had discussed the situation and they had decided to accept his offer to have the buck measured and remounted. At his convenience, he could stop by the dealership and pick up the deer mount.
Fudge wasted no time in making arrangements to have the rack officially measured. The results of that scoring session confirmed his initial estimate of the buck’s size.
From an appearance standpoint, the rack is outstanding in terms of width and overall size. This can be directly attributed to extraordinary main beams that tape 31 and 31 6/8 inches. No other whitetail in Georgia’s records can match these measurements. Additionally, the beams hook out and then forward to form impressive antler spreads of 24 2/8 inches outside and 21 5/8 inches inside.
The antlers form a basic 6×6 typical frame, which matches up very well in side-to-side symmetry. Average tine length is the rack’s only weakness; however, this may be a poor choice of words considering overall antler size. Nevertheless, the two longest tines tape only 8 6/8 inches, whereas most bucks with racks of this class often have tines in the 10- to 12-inch range. Antler mass is also impressive, with all eight circumference measurements exceeding 4 2/8 inches.
In scoring, the 12-point frame grosses a whopping 185 4/8 and nets, after minor asymmetry deductions, a great total of 182 1/8. Although the rack has a basic typical growth pattern, also present are 13 1/8 inches of abnormal points. Subtracting these would drop the final typical score just below 170, the minimum qualifying score for Boone and Crockett’s (B&C) all-time record book. However, by adding the abnormal inches, thereby changing the buck’s category to non-typical, the final score is 195 2/8, which does qualify for the B&C record book. Amazingly, the huge rack came within an inch of making the all-time record book in both trophy categories. This does not imply that should a whitetail qualify in both typical and non-typical trophy categories, it may be entered in both. Normally the highest entry score is the deciding factor.
In addition to qualifying for B&C’s awards and all-time record books, Duren’s great whitetail also stands as the top non-typical buck ever taken in Brooks County and the third biggest to come from a Florida-border county. In addition, it ranks No. 28 on Georgia’s all-time list of non-typical whitetails.
In fact, only 10 years ago, Edwin Massey of Sylvester produced a huge typical 10-point rack he had found while quail hunting some 30 years earlier. Massey found the rack in 1962, one year before Worth was scheduled to have an open deer season. Scoring 175 3/8 B&C, it currently ranks as the county’s top typical whitetail.
The fall following Massey’s discovery, on Nov. 13, 1963, approximately 20 hunters from Tift and Worth counties gathered for a deer hunt on the Marcus Evans farm west of TyTy.
During the hunt, J.L. Pritchard of Omega downed a monster 12-point whitetail estimated to top the 300-pound mark. The area’s first deer hunt was big news, and a photo with several members of the hunting group, including Evans and Pritchard, plus the 12-point buck and an additional 11-pointer, appeared on the front page of Tifton’s newspaper, The News Examiner.
After having the impressive rack mounted, Pritchard gave it to Evans, a banker, who placed it in his office at the old Citizens Bank location in Tifton. Several years later, Evans took the mount with him when he retired. Eventually, the deer was handed down to Evans’ grandson, also named Marcus, and in recent years the mount has hung on the wall of his office at the Georgia Peanut Commission in Tifton.
While on a visit to the commission, Jimmy Byrd, a taxidermist from nearby Sycamore, happened to see the old mount and strongly encouraged Evans to have the antlers officially measured and then helped arrange getting the measuring done. Antler statistics resulting from that session are impressive.
Without question, tine length stands out as the rack’s most outstanding feature. For example, after identical 5-inch brows, the paired G-2 tines tape an amazing 15 and 14 5/8 inches, followed by G-3s of 13 2/8 and 13 1/8 inches. Additionally, main beam measurements are 26 4/8 and 25 3/8 inches, but the inside spread is rather narrow, at 16 inches.
Unfortunately, the growth pattern of some racks seems to defy most rules of measuring. Although the 6×5 frame grosses a superb total of 177 5/8, significant asymmetry deductions, plus a 4 6/8-inch abnormal point, drops the final typical B&C score to 162 2/8. Nevertheless, this qualifies the buck for B&C’s awards record book, an honor that would surely have made J.L. Pritchard and Marcus Evans proud.
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