Alabama hunting seasons come and go, but the consistency of trophy deer produced in the state remains constant. The 2017-18 hunting season was no different.
“As far as trophies are concerned, last year was probably at least an average year, maybe even a little above average,” said Michael Smith, co-owner of Alabama Whitetail Records(www.alabamawhitetailrecords.com).
Unlike 2016-17, when several deer that scored around 200 composite points fell in and around Bankhead National Forest in north Alabama, state hunters didn’t harvest anything approaching that magical mark last season. At least no deer of that size had been officially scored or had even generated any social media buzz.
“Overall numbers are really hard to determine until we get all the paperwork in,” Smith said. “I haven’t looked at all of our entries closely, but I do know that they have been coming in regularly. Based on that, it seems like we had another good year for trophies in Alabama.”
NO. 1 FOR 2017-2018
Clanton hunter Greg Owens didn’t know what awaited him on his Autauga County lease when he arrived with his son, Zach, on Thanksgiving morning. Along with other family members, Owens had leased and hunted the south-central property for about four years, killing several quality bucks in the 130 and 140 range in that time.
Owens had previously seen a good deer on the north end of the property, and he headed that direction while his son went south. Perched on a climbing stand, Owens passed the morning watching a few does feeding across the 100-acre clearcut.
“I had gotten in there about 5:30,” Owens said. “The does had disappeared by about 8 o’clock, and I was starting to get ready to get down. I was going to walk up some of the ridges around me and see if I could jump one.”
About that time, the stillness of the morning was interrupted by a crash to the right of the ridge on which Owens was sitting.
“That big ol’ buck came off that ridge and down past some ladder stands that I had on the ridge opposite me,” Owens said. “He came down through there wide open. I could tell he was a big, heavy-horned buck but couldn’t tell how many points.”
Although Owens expected the buck to stop, something had clearly spooked the deer. Running almost at full speed, it was crossing the open space at an alarming rate for Owens, who could see the deer at intervals as it came off the ridge, crossed the flat below and topped another small ridge.
“I pulled down on him and shot,” Owens said. “He slowed down to a fast walk. I got him back in the scope again, and he had his head down walking.”
The buck moved toward the relative safety of the top of a big hickory tree that had broken off, and Owens took a second shot.
Owens looked for the deer on a nearby hillside, which also provided him a good look on the acreage below. Only after he returned to the deer’s path did he find evidence of a good hit.
The drama didn’t last long. Owens found his trophy near its location at the time of the second shot. He started counting points and finally got to 25.
“Country boys like me count anything that sticks out,” Owens said. “I couldn’t believe I had shot a deer with 25 points. I never knew anything like that was around.”
The deer had 22 measureable points and scored a composite score of 189 and 179 3/8 Boone and Crockett points.
“I’ve killed a lot of deer and never got shook up bad. When I got to that one, my heart was pumping and my knees were shaking. I’ve killed something here that I’ve never seen before. It’s something you dream of.”
NORTH ALABAMA MONSTER
Will Little knew that a monster was using family property near the Mount Hope community on the Lawrence-Franklin line in northwest Alabama.
Nearby public areas in Bankhead, which includes Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area, had yielded some freakishly big deer through the years. The big deer that Little eventually killed had first appeared on game cameras three years before.
“We knew there was a giant running around up here,” Little said. “He was actually a lot bigger last year, so he was kind of going down at 6 1/2 years old. Right before bow season, my dad and I started getting more daytime pictures. It seemed like he was getting older and really didn’t care anymore.”
Little had the deer in view three times last season, first on the opening day of bow season, later in early December and finally the day after Christmas.
“On the opening day of bow season, it came out at 80 yards,” Little said. “It never came closer, and I couldn’t get a shot. That was on one side of our property. Then it disappeared for a few weeks, and we thought somebody had shot him or he had just gone away.”
Little hunted a different part of the 120-acre tract in early December. He had a good shot at about 200 yards, but his gun misfired. By the time Little ejected the misfire and bolted in a fresh round, the deer was running and offered only a fleeting shot.
It soon reappeared behind the Little home in a jungle of cover created by the 2011 tornadoes that ravaged the area. The tornado ran a deadly path through the Mount Hope community but eventually created a quiet, safe haven for deer.
“Dad got some pictures behind the shop in some pines that had grown up after the tornadoes, a place we never hunt, never even thought about hunting,” Little said. “I told him, ‘I’ll kill this deer before the year is over.’ He said, ‘Not if I get him first.’”
Based on pictures, Little patterned the deer and realized it was traveling in the thick stuff regularly despite the proximity to buildings and people.
On the day after Christmas, Little got in a tripod behind his house and used a doe bleat and a grunt call to coax him out. The giant appeared quickly, emerging only 40 yards away and offering a broadside shot. A round from Little’s Browning 30-06 dropped it on the spot.
“I didn’t even have time to get nervous it happened so quickly,” Little said. “It was an ideal situation and would have been a perfect bow kill. The third time did the charm.”
The deer challenged Owens’ buck as the biggest from Alabama for last season.
“We’ve killed plenty of 9 and 10 points on the property,” Little said. “My dad has seen some even bigger ones, but they are probably smarter than we are. It was easily the biggest one I’ve ever killed.”
The deer, with 20 measureable points, scored 188 3/8 non-typical and 166 2/8 Buckmasters.
THE GHOST GOES DOWN
Will Davis regularly hunts club land in Shelby County and was in pursuit of an oft-pictured deer named Captain Hook late last season. Little did Davis know that by the end of January 31, he would have killed an even more famous deer.
“We’ve been hunting this deer actually for five years,” Davis said. “We had him on camera, and neighbors had him on camera. We got a few daytime pictures, but mostly they came at night. We nicknamed him The Ghost.”
A slight illness kept Davis home most of the last day of the month. As such, he didn’t get in his stand until around 3 p.m.
Davis, of Sylacauga, had fixed his stand over an old fire break not far from the Coosa River. The immediate area was thick with brush. His hope was for the deer to emerge in a clearcut about 100 yards away.
“I could see pretty well out away from me, but within 100 yards or closer, it was really thick,” Davis said. “I was sitting on top of a ridge overlooking that road and looking out over the clearcut.”
Davis definitely wasn’t expecting The Ghost to materialize, as he thought the deer was using land adjacent to his club.
“I didn’t even know he was on our property,” Davis said. “It’s pretty amazing because less than a week before he was on (game camera) pictures a mile away. Just like that, he was standing under my stand.”
The deer hadn’t grown to trophy size by accident; however. As daylight faded, a big deer came crashing through right underneath his stand.
Expecting Captain Hook, he was surprised to see an even bigger rack on this buck when it came into view only a few yards away. Even more unusual to Davis, it avoided the clearcut and took a stealthy rout through the thick cover.
“The rut was on, but he wasn’t chasing anything,” Davis said. “I couldn’t see anything it was so thick in there. I couldn’t even get a glimpse of him until he got right up under me. I shot him straight down and he dropped like a rock. I called my dad, but I really had no idea what I had killed.”
Davis didn’t realize that he had dropped The Ghost until he put a light on him. The deer, which totaled 154 3/9 typical and 168 1/8 non-typical points, had 15 measureable points.
“I was expecting something else, but I saw it was The Ghost and I was tickled to death,” Davis said. “Everybody around had been trying to kill that deer.”
With several years of experience as a taxidermist and even more years judging deer on the ground, including a big Texas buck, Davis says he can fairly accurately determine age.
“I would say he was at least nine years old and maybe even 10,” Davis said. “That’s why he wasn’t rutting and only weighed about 150 pounds, even with all that mass. He was worn down with age. His old hooves curved up like an elf he was so old. He wasn’t rutting but something got him excited there for a minute. Maybe Captain Hook was in there.
“He was a true trophy deer. I killed a 147 in Texas, but I’ve never seen a deer of this magnitude in Alabama.”
New App Gives Hunters An Edge
One tech tool that provides hunters even greater chances in the field is the onX Hunt mapping system. Compatible with Garmin GPS units and also available for download to smartphones, onX Hunt provides a litany of options, which is available free for a seven-day trial.
The mapping system features both online and offline capabilities.
It offers an array of maps for Alabama, including private lands (plus names of property owners), public lands, possible access, Forever Wild tracts, deer management units, or any combination of the five.
To experiment, I scanned public lands in north Alabama and saved the Lauderdale Wildlife Management Area map. It provided the same features for both online and offline versions.
The only problem appeared to be consistency of names that loaded. Some of the more obscure WMAs did not appear under their given name, although they were included among the public options.
Otherwise, the app worked flawlessly and quickly, offering hunters another valuable accessory for this deer season.