A mature trophy whitetail buck is one of the most sought-after game animals in hunting, as well as one of the hardest to consistently bag. Georgia has its share of large-antlered deer but killing one can be quite the challenge.
The Georgia Big Deer Contest tracks trophy bucks taken each season and has four categories — typical and non-typical firearms and typical and non-typical archery killed bucks.
Hunters who harvest bucks in the most recent deer season submit their buck after it is scored on the Boone and Crockett scoring system. This system, which is a compilation of the total inches of antlers, must meet a minimum score for each category. For typical gun kills the minimum score is 145, non-typical gun is 170, typical archery is 120 and non-typical archery is 150 inches.
For the 2017-18 season, the top four bucks were Glenn Garner’s 161 7/8-inch typical bow buck from Harris County, a 193 7/8-inch non-typical archery monster by Lee Ellis from Fulton County, a 160 4/8-inch Wilcox County typical rifle kill by Matthew Stubbs and a 174 4/8-inch Wilkinson County non-typical gun kill by Phil Mills.
Though those four were the biggest from Georgia last season, many more were taken that were also considered trophies. Of those, the number taken by hunters under 20 years old were fewer, and represent a fantastic accomplishment.
On opening day of firearms season, October 21, 8-year-old Slaton Will of Social Circle was hunting with his dad, Ted, on family land in Troup County. Slaton had killed a deer in each of the last three seasons, but had not yet taken a trophy.
His older brother, 18-year-old Jackson, had taken a 100-class 9-pointer with his bow the week before. Set up in his climbing stand in a hardwood bottom, Jackson heard the sounds of running and grunting deer. He grunted to the buck.
“He came walking right to me,” Jackson recalled. “He was bowed up and ready to fight. I saw horns and I knew I was fixing to shoot. I was shaking and my heart was beating fast.”
He took a 35-yard shot and the buck ran into a thicket of vines where the arrow pulled out. The buck then emerged from the thicket and stood there bewildered at 28 yards. So Jackson shot him again. This time the arrow passed through the shoulder, and the deer dropped 15 yards later.
With the Will family already having one good buck on the ground, Slaton and his dad set up in a blind in some hardwoods in the morning but saw nothing. That afternoon they returned to the same blind and after a short while they both decided to move. They drove to another spot on the property, a long food plot with a creek in the middle. They saw a doe already in the plot and pondered taking her but decided to wait for a buck.
The pair set up in a box stand with the wind in their face and waited for action. They later heard a deer blow followed by a coyote cutting across the field. With the sun going down, they felt the wind shift and knew they had to move to give themselves a chance. They decided to move a third time to a box stand across the field putting the wind back in their face.
“Thirty minutes before dark, a buck steps out and I knew it was a shooter,” Ted Will said.
Slaton put the crosshairs of his .243 on the buck and fired. The deer bucked at the shot and bolted. However, they felt good about the shot.
By now it was past dark and they recruited two more family members and began tracking. The blood trail was decent at first but dwindled into sporadic specks. After tracking for 2.5 hours, they resorted to Plan B, calling Justin Strickland of Manchester, who brought two tracking dogs.
The dogs, a chocolate and a black lab, followed the spoor another 200 yards and located and surrounded the buck. Slaton’s shot was bit back, clipping the lung, so he finished off his trophy with a final shot.
After three stand changes, hours of fruitless tracking and calling in tracking dogs, the young hunter finally claimed his trophy. The buck was a mature, 130-class 8-pointer with tall tines, a handsome trophy for any hunter, but especially for an 8-year-old.
Tyler Meeks is a 15-year-old high school sophomore with an impressive tally of bucks to his credit. Two years ago, he killed a 10-pointer that scored 153. He has taken over 20 deer in his young career including several bow kills. His first deer ever, bagged when he was only 5, was a 130-class buck that won a youth contest at a sporting goods store. It earned him a $3,000 gift certificate, which he used to buy a shotgun, bow and tree stand among other things.
Tyler hunts in Pulaski County along the Ocmulgee River. He hunts with his dad and granddad.
“We’ve been carrying him ever since he’s been old enough to go,” said Troy Meeks. “He’s got a love for it, he’s either hunting with me or his granddaddy.”
They hunt on private land owned by four hunters, which they manage judiciously and only take what they consider to be mature trophy bucks. It has paid off with Tyler and other family members collecting some very nice trophies. His brother bagged a 160-class buck there in 2014.
The 2017 deer season was turning out very well for Tyler who had taken two does with his bow and a nice 9-pointer. So by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, the young hunter had one buck tag left on a successful season.
But Tyler and Troy were out hunting on the chilly Thanksgiving morning last season overlooking a food plot that was planted in corn with some cotton in the back. The father/son team was posted about 500 yards apart on different ends of the food plot. About 8:45 a.m., dad got a text.
“Tyler texted that he sees a big buck out in the field but hasn’t got a shot at it yet,” Troy recalled.
The buck was out in the field in full rut, hard on the tail of a doe. Nothing brings out the mature bucks like the rut and when they catch the scent of the right doe, the chase is on and nothing will deter them. That was the case here and the constant chasing made it difficult for the young hunter to get the crosshairs on the buck.
The nervous frustration escalated for Tyler as he watched the trophy buck run around for 20 anxious minutes. Back and forth the buck continued chasing the doe, not presenting the young hunter with an acceptable shot.
Finally, the buck stopped long enough for a shot. Tyler was able to line up his crosshairs on buck’s shoulder and pull the trigger. It was a long shot, especially for a teenager, and measured out at approximately 175 yards.
“At 9:15, I heard a shot, and then another,” Troy said. “My phone went to ringing really quick after that.”
The buck made it about 30 yards and collapsed, Tyler had now filled his second buck tag with a 10-pointer that scored 159 inches gross and netted 149. Interestingly, they had pictures of the buck on trail camera before the season but only at night. The buck is destined to hang on the wall of the Meek’s home along with their other trophies.
Corbin Vaughn and his dad Steven live in Ball Ground and hunt in Meriwether County. Their hunting property, Little Creek Club, is an 880-acre trophy club with a buck needing to be 125 inches to be harvested. They do allow young hunters to shoot any legal buck as their first one, but Corbin no longer qualified because he had taken his first buck, a 10-pointer, in 2016.
Entering the 2017 season, Corbin was 10 years old and still hunting alongside his dad. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and the pair was set up in a double ladder stand that overlooked a long narrow food plot. The plot was planted in Durana Patriot Clover Mix, stretching 90 yards long but fairly narrow.
This location had been good to the Vaughns, as dad had killed a 10-pointer on it earlier that season. Being a trophy club, they passed on younger bucks to give them the chance to grow to maturity.
On that brisk late November morning, the pair sat peered down the food plot hoping and searching for antlers.
“At 8 a.m., a buck walks out at 80 yards and I could tell that he was really big,” remembered Steven. “I looked through my binoculars and had to decide if it was big enough.”
He discerned it was and Corbin raised his .243 for the shot. It was at an angle toward the hunters and the shot hit toward the back.
“The buck stiffened up, fell over, then got up and ran off,” Steven said. “I was feeling sketchy about it. I had never seen one react that way.”
They gave it a half hour then got down to look. Finding blood, they followed it about 30 yards then decided to back out thinking it may be gut shot, requiring an arduous tracking job.
Four hours later they returned to the track, but this time they had David and Cindy Helmly and their tracking dog, Savoy. The dog went right to it, though the buck had bedded several times, left very little blood and traveled about 300 yards.
“I was very amazed,” Steven said. “It would have been hard to find otherwise.”
When the group saw the buck, they were extremely happy and proud.
“I was surprised when I saw how big it was,” Corbin said. “I was feeling okay, but afterwards I started shaking. I was so glad when I finally got my hands on a monster buck.”
The buck was 130-class, 8-pointer that is now mounted in the Vaughn’s house. They got trail camera photos of the buck a week before he was shot, and it was caught on camera in the same food plot the night before.
The future of hunting lies in taking youngsters out into the woods and here are three examples of dads who have done that. If you have the opportunity, take a youth hunting with you, and maybe they’ll bag a trophy like these kids.
2017 GEORGIA BIG DEER CONTEST WINNERS
TYPICAL FIREARMS CATEGORY
November 11, 2017
160 4/8 B&C
NON-TYPICAL FIREARMS CATEGORY
October 25, 2017
174 4/8 B&C
TYPICAL ARCHERY CATEGORY
October 13, 2017
161 7/8 P&Y
NON-TYPICAL ARCHERY CATEGORY
November 16, 2017
193 7/8 P&Y