As the popularity of archery hunting increases, Peach State
hunters continue to bring in impressive bucks such as these -- last season's best from South Georgia. (September 2007)
David Byrd's Lee County buck scored 156 5/8 P&Y points and was the largest taken by bow in the state last season. Leesburg taxidermist Grayson Roberts created the mount.
Photo by Steve Ruckel.
Often, running late can lead to bad things -- a couple of speeding tickets from my youth immediately come to mind.
But sometimes tardiness produces wonderful and unexpected results. Such was the case for David Byrd last deer season.
Byrd, the 42-year-old general manager of a 10,000-acre farming and dairy operation in northern Lee County, has hunted the family-owned property since he was in the seventh grade. Much of the farm is composed of pasture and cropland interspersed with stands of planted pines, all of it divided by hardwood bottoms associated with Kinchafoonee, Muckalee and Muckaloochee creeks. The excellent habitat couples with trophy genes among the local whitetails and a very low buck harvest of only three or four bucks each year to make for hunting opportunity that most can only dream about.
Like many youngsters, Byrd took his first deer by rifle, but after harvesting a number of trophies in succeeding years, the hunter became interested in the additional challenge that archery hunting afforded. David Campbell, a longtime college friend, is credited with really stoking Byrd's bowhunting fever.
A number of does and four small-to-medium bucks have fallen to Byrd's broadheads, but nothing remotely approaching the 153 7/8-inch bruiser he downed with a rifle back in 1994 -- not until this past season, that is!
Not surprisingly, the first week of the 2006 South Georgia bow season found afternoon temperatures still hovering in the 90s. It was miserably hot, especially for afternoon hunting, but that was what Byrd had been doing since opening day on Sept. 9. A peanut field on a distant part of the farm was drawing a crowd of deer every evening, including some shooter bucks that Byrd had been seeing regularly. Unfortunately, he had yet to get one in range of his compound bow, in spite of four evenings of being in the field.
On the afternoon of Sept. 13, Byrd rushed home to change into his hunting clothes after getting delayed at work. Thinking that by the time he got over to his stand on the peanut field the deer might already be out munching on the goobers he decided to call his buddy David Campbell and ask his advice about where to go. "David said, 'Why don't you hunt that stand close to your house where you saw the big buck?'" he recalled.
Why that hadn't occurred to him was a momentary mystery that washed right out of his mind as he grabbed his bow and headed for his ATV. The image of a huge 8-pointer that he'd seen several times during the summer and fall of 2005 now reappeared in his memory. Along with two other bucks that always seemed to run with it, the big buck hung out in an area only a few hundred yards from Byrd's house.
As if in a cerebral slide show, that image was followed by another of a massive 10-pointer still in velvet that Byrd and his son, Austin, had jumped from the same area while they'd been mowing strips through a fallow field just two weeks before.
The big buck, accompanied by two smaller ones, looked like the same deer he had seen last year -- but now it was larger. A day or two later Byrd had placed a ladder stand against a large pine on the mowed strip exactly where the buck had been standing.
The sound of the Polaris ATV roaring to life brought Byrd back into the present. Still thinking about the velvet buck, he drove to within 200 yards of the stand, parked and dismounted. It was already past 6:30 p.m. "When I stepped into the mowed strip to walk to my stand," Byrd said, "there was a small buck standing down there right by my stand."
Having seen the sweating archer, the buck immediately ran off. Discouraged, Byrd was tempted to turn around and go home, but decided to go ahead and get in the stand. Overlooking an old field grown up in scrub oaks and honeysuckle, the stand was about 5 yards off one of the mowed strips and not far from a faint trail coming out of an adjacent stand of pines.
"I hadn't been there 20 minutes," Byrd recalled, "when I looked at the trail in front of me and saw a 7-point buck coming through that thick honeysuckle. He walked out into the mowed strip, turned, and stopped right in front of me. Since he wasn't big enough to shoot, I just sat there with my bow across my lap, watching him for a little while."
Cautiously glancing back toward the trail, Byrd suddenly spotted a massive set of velvet-covered antlers motionless in the trail. Instantly, he knew: This was the one he'd been waiting for. "He stood there a long time as I stared at him and counted his 10 points," the hunter said.
Meanwhile the 7-pointer stood like a statue, plainly ready to explode into motion at any second. The velvet buck, quartering toward the anxious archer and surrounded by brush, offered no shot.
"It seemed like he stood there forever," Byrd recalled. "Then he finally started moving down the trail, turning his rack sideways to get it through the briars."
When the deer reached the mowed strip, the big buck ambled right out in front of the stand and Byrd slowly raised his bow. As he started to draw, something in the background caught his eye: another nice buck -- coming down the same trail!
He realized in a flash that these were the same three bucks that he'd previously seen together. But Byrd paid the third buck little attention, having already focused on the prize standing broadside at only 12 yards.
"About the time I was going to draw," Byrd said, " I glanced down at the 7-pointer; he looked right at me and stomped his foot. When he did that, I drew back, put the 20-yard pin a little low on the big buck and shot."
The arrow found its mark, and the buck spun around and crashed back down the trail on which it had come in, followed closely by the other two bucks. Byrd remained in the stand for a few minutes, trying to collect his composure.
"I wasn't really nervous when the whole thing was happening," he said, "but after I shot him, I kind of fell apart. I thought I had killed a world record deer!"
Certain that he'd hit the buck in a vital area, Byrd decided to giv
e the animal some time before following the trail. He got down, drove back to the house and enlisted the help of his brother and a friend to help track the buck. Back at the stand about an hour later, they had little trouble finding the fallen trophy by the edge of some planted pines some 75 yards away. "When I walked up on him," Byrd noted, "I knew he was a 160-class deer."
That assessment turned out to be pretty accurate. The typical 10-point rack, velvet-covered, had an inside spread of 21 3/8 inches. Points were fairly evenly matched, with exceptional G-2 and G-3 tines measuring from 10 1/8 to 12 3/8 inches each. Measured after the mandatory 60-day drying period required for the Pope & Young Club's record book for outstanding bow kills, the rack grossed 162 inches. Following symmetry subtractions of 5 3/8 inches, the net score was 156 5/8 P&Y, thus far surpassing the minimum score of 125 necessary for a typical rack to be included in the P&Y book.
Byrd's big whitetail was the best bow buck ever taken in Lee County and ranks as the No. 5 best ever recorded in Georgia. It was also the largest typical bow kill in the state last season, making it the winner of the Typical Archery category of the 2006 Georgia Big Deer Contest. Sponsored jointly by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Sportsman, and the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association, the contest recognizes the best bucks taken by archery tackle and firearms each year.
Another outstanding buck was arrowed on Sept. 9 by 25-year-old real estate agent, Jeff Fulford of Albany. Like the Byrd buck, it too was taken in southwest Georgia of county of Lee, long known for its record-book whitetails. Oddly enough, however, the county hasn't produced many P&Y bucks.
Though relatively young, Fulford is by no means inexperienced, having downed three other bucks by means of his compound bow on the same property in the past few years. One of those -- an 8-pointer he shot in 2004 -- made the P&Y record book with a score of 127 6/8.
The land Fulford hunts, which belongs to a friend's dad, lies in the northeast portion of the county. Although it's only 65 acres of planted pines, pasture and broom sedge, it's bordered on one side by a large tract of hardwoods, and virtually no hunting goes on anywhere around the property.
A small opening not far from the hardwoods is planted in ladino clover, a deer magnet during the summer and early fall; acorns dropping from the two large live oaks anchoring the center of the food plot offer an additional attraction. Pre-season scouting had shown that multiple deer had been coming into the food plot every afternoon at almost the same time.
"Honestly, I probably would not have gone on opening day because of how hot it was," Fulford stated, "but I had been getting pictures of a very large buck on my Cam Tracker for the past three weeks. Actually, I got some photos of what I believe to be the same deer two years ago, when he was an 8-pointer."
By 4:15 p.m. Jeff had walked some 250 yards from his truck to the 16-foot ladder stand that he had attached to one of the live oaks in the food plot. Nestled within tree's spreading limbs, the stand afforded a good view of the opening, plus a well-worn trail entering from the hardwoods.
"I had been sitting there about 45 minutes, and I started hearing deer coming through the hardwoods," Fulford recalled. "That place is one that, when you see the first deer, you better get ready, because they usually start coming out one after another."
Sure enough, a doe and two fawns meandered into the clover, followed shortly by another doe and a small 4-pointer. As they fed on the lush legume, looking like contented Holsteins, a 6-pointer joined them moments later.
"I had already stood up in the stand and hooked my release on the string," Fulford continued, "and, all of a sudden, I hear footsteps behind me. When I turned and cut my eyes around, I could see that it was -- the big 10-pointer 5 five yards from the tree I was in."
The buck ambled on past the tree and started feeding well within range along with the other deer. The problem now was that some of the deer had become alert and seemed to be looking right at the hunter, even though the big buck seemed oblivious to what was going on.
"That's the most nervous I've ever been in my life," Fulford confessed, "knowing I'm going to have to draw back to shoot, but can't, because the other deer were watching me."
After a few anxious minutes, most of the other deer began working their way back into the woods -- all except for the 10-pointer and one of the smaller bucks, by then a mere 10 feet from the base of the stand. After what seemed an eternity, the smaller buck turned to follow the already departed deer, and the master of the patch lifted its head and began to move in the same direction. At 20 yards, fortunately, it stopped briefly.
"It was one of those now-or-never deals," Fulford said. "I drew back, settled the pin right behind his shoulder and released. I was really shook up, but I thought I made a good shot."
After watching the buck run off -- low to the ground, its tail tucked -- Fulford waited in the stand for 30 more minutes. He then got down, retrieved his arrow and followed the ample blood trail a few yards before deciding to give the deer another hour before tracking him.
It was dark when the archer returned to the trail, flashlight in hand. By 10:00 p.m. his dad, Ed Fulford, had joined the search. What had started out as a slam-dunk retrieval soon became to feel like an airball, as the blood trail totally vanished after about 200 yards. Following 30 minutes of random searching, the duo was ready to give up and come back the next day when they stumbled upon the buck, dead in the middle of the mowed road that led to their truck.
The trophy's beautifully symmetrical rack had good mass, 10 better-than-average points and traces of fresh blood on the beams from just shedding its velvet. When later measured, the rack grossed 144 7/8 and netted 140 5/8 P&Y points, making it the No. 3 bow buck from South Georgia last season and the second-best ever from Lee County.
In total, nine P&Y bucks were arrowed in the southern part of the state last season -- and next month we'll cover the best bow kills from North Georgia.