As usual, the Peach State surrendered a number of outstanding whitetails to archers last season. For your consideration: the best of those from South Georgia. (September 2008)
Eric Flowers' Johnson County buck scored 154 P&Y. It's the top archery typical taken in the state last season
Photo courtesy of Eric Flowers.
For the most part, hunters are a benevolent lot. While intensely competitive with one another, most are more than willing to help out their friends when asked. What are the odds, however, that the two largest bow kills in South Georgia last season were the result of one hunter offering his tree stand to his hunting buddy for an afternoon hunt and another archer loaning a bow to his pal the evening before the season opened? Here are their stories.
THE FLOWERS BUCK
Twenty-eight-year-old Eric Flowers glanced at the dashboard thermometer as he parked his truck. It read 90 degrees -- not too unusual for Sept. 9 in Johnson County, but considerably warmer than the Lilburn resident was used to on the second day of archery season. Nevertheless, he grabbed his bow and headed for a stand of the lock-on type that was situated in a group of pines between two woods roads and facing an old logging deck. By 4:45 p.m. the camouflage-clad archer was settled in the stand, compound bow hanging ready within arm's reach. Because of the heat and the time of the day, his expectations were low.
"I sat down," Flowers recalled, "and started playing an electronic game on my cell phone. It's something that keeps me still and occupied when I'm not really expecting anything to happen."
On the other hand, he had reason to be somewhat optimistic. Even though Flowers and seven of his friends had leased the 576-acre south Georgia farm just weeks earlier and had scouted the property only once prior to opening weekend, the habitat appeared excellent. A mixture of upland pines, cropland, hay and bottomland hardwoods, it reportedly it had been lightly hunted in recent years.
"We didn't know that buck I shot was there," Eric admitted, "but we had been seeing some good tracks, especially one track of a large deer that a neighboring property owner told us about that had a right front hoof that curled and made a distinct track. We called him 'Crooked Toe' and were going for him because he was supposed to be a wide 10-pointer."
While some of his buddies had seen a few deer from their stands in the upland areas during their Saturday hunts and on Sunday morning, none of the animals spied had been shooters. Flowers, on the other hand, had seen nothing from his stand down in the creek bottom, and he was ready for a change. All of the hunters were somewhat discouraged, but Flowers and two of his friends, Ernie Dorough and Jamie Frye, decided to stay and give it one more try before heading home.
"We were just sitting around during the day on Sunday and Jamie and Ernie decided they wanted to go sit in the creek bottom that evening," Flowers recounted. "I had been thinking all day about trying Ernie's stand and told him, if he didn't mind, I would like to sit in his stand. He said 'Go right ahead.'"
Fateful words! Little did Dorough know that a monster buck would walk by the site that afternoon -- and that his buddy would as a result get the opportunity of a lifetime.
"I had been in the stand less than 10 minutes," Flowers said, "when I heard deer walking behind me, over my right shoulder. I stood up, took my bow off the hanger and turned facing the tree. The deer got within 25 yards, and I saw tines coming through the brush. That really blew my mind, because I never thought that, with it 90 degrees at 5:00 p.m., a deer of this size would be coming through the woods."
The buck came on and stopped about 15 yards away, the limbs of a small water oak partly screening Flower's view of it. In the stillness, he could hear another deer walking toward the motionless buck in front of him. Thinking that, typically, big bucks follow smaller bucks, the nervous hunter waited, hoping to get a look at the second buck before committing to the definite shooter in front of him. Seconds later, a 14-inch-wide 8-pointer joined the bigger whitetail, which was now staring right at the anxious archer.
"He took a couple more steps and stopped at 12 yards behind a low bush that was covering most of the vital area behind the shoulder," Flowers continued. "He turned his head for a second and I drew back. He took another step and stood there broadside for at least two minutes. I was holding at full draw the whole time. At that two-minute mark, I knew I either had to let down or make something happen. So I put my knees up on the seat and got up as high as I could where I could shoot over the bushes."
With only the very top of the chest area visible and his muscles starting to twitch from fatigue, the hunter released an arrow, which sliced downward through both lungs. Whirling around, the big whitetail charged out through the pines and across the loading deck, crashing to the ground in thick brush about 45 yards out.
"That's when I got nervous and started shaking," Flowers said. "After I shot him, I might have screamed and danced a little up in the stand. I was excited!"
The pumped-up archer planned to wait about 30 minutes before trying to find the buck. But, confident in his shot, and having heard the deer fall, he was on the ground in fewer than 10 minutes.
"I walked out to the loading deck and picked up his blood trail right there and followed it over into the thicket, maybe 15 yards," he said. "All I saw was tines laying on the ground."
Tines indeed! A main frame 10-pointer with two additional abnormal points, Eric's buck had 24-inch main beams and 4 points that were each 11 inches or more in length, producing a tall, impressive rack. When later measured after the mandatory 60-day drying period, the antlers tallied 163 5/8 inches. Symmetry and abnormal-point deductions reduced the net Pope & Young Club score to 154 -- far in excess of the minimum typical score of 125 required for entry into the P&Y all-time bowhunting record book.
Not only was Flowers' buck the first P&Y ever taken in Johnson County, but it's tied for No. 9 on Georgia's list of all-time best bow bucks as well. It was also the largest typical bow kill in the state last season, making it the winner of the Typical Archery category of the 2007 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 bow and arrow and firearms each year.
"Everyone still ribs Ernie about me using his stand," Flowers reca
lled, "but he says he is happy he was there and that it happened to one of us. But he already told me that, this year, I won't be in his stand opening weekend!"
Apparently benevolence only goes so far.
THE JONES BUCK
It was Sept. 7, the day before the Georgia archery deer season opened. Garrett Jones, a student at Tifton's Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College was heading to his home in Dougherty County for the weekend. The 22-year-old was both anxious and excited.
Anxious because he had found out that his compound bow, left at an archery shop three weeks ago to have new string and cable installed, was not going to be ready for him to pick up. Fortunately, his hunting buddy, Graham Lovett, had an extra bow he could borrow. But he had only a few hours to sight it in before the morning hunt.
On the other hand, excited: Two weeks earlier Jones had located a group of five bachelor bucks using one of the many peanut patches planted for deer on Nilo Plantation, a 11,000-acre quail plantation located a few miles south of the town of Albany. His father, Gerald, is the farm manager on Nilo and Garrett, who was born and raised on the famous plantation, has hunted the land since he was a little boy.
Recent trail camera photos of individuals in the bachelor group indicated that at least two bucks were P&Y-caliber deer. "There was an 8-pointer that had two kickers and an even bigger 8-pointer in velvet," Jones stated. "I told myself that if either one walked by me, that's the one I'd shoot."
As soon as he got home that Friday afternoon, Jones went straight to the woods, and was encouraged by fresh tracks on the trail he planned to watch the next morning. Later that evening, Lovett arrived with the loaner bow, and the two friends made final preparations for their opening day hunt.
"We got up early that morning," Garrett said, "and I took him to his stand about 250 yards south of mine on another trail where we had seen a lot of does. I made a big loop around and parked the truck about 700 yards from the tree I had picked to put my stand."
In the darkness, he threw his climbing stand on his back and began walking. Minutes later he was 30 feet up a tall pine tree overlooking a well-used deer trail leading to the peanut patch some 300 yards to the north. The idea -- which had worked well over the years -- was to intercept the bucks as they returned to their bedding area after feeding on goobers all night long.
Jones sat in the stand nearly 45 minutes before daylight finally began creeping into the open pinewoods. Earlier, he had heard deer "blowing" south of him and worried that the swirling breeze had carried his scent to them, perhaps ruining his chances for the morning. Facing the trail, he looked at his watch.
"It was around 7:30," he said, "and just getting light enough to shoot. I was thinking the deer should be here now."
All of a sudden, a buck appeared in the trail about 150 yards away. As the animal browsed casually along the trail, it became apparent that this was the 8-pointer with the 2 kicker points. Following along behind him were two smaller 8-pointers, a decent 9-pointer and the big velvet 8-pointer bringing up the rear. The whole gang was there -- later than anticipated, but there at last, and right on course!
"He came and walked 20 yards from me and stopped," Jones said. " I had my bow ready, looking at him, ready to shoot. Then I looked up the trail one more time and saw the big deer was behind the others."
Torn between taking the shot presented to him by a legitimate record-book deer and waiting on an even larger buck to get within range, the anxious archer gambled that the big velvet whitetail would follow the same path as the others and give him an opportunity. As he watched, the velvet 8-pointer ambled closer and closer.
"He stopped broadside at 20 yards and put his head down," Jones continued. "When he did that, I went ahead and drew my bow, put the sight right where I thought it needed to be and let it go."
With a high kick, the buck turned and ran about 40 yards, but then stopped and looked around almost as if nothing happened. Thinking that he had missed or, at the very least, hit the deer too low, Garrett frantically nocked anther arrow just as the big whitetail and the three smaller bucks decided it was time to kick it into high gear again. Helpless at this point to do anything but watch, the frustrated bowhunter saw the velvet buck slow to a walk, then disappear behind a large tree about 150 yards out.
Jones sat in the stand for an hour, replaying the shot in his head like an endless video tape, trying to decide if he had made a good shot or not. In the end, he was still not sure, but finally got down and drove over to pick up Lovett, who had shot a doe.
Not wanting to push the buck too soon, they returned to the house and met up with Nilo general manager Glenn Paschal and his son Jacob, another one of Garrett's lifelong hunting buddies. After a hearty breakfast, the four of them returned to Jones' stand around 11:00 a.m., found a good blood trail and quickly located the expired buck almost exactly where he had disappeared from sight. The arrow had penetrated both lungs.
Originally estimating that the buck would gross in the mid-130s, Garrett was pleasantly surprised when the very symmetrical 8-pointer netted 145 5/8 P&Y points when officially scored. It was the second-largest typical bow kill in south Georgia last season and, amazingly, one of five P&Y bucks taken at Nilo in 2007 -- of which two were arrowed by Jacob Paschal.
MORE BOW KILLS
As the accompanying chart illustrates, 15 P&Y bucks were downed in the southern part of the state last season.
Next month we'll cover the best bow bucks from north Georgia.