Last month we looked at a number of outstanding whitetails taken in the Peach State last season -- but there are more! These non-typicals were downed by firearms hunters in 2007. (December 2008)
Matt Joiner's 20-point non-typical buck from Mitchell County scored 179 4/8 B&C points, including 49 2/8 inches of abnormal antler growth. Taxidermy by Grayson Roberts.
Photo by Bill Cooper.
Over the years, southwest Georgia's Flint River corridor has produced an extraordinary list of big whitetails. Virtually every county bordering the stream has recorded one or more record-book class bucks, and this includes Dougherty, where river corridor hunting acreage is very limited.
The key connection, of course, is excellent habitat, which includes a diverse mixture of both understory and overstory plant species, not the least of which is mast-producing hardwoods. Another very important factor is that agriculture -- either row crop or pasture -- is within reach of nearly all riverbottom deer populations. Combine these natural and supplemental food sources with an abundance of cover and better than average genetics and the result is an ideal prescription for producing big whitetails.
Obviously, taking a record-class buck in one of these counties is not totally dependent on hunting the river corridor, but unless a hunter has acquired access to plantation properties or some other large-acreage landholding, the task will be much more difficult. Not surprisingly, gaining hunting rights to lands bordering the river is no simple proposition, regardless of the county.
Well aware of the Flint River's connection to big whitetails, brothers Matt and Jay Joiner, avid deer hunters from Albany, took advantage several years ago of an opportunity to acquire a Mitchell County hunting lease along the river corridor. This particular area on the Flint, including both the lease and surrounding properties, is primarily composed of woodlands interspersed with large-acreage pecan orchards.
"About five years ago, the landowners initiated a major timber harvest on the lease" Matt said. "Except for a few scattered big pines, most of the woods were clearcut. There were no trees planted, however. The open cutover was quickly covered in a mixture of volunteer hardwood and pine seedlings."
The resulting ground cover of lush vegetation attracted deer like a magnet, providing the brothers with an ideal observation and hunting location. Unfortunately, by the third season, the tremendous growth of the hardwood and pine saplings began to seriously reduce visibility. By the fourth year, the cutover resembled a jungle.
"Last summer, we hired a guy to bring in a wood chipper and cut several open lanes through the dense undergrowth, particularly around one of our primary stand locations near the river," Matt noted. "Our intent was to convert sections of these lanes to permanent food plots, but last year we simply didn't have enough time to get the sites completely prepared and planted."
From an observation standpoint, the new openings made a remarkable difference. During the early weeks of season, the hunters sighted numerous deer, including several bucks in the 125 or smaller size-class. On the day before Thanksgiving, the brothers arrived at the lease shortly before daybreak. Jay elected to watch one of the pecan orchards, while Matt hunted the river bluff location.
"Around 7:00 o'clock I heard something below my stand and saw a coyote come out of the brush and head off down one of the open lanes," Matt recounted. "I seriously considered shooting, but I really hated to disturb the morning's hunt, especially since it was still very early."
About an hour later, while enjoying the morning and near perfect weather conditions, Matt laid his head back and momentarily closed his eyes in meditation. Within a matter of seconds, after reopening his eyes and looking around, the hunter was shocked to see a large buck standing 100 yards away in one of the newly cut openings.
Amy Freeman of Ashburn bagged this Turner County monster buck. Its non-typical rack scored 176 4/8 B&C. Taxidermy by John Sowell.
Photo by Bill Cooper.
"I wasn't exactly sure of the buck's size or how many points were on the rack, but I definitely knew it was the biggest deer I had ever seen on the lease," Matt said. "Despite having hunted for several years, I immediately forgot every rule in the book regarding proper shooting technique. I wasn't patient, I didn't take the time to maneuver into a comfortable shooting position, and I didn't squeeze the trigger."
At the shot, the big deer whirled around and quickly ran out of sight. Frustrated and upset with himself, Matt climbed out of the stand and began walking to where the buck had been standing, hoping he might find some indication that the deer was hit.
"The lane where I was walking had been cut in a wide curve through that section of the cutover," Matt noted. "As I approached the location, I was able to see much farther down the lane and, to my amazement I spotted the buck again, standing in the open, approximately 100 yards away."
After immediately kneeling down, Matt quickly shouldered his rifle, and fired a second shot at the big deer. In this instance, the buck bolted forward and disappeared into the thick undergrowth.
"Once again, I hurried down the lane to where the deer had been," Matt said. "At that point, I looked down through a narrow opening in the saplings and brush and saw the buck standing about 50 yards away. I could see that my second shot had found its mark, but not wanting to take any chances, I fired again."
After making his way through the thicket to where the deer had fallen, Matt knelt down to examine the buck's antlers. The right side of the rack was sticking up in the air; however, the left antler was hidden underneath the deer and dense ground vegetation.
"I had a difficult time dislodging the antlers from the limbs and vines where the deer was lying," Matt said. "But when I finally managed to get a look at the entire rack, the sight literally took my breath. I couldn't believe the number of points, especially on the left antler."
Matt quickly called Jay and attempted to tell him about the buck, but still being extremely excited, he had a difficult time coming up with the right words. Nevertheless, it didn't take long for his
brother to get there.
"Jay kept telling me to calm down," Matt laughed. "I believe he thought I was probably exaggerating the buck's size, but after he got a look at the rack, he was more excited than I was."
One look at the buck's antlers and it is easy to understand why both brothers were excited. The rack has 20 scorable points, 8 of which comprise the basic typical frame. The 23-inch main beams curve widely outward, forming an impressive antler spread of 23 6/8 inches outside and 18 2/8 inches inside. The back tines (G-2s) exceed 10 inches and the rack exhibits good antler mass. Amazingly, 10 of the 12 abnormal points occur on the left antler, which gives the rack a somewhat unbalanced, but definitely dramatic appearance.
In regard to scoring, the 8-point typical frame grosses 138 7/8 and nets 130 2/8 Boone and Crockett Club points. After adding in the 12 abnormal points, which total a whopping 49 2/8 inches, the buck's final non-typical B&C score is 179 4/8. While this is certainly a great score, it should be noted that the buck had broken at least 5 additional abnormal points off the rack, probably while fighting. Had these been present, the final score could have been significantly higher.
Overall, Joiner's great whitetail ranks as the third biggest non-typical of Georgia's 2007 season. However, it was the top non-typical taken by gun. Within Mitchell County it stands as the No. 3 non-typical ever recorded.
In April, Matt Joiner attended the annual Georgia Outdoor Writers Association's awards banquet at George T. Bagby State Park in Fort Gaines, and was presented a plaque and certificate for taking the best non-typical whitetail in the Firearms Division of the Georgia Big Deer Contest for 2007. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Sportsman, and the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association are joint sponsors of the competition.
Interestingly, Mitchell County also produced its No. 4 all-time non-typical last season. Alexander Kemp of Tifton dropped a massive 13-point buck that scores 176 1/8 B&C. The rack includes a huge 10-point typical frame that grosses 166 2/8 and nets 161. All four of the paired G-2 and G-3 tines measure between 9 2/8 and 11 inches.
AMY FREEMAN'S TURNER COUNTY GIANT
Last fall, when Amy Freeman of Ashburn decided to go deer hunting, it wasn't a spur of the moment decision to try something new. She had previously hunted a number of times with her husband Rex, but that was several years earlier, prior to the arrival of their two sons, Lane and Cody. Now that the boys were a little older, Amy was ready to once again accompany her husband on an occasional hunt.
"I was really ready to get back out in the woods again," Amy said. "For me, hunting is a welcome break to a regimented work schedule. While I enjoy seeing and watching deer, I continue to be amazed at the variety of additional wildlife that can be viewed."
Well before dawn on the second Saturday of the 2007 gun season Rex and Amy drove to a nearby Turner County farm. Being quite familiar with the property's terrain and areas of deer usage, they quietly walked up a small hill to where a 30-acre cotton field bordered a small hayfield.
"After arriving at the location, our plans received a slight setback when we discovered that our stand had been recently damaged and was not usable," Rex said. "Nevertheless, since it was already beginning to get light, we simply sat down on the ground in a patch of broom sedge."
Within minutes of getting settled, the hunters saw the dim silhouette of a buck walk out into the hayfield only several yards away. Unfortunately, there was not enough available light to consider taking a shot.
About an hour later, after Amy had looked through the riflescope at two does, she remarked that the images appeared blurred and handed the gun to Rex. As he was examining and cleaning condensation from the scope's lens, a doe walked out of the cotton field approximately 75 yards away.
Unlike the earlier deer, this doe acted very nervous, repeatedly glancing backward and pausing only occasionally to feed for a few seconds at a time. As Amy continued to watch the deer, a large buck suddenly stepped out of the cotton at the same location where the doe had appeared. Before she had time to reach for the rifle, the big whitetail abruptly turned and looked directly toward the hunters.
"I instantly froze in position, afraid to move a muscle," Amy said. "I'm not sure how long the buck stared at us, but it seemed like an eternity."
When the deer finally turned its head, Amy quickly picked up the rifle, pulled off her facemask so that it wouldn't interfere with sighting, and maneuvered into a solid shooting position. Rex whispered a reminder to put the cross hairs behind the deer's shoulder and to shoot when she was ready.
"At the shot, the buck's legs folded and he literally dropped in his tracks," Rex said. "Considering the deer's size, I was a little surprised. We continued to sit there for a couple of minutes to make sure he wasn't going to get back up."
"Everything happened so quickly, I really never had time to get nervous," Amy explained. "But after Rex and I walked over to where the buck was lying and I saw the deer's size, I became a nervous wreck. To this day, I still have a hard time comprehending that I killed such an unbelievably big buck, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."
The buck's awesome 4x4 typical frame includes 26-inch main beams, an antler spread of 22 3/8 inches outside and 19 inches inside, and three tines measuring between 9 4/8 and 13 6/8 inches. Antler mass is truly exceptional, with 5-inch basal circumferences increasing to more than 7 and 6 inches at the third (H-3) circumference point, midway along the main beam.
The rack's 8-point frame grosses 160, and after adding in two abnormal points, totaling 16 4/8 inches, the gross non-typical score is 176 4/8. Major asymmetry deductions drop the final non-typical score to 160 6/8 B&C.
It should be noted, that to fully appreciate the antler size of Amy's great whitetail, the rack must be seen first hand. Measurements and score are impressive, but they fail to adequately describe the rack's overall appearance, particularly in regard to antler mass. Additionally, the buck's body size was nearly as impressive as its rack, registering an amazing live weight figure of 275 pounds.
JAMIE HALL'S BROOKS COUNTY 16-POINTER
Deer hunting can be magical, frustrating, and everything in between. What makes it so interesting is that no one ever knows where on the spectrum a particular hunt will end up.
Last November Jamie Hall of Quitman had planned to take his daughter on an afternoon deer hunt. When she was unable to go, Hall briefly considered staying home himself, but at the last minute decided to go alone.
The afternoon was uneventful until shortly before dark, when a doe appeared. After watching t
he deer for several minutes, the hunter decided that it would be a good opportunity to take a doe from the area.
"I picked up my rifle," Hall said and when I looked through the scope, I not only saw the doe, but a large buck walking up behind her. That provided a shooting option that was very easy for me to make."
The big heavy-antlered deer had a 16-point rack, including a 10-point typical frame that grosses 151 and nets 147 1/8. The 6 additional abnormal points, totaling 24 4/8 inches, brings the final non-typical score to 171 5/8 B&C. This ranks the buck as the second biggest non-typical ever recorded for Brooks County.
(Editor's Note: Jamie Hall's buck was not on the list of 2007 Georgia Big Deer Contest entries that appeared in the September Georgia In The Field column. The rack was not officially scored until mid summer of 2008, long after the April 1 deadline for that competition.)