Peach State Crossbow Roundup

Peach State Crossbow Roundup

Hunting deer with a crossbow is proving popular in Georgia and is producing some outstanding bucks. Here's a look at the top of this class from last season!

By Bill Cooper

When Ronald Sharpe of Mt. Vernon purchased a new trail camera last summer, he had already made up his mind where he would try it out. His Montgomery County deer lease included an abandoned home site, and while the house had fallen down years earlier, a big pear tree still remained in the yard. During the months of August and September, when the ripened pears were falling, deer from the surrounding area usually made daily trips there to sample the fruit.

"There had been a number of does seen there at various times, but never a buck," Sharpe related. "However, the previous year we found several rubbed trees around the site, plus a couple of local residents reported sighting a very big buck crossing a nearby county road. I assumed the bucks were probably waiting until after dark to come in and eat; if that was the case, then maybe the trail camera would capture them."

Sometimes even the best of theories don't turn out exactly as expected. When Ronald had his first roll of film developed, there were numerous photos of deer, but not one single buck was visible in any picture.

"I couldn't believe it," Sharpe said. "After those results, I nearly moved the camera to another location. Finally, I decided to try one more roll of film, and if that didn't produce at least one photo of a buck, the camera would be moved."

This time around, Sharpe actually got more than he expected. Instead of getting a photo of a single buck, he had pictures of three different bucks, and one of them appeared to be huge.

"There was an 8-pointer, a 9-pointer and a 13-pointer," Sharpe noted. "All three deer were better-than-average bucks, but the 13-pointer was really impressive. As I suspected, all of the photos were taken after dark."

Sharpe isn't exactly sure how many rolls of film he went through during the weeks that followed. Suffice it to say he could easily identify most of the bucks in the area, and the 13-pointer had shown no sign of becoming camera-shy.

Interestingly, the big deer was not active only at night, as Sharpe had first believed. In fact, several photos documented the deer at the tree during the middle of the day.

Ronald Sharpe of Mount Vernon downed the largest crossbow buck from last season in Montgomery County. Photo by Bill Cooper

"After going through most of the photos and checking the times when the pictures were taken, the buck's activity pattern seemed to be divided into three main periods," Sharpe explained. "Two of these - late evening and around 2 a.m. - were not really surprising. However, the third period, which was a little hard to believe, occurred between 11 o'clock and noon. There was one particular 24-hour span when the buck was photographed at the tree during all three time periods."

Not surprisingly, several of Sharpe's friends and hunting companions had become interested in the deer photos he was getting, especially those of the big buck. They all hoped Sharpe would get an opportunity to take the deer, but with the pear supply dwindling, many feared the buck would be hard to locate by the beginning of gun season in late October.

Sharpe was unable to use a bow because of a severe sight disability. At 15, an accident in his back yard had cost him the sight of one eye. Then in 1995, a car accident took away his remaining vision.

"For over four months I was totally blind, and to be honest, I really never thought I would be able to see again," Sharpe said. "But after several operations and a cornea transplant, the sight in my eye returned. There are, of course, limitations; I wear two contact lenses, and because I no longer have an iris to regulate the amount of light entering the eye, I must wear sunglasses most of the time. In normally lighted situations, I can see pretty well, but in dim light, such as late evening, my vision is rather limited."

Knowing that Sharpe had no trouble seeing through a scope on a hunting rifle, Hoppy Sikes, a longtime friend and the warden at nearby Montgomery State Prison, encouraged him to try a crossbow, since a crossbow also could be equipped with a scope. A year or so earlier, Sikes had purchased a crossbow for himself, and he offered to let Sharpe borrow it.

"Hoppy and I got together one afternoon and I shot the bow several times," Sharpe related. "Since I had no difficulty seeing through the scope, I decided to accept his offer. I had a permanent stand built in a pecan tree about 20 yards from where the deer were eating the pears, and at that distance I felt my shooting accuracy was pretty good. The last thing I wanted to do was make a bad shot and merely wound the buck."

Sharpe began hunting the location during the third week of September; however, his first two afternoons in the stand produced no buck sightings. His third trip proved to be exciting, but ended in frustration.

"I hadn't seen a single deer that afternoon, and since it was beginning to get dark I was preparing to leave," Sharpe related. "Hearing a slight noise, I looked up just as the big 13-pointer and several other bucks came out of the woods and began heading toward the pear tree. The deer came straight in and were so close I could actually hear them crunching the pears."

Unfortunately, the fading light made it impossible for the hunter to clearly see through the bow's scope. Try as he might, Sharpe could not focus on the crosshairs.

"I'm sure I picked that crossbow up at least 10 times, trying to make out an image in the scope, but it was simply too dark," he sighed. "Not wanting to scare the deer, I remained sitting in the stand for at least another 20 minutes."

Thinking the bucks had left, Sharpe quietly climbed out of the stand. However, just as he reached the ground, a deer suddenly snorted and then several began running. Standing in the darkness, the hunter listened to the sounds fade in the distance.

"I thought to myself, 'Well, you've really blown it this time,' " Sharpe remembered. "After being disturbed at their feeding site, I was afraid it might take awhile for the bucks to return to their previous routine."

Because of that encounter, the hunter was hardly surprised when no deer appeared during his next afternoon in the stand. However, despite the initial negative results, Sharpe believed that sooner or later at least some of the bucks would return.

A couple of days later, a rainy-weather front moved th

rough the area, dropping the afternoon temperatures by several degrees. Thinking the cool-down might trigger an increase in deer activity, Sharpe made an early departure for his stand by the pear tree.

Once again, the afternoon appeared to be one more uneventful chapter in a book with no ending. Then, with time rapidly running out, Sharpe detected movement beyond the pear tree.

"Within seconds, I could see the big buck and two 8-pointers heading toward the pear tree," Sharpe related. "Never hesitating, all three bucks came straight in and began eating."

In his haste to get the crossbow into shooting position, Sharpe accidentally bumped the side of the stand. Only 20 yards away, the big whitetail jerked its head around and looked directly toward the concealed hunter.

"I thought the buck was about to take off any second," Sharpe said. "But after a minute or so, he dropped his head and continued eating. What may have helped the situation was that the other two bucks never gave any indication of being alarmed."

Carefully easing the crossbow into position, the hunter aligned the crosshairs on the deer's chest and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, all three deer quickly ran out of sight.

"Other than running off, the buck gave no indication it had been hit," Sharpe recalled. "Because there was no noticeable reaction, I assumed I had somehow missed. Nevertheless, I climbed out of the stand to check the ground for blood."

Unable to find any sign the buck had been hit, Sharpe called Warren Fountain, a friend who he knew was at a fire department meeting in nearby Mount Vernon. After Sharpe explained the situation, Fountain said that he would come immediately.

"When Warren arrived, I showed him where the buck had been standing," Sharpe said. "After taking a few seconds to look around, he told me there was blood all over the ground! I simply hadn't been able to determine what I was seeing because of the low light conditions."

After about 30 minutes of unraveling the buck's trail, the two men found the big deer lying dead approximately 125 yards away. Not being able to see in the near darkness didn't keep Sharpe from smiling at the great trophy he had taken.

Later, following the required drying period, official Boone and Crockett measurer George Steele taped the buck's impressive rack. Antler statistics include long main beams of 25 and 23 6/8 inches, an inside spread of 17 2/8 inches, and four tines that measure between 12 2/8 and 9 4/8 inches. Antler mass is impressive throughout the rack.

In scoring, the basic 10-point frame grosses an impressive 164 2/8. Unfortunately, asymmetry differences between the right and left antlers, plus 7 6/8 inches in three abnormal points, drop the final B&C score to 150. Even so, this ranks Sharpe's great deer as the top crossbow buck in the state for last season. Additionally, it is the second-biggest whitetail ever taken in Montgomery County.

It should be noted that the Pope and Young Club does not recognize whitetails or any other big-game animal taken by crossbow. The Boone and Crockett Club does accept these trophies into their record books; however, the higher minimum entry scores must be attained to qualify.

Another impressive buck was taken by crossbow last season in Spalding County. Steve Higgins took the big deer on his own property, which he manages, along with several hundred acres of surrounding land.

"A neighbor and I do all of the management work on the property," Higgins explained. "Last year we maintained 17 food plots, ranging in size from 1/4 acre up to 5 acres. Depending on the location and time of the year, we rotate various plantings and seed mixtures in these openings for deer and turkeys. The remainder of the land is in timber, with approximately equal acreages of hardwoods and planted pine stands."

Last year marked the property's third year of management. During the first two seasons, only does were taken. Gun hunting is not allowed.

"We keep observation records of all the deer we see while hunting," Steve noted. "Judging from our records of bucks sighted this previous season, I believe there will be some really big deer on the property next year."

Last September, Higgins was hunting not far from his home where a small pasture borders a stand of planted pines and an adjacent hardwood swamp. It was common for deer to move out of the swamp to feed in the nearby pasture.

"About 4 o'clock, I climbed into a stand that was positioned in a row of big water oaks near the pasture," Higgins said. "Thirty minutes after getting situated, it began to rain pretty hard. I was soaking wet almost immediately and started to climb out of the stand, but as I did, two does walked out and began eating acorns almost directly below me. Since I couldn't get any wetter, I decided to sit there a little longer."

Approximately an hour or so later, the rain stopped. By this time, the does had moved on and were no longer in sight. After wringing the water out of his gloves and facemask, the hunter, feeling miserably wet, once again began to leave.

"I just happened to glance off to my left, and no more than 12 yards away stood a very nice 8-pointer," Higgins related. "As I continued to look, I saw a 6-pointer and a fork-horn directly behind the first buck."

After detecting additional movement farther beyond the three deer, Higgins turned to see a much larger 8-pointer approaching the row of oaks. The first three bucks began walking, but the hunter's attention was now totally focused on the big deer.

"The buck approached to within eight yards, but the deer was facing directly toward me, providing practically no shot opportunity," Higgins explained. "I'm sure it was only seconds, but it seemed like forever before the buck finally turned to look at the other deer. That gave me a perfect shot opening behind the deer's front shoulder, and I pulled the trigger."

Kicking backward like a mule, the buck bounded forward, crossed the pasture, and disappeared through a fence bordering a nearby pecan orchard. With darkness fast approaching, the hunter quickly retrieved a flashlight from his house. Fortunately, the buck was quickly located only a few yards from the fenceline.

The rack of Higgins' impressive 8-pointer is almost perfectly symmetrical. Main beams of 22 inches, an inside spread of 17 5/8 inches, and 10-inch G-2s contribute to a great gross score of 133 1/8 B&C. With practically no deductions, this changes only slightly to a final net figure of 130 7/8.

Considering the intensive management that is currently being done on the property, there may very well be some even bigger crossbow trophy bucks in Higgins' future.

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