The Simmons Big Buck Contest is a great gauge of what kind of deer were taken last fall. Here's what was brought to the scorers' tables. (September 2009)
As an outdoor writer, I'm privy to some thrilling accounts of successes in the field and on the water. One of my favorite times of year is the first Saturday in March when I drive over to Bastrop to attend the awards day ceremony that is the climax to the annual Simmons Big Buck Contest. I get to sit down and visit with deer hunters who claimed outstanding deer the past season.
Jeff Simmons, owner of Simmons Sporting Goods, has hosted the contest for the past 20 years, and he continues to be amazed at the quality of bucks Louisiana produces year after year.
"Again, we had a bunch of really nice deer coming out of this state. You can go to Canada or Kansas to chase a trophy, but our contest is proof that there are some real impressive bucks right here in Louisiana," Simmons said.
Indeed there are, and as happens every year, my visit with successful hunters reveals a plethora of exciting and interesting stories. Following is a blow-by-blow account of some of the more impressive tales that came from the Bayou State's woods this past deer season.
AVOYELLES PARISH TRIFECTA
Habitat types in Louisiana run the gamut from upland red clay piney woods to thick, lush swamps in the southern half of the state. One parish that qualifies for the latter is Avoyelles, located in southeast-central Louisiana. Bayous, streams and sloughs coursing through heavily timbered lowlands are characteristic of much of the parish.
It is not surprising that some of the state's better deer come from Avoyelles Parish. The ground on which much of the parish sits is rich in nutrients that give food sources attractive to deer an extra shot of good stuff from which heavy antlers and impressive body weights emerge.
Such was the case this past deer season when three of the winners in the Simmons contest, deer that grew impressive racks and heavy bodies, came from Avoyelles.
Placing second in the Archery Division was Jeff Newton with an 11-point buck green-scoring 181 7/8. Actually, Newton's whitetail was the highest scoring buck taken by archery in Louisiana; the first place winner arrowed his monster in Mississippi.
Placing third in the Archery Division was another Avoyelles Parish monarch, also sporting 11 points, one of which was a handsome drop tine. Greg Gagnard of Marksville arrowed his deer on Dec. 29.
"I hunt on an 1,800-acre private lease with 11 other members. About three-quarters of the land is swampy with standing water," Gagnard explained.
"I was planning to hunt the weekend before with friends, but the weather was windy and just didn't feel right for where I wanted to hunt, so I decided to hunt Monday instead.
"A hunting buddy dropped me off a few hundred yards from the stand and I slipped in to where I'd hung my lock-on, getting there in early afternoon," he continued.
"Around 2:30 or so, I hit my rattling horns and used my grunt call and waited. Some 20 minutes later, this big buck came in with several does and they seemed to be searching for the source of the rattling and grunting."
Gagnard said that the wind was starting to shift around and he was afraid the deer would pick up his scent.
"They seemed to sense that I was there somewhere," the hunter explained, "because the buck and does all seemed nervous and they drifted off and out of my line of sight. Before they did, I got a glimpse of the drop tine and knew I'd seen that buck on one of my trail cameras earlier.
"Five minutes later, I saw movement to my left and spotted the buck flanking me. He stopped at 18 steps, giving me a good shot and I released the arrow."
The buck crossed a slough and Gagnard heard the deer fall and get up twice, so he knew he had a good hit. After finding a portion of his arrow, the decision was made to go back to camp and give the buck time to expire. Because the deer had crossed a slough, a boat was needed to continue the search.
"We brought a small boat down to the slough, crossed it and found the buck dead only 30 yards from the water's edge," Gagnard said.
"You often hear about 'ground shrinkage' when you walk up to a buck you shot, only to realize it's not nearly as large as it was on the hoof. That wasn't the case with this buck; when I got my hands on his antlers, they were more impressive than I thought."
The buck green-scored 177 4/8 with only a 15-inch inside spread. The buck scored this high because of the impressive mass of the rack.
Rounding out the Avoyelles trifecta was Broulliete logger, 38-year-old Davey McCann.
"On the afternoon of Jan. 7, I came in from work early with the weather cool and fairly windy. I had hoped to have some quiet time at home relaxing with my wife, but when I got home, she had several lady friends over. I knew there would be very little relaxing with a house full of women so," McCann explained, "I decided to go deer hunting."
One of McCann's favorite hunting spots is public land owned by the parish school board consisting of some 180 acres.
"I got to the woods around 2 p.m., slipped up the edge of a bayou, loaded up my 12-gauge shotgun with buckshot, found me a tree and sat down against the trunk to see what might develop," McCann added.
"After sitting there for about 2 1/2 hours, I was about ready to call it quits when I saw a little doe step out. I'd decided to take the doe, when I noticed some movement behind her. The buck stopped 15 yards from me and never knew I was there. He was interested in the doe. I shot and he fell on the spot."
The buck was indeed impressive, sporting 13 points, a 22 1/2-inch inside spread with a green score of 190 1/8, good enough to win the Men's category in the Simmons contest. The buck weighed in at a whopping 249 pounds.
HIS AND HER BUCKS
The Simmons Big Buck Contest attracts entrants from all across Louisiana, as well as the neighboring states of Arkansas and Mississippi. With this wide range of hunters taking deer from hills, hollows,
swamps and flatlands, what are the chances of a husband and wife placing in the contest in the same year?
Incredibly, this happened not once, but twice in last season's contest. Billy and Vicki Husted of Monroe placed first and second in the Non-Typical Local Archery Division. Vicki's eye-popping non-typical scored 185 6/8, while Billy's monster placed second with a score of 183 2/8.
Tom and Martha Sumrall from Ruston both placed in the Simmons contest with Martha winning the Ladies Archery Division with a buck scoring 142, while her husband, Tom, placed second in the largest 7-point category. His buck scored 136 3/8.
THE 'BAIL OUT' BUCK
For the Kirsopp family living in New Jersey, life was good. She worked for one of the giant brokerage houses, daily commuting to New York City. He had a successful business that kept him busy. The beautiful home they were buying was worth $700,000. Then it all came crashing down.
"My wife, Kim, worked for the same company for 15 years," Derek Kirsopp explained. "She was at work one day when the boss came in, announcing massive layoffs. She was among those let go. In a matter of weeks, my business also went down the tubes. With no way to make the big house payments we had made with ease before losing our jobs, we put our house on the market only to see its value decline to the point it was not worth what we owed on it.
"My wife grew up in Louisiana in Webster Parish and her grandmother had passed away recently," he continued, "Her grandmother's house was available, so we moved our belongings from New Jersey to the little town of Heflin."
Kirsopp was all smiles when we visited at Simmons. The reason he seemed not to have a worry in the world had to do with him taking an 8-point buck.
"After moving down here nine months ago, I wanted to try and fit in with the folks down South," Kirsopp explained. "My brother-in-law is a deer hunter and he suggested I give hunting a try. I've never hunted in my life, obviously didn't own a deer rifle, but when my wife's uncle offered the loan of one of his guns, a Savage .30/06."
Kirsopp constructed a stand on family land right behind the house to give deer hunting a try.
"One day, I got on the stand just before noon and by 2, I decided to get down. I looked up and there stood a big buck 40 yards away. I had put my gun down and had to reach around for it, but by this time I developed a serious case of 'the shakes.' He put his head down and when he did, I picked up my rifle, put it behind his shoulder and shot. The buck ran about 40 yards and collapsed."
Kirsopp's trophy was a beautifully symmetrical 8-point weighing 210 pounds that was awarded second place in the Simmons contest with a green score of 155 1/8.
Folks up East in the financial district are looking for their stimulus plan. Derek Kirsopp found his in the woods of Webster Parish!
MY GIRLFRIEND'S BUCK
Casey Allen, a 24-year-old oil field mechanic from Saline, set out to do the right thing. While he hunted two other leases, he had access to acreage behind his rural home, so he placed a tripod stand 250 yards behind his house for his girlfriend, Alyson, to use.
"She is in nursing school and was gone one day and I only had a short time to hunt, so I decided to go sit on her stand awhile," Allen explained.
Would you care to hazard a guess as to what happened? If you opined that a big buck stepped out and Casey downed it, you'd be right. The trophy that Allen shot weighed 240 pounds, was a 14-point behemoth with a 20 6/8-inch inside spread that green-scored 186, and was good enough for second place in the Men's Division in the Simmons contest.
Alyson had a few comments herself after seeing "her" buck.
"I was kind of upset at first, but I'm glad Casey was the one to get the buck instead of it walking over to another club and somebody over there shooting it. After seeing his photo on a trail camera, I really wanted that buck, but I guess I'm glad one of us got it. I just wanted it to be me," she said wistfully.
THE EDGE OF TOWN BUCK
Thirty-nine-year-old Mike Chapman lives with his wife and two daughters in Oak Grove in West Carroll Parish. He hunts a 40-acre tract of land that butts up to the Oak Grove city limits.
He wasn't expecting too much the morning of Dec. 28, because in the seven years he has hunted the small property, he'd never killed a deer.
"The acreage where we hunt doesn't have any trees, only brush, although there are woods on three sides of the tract," Chapman began. "I was using my primitive firearm, a .45-70, and got to my box stand before daylight. It was clear and cold after the passage of a cold front the day before. Just before I got on my stand, I sprinkled some doe urine as attractant near where I had put out some corn.
"Around 7 a.m., I looked up and saw this big buck coming toward me. At a distance of about 75 yards, he turned broadside, I put the cross hairs on him and shot," Chapman continued.
He saw his bullet splash water beyond where the buck was standing, so he assumed he'd missed.
"I sat in my stand a couple of minutes before going down to find evidence of a hit. I heard him breathing his last in a thicket and when I got to him, he'd expired. His antlers were tangled in a thicket, so I couldn't see just how big they were. When I pulled his head out of the tangle and saw just what I had, I started jumping and yelling and high-fiving myself," an excited Chapman recalled.
The buck sported 23 points, had an abundance of mass with an 18 1/2-inch inside spread and weighed over 250 pounds. The unofficial score was 204, boosting Chapman to the top of the Largest from Louisiana Division.
There were many other eye-popping bucks taken this season, but these highlighted lend credence to the fact that Louisiana does, indeed, produce some wall-hanging trophies.