The 2003-04 deer season yielded lots of deer around the state, and plenty of trophy bucks as well. Here's how good luck visited six of the state's fortunate deer hunters this past season.
By Glynn Harris
A sure sign of your success as a Louisiana deer hunter is whether or not your buck placed high enough at the Simmons Sporting Goods annual big-buck contest to walk away with one of the top prizes. Simmons, located in Bastrop, hosts what is undoubtedly the largest and best-known big-buck contest in the state, if not in the entire South. To win one of the top slots at Simmons, your buck has to be exceptional.
Corey Word has the unenviable job of handling the contest for the sporting goods giant. As many racks as he saw and registered for the contest, Word felt that Louisiana's production of big bucks was above average this past season.
"This was one of the best contests we've had in the past several years," said Word. "We had more than 2,000 bucks entered in the contest, and, as far as I know, we had more entries than any other big-buck contest in the country.
"One reason this year's contest was so special is that we scored two pending state records - one from Louisiana and one from Mississippi. The Mississippi buck was a bow kill and was arrowed by Tracy Laird with an unofficial score of 256 7/8.
"Bradley Ferrell of Oak Grove took a typical 12-point buck that scored 197 and is a pending state record typical. Overall, we saw more quality this year than we've seen in several years," said Word.
Fortunately, we were able to visit Simmons on awards day and talk with some of the lucky few who walked off with the highest honors. Here's a wrap on the buck mounts we saw and the hunters who were at the right place at the right time.
As in the past, prizes and awards went to winners of several categories. These included bucks entered in men, women, youth, open, archery, women archery, non-typical, muzzleloader, along with winners in "points" categories from spikes through 9 points. The biggest deer from Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas were also honored.
Bradley Ferrell, 19, was the biggest winner, taking home a new 4-wheeler for his Louisiana deer that had the top score for the state.
THANKSGIVING DAY SURPRISE
Thanksgiving Day 2003 gave Ferrell something special to be thankful for as he encountered his record buck just before dark on this November holiday.
"I had gone to my grandparents at Kilbourne for Thanksgiving and my buddy, Zack, called me to see if I wanted to go hunting that afternoon. I debated for awhile before calling him back and telling him I'd go with him," Ferrell explained.
"He picked me up, and I climbed into a box stand located at the edge of a bean field next to Bayou Macon. I got in the stand around 4:45, and about 5:30 I had about had all I wanted; the weather was warm, and the mosquitoes were working me over. I decided to climb down from the stand. As I left the box and stepped onto the first step, I saw a deer standing 30 yards away, looking at me. I could tell it was a buck but that's about all I could tell at that point.
"I got my scope on him, fired and he dropped. When I walked over to him, I couldn't believe how big he was. It took all the strength that Zack, another friend and I could muster to pull him onto the 4-wheeler. The buck weighed 285 pounds," said Ferrell.
The symmetrical 12-point monster scored an unofficial 197 Boone and Crockett points.
THE BIRTHDAY BUCK
Andra Thomas, 35-year-old mother of three from Sarepta, won the Louisiana women's division with a big 13-point buck that scored 165 6/8. She considered her trophy a belated birthday present.
"My birthday is Oct. 30, and my husband had bought me a new 7mm .08 rifle as a surprise birthday present. Two days later, on Nov. 1, we went to our lease, the TNT Hunting Club in Bossier Parish. I keep magazines in my stand - my friend calls it 'trash,' because I like to read The National Inquirer, The Star and stuff like that - and I was reading a magazine when I looked up, and there stood two does. I put my magazine down and picked up my rifle, but the deer had moved off," Thomas recalled.
"I was kicking myself for not paying attention, but after a while with no more deer in sight, I picked up the magazine again. I had just opened it and started reading when something told me to look up. There he stood. I threw the magazine down, and when it fell it made a racket, which caused the deer to zero in on me. He looked like he was about to run so I got my scope on him, fired and down he went."
Mortally wounded, the deer was trying to pull himself toward the thicket, but Thomas would have none of that.
"I hurried down the stand over to him and finished him off. That's when I counted 8 points, and I let out a yell. I was excited to get a good buck, but my husband had already told me he'd mount any buck I shot that had at least 8 points. I realized then that the rack had some more points. Every time I'd spot another, I'd holler again. The final count was 13 points."
Thomas, her three youngsters and another child loaded the 250-pound buck into her husband's truck and drove to the camp, much to the delight of the other hunters - not least her husband, Ken, who knew he'd picked out just the right birthday gift for his wife.
THE HOLIER-THAN-THOU BUCK
The Louisiana winner of the youth division was 14-year-old Jake Goodman of Shreveport. His father, Pete Goodman, related what happened on the day that divine intervention might have played a role in Jake bagging his big 12-point buck that scored 157 3/8.
Although Goodman's dad seldom took him hunting when he was growing up, he wanted Jake to have the opportunities he never had.
"A couple of years ago," Pete Goodman began, "we had a minister on our lease who hunted from a box stand. He had adorned the inside of his stand with a cross and some pictures of Jesus. One Saturday morning, the preacher, Rev. Young, bagged a whopping buck from the stand.
"When we got home, Jake asked his sister if she had a small cross he could borrow. She found one and gave it to him; he slipped it into his pocket before we set out to hunt that afternoon. Incredibly, Jake shot a nice 8-point buck that afternoon.
"A few days later, Jake and I headed for the lease; I put him out on one stand while I went to another nearby. At about 5:15, I heard a shot from Jake's direction, and when I got there, Jake was excited. 'You're not going to believe this,' he said. When we got to the deer, he was right; I could hardly believe my eyes. It was a monster."
Here's how the hunt unfolded, according to Jake.
"At about 5:00 p.m., a doe stepped out at 200 yards, and as I was watching her, I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked and saw a nice 8-point buck in the woods road 150 yards away. By the time I got the cross hairs on him, he had stopped with his head behind a bush but still offered a perfect broadside behind-the-shoulder shot.
"Before I could fire, the buck stepped out of the road and out of sight. A few minutes later, a really big buck stepped out at 200 yards where the doe had been. I put the cross hairs on him and squeezed. He hit the ground, got up but then was down for good about 10 yards away."
The Tower Apostolic Church was having their traditional Thanksgiving supper that night when Goodman and his son, Jake, drove up to the church with the buck.
"We broke up church that night," said a still-grinning Pete Goodman. "Everybody came out admiring the big buck, pictures were taken - and Jake reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out the cross, and told the story."
Divine intervention? You be the judge.
BUZZARD BUCK No. 1
While Jake Goodman had his cross to bear, two other winners in the Simmons contest have buzzards to thank for helping them lay claim to their trophies.
Johnny Vead, a Marksville truck driver, was muzzleloader hunting on the Red River Wildlife Management Area on Dec. 7 when good fortune came his way.
"I don't like to hunt out of a stand. I like to walk a bit, sit down and look before easing forward again," said Vead. "I was in an area with lots of deer tracks, and since it was either-sex hunting that day, I would have been satisfied with a doe.
"While I was sitting on a log after sneaking along for a while, I heard something walking in the water that had flooded the bottoms after recent rains. Then I glimpsed a deer as it moved closer. When the deer stopped in a small clearing 30 yards away, I saw antlers, but had no idea how many or the size. I fired, and when the smoke cleared, the deer was running away from me through the water, and it was only then that I got a glimpse of the rack. 'Man - it's a big one!' I remember thinking.
"My son was hunting nearby when he heard the shot and walked over. I told him the story, and we began looking for the buck. I found lung tissue and hair floating on the water, and we found blood on the other side where he hit dry ground. However, we eventually lost his trail, although I looked for him the rest of that day. I came back the next day and looked but was unable to find the buck."
On Dec. 26, a full 19 days after shooting the big buck, Vead was hunting the same area, having given up on ever finding his buck.
"I noticed buzzards in trees, so I went over to investigate. Imagine my surprise and relief when I saw a buzzard sitting on the antlers of my buck. They had about picked him clean, and it was a smelly job, but I cut off the head and finally claimed my trophy," said Vead.
Vead's buck, a 13-pointer, scored an unofficial 172 3/8 points.
Bill Fromenthal used his bow to take this big 13-pointer in East Feliciana Parish. He needed a little help from some buzzards to find the trophy buck. Photo by Glynn Harris
BUZZARD BUCK No. 2
Shriever's Bill Fromenthal, owner of a construction company in Houma, was bowhunting on a friend's property in East Feliciana Parish when he arrowed a 13-point buck that scored 170.
"I hit him a little far back and he didn't leave much of a trail to follow. I looked for him all that day, but had to go back to Houma to a job and couldn't return for a couple of days.
"When I returned, I saw buzzards circling. I found my deer, thanks to the buzzards, which I am nominating for the new Louisiana state bird," Fromenthal said, laughing.
LONE CEDAR BUCK
Jim Hays' 15-point buck didn't make the cut at Simmons, although the gnarly-antlered trophy's score of 145 7/8 would have placed high in most other contests.
Hays, who works for the city of Ruston, was hunting private land in Lincoln Parish on Dec. 6. "Although I've been deer hunting for most of my life, I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable fellow on the subject of deer hunting. Even so, everyone has their days when things just seem to go pretty much in the right direction," he explained.
"For a few days I had seen deer moving when I was getting out of my stand around midmorning, and I had heard that if they are moving that late in the morning they would probably be moving again around mid to late afternoon. I decided to go back to my favorite box stand about 3 that afternoon. It was a warm day, and I figured even if the deer weren't moving much, there would be plenty of other types of God's critters to watch and easily occupy the afternoon.
"As I got into the stand, I made a bit more noise than average, and was thinking to myself that my 6- and 14-year-old sons make less noise than that, and that there was surely not a deer within a mile that wouldn't have heard me. Most days in our hunting area we see only does, but every now and then a small buck will sneak in," Hays said.
"I had the gun loaded maybe 15 minutes and was looking down one of the shooting lanes when a deer stepped out at about 50 yards ... and it was a buck. I only took a quick look at the deer and his horns before starting to figure out how I was going to get in position for a shot, but I can still remember thinking, 'Gosh, that's a pretty nice rack for such a small-bodied deer.' It just goes to show you how your eyes can play tricks on you, especially when your heart is pounding 100 miles an hour. This deer turned out to weigh a little over 220 pounds.
"Right in the dead center of that food plot/shooting lane - about 40 yards out - is a cedar tree that had somehow managed to survive years of disking and winter grass planting. The tree is about 6 or 8 feet tall and very healthy, except at the bottom where it had been used a time or two to help remove velvet from deer horns. As the deer moved toward me, he stopped right behind the cedar tree. Taking advantage of the tree, I slowly moved my rifle into position to take a shot. Just as he was completely behind the tree, walking towards me, I bumped my gun barrel on the window of the box stand. As the deer alerted and looked directly at me I knew if I did not take the shot into his chest through the tree limbs, I would probably never see this guy ever again.
"I pulled the trigger, and the deer dropped in his tracks. I bolted
in another round and started bringing the rifle back to my shoulder. I was shaking so badly that there was no way I could get it to back to my shoulder, much less make another shot. Thankfully, I didn't need it; he was down."
You'll have to agree that deer season 2003-04 was a good one, especially for these six lucky hunters.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Louisiana Game & Fish