The Hunley brothers of Utica had a muzzleloader hunt to remember last January. But theirs was just one of many tales of giant bucks from last year. (December 2008)
Allen Hunley displays the rack of his B&C monster buck. That's older brother Alvin, who talked Allen into taking up hunting, helping to show off the deer.
Photo by Robert H. Cleveland Jr.
Mississippi's amazing 2007-08 deer season, which produced 10 Boone and Crockett qualifiers, a new state archery record and dozens of other incredible bucks, didn't slow down during either the December or January primitive weapon seasons.
Here's a collection of three short stories of hunts involving smokepoles, all of which resulted in wonderful racks.
Just a year after his older brother talked Allen Hunley of Utica into joining him for a deer hunt, the younger brother blasted his way into Mississippi's deer-hunting record books. His buck turned out to be the second highest non-typical ever taken with a muzzle-loader in the Magnolia State.
Not bad for a starter, eh?
To say Hunley, 23 at the time, was a neophyte hunter is an understatement. Here's how green he was: When he called his brother, Alvin, 26, on his cell phone to tell him he had killed a big buck, he wasn't talking about the antlers. He was referring to the body size and wondering how the two of them would get it out of the woods.
"That's true," Allen Hunley confirmed. "I was amazed at how big it was. I mean -- it was huge: It weighed 240 pounds.
"I couldn't believe it when I first saw it up close after I had knocked it down. I looked at it and my first thought was that I was going to need some help."
But what about the antlers? After all, it had 13-inch-plus G-3s and 11-inch-plus G-2s.
"Honestly, I didn't know that much about all that, except that it had some big points," he said. "All I thought about when I first got to it was how in the world were we going to get that giant deer out of there."
When officially scored, the 11-point rack amassed 173 2/8 points to qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club All-Time Record book.
Let's start a year earlier, with big brother Alvin. The two brothers are very close. They even own their own treecutting, landscaping and 'dozer company. About the only thing that they didn't do together was hunt.
"No, I was the hunter," Alvin said. "Sort of self-taught. I'd been hunting for about 10 years. I loved it, and I thought he would, too." So before the 2006-07 season, Alvin talked Allen into going.
"I told him he ought to go and he went with me a few times that year and got the bug," Alvin Hunley said. "This year, man, he's been all up in it. He has been fired up. When the primitive weapon season opened, he didn't want to stop, so he borrowed the muzzleloader from a friend so he could keep hunting. It was Allen who insisted we go that morning."
The two brothers drove to some private land in Hinds County at sunrise, parked and walked to different ridges overlooking a large block of cutover forest. They were sitting about 500 yards apart.
"I walked to the end of a ridge and sat down on the ground with my back up against a tree," Allen Hunley recounted. "I had been there about an hour and I looked up and saw four does. I was thinking about shooting one of the does, but then I saw a bigger-bodied deer behind them, and then I saw some antlers. He was just grazing around behind those does. I could tell he was a pretty good buck, because he was so big."
It was Dec. 12 and even though the second week of December is a peak time for pre-rut in southern Hinds County, this buck was doing little more than standing behind the does feeding in a thicket.
"I'd seen about 15 deer earlier, but this one had my attention," Allen Hunley said. "My muzzleloader had a scope so I put it on him and waited for a clear shot."
Even though Allen could already tell this would be the biggest buck he'd ever killed, he never got too nervous. He just patiently waited for the buck, now huddled in a wad with the does in the thicket, to step into the clear.
"Didn't take too long," he pointed out. "He gave me a decent shot; as good as you could ask for at 60 yards. I shot him in the lower neck just above the shoulder. He went straight to the ground."
Allen Hunley jumped up and walked over to the deer, and, well, you already know his reaction. He called Alvin immediately
"I told him I had killed a big one," Allen recounted. "He said 'No, you ain't done no such thing.' I said I had and he better get over there."
Alvin Hunley could tell his younger -- but not littler -- brother was excited by the tone of his voice, so he quit hunting and went to his aid.
"I had heard the shot from his direction, and a couple of minutes later I felt my cell phone vibrating in my pocket," Alvin recalled. "He told me had killed a 'monster.' So I went over there, and he darn sure had.
"When I got there and saw it, the first thing I said was 'Oooh -- we're going to need some help.'"
The help came in the form not of a four-wheeler but, rather, of a four-legger: The brothers walked out and came back with a horse borrowed from a friend, Prentiss Crump.
"Man, you got to mention him!" Allen Hunley said. "We'd have never got that deer out without Mr. Crump's horse. We tied the deer up to the horse, and he dragged it the half-mile out of those woods."
Back home, the Hunleys took a few pictures, hung the deer and dressed it. They tossed the deer's head in the back of their work truck with plans to eventually do a European skull mount.
The story of the buck could have ended right there -- and the Hunleys would have been just as happy -- but a neighbor who knew the brothers saw the head of the buck and realized what Allen had killed. He persuaded the Hunleys to let him get it scored.
"When I heard about it, it was from one of their neighbors whose family has killed several qualifiers for the Magnolia Records," said Rick Dillard, a biologist for the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, who helped form the state's deer-scoring program. "The hunter didn't know what he had,
but the neighbor did and he asked them if he could have the antlers scored.
"It is a really tall narrow rack. The inside spread isn't that much, but the tines and the main beams are also very long."
Celebrity soon found Allen Hunley.
"Everybody has been talking about it, calling it a buck of a lifetime, so I guess I'm hooked for life now," he said a week after killing the buck.
Two months later, when Dillard put the official tape on the antlers, the Hunleys knew a little bit more about record book bucks and were beginning to understand what it was like to have a B&C buck in the family.
"You know, I'd seen a lot of deer like that on TV and in some magazines, but I never dreamed we'd ever see one," Alvin Hunley said. "That is one great buck."
A week later, Alvin Hunley killed a 10-point in the same area.
"Little old scrub buck, nothing like Allen's," he admitted. "It doesn't even deserve to ride around in the back of the same truck."
Alvin is not jealous of Allen or the notoriety the big buck has brought him. If anything, he's more proud of the buck than his brother.
"I'm proud of Allen," he said. "He did good. But, then he had a good teacher -- me!"
FOLLOWING THE RULES
Joe Watts' story couldn't vary more from that of the Hunley brothers. A life-long hunter, 54-year-old resident of Canton has seen -- and shot -- his share of big bucks. His best with a muzzleloader came as no accident on a very cold Jan. 19, 2008, when the bucks were well into post-rut last season.
"The rut had been over for weeks and all the deer, bucks and does, were only interested in eating," Watts said. "I had pretty much given up on getting a good buck for the season, but that's OK. I had taken some does and was hoping to get another one that afternoon. That's what I went out there for. We needed to remove some more does."
Watts explained that the property in Madison County he was hunting has very strict harvest rules that include one buck per season, and that the unwritten but well-understood minimums for the property require that a buck be, well, a monster.
His last two bucks there certainly qualified. Watts took a very wide 15-point non-typical in January in 2005 that had more than a 25-inch inside spread and that netted 167 5/8 inches. In 2001, he shot a 10-point with wildly palmated antlers that grossed more than 157 inches, but netted just 130 3/8 B&C. Both qualify for the Magnolia Records listings.
"We had a pretty good northwest wind that day so I chose a stand that was perfectly suited for it," Watts described. "If you saw the stand from an aerial photograph, it's like a crow's foot with the stand at the heel on the south end. It has three lanes radiating out, cut through the sage and high Johnson grass and all planted with a wheat and clover combination.
"The wind was perfect for all of them."
Watts approached on the lane on the stands far right and quietly made his way to the 16-foot tripod box stand.
"There were deer in the center lane when I got there, but I was able to get up the ladder into the stand without alerting them," he said. "There was a couple of does and some yearlings, but out of gun range."
The show was just starting. The cold weather had the deer moving, looking for heat-generating food.
"The first deer I saw in the right lane, where I had walked in, was a 3-year-old 10-point," Watts said. "He was probably 18 inches wide, but it was obviously not one of the mature bucks we're restricted to. Then came a doe and two big yearlings.
"She was a fully mature, fully grown doe, but one of the rules is that you can't shoot a doe if there's a buck in the field, and that 10-point was there the whole time she was. That's how it stayed for over an hour. There were plenty of does in and out of the three lanes, but there was always a buck around. I even had another 10-point walk into the right lane, but I swear, it had to be 1 1/2 years old. It didn't weigh 120 pounds and it wasn't 12 inches wide."
Watts sat tight and waited. Finally, the two 10-points left, but when he turned to spot a doe in the other lanes, they were void of all deer, too.
"Then, all of a sudden, at about 4:30, this big-bodied buck appeared, walking out of the high grass into the far-right lane," Watts recalled. "He walked out and looked right up at the stand. I didn't move until he started feeding. Then I picked up the binoculars and I knew right away that this one would qualify. When you hunt that kind of area long enough, you kind of get to know when it's time to reach over and grab the gun, and this was one of those times. I was in no hurry, though, because he was feeding and the wind was right.
"I kept watching and I saw enough to know he was an older buck. He had good mass, was over 20 inches wide and, man, he had some long G-2s (both over 8 inches) and G-3s (both over 11 inches)."
In fact the G-2s exceeded 8 inches each, while the G-3s were more than 11 inches long.
Watts had faith in his Knight .50 caliber disc muzzleloader, having killed deer at more than 150 yards before. This one was 175 yards out and he knew the 150 grains of Pyrodex would push the Thompson Center 200-grain Shockwave .45 caliber/sabot bullet the necessary distance.
"I aimed right behind the shoulder, about two-thirds up the deer, and squeezed," he said. "I did shoot a little low, but the bullet went right through the heart. It didn't run 30 yards and I found it piled up in a stand of 10-year-old planted pines."
The 10-point rack, which Rick Dillard officially scored at 161 1/8 B&C, ranks as the No. 2 typical buck ever taken by a muzzleloader in Madison County. Besides making the Magnolia Records, Watts' buck qualifies for the B&C Awards Record book.
PUBLIC AND PRIMITIVE
Chris Galloway of Walker, La., has hunted the Sandy Creek Wildlife Management Area in Adams County for years, including the last few since tighter buck restrictions were introduced. Bucks there must have either a 12-inch minimum inside spread or a main beam length of at least 15 inches.
"I was just wanting something legal during muzzleloader season," Galloway admitted.
During his scouting, Galloway found a nice pine thicket just off the edge of the WMA, and he hung a stand nearby on the public hunting area. That's where he planned to be on the opening day of the muzzle-loader season, but when he returned for the opener, there was already a truck parked right there.
"I had to go somewhere else," he said, adding that he drove about thre
e miles and starting scouting, leaving his stand back where he'd hung it near the thicket.
During his scouting, he found some good signs along a creek. He found some small rubs on small trees and then found two scrapes. That got his attention.
When it was safe, he retrieved his stand from the thicket and took it back to the creek. He hung the stand and started hunting.
"I hunted it a couple of times, but I wasn't happy," Galloway revealed. "I did some more scouting."
This time, he found an active scrape line and bigger rubs, and there was a ridge overlooking the scrape line perfect for a stand. That's where he repositioned the stand and that's where he was sitting on the morning of Dec. 5. At 9:30 a.m., he heard movement to his left and spotted the back two-thirds of a deer's body at a distance of 70 yards.
"His head was behind some bushes, but when he turned to lick himself or something, I could see good horns," Galloway said. "I couldn't see all of them, but I knew he was legal."
Yeah, and then some!
After making the shot, Galloway found the buck and was stunned.
The impressive rack rose out of 5 1/2-inch bases. It spanned more than 17 inches at its widest inside spread. There were 15 scorable points that produced a non-typical green score of 177 2/8 inches.