Mississippi's 2010-11 deer season was one of the best on record, when it comes to trophy bucks, including several record-book bucks that have been highlighted in a series of stories in this publication.
We've already introduced you to Will Rives' new state record typical archery deer, which was also the first bow buck to exceed minimum standards for Boone and Crockett Club All-Time Record Book listing for typical bucks.
There was the B&C non-typical of Casey Orr, which he, his dad and a friend had to keep secret for over 13 months. They'd seen it the year before, but never got a shot and then had to hope other club members never spotted it.
And, there was the great story about Bubba Buford, who as an adolescent growing up in Greenwood was taken to see a B&C buck. He swore he'd get his own some day, and never forgot it. It took 41 years, but he finally shot a qualifier.
With those, we shared the special stories of hunters whose trophies may not have been record-book qualifiers but were certainly worth telling.
And, now, with the 2011-12 season well underway it's time to add the final chapter on last year and close that book. We'll start with the new Buck of the Year — OK, so maybe we prematurely gave that honor to Rives — and it's not because we wanted to save the best for last.
It's because this buck materialized long after the others had been reported. It is the new state record typical buck — the biggest ever reported in Mississippi, and it came in the final days of the late muzzleloader season.
With only a few days left in the Zone 3 season on Jan. 25, James Saunders went to his favorite stand at his favorite camp in Adams County near his hometown of Natchez. He took a friend and they climbed up into the two-man elevated stand.
Saunders had already killed a typical buck that he figured might qualify for Boone and Crockett back during gun season in early January.
He went, basically, to be going. It was deer season and Saunders is a deer hunter so he went. He didn't even take a gun.
"Well it was late in the season and I had that good buck already, a big typical I figure will be a 170-class buck, and I thought I had left my primitive weapon rifle in the stand from when I took a physically-challenged youngster the week before," Saunders said. "The .45-70 was there, standing in the corner of the stand where I'd left it.
"It wasn't like I wasn't there for no reason, though. I knew there was a bigger buck in the area. I thought I might catch him moving."
The stand had been good to Saunders over the years. It's no secret in the Natchez area that he hunts on some of the finest deer acreage in the state — Quitman Plantation.
"I've killed so many monster bucks there, from 150- to 170-class, so I no longer hunt anything but trophy bucks," he said. "If it's not a buck at his peak or past his prime, I wouldn't consider pulling a trigger. This one they said was 7 1/2 years old."
Saunders' story of the hunt was, he admitted, not much to write about.
"My friend and I were sitting in the elevated stand watching this area I like to hunt between two cornfields," he said. "He just appeared, all of a sudden, like somebody put him there," Saunders said. "I looked down and there he was, less than 40 yards away. I reached back for my gun in the corner.
"I had to calm my friend down and check to see if the gun was even loaded. I saw it had one in the chamber and I took aim and shot and that's it. That's the whole story."
At that range, the .45-70 rifle delivered a perfect knockdown shot.
The deer measured 184 6/8 inches, giving up only 4 1/8 inches in deductions.
"Incredibly symmetric for a deer of those proportions," said Chris McDonald, the state wildlife biologist who scored it.
The main beams were long, nearly 28 on one side and 26 3/8 on the other, which produced the largest deduction. The G-2s were over 10 and the G-3s over 12, and both sets produced just 1/8 inch of deduction.
DOUBLE-DROP TINE GIANT
It wasn't skill that put Gus Pieralisi, 67, in a particular deer stand on Oct. 17. It was more like divine intervention, and when he was done and had his buck in hand, he felt like getting on his knees.
Until that day, Pieralisi's deer hunting fame centered around being named in 1996 by Mississippi's largest newspaper as one of the top 10 deer hunters in the state. That selection, based on a friend's nomination and explanation letter, was founded on his hunting ethic, his years-ahead-of-the-time deer management and his love of the sport.
Now he's known for the big buck he took last season — a 16-point buck with double drop tines in Washington County.
With regard to divine intervention that morning, it begins with his method of stand selection.
"I went to that stand because I wanted to go to church at 9 o'clock and I didn't want to go off too far," said Pieralisi, a Leland farmer. "I had seen some sign there, but hadn't see any big bucks."
Pieralisi was surprised how quickly things happened on the archery hunt.
"I got up in the stand and it wasn't long before I heard two bucks fighting," he said. "I don't mean the kind of sparring you usually hear that early in the season, I mean they were really getting after it.
"So I waited until they finished, and then I grabbed my Primos grunt tube. I blew it twice and 30 seconds later I heard a buck blowing at me."
Pieralisi was intrigued but didn't panic. He was happy that the wind was in his favor.
"He was blowing hard at me and I grunted at him again and I heard him start snort wheezing, and I thought, 'That buck is looking for me and ready to fight me.'
"The hair on his neck was standing up and he was stiff-legged. He walked up to 20 yards, I grunted with my mouth, he turned broadside and I took the shot at 18 yards. I knew it was a good shot."
What Pieralisi didn't know was how good the buck was.
"I got my son Brian and we trailed it with his Lab, Tiko," he said. "We found him about 100 yards away.
"When I lifted up his head and saw the two drop tines and the rest of his rack, my knees got weak and I had to kneel beside him. I had no idea because I never got a full look at his antlers. I knew he was big, but not that big."
The rack was an 11-point main frame with three sticker points and the two drop tines. It measured 183 inches gross and netted 171 5/8 inches non-typical. The rack was just over 19 inches wide inside, had 5 1/2-inch bases and carried that mass out through its 23-inch main beams.
ANOTHER TOP 10 HUNTER
Pieralisi was one of the obvious choices back when that Top 10 Deer Hunters list was developed. He, like most others, required very little research.
Then there was Michael Wynn of Starkville, a man so humble and basic in his hunting style that he was surprised, maybe even a little embarrassed, to have been nominated.
Thing is, he was nominated by so many people in the Golden Triangle area that it was hard not to pick him.
Wynn is still proving up to the billing. His story just keeps getting better.
On Dec. 19, hunting on the same 365 acres he has always hunted, Wynn, now 51, took an 11-point that green-scored over 141 inches gross. Maybe not a monster, when compared to other areas, but for his patch of ground, it is. It's also the fourth 140-class or bigger buck he has taken on his acres.
It was the fourth 140-plus buck he has taken on the property.
"Only place I ever hunt," Wynn said.
It was where he would have hunted with his dad, had the elder Wynn not died the year before he promised to take his son and teach him all he knew about deer. Wynn was 10 and left without a hunting mentor.
"My father told me he was going to take me hunting that year, whether mom wanted me to or not," Wynn said. "Two weeks later, he passed. All the success I have now, I wish he could see it. He was the driving force behind it."
Wynn was determined and began researching. He heard about Ben Lee, the famous Alabama deer and turkey hunter, and Wynn began reading all Lee had written and watching Lee's videos.
Wynn took his best deer, scoring 164 5/8 in 1995 using one of Lee's favorite tricks — luring the buck into shooting range using doe-in-heat lure and tarsal glands.
His first big buck, a few years earlier, had come while rattling antlers, and just as he read Lee liked to do.
"I know why it is hard for old dogs to learn new tricks," he said. "The old dogs know the old tricks still work."
Old tricks yes, but good planning and hard work, too.
Wynn's latest trophy story begins in the summer of 2010 when he cleared a new lane 16 feet wide and 250 yards long through a valley that he knew was a major travel corridor during the rut. That's where he was at sunrise on Dec. 19.
"I walked the length of this lane with Tinks and a tarsal gland in tow attached to my right boot all the way back to my homemade cedar ground blind," Wynn said. "I settled down and went to work with my rattle bag. I used my tending buck grunt and ended it with a buck growl."
Two 8-points came first, but Wynn knew they needed another year or two.
"Then, I saw this buck step out at about 185 yards. but he stepped back in before I could get on him with my trigger stick," Wynn said. "I grabbed my buck growl and gave him two aggressive buck growls and out he stepped all stiff-legged and ears laid back. Once I saw the bone on his head, I was on the stick waiting for a broadside shot. He walked about 10 yards dead on and he turned broadside."
Bam! The old dog is still getting it done.
JUST ONE LOOK
You know the TV commercial jingle, "Just one look, that's all it took!" based on a song made popular, by among others, Linda Ronstadt and the Hollies.
Hunter Cox from Madison can relate. A native of Marks, he first saw his buck on Dec. 26 and knew it would become the object of his quest.
"It was on a piece of property my sister and I own that we call 48, just east of Marks," Cox said. "I had gone to put up some trail cameras when I jumped two does on a ditch bank. Then, this big boy stood up behind them. I couldn't tell that he was a freak, but I knew he was a shooter immediately."
Cox didn't know it at the time, but this was a special buck. The non-typical was past its prime and on the decline, yet still a remarkable one. Cox realized that when he got his first trail cam photos of the old deer.
"I put the cameras on a beat-down trail leading into some hardwoods from a Conservation Reserve Program field," he said. "I had three bucks on the camera, but this guy stood out. He was licking the camera in the first picture and all that you could see was this right side. The mass stood out, and it carried it throughout the main beam. The other pictures were blurry, but you could see the left side and see it was nasty."
All the photos were taken on Dec. 26, the only time the buck appeared on camera or was seen by the naked eye until Jan. 4. That's when, as Cox said, his hunting plan "finally came together for once in my life."
Cox climbed in his stand that morning at 6:05 only to find the wind was wrong, blowing his scent into the field. He stayed up until 11:30, seeing only one doe, before climbing down and eating a sandwich.
"I decided to go to the other side of the field to get the wind right," he said. "I sat against an old swamp oak. I had on full camo, with a head mask, and my orange vest."
At 1:45, another buck that Cox had been hunting, a 140-class 10-point, stepped out. Cox decided to take it, but fortunately as it turns out, he couldn't get the buck to stop.
At 5 o'clock, as Cox was glassing the field, his binoculars suddenly filled with antlers.
"He was already 10 yards out in the lane, 75 yards away and had no clue I was there," Cox said. "The wind was right in my face and it was a perfect scenario."
Well, almost perfect. There was some work to be done, such as belly-crawling 15 yards to a persimmon tree to get a good rest for his .270 rifle. Cox took the shot and knew the buck was hit. Still, the animal was able to make it out of the field and into the woods.
"I was a little worried when I found spotty blood," he said. "I remember thinking, 'I've got to find this buck. If I never find another one, I had to find this one.'"
He did, by walking to the point where he saw the buck enter the woods. There, 15 yards inside the tree line, lay his trophy.
The buck green scored 152 5/8 non-typical. He had 18 scorable points, but 24 "old school points you could hang a ring on."
"The right antler is the pretty side, with a 25-inch main beam and 77 total inches of measurement," Cox said. "The left side is the gnarly side, with the split brow tine and the sticker points.
"You really can't tell how good this buck is in a picture. You have to put your hands on him around his beams to know. He has incredible mass, with an 8-inch base on the right and 7 1/2 on the left. A biologist aged him at 7 1/2 years, and he weighed only 157 pounds live weight. He was an old one."