When you’ve been whitetail hunting for 52 years, naming your favorite fall moment is a challenge. But for me, one of the best occurred in November 2001, on a 29-acre tract in Atlanta’s suburbs.
The property was just 2.2 miles from my house in Marietta, but it seemed a galaxy away. It was the home of my late friend John Manning, whose family had owned the land since the 1800s. The home had stood since before the Civil War, which was in itself noteworthy; the bloody Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought nearby, and the Union Army razed many structures on its sweep to the sea.
During Reconstruction and for many decades after, the Manning place was a working farm. John told of childhood days spent clearing rocks from the fields and in the process turning up Civil War Minie balls in such numbers that he toted the projectiles to the hardware store and sold them for 25 cents a bucketful. There they were melted for plumbing lead, some of which no doubt still is in local homes. And so another long-ago event in American history lives on, even if hardly anyone today knows it.
Suburbia grew up all around the home place. Over time, a high school, subdivisions and apartment buildings replaced neighboring farms and woods. But in the midst of it all, that old farm remained.
And so did whitetails. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, on which no hunting is allowed, lies within a half-mile of the farm, and its prolific deer would range onto surrounding properties to feed and breed. The latter of those urges ultimately afforded me a chance to take the widest-racked buck I’ve ever arrowed.
I saw him for the first time on Nov. 3. I was out casually glassing for deer when I spotted the 8-pointer trailing some does. He was easily the biggest buck I’d ever seen on the hoof in Georgia, and as soon as I laid eyes on him, I knew I’d be devoting every spare minute to his pursuit.
Cobb County, like several others in the Atlanta metro area, has no firearms hunting for deer. So while most other Georgia deer hunters were toting their rifles, I kept plugging with bow in hand, hoping the buck would return. But day after day of hunting produced zero sightings.
He finally gave me another look on the muggy morning of Nov. 24. At around 9:30, I spotted the buck cruising for does out in a fescue pasture. Shortly after I rattled, he walked to within 12 feet of my stand in a leafy pin oak. My arrow sliced through his right lung and liver. I’d shot the whitetail I’d singled out to take.
As I admired the buck’s inside spread of 21 1/8 inches, I realized that sometimes you don’t even need to leave town to find a great hunting memory. In this case, one starring a special whitetail, a special friend and a special piece of land.
- In life, there are just some “firsts” you never forget—your first kiss, your first job, your first car. For those of us who hunt, I think it’s pretty safe to assume your first really big buck is somewhere on that life list of unforgettable moments.
My big-buck moment came in September 2009 during an early-season bowhunt outside Kirksville, Mo. At the time, it had been less than a year since I assumed the editor’s role at Petersen’s BOWHUNTING, so the 2009 season marked the first time I was able to take advantage of newfound opportunities to chase big, Midwestern whitetails. Prior to that, the vast majority of my deer hunting had occurred in my home state of Pennsylvania, and while I had put plenty of whitetails on the ground, there wasn’t a whopper in the bunch.
Needless to say, I carried sky-high expectations for what the Show-Me State would show me. During the first two days of the hunt, however, every archer in camp saw a shooter except me! And after a slow morning on day three, I was getting antsy. That’s when I caught my big break. One of the other hunters in camp – someone who had several close encounters with shooter bucks but was unable to get a shot – had to head home early to deal with some work commitments. Call me an opportunist, but I graciously “volunteered” to occupy that hunter’s stand that afternoon!
Around 3:00 p.m., I climbed into a ladder stand set along the edge of a large clover plot where some big bucks had been making regular evening appearances. In addition to the clover, the large white oak where the stand was set was dropping bushels of acorns, making the setup absolutely ideal. I wasn’t surprised when I saw a steady stream of deer and turkeys visit the plot that afternoon. It was clearly a great spot, and with any luck, one of the big boys would show up before nightfall.
A little after 7:00 p.m., I was watching a medium-sized 8-pointer to my left when the buck suddenly stopped feeding, raised his head high and stared past me at something coming from the bottom end of the plot. I slowly turning my head and was awed by the sight of the largest buck I had ever seen from a stand to that point in my life. My body was instantly supercharged by a rush of adrenaline, and I reached for my rangefinder as the big buck made his way steadily toward the smaller 8-pointer; a path that would take him directly past my stand.
With the buck now standing at 25 yards, I drew my bow, gapped the 20- and 30-yard pins and released a perfect shot that sucked right into the crease behind his front shoulder. The buck sprinted across the food plot, crashed into the woods on the opposite side and then…silence. I radioed back to camp for some tracking assistance, and as I sat there waiting for the others to arrive, I realized my perspective on deer hunting had changed forever. If there was a big-buck club, I had just joined it; the bar had been forever raised. We found my heart-shot prize 120 yards from the stand. The majestic buck sported 14 points, tipped the scales at 210 pounds (live weight) and scored 157 2/8 gross—easily my best ever.
In the three-plus years since that hunt, I’ve had many more opportunities to chase big bucks and even killed a few. But there’s just something special about the first time you can never duplicate.
—Christian Berg - Bowhunting Magazine