Mikell Fries Buck: 223-Inch Velvet Racked Georgia Monster
June 16, 2014
Back during late summer 2012, Mikell Fries was checking trail camera photos from his farm in southeast Georgia's Evans County. Among images of other bucks was one of an impressive 8-pointer Mikell felt would score in the mid- to high 130s Pope & Young.
Once bow season opened in early September, the archer concentrated most of his hunting efforts on another buck. Meanwhile, his cameras continued to record weekly photos of the 8-pointer. But by now the deer had begun to stand out.
"As the weeks passed, the buck never shed the velvet on its antlers," Mikell explains. "In the past, I'd noticed an occasional buck remain in velvet until late September, but never on into October and November. And the body stayed rather slim. A definite contrast to the dramatic buildup of most bucks' neck and chest muscles during the fall rut."
Other than not being interested in the ladies, the buck interacted normally with other deer. However, his movement pattern was primarily nocturnal. After the season Mikell put away his cameras, never giving much more thought to the 8-pointer.
Early the next August, Mikell bumped into a neighboring landowner at a local store. During the conversation, the neighbor asked if he'd seen the velvet buck recently. After Mikell responded that he hadn't, the neighbor said he'd send him a recent trail camera photo. But he added that believing what was in the photo might be difficult.
"Later that afternoon, when I received the picture, my first impulse was that someone was attempting to play a joke on me," Mikell says. "But at the same time, I knew that certainly wasn't the case with my neighbor. The size of the velvet antlers simply didn't seem possible for a deer from this area of the state. But there was no denying the photo. The deer had added an exceptional amount of antler to what was already present."
Two days earlier, Mikell had set out cameras on his own farm. After receiving the photo from his neighbor, he immediately left to check them. Remarkably, he also had photos of the buck from the same general locale the deer had frequented the previous year. He then repositioned several cameras to get a better idea of the deer's pattern and which parts of the farm he was utilizing.
"By the opening of bow season in mid-September, I had a fairly good idea of the buck's movement pattern," Mikell says. "The deer was bedding in an unburned stand of 20-year old pines that included a very dense understory of wax myrtles, saplings, vines and brush. From there it moved back and forth between a live oak flat and a nearby cotton field. Occasionally the deer would disappear for two or three days, but the majority of the time it seemed to remain within a 50- to 60-acre area. The major hunting obstacle was that the buck's activity pattern was almost exclusively nocturnal."
Mikell selected a large live oak in the oak flat as his stand location. The only problem with the site was that it was difficult to hunt with a northeasterly wind, which is often prevailing at that time of year.
"I hunted the location a couple of times during the first week of the season but never sighted the buck," Mikell recalls. "I wasn't able to hunt the remainder of the month, because of a planned elk hunt in Idaho. I hated leaving at that particular time, but as far as I knew, my neighbor was the only other person aware of the deer. For obvious reasons, I hadn't mentioned the buck to anyone except my wife.
"So, initially, I felt fairly comfortable about being gone," he continues. "But halfway through the elk hunt, I received a call from my cousin, telling me he'd just read on the Internet that a giant buck had been seen in the vicinity of our farm. From that point on, I was a nervous wreck."
After getting back home in early October, Mikell checked his trail cameras. He found that while the buck remained on a nocturnal pattern, the time had changed from middle of the night to within a few minutes of last light in the evening. But northeasterly winds continued to be problematic for hunting the site.
"I was missing a significant amount of hunting time, due to wind direction," Mikell remembers. "But the last thing I wanted to do was make a mistake and spook the buck, possibly causing it to change locations. I was already using Scent-Lok clothes and various cover scents; however, I decided to also try one of the new Ozonics generators, because of their downwind scent-elimination claims. The first couple of times I used it I was a little concerned about the noise. But on one occasion I had three deer pass my stand on the downwind side without spooking."
On Monday, Oct. 14, Mikell finally got a big break. While checking his trail cameras, he discovered his first daytime photo of the velvet deer.
"Job obligations prevented me from hunting on Tuesday," Mikell says. "But when I checked the trail cameras again on Wednesday, there was a photo of the buck in the oak flat about 30 minutes before dark on Tuesday evening. I immediately decided to hunt my stand that afternoon. Opening day of firearms season was Saturday, so regardless of the wind direction, I wanted to spend as much time as possible hunting the deer."
Around five o'clock, the hunter climbed into position. Nothing appeared in the vicinity of the big live oaks until about 6:30, when a small 8-pointer meandered through.
"Another thirty minutes passed without any additional activity," Mikell says. "I decided the lack of deer movement was most likely due to the bright moonlight nights we were having, and had just about given up on the afternoon."
Minutes later, from some distance behind the stand the hunter heard a very low but distinctive noise that sounded like a human cough. As he sat listening, the cough was repeated — only this time, it was slightly louder and much closer.
"In all my years of hunting, I had never heard a deer make a noise similar to what I heard," Mikell says. "I was convinced someone else was in the woods."
Slowly turning, the hunter glanced back over his shoulder. Looking through a maze of limbs and leaves, he saw large velvet antlers under 40 yards out . . . and moving his way.
"I immediately picked up my bow," Mikell says. "But the buck was much too close for me to stand up. The deer passed on my right side at about eight yards. There was a very light breeze and I could see that within seconds the buck would be directly downwind from my position. Even though the Ozonics was running and I had gone through my normal scent-masking routine, I was apprehensive. Fortunately, the deer gave no indication of detecting anything unusual."
At 16 yards, the impressive buck abruptly stopped and began feeding on acorns. Positioned directly behind the deer, Mikell could do nothing but continue to watch, hoping the buck would turn either to the left or right.
"To be so close after weeks of waiting and not have a clear shooting opportunity was a little frustrating," Mikell admits. "While contemplating every possible option, I heard the sounds of another deer approaching."
Within seconds, a 6-pointer walked into view and began circling the outside edge of the live oaks. Seeing the huge velvet buck, the newcomer walked to within 10 yards, laid his ears back and began making a scrape.
"I felt sure the big deer would turn to face the 6-point," Mikell says. "But instead, it merely resumed feeding. At that point, I was wondering if the situation could get any worse. Then I heard a third deer coming from somewhere behind the stand."
Glancing through the branches, the bowhunter spotted another small buck heading his way. There was little doubt in Mikell's mind that something was about to happen.
"When I turned back around, the 6-point was still involved with the scrape, but the big deer was watching the other buck," Mikell remembers. "As I looked on, the velvet buck suddenly took two steps to the side and turned to face the approaching deer. This slight movement provided me with a near-perfect shooting opportunity: a moment I'd begun to believe was never going to happen."
At 16 yards, Mikell took aim at the giant and released his arrow. In an instant, the shaft had passed through him. The deer instantly whirled and ran out of sight . . . but then, within seconds the archer heard him crash to the ground.
"I remained in the stand for several minutes to gather my thoughts and calm down," Mikell says. "I'm sure the entire encounter only took a few minutes, but it seemed an eternity."
The anxious archer then called his wife, Wendy, to tell her the news. But she was hesitant to believe him.
"Why else would I be calling you, since it's still daylight?" he asked.
"I don't know, but if you really killed the buck, why are you whispering?" she responded.
Mikell had planned to wait an hour before checking on the deer, but once he climbed out of the stand, found his arrow and saw the blood trail, he was convinced there was no need to wait that long. After an anxious walk of less than 70 yards, he found the gigantic buck dead, entangled in vines in a thicket.
Later, while examining the buck, Mikell noted there was only one testicle, and even it was poorly developed. While it's unknown if this was a physiological anomaly or the result of an injury, it no doubt caused the hormonal imbalance that prevented the monster whitetail from going through a normal antler cycle.
Clearly the deer had never shed the rack he'd been wearing when Mikell first found him before the season in 2012. From an 8-pointer then, he'd grown into a 26-pointer! This amazing transformation included the typical frame developing into a fairly symmetrical 5x5, and then adding an incredible 77 inches of abnormal points. Over 52 inches of this total was in the form of drop tines, including individual points of 13 4/8, 10 5/8 and 8 1/8 inches.
The non-typical rack has a gross score of 229 5/8 inches and a net of 223 6/8. While, the compounded years of antler growth make this "cactus" buck ineligible for the record book, he's the top-scoring bow kill in state history. Only three bucks on Georgia's all-time list have exceeded this one's final score, and all were taken by gun hunters.
For Your Information
For details of another great whitetail that never came out of velvet even in the winter, check out David Bertsch's Ohio crossbow giant.