January 27, 2022
By Alli Armstrong Vaughan
Tommy Horton is a bowhunting legend when it comes to whitetail hunting in Arkansas. Not only has he made a name for himself, but he has also done his part to pass on the legacy of hunting for generations to come. His greatest joy comes from taking his friends and family hunting and seeing their success. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tommy about a deer that he killed 50 years ago. This non-typical buck grossed over 200 inches, and he shot it with a bow, a recurve no less. I know I was wide-eyed as Tommy explained this hunt to me, and I imagined deer hunting in the "good ole days." I think you will be too.
Tommy started bowhunting with a semi-recurve when he was about 15 years old. He explained, "We have a hunting camp here called Horton's Landing. My dad would let people camp there and charge them a dollar for however long they wanted to stay. One day, after everyone had gone home, he went down there and found a bow leaning against a tree. It was a wooden, semi-recurve. He brought it home along with the arrows that were with it. None of the arrows he found matched. Of course, they were cedar arrows back then. Dad gave it to me, and that was the first bow that I hunted with."
When Tommy was growing up, there weren't any bowhunters in his family. He had five brothers, and he was the only one to bow hunt. Tommy recalls, "I can remember when I killed my first deer with a bow. It was just a yearling, but I was proud of it! Back then, very few people bow hunted this area. My momma was talking to her sister on the phone the day that I killed that yearling. She said, 'Well, I've got a boy that done something ain't any of my other boys ever done. He killed a deer with a bow!' I think she was as proud as I was over it."
While Tommy's passion for bowhunting grew, it didn't go unnoticed. It also didn't take long for him to upgrade his newly found bow. He decided that he was going to buy a new one. In the meantime, he wound up becoming good friends with a fellow that camped at Horton's Landing. Tommy had made it known that he intended to buy a bow. The friend told Tommy's brother not to let him buy a bow because instead, he would send him one for Christmas. Tommy said, "He sent me that Browning Safari I Recurve, and boy, I thought that was the prettiest thing I had ever seen."
Fast forward to New Year's Day in 1971. All Tommy wanted to do was watch the football game on TV. A couple of his friends came over and wanted to go bowhunting. He told them to go ahead because he wanted to watch the ballgame. They wanted him to go too, so they finally persuaded him to get ready. Shortly after, they left and headed to the woods. The boys split up, and Tommy climbed a tree that he had been to several times before. It was a broken-over Sweetgum tree. He shimmied up it and stood on the top of the tree. The river was up, and the bottoms were pretty much all flooded. The deer were really out that evening. He saw several, including smaller bucks, before he saw this buck of a lifetime.
Tommy laughingly said, "When I saw him, he came walking down the trail straight to me and got to about 15 yards. Meanwhile, I counted the points on him because I thought, at least I can tell them how big of one I missed. Sure enough, I missed him! After I shot, he just ran up on a ridge in the thicket, and it gave me time to get another arrow and get it nocked. He came off that ridge back down into the bottoms; I had to hunker down to shoot under some limbs. At this point, he was around 35 yards away. I got lucky, and I hit him that time. I put the arrow through his lungs. He ran about 125 yards from where I shot him. I shot him with that Browning Recurve, which was about the top of the line back then. I was using a fiberglass arrow, a Microflite No. 9. We weren't up to aluminum at that time, or I wasn't anyway."
This buck's final score was 182 7/8 and, at the time, was the Arkansas non-typical archery state record. It maintained that position for over 20 years. It was killed in Arkansas County, near White River National Wildlife Refuge. The non-typical had 17 scorable points and weighed 265 pounds. Some of the pictures have been lost along the way, but Tommy still has the mount. The buck was featured in the book MONSTER WHITETAILS of Arkansas, which was published in 1994. The book editor would come to get the mount and take it to Little Rock, where they had the Arkansas Big Buck Classic to display it. Tommy's favorite part about the buck is his unusually tall eye guard with three points.
In awe of Tommy's story, I couldn't help but wonder if he had seen this massive buck before. Tommy shared that he had never seen it before the day that he shot it. Although his brother claimed that he had seen the deer during the previous year. Tommy had hunted the area a lot by that time, and he already knew it well. That was his go-to spot on New Year's Day. He was 23 years old when he killed it and had bow hunted that area for about 7 years. He used to go with his dad running trap lines. While his dad was running the trap lines, Tommy would often be caught looking for deer tracks. Despite this, he learned a lot about trapping from his dad, a renowned trapper. He taught him a lot about that area and the animals that inhabited it.
A friend of Tommy's called him the next day after shooting the buck and asked what he would do that day. He said, "Well, I'm thinking about going to DeWitt and getting my picture put in the paper with the buck I killed." The friend was very excited for him and asked how big the buck was. Once Tommy told him that it was a big one, he told him to hang on because he'd be right there. Tommy said, "He had a 1965 Chevrolet SuperSport, and he was really particular about that thing. I was just going to put it in my dad's truck when I took it to the local paper out here. He said, 'no, put it in this car,' so we put him in the car. When we got to the printer, he put that buck on the trunk of the car, and that's the picture in the MONSTER WHITETAILS of Arkansas book. He was particular with that car, but he was fine to put that deer up there."
This buck actually didn't get measured until a year later, in 1972. A man in Stuttgart did the measuring and told Tommy that it was probably a state record! A couple more years had passed before Tommy realized that the score never got turned in to the Pope and Young Club for some reason. He was able to get the buck measured again in Little Rock, and then the score was made official. Tommy even got a certificate from the Pope and Young Club. It was finally made official about 4 years after he had killed it, so it was the State Record from that point on for over 20 years.
This was the 6th deer that Tommy had killed. Previously, in October of 1970, Tommy shot an 8-point, which was the first buck he had ever killed. He has hunted and taken a lot of deer since then. The 17-point is the biggest buck he has ever gotten. However, he has taken a few other notable bucks, including two 15-point bucks scoring approximately 150 inches each and a 10-point with a 22.5 inch spread. It scored around 162 inches.
Tommy told me that he loves everything about whitetail hunting. He doesn't hunt as much anymore because of his health. However, he enjoys looking out at his place and watching the deer that are out there. He still keeps an eye on them out of the window, where he sees a lot of wildlife. In addition to deer, he has seen turkey, bear, coyotes, and wild pigs. He had two 8-points come out to where he could see them about every day last year within about 150 yards. He enjoys watching them and admits that it doesn't bother him not to pull the trigger anymore. Although he says that he sure would love to be out there. Tommy has even been able to do quite a bit of videoing once he got a camcorder. He shared that he's filmed several really nice bucks from his window.
While speaking with Tommy, he reminded me a lot of my Papaw. I'm so grateful that people from my Papaw's and Tommy's generation chose to pass on what they learned. They shared their passion for the outdoors, for conservation, and for providing their family with food. I hope that I can be as good of a steward and mentor so that my children and grandchildren can enjoy the same things that I have been raised on. Furthermore, I can't express how truly remarkable it is that he got this caliber of a deer, especially with a recurve. Tommy shared this with me, and in my opinion, this is one of his most significant accomplishments. "I've got grandkids now that stay with me, and they've killed some nice deer. I just love it when I hear one of them shoot. It makes me feel good that someone else can get one. A lot of people get jealous and don't want anyone else to kill anything, but it tickles me when someone kills a good deer; I'm proud of them and for them."