September 22, 2010
By Bill Cooper
Hunting a giant buck in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, near houses, highways, barking dogs and nature hikers demands a special kind of dedication. Bob Coombs of Roswell, Georgia, persevered last season and won the contest!
By Bill Cooper
Photos courtesy of Bob Coombs.
The whitetail's amazing ability to adapt to an infinite variety of habitats has been stated many times. Without question, this special quality is one of the primary reasons the animal is generally considered to be the No. 1 big game species in North America. Diverse habitat conditions dictate that hunters must also be adaptable, particularly in regard to modifying methods used to pursue these great deer.
Few situations require more adjustment on the hunter's part than bowhunting whitetails in a highly urban environment. Over the last few years, Bob Coombs has hunted several locations within the suburbs of northern Fulton County, an area that has experienced extreme urbanization due to its proximity to Atlanta.
Despite the ongoing changes in land use, deer can be found in scattered small-acreage tracts of land not yet developed, and along drainages, both natural and manmade. In many cases, these drainages are rugged, rock-filled ravines, commonly referred to as "greenbelts" because they have been covered by dense thickets of kudzu, privet and small hardwoods.
During the 2005-2006 season, Bob hunted a 50-acre tract of mature hardwoods located on a rounded hilltop above a small creek. Houses and a four-lane highway bordered the wooded knoll. On the final day of the season, the hunter settled into position well before daybreak, enduring subfreezing temperatures and brisk northerly winds. Weeks earlier, he had sighted a huge wide-racked buck on the hill, but on this morning the woods remained totally devoid of deer activity.
"Cold and hungry, I had decided to take a quick break for lunch and was lowering my bow to the ground," Bob said. "At that same moment, a 4-point buck and a doe suddenly came running up the hillside, followed seconds later by the giant buck. I immediately tried to pull the bow up, but only succeeded in getting the rope tangled with several of my equipment straps."
The hunter looked on as the three deer disappeared over the top of the hill. After remaining in the stand for a short while to see if the buck might return, he took a quick lunch break. The afternoon was uneventful, but in the near darkness of late evening as Bob prepared to leave the stand, he suddenly spotted the 4-pointer and doe almost directly below. Although the big deer was not in sight, he could hear the sounds of antlers raking and breaking tree branches a short distance away.
"That experience was a tough way to end the season," Bob said. "My only hope was that the buck would survive to the following fall."
That question went unanswered for an extended period of time. Although the hunter had three trail cameras located on the site, the big whitetail managed to stay out of sight during the summer and early fall of 2006. However, while hunting the property during the second week in October, Bob sighted the buck twice during a four-day period, and then the deer disappeared again.
"Hunting in urban areas requires an entirely different perspective on understanding deer movement patterns," Bob noted. "The number of deer at a specific location can change dramatically from one day to the next, and the animals may travel considerable distances to reach a particular pocket of habitat. Highways and neighborhoods are certainly not barriers to deer movement.
"In this case, I was just happy to know that the buck was still around and had grown an even bigger rack than in '05," he continued. "I was reasonably sure the big deer would eventually return to my location."
While Bob's assessment was correct, approximately a month elapsed before the buck was next sighted a few days before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, during that afternoon hunt, nature walkers and dogs, plus a broken bow sight that resulted in a lost 30-yard shot opportunity, caused an extremely frustrating day.
"I believe the sight must have been damaged while I was carrying the bow by the string," Bob said. "At the time, I was really afraid that single mistake may have cost me the buck. Needless to say, I was disappointed."
Later, the hunter found out some more bad news when he stopped by Mitch Saxon's archery shop in Canton, Georgia. Due to a tremendous backlog of work orders, the repair work on his bow would not be completed for several days.
"Knowing the buck was currently on the hunting tract, I couldn't afford to wait," Bob said. "I also realized it would probably take just as long to have a new compound bow set up and fine-tuned to my specifications, so I purchased a new Excalibur crossbow on the spot. After adjusting the sights and making numerous practice shots, I felt very confident of the bow's accuracy up to 50 yards."
During his visit to the archery shop, Bob invited Mitch to accompany him on a bowhunt, with the understanding that the big buck he had been hunting for two years was off limits. On Thanksgiving morning, the two men arrived at the hunt site well before daybreak. After positioning Mitch atop a ladder stand, Bob walked another 400 yards along the hillside and climbed into another stand.
"About 8:30, I received a call from Mitch," Bob said. "He excitedly told me there were deer all around him, including the giant buck, and that the big deer was definitely a monster!"
Bob was also told that the big deer was actively pursuing does and aggressively chasing off smaller bucks. Knowing this, the hunter began using his call. He combined several grunt sequences with an occasional aggressive snort-wheeze vocalization. Minutes later, the huge buck stepped into view, approximately 120 yards away.
"The buck was walking in my direction, but at 60 yards he stopped abruptly and began looking down toward the creek," Bob said. "The big deer continued to stand there, staring downhill. I began to get a very uneasy feeling that he was about to leave."
Frustrated, excited and unsure of exactly what to do next, the hunter acted on impulse. Picking up his Primos doe bleat can call, he turned it over. Immediately snapping its head in the direction of the sound, the buck resumed walking toward the concealed hunter.
It seemed to Bob that a wall of antlers was approaching from less than 20 yards away. Taking careful aim, he fired the crossbow, and the buck hit the ground but quickly attempted to regain its footing. Amazingly, a 6-point buck suddenly came running up and aggressive
ly began to hook its rack into the bigger deer. By the time Bob got out of the stand, the big buck's struggles had ended.
"It was a very surreal moment, something I will never forget," Bob said. "As the morning sunlight reflected off the deer's huge antlers, I knelt down and thanked God for allowing me to take such a magnificent animal."
While examining the buck, Bob found evidence that the deer had recently experienced an accident of some sort, most likely an encounter with a vehicle. There was a deep cut under the jaw, two front teeth were broken, and all but one inch of the G-4 tine was broken off the left antler.
The rack has a total of 16 scorable points, 12 of which make up the basic 6x6 typical frame. Official antler measurements include an impressive spread of 24 2/8 inches outside and 20 4/8 inches inside. The main beams exceed 22 1/2 inches and the rack exhibits great tine length. For example, the paired G-2 and G-3 tines all tape 11 inches or more.
In regard to scoring, the basic 12-point typical frame grosses 171 4/8 and nets 160 4/8. After adding the four abnormal points, totaling 21 4/8 inches, the final non-typical B&C score stands at 182. This ranks the buck as Georgia's top non-typical of 2006 and moves the deer into the No. 1 spot as the state's biggest whitetail by crossbow.
Interestingly, as news of the buck spread, a local resident sent Bob several photos of the deer. Taken earlier in the fall, the photos clearly show the buck's entire rack, and it is quite evident that both G-4 tines are approximately equal in length. Therefore, at that time, even the most conservative of estimates would easily place the rack's score at over 196, which would have qualified the deer for the all-time record book.