Having lost his hunting lease in 2007, Devin Key had to scramble to find another spot to hunt in 2008. Not only did he do just that, he ended up taking the buck of a lifetime!
The day before Devin Key downed this 24-pointer on a small tract in the Atlanta suburbs, the assistant pastor at the hunter's church predicted Devin would shoot a buck as big as "two 10-pointers." The tremendous Rockdale County non-typical has a net Boone and Crockett score of 211 5/8 inches.
Two years ago, Devin Key experienced an event many other whitetail hunters also can relate to: namely, the loss of his deer lease.
Because Devin lives near Stock-bridge, Georgia, on the outskirts of the Atlanta suburbs, this was especially bad news. High population growth and development have placed virtually all land there into one of two categories: Either no hunting is allowed, or the hunting rights have already been acquired.
"I've been hunting since my teens, and it really bothered me not having a reliable place to go whenever I had a day off," Devin said. "I really wasn't interested in a big club, just a small-acreage location that I could occasionally hunt and take my two boys, Colt and Cal, who are 12 and 9."
Finally, in October 2008, Devin was given permission to hunt a small block of land only a short distance from his home. The landowner's only stipulation was that Devin use a bow or shotgun, not a centerfire rifle.
"At the time, gun season had just opened the previous weekend," Devin noted. "I had an afternoon off, so I decided to do a little scouting, put up a ladder stand for my son, and hunt the remainder of the evening. However, just as I was about to leave, I got a call from David McCoy, my preacher at Peoples Baptist Church in McDonough. He was out of town and had just gotten a call from his 82-year-old father. During an apparent burglary, his dad's door had been kicked down. Since I'm a general contractor, David asked if I could get it repaired and secure the house. I assured him that I would."
PLENTY OF GOOD SIGN
Devin had time to make a quick stop at the hunting land to set up his ladder stand before continuing on to take care of the door repair. During his initial trip to the property, he had found a couple of small rubs and one scrape near a thick stand of young pines. After parking the truck, he picked up the ladder and headed for that location.
"As I approached the pines, I was really amazed at the dramatic increase in buck sign," Devin said. "I found several freshly rubbed trees and two or three large new scrapes.
Normally, I prefer to position my stand a fairly good distance away from that type of buck sign, just to make sure there's no possibility of spooking any deer. But in this instance, knowing the distance limitations of a shotgun, I realized that wasn't an option."
After getting the stand secured, Devin drove to the elder McCoy's home and took a few measurements. He then picked up a new door from a nearby home supply store. By 9 o'clock that night, the job was completed. Earlier, the church's assistant pastor, Ray Turner, had also stopped by to offer his help. As Devin was leaving, Ray stopped and shook his hand, saying, "Devin, the Lord is really going to bless you for helping God's man. The next time you go hunting, you're going to kill one as big as two 10-pointers."
The following morning, Devin awoke to sounds of wind and rain. Weather reports indicated a strong storm system was beginning to move through the North Georgia area.
A GOOD DAY FOR DUCKS . . .
"It sounded like the wind was blowing 100 miles an hour, and the rain was pouring down," Devin said. "I checked the local weather reports and radar for any forecast of possible severe weather or tornadoes. After learning that the rain and wind were the only real threats, I began getting my hunting gear ready. I never considered taking my son out in such a mess, so I went alone. Being in the construction business, many of my off days have to be during times of bad weather, and I simply can't afford to pass up any hunting opportunities."
As Devin drove to the property, his primary concern was the wind, which seemed to be swirling in every direction. Having placed the ladder stand within shotgun range of the scrapes and rubs, the hunter figured there was a high likelihood his scent would prohibit him from seeing any deer.
"Fortunately, as I was walking to the stand, I began smelling a skunk, and the closer I got, the stronger the odor," Devin said. "While it wasn't pleasant, I certainly couldn't think of anything better to mask my scent.
"My only other concern was the shotgun. I was using my 12-gauge Beretta duck gun, and I decided to load two rounds of buckshot behind a slug, just in case I missed with my first shot."
Because of the steady rain, Devin brought along a small umbrella he had received as a gift a couple of years earlier. The bottom of the umbrella's shaft was threaded, allowing it to screw directly into the tree.
"The umbrella was a definite asset in regard to keeping the rain off," Devin said. "But the raindrops sounded like they were falling on a drum; I kept thinking every deer in the county could hear the noise."
Devin had positioned the ladder stand in open hardwoods approximately 30 yards from the edge of the thick pines. A few pockets of thick undergrowth were scattered about, but for the most part the hunter had a relatively good view of the surrounding woods.
A GIFT FROM HEAVEN?
Devin had to be constantly alert to detect any sign of deer movement, as the combination of wind and rain had virtually eliminated all other sounds from the hunting equation.
About 30 minutes after getting settled in, the hunter glanced to his right and spotted a buck about 35 yards away walking in his direction. Within seconds, the deer disappeared in the thick pines behind him. Rain blowing into Devin's face had made seeing detail extremely difficult, but he was sure the buck's rack extended beyond his ears.
"I tried every way in the world to stand up on the rungs of the ladder and look behind me, but I just couldn't see the deer," Devin said. "I knew the buck had a fairly good spread and a few tall tines, but I couldn't count points or determine much else.
"I continued to watch, particularly around the pine thicket, but the buck seemed to vanish," the hunter added. "After about 20 minutes, I took out a grunt call and grunted two or three times. I felt sure the buck was still nearby and I thought that might trigger some activity."
Devin was right. Within minutes of his blowing the call, a huge buck walked out of the pines and stopped 30 yards away, facing slightly away from the stand.
"The deer looked bigger, but since it came from the same direction where the buck had disappeared, I naturally assumed it was the same animal," Devin said. "The problem was, I couldn't see any antlers. The deer had obviously been rubbing on trees and had somehow broken off a branch that was still lodged in his rack. The large cluster of leaves completely covered the buck's antlers," he recalled.
MAKING THE SHOT COUNT
"When the buck first walked out, I immediately raised my shotgun, but without being able to see the rack, I hesitated. Eventually I put the gun back in my lap. I didn't want to shoot a buck that I might normally pass up, because I hoped that my son might later get a chance at the deer."
The buck had initially stopped behind a small hickory that partially blocked Devin's view of the shoulder and chest cavity. However, as the hunter continued to watch, the deer took a couple of steps forward, moving most of his body completely into the clear.
"At that point, the buck looked really huge, too big to let go," Devin said. "Having only a few acres to hunt, I realized the odds were that neither I nor my son would probably ever get another chance at a deer like this."
Devin raised his shotgun and carefully aligned the front bead with the buck's shoulder. At the shot, the animal bolted straight ahead and out of sight.
"The deer gave no indication it had been hit," Devin said. "In fact, the buck ran like it had been shot out of a cannon. There was never an opportunity to even think about shooting one of the buckshot loads. I remained in the stand for several minutes, but I knew I couldn't afford to wait too long, or the rain would wash away all traces of a blood trail."
After walking to the approximate spot where he had last seen the deer, the hunter discovered there was no need to worry about finding a blood trail. Just ahead, a huge rack was sticking up behind a log!
A STUNNING ACHIEVEMENT
"When I first saw the antlers, I thought, 'Good gracious, what a buck!'" Devin said. "I hurried up to the deer and reached down and pulled up his head so I could see the entire rack. My legs actually buckled from the shock. I simply couldn't believe the size of the buck's antlers, much less that I had killed such a great deer a short distance from where I lived."
The left side of the rack included a long drop tine with dried velvet covering its tip. Devin had remembered seeing the dark-brown tine sticking out from the cluster of leaves on top of the deer's head, but at the time, he had thought the antler was part of the tree branch.
"I decided to make a quick count of antler points and came up with 25 or 26," Devin related. "I immediately thought of Brother Turner's blessing the previous evening when he said I'd kill a deer as big as 'two 10-pointers.' Remarkably, my buck exceeded that figure. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine a buck of this size, and I truly thank the Lord for allowing me to take such a great animal."
Following the required 60-day drying period, Devin had the buck's antlers officially measured. The results of that taping session were impressive. The rack has 24 scorable points, 11 of which make up the basic typical frame. That frame grosses 166 6/8 inches and nets 161 7/8. The 13 additional abnormal points total a whopping 49 6/8 inches, bringing the final non-typical B&C score to 211 5/8. In addition to qualifying for B&C's all-time record book (minimum score 195 net), the giant suburban whitetail ranks as Georgia's top non-typical of the 2008 season.
BIGGEST EVER FROM THE COUNTY
Last May, Devin attended the annual Georgia Outdoor Writers Association awards banquet in Augusta, where he was presented a plaque and certificate for taking 2008's best non-typical whitetail in the Firearms Division of the Georgia Big Deer Contest. The Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Sportsman magazine and the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association are joint sponsors of this annual contest.
Devin's buck stands as the biggest whitetail ever recorded in Rockdale County. It is also the state's biggest non-typical gun kill in a number of years.
While many rural sportsmen might have a hard time believing a buck of this size could be taken on a small tract in a county undergoing rapid development and human population growth, Devin's trophy hardly comes as a shock to serious hunters in the Atlanta area. Basically, the deer habitat in Rockdale County is similar to that of other metro Atlanta counties, including Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb and Forsyth (several of which are restricted to bowhunting). While the entire Atlanta area continues to undergo similar economic growth and development, all of these counties have produced their share of big bucks in recent years.
The bad news for anyone seeking hunting land in the Atlanta suburbs is that it is scarce.
However, for those who are fortunate enough to gain permission to hunt, the rewards can be impressive. This record-book trophy was 5 1/2 years old, showing what can happen when bucks are allowed to reach the prime of life -- even in the shadow of the city.