Just seven days and a few miles separate the tales of two Georgia bowhunters who struck it big in the shadow of Atlanta's urban sprawl.
Rusty Osborne shot his 180-class non-typical on a small tract of land near downtown Atlanta that included an abandoned golf course.
After settling into a ground blind set up just hours earlier, bowhunter Rusty Osborne could hardly believe his eyes when a huge whitetail buck suddenly walked into view. Never one to question good luck, the archer immediately came to full draw, aimed and touched the release -- only to experience the emotional train wreck of watching his arrow sail harmlessly by the big deer.
"The buck was walking parallel to the blind, about 45 to 50 yards away, and I simply miscalculated the distance," he noted. "It's a feeling that only another hunter can understand, but I was literally sick."
This scenario took place during Georgia's fall hunting season of 2006, on a tract of land practically within sight of Atlanta's downtown skyline. The acreage was additionally unique in that it included an abandoned golf course.
"The old fairways were grown up in weeds, vines, and saplings. In most places the vegetation was at least 10 feet high" Osborne said. "The undergrowth was so thick we had to cut out several trails just to get from one area to another."
Following the hunter's missed opportunity, the buck was not seen again that fall and was never sighted during the following 2007 season. However, despite not being seen, trail camera photos revealed that the big whitetail was still using the area.
"In late summer of 2008, a companion and I were riding in a golf cart, checking out several potential stand locations," Osborne noted. "As we neared a large kudzu thicket, two bucks suddenly stood up, and there was no mistaking the uniquely shaped antlers of the biggest deer. Standing only 20 yards away and in full velvet, the sight literally took my breath."
During the first several weeks of bow season, Osborne focused his hunting efforts in an area where, years earlier, a number of sawtooth oaks had been planted. Known to be excellent mast producers, the trees are also some of the first oaks to begin dropping acorns each fall.
"Last year was no different than previous seasons," Osborne said. "Deer activity was really concentrated in that particular section of the hunt area. I saw several bucks, but unfortunately, not the big deer I was looking for."
In mid-November, with the rut in full swing, Osborne opted to hunt a narrow strip of woods lying between two of the grown-up fairways. The location was not far from where he had missed the big whitetail two years earlier.
"Having hunted there on other occasions, I knew there were several big oaks present and normally a good spot to see does," he explained. "I felt sure the buck's primary activity pattern was nocturnal, but I was hoping the rut might have the deer moving during daylight hours."
Well before dawn, Osborne silently followed one of the cut-out paths through the old fairway and climbed into his tree stand within the wooded draw. The morning was cool and quiet with a slight ground fog.
Brian Taylor's 174-inch non-typical -- nicknamed "Holy 4" -- was departing the scene when Taylor employed a snort-wheeze to bring him back into bow range.
"At daybreak, I began hearing deer moving in the woods around me," Osborne said. "It quickly became apparent that there was a chase going on and within seconds, both deer came directly under the stand. In spite of the low light conditions, I had no problem being able to identify the buck's large rack. I actually drew my bow, but the shooting conditions simply weren't right to attempt a shot."
Understandably, the hunter was more than a little frustrated and disappointed, but fortunately those feelings lasted only briefly. Within minutes, he heard the sounds of a deer approaching from behind the stand; turning in that direction, he spotted a doe moving through the bottom toward him.
"I didn't even bother to look for the buck," Osborne said. "I immediately picked up my bow and got ready. The doe eventually stopped just below the stand, and as I glanced behind her I saw the buck coming straight in with his head to the ground.
"The buck was in a slow walk and slightly quartering at 14 yards. Just before touching the release, I briefly considered stopping the deer with a mouth bleat, but at that distance I was afraid the sudden sound might spook him."
At the shot, the big whitetail bolted forward and quickly disappeared from view. However, a short while later, Osborne located the buck approximately 125 yards away near one of the cut trails in the old fairway. Kneeling down and holding the buck's big gnarly rack was a perfect ending for the hunter's two-year quest.
The buck's rack has 18 points, 10 of which comprise the basic typical frame. The antlers exhibit an exceptional combination of tine length and antler mass.
Six tines, including both brows (G-1s) tape nine or more inches in length, and the eight circumference measurements gross 40 4/8 inches of antler mass. The 10-point frame grosses 166 6/8 and nets 158 4/8. After adding in the eight abnormal points, the rack's final non-typical Pope &Young score stands at 187 4/8.
Brian Taylor'sFulton County 20-Pointer
Bowhunter Brian Taylor was looking forward to the fall of 2008 with great anticipation.
In addition to hunting on his regular Fulton County deer lease near the outskirts of Atlanta, he had also booked his first out-of-state bowhunting trip to Illinois.
But tragically, in mid-October, his stepfather, Walt Spell, suffered a severe heart attack and passed away in early November.
"Walt was an avid hunter and a big influence on my life," Taylor noted. "He really enjoyed talking about deer and looking at the t
rail camera photos from the Fulton County property. His favorite deer was a very big buck that he had named 'Holy 4.' We had numerous photos of the deer, most of which were taken at night, but no one had ever encountered the buck while hunting.
"Because of the circumstances, the Illinois outfitter was very understanding and rescheduled my hunt for a slightly later date. However, mentally, I really had a tough time trying to focus my thoughts on hunting. I enjoyed the experience, but I was glad to get back home."
In late November, on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, Taylor decided to try an early morning hunt on the Fulton County land. He was accompanied by Kirk Crisler, a longtime friend and bowhunting companion, and a fellow member of the deer lease.
Well before dawn, the two men briefly deliberated several options as choices for stand locations, and then went their separate ways. Taylor positioned his tree stand in fairly open woods, approximately 35 yards from the edge of a large power line right-of-way.
"It was a pretty strenuous climb getting the stand positioned and I created much more noise than I would have liked," Taylor said. "But it turned out to be a really nice morning, very clear and quiet.
"Shortly after sunrise, I saw a doe come out of a nearby bottom and head out toward the right-of-way. Normally there is a lot of rut activity on the property in late November, and I kept watching the area where the doe came from, expecting to see a buck appear, but it didn't happen."
A short while later, the hunter began hearing sounds of an additional deer moving about in the thick bottom. Eventually, a deer exited the thicket, walked to the edge of the right-of-way and stopped.
"I knew the deer was a buck, but initially, I didn't have a very clear view of its rack," Taylor said. "However, once the deer stopped and turned its head, I immediately realized it was 'Holy 4' and my heart began to race."
As the buck turned and began walking across the power line opening, Taylor quickly grabbed his grunt call and blew it several times. At one point, the deer looked back in his direction, but otherwise, showed very little interest.
"When I was in Illinois, I bought a call that I was basically unfamiliar with, called a snort-wheeze," Taylor noted. "By the time I dug it out of my fanny pack, the buck was over 75 yards away, and I honestly thought I had missed my chance. But when I blew the call, the buck abruptly stopped and turned around. I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing. The deer's entire personality changed. It was truly amazing. The buck came directly toward me, walking stiff-legged, as though he was on a string."
Standing up in shooting position, Taylor came to full draw as the buck approached to within 20 yards. The only problem was the deer's straight head-on angle, which presented a very poor shooting opportunity.
"I wasn't about to try a neck shot on 'Holy 4,'" Taylor said. "As I let the bow down, the buck veered off into a patch of high briars and small pines where I had no shot. The deer eventually reached the edge of the right-of-way and continued to walk away in the opposite direction. I quickly decided my only choice was to very softly blow the snort wheeze call again.
"Amazingly, the buck instantly spun around and came back down through the woods toward me. Just before reaching my position, the deer turned sharply, as if circling back toward the power line. At that point, with the buck only 30 yards away, I whistled loudly, stopping the deer in its tracks. Everything was perfect; I let my arrow fly and when I saw the feathers disappear precisely where I had aimed, I knew it was over."
After a short run of about 60 yards, the big whitetail went down. Taylor remained in the stand a few minutes to give his nerves a chance to calm down, and then called Crisler to relate what had happened.
"Once Kirk arrived, there was really a lot of emotion, a lot of tears," Taylor related. "Considering everything that had happened and then taking the biggest buck of my life, it was a very surreal moment. I only wish that I could have shared the experience with Walt, but somehow I think he knows."
The rack of Taylor's great buck has 20 scorable points, 11 of which comprise the 6-by-5 typical frame. Tine length is easily the most impressive feature, with brows (G-1s) that tape 8 5/8 and 7 inches, plus five additional tines that measure between 9 6/8 and 8 inches. The 11-point frame grosses 166 2/8 and nets 157. After adding in the nine abnormal points, totaling 17 3/8 inches, the final non-typical Pope & Young score is 174 3/8.