September 22, 2010
Western Tennessee has produced some true wallhangers in recent years. Here are the stories on two megabucks taken in 2007.
By Bill Cooper
Nelson Cannon was hunting during the early muzzleloader season in November 2007 when this 37-point monster made an appearance. With a score of 227 2/8 non-typical B&C points, Nelson's unbelievable trophy ranks No. 3 on Tennessee's all-time non-typical list.
Approximately 400 miles west of Tennessee's rugged and majestic Great Smoky Mountains, the topography drops over 6,000 feet in elevation to a gently rolling terrain of hilly uplands and small stream drainages. Lying between the Mississippi River to the west and the Tennessee River to the east, this area of the state is actually part of the Gulf Coastal Plain. Often referred to as the "Tennessee Bottoms," this large geographic land area follows the Mississippi River northward from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Illinois.
The landscape of the Coastal Plain region includes a mixture of agricultural land and pastureland, interspersed with wooded uplands and hardwood creek drainages. In other words, it's a perfect combination of ideal deer habitat. An additional benefit comes into play where scattered segments of old field acreages in the region have been placed in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and allowed to grow up in high weeds and brush. This provides excellent cover that is, in many cases, adjacent to agricultural food sources.
THE NELSON CANNON BUCK
In 2007, during Tennessee's early November muzzleloader season, Nelson Cannon of Memphis was hunting a tract of farmland in the region that included several fingers of hardwood timber surrounded by CRP acreage and cotton fields. He had hunted the farm earlier in the year during bow season, but on this particular occasion he decided to try a different location in a somewhat inaccessible area of dense hardwood thickets and CRP land.
Well before daybreak, the hunter made his way along a dim farm trail to where a 1-acre clover plot had been established at the end of a narrow CRP field. Not wanting to take the chance of jumping any deer that might be nearby, Nelson waited until there was just enough daylight to see across the opening before continuing on to the bordering woods line and climbing into position in his stand.
Shortly after getting settled in, Nelson began hearing rustlings in the leaves that he couldn't attribute to normal squirrel activity. Minutes later, he spotted five does between the woods line and the clover plot standing about 75 yards away.
"The deer were intently staring off to my left into an area of thick saplings, brush and briars," Nelson said. "At first, I didn't see anything, but as I continued to watch, I suddenly spotted a small tree shaking back and forth."
Realizing that the tree was being rubbed by a buck, the hunter attempted to find an opening in the undergrowth through which he could possibly get a glimpse of the deer. Unfortunately, he was able to see very little through the maze of branches and leaves.
"Once the buck stopped rubbing the tree, he moved slightly off to the side and raised his head, enabling me to partially see several antler points on one side of the rack," Nelson stated. "I knew that if the opposite antler even approximately matched the side I had seen, the buck definitely had one heck of a rack!
"The does remained standing near the clover plot, and I assumed the buck would eventually head in their direction, providing me with a clear shooting opportunity. But much to my surprise and disappointment, the buck turned in the opposite direction and completely disappeared in the dense undergrowth."
A Split-Second Decision
Moments later, Nelson spotted the buck moving through the thick understory between two trees. Nelson was also able to see that the buck had turned and was now walking straight away from his position.
"At that time, the deer was approximately 40 yards away and walking through a small opening in the brush. Although I had never previously considered taking a rear-angle shot opportunity, I remembered a friend of mine saying that if properly placed, the result was just as lethal as taking a broadside shot. With only seconds to make a decision, I quickly aimed and squeezed the trigger."
Through a haze of smoke, the hunter attempted to keep track of the big deer, but he neither saw nor heard a thing. Amazingly, the does never moved from their location near the woods line. After several additional minutes, though, the deer slowly meandered out into the clover and began feeding.
Amazingly, Tennessee's No. 2 non-typical was also taken in Haywood County. Justin Samples shot the 37-point bruiser in 2001. Justin's buck scored 232 7/8 non-typical B&C points.
"I remained in the stand for about an hour, thinking about the situation, not really feeling completely positive or negative," Nelson said. "I was just hopeful that I would be able to find my buck."
Upon walking to the buck's approximate location at the time he fired, Nelson discovered that the ground was littered with freshly fallen red sassafras leaves, making his search for a blood trail a real nightmare. After carefully scanning the area, he was unable to find any sign that the deer had been hit.
"Believing I would have gotten a glimpse of the buck had it gone to the right or left, I concluded that the deer probably ran straight ahead in the direction it was heading," Nelson said. "So after marking the spot, I began walking small circles through the woods about every 10 to 15 yards in that general direction. Admittedly, after making three or four circles without finding any trace of the deer, I began to seriously second-guess my decision to take the shot."
An Unbelievable Trophy
Luckily, the hunter didn't have to spend a great deal of time doubting his decision. As he was completing yet another circular route, Nelson spotted the big whitetail lying several yards away. The absence of a blood trail was immediately apparent by the fact that the bullet had never exited (one of the dangers of taking that particular shot).
"The buck's rack was simply incredible," Nelson said. "I was somewhat familiar with the Boone and Crockett scoring system, but only from the standpoint of generally characterizing a rack as being in the 130, 140 or 150 class. In this case, I wasn't even sure exactly how many points were on the rack, much less how to go about determining a score!"
Later, in Memphis, Nelson took the deer to Johnny Hataway, a local taxidermist. Because of the very unusual antler growth, he, too, was at a loss in regard to estimating what the buck might score. However, he assured Nelson that the rack included well over 200 inches of bone. Both men were in agreement that, regardless of score, the buck was definitely the trophy of a lifetime.
One look at the amazing antlers and all of the statements become quite understandable. Except for matching brow tines, the rack exhibits very little normal antler growth. In fact, at approximately the G-2 tine position, both antlers seem to explode into a large cluster of antler points and mass.
Official rack statistics include a total of 37 scorable points, 10 of which make up the basic 5x5 typical frame. Antler spread is 27 7/8 inches outside and 18 2/8 inches inside. Mass measurements increase from 4 inches at the base of the beams to 8 and 9 4/8 inches midway out along the beams at the fourth circumference location. The 10-point typical frame grosses 156 1/8 and nets 148 6/8. After including the additional 27 abnormal points, totaling 78 4/8 inches, the rack's final non-typical B&C score stands at 227 2/8.
Nelson's buck ranks as Tennessee's all-time No. 3 non-typical whitetail. Amazingly, the state's No. 2 non-typical, another giant 37-point buck, scoring 232 7/8, was also taken in the Coastal Plain region, and in fact came from the same county (Haywood County) as Nelson's great buck. Justin Samples took the deer during the 2001 season while hunting farmland that included a large amount of CRP acreage.
Mike Wilbur of Bartlett, Tennessee, shot his awesome 195 4/8-inch non-typical on opening day of the 2007 firearms season. Mike's Haywood County bruiser sported 20 scorable points and 33 5/8 inches in non-typical growth.
MIKE WILBUR'S COASTAL PLAIN GIANT
On Nov. 17, 2007, opening day of Tennessee's gun deer season, Mike Wilbur of Bartlett was positioned in a narrow tree line overlooking several acres of agricultural fields that were planted in cotton and beans. Having hunted the Haywood County farm for approximately 18 years, Mike was quite familiar with the surrounding terrain and the normal movement pattern of deer on the property.
"Hunting this particular area during bow season usually produces a number of antlerless deer and small buck sightings," Mike noted. "However, whenever the rut begins, which can be as early as the first week in November, the location is one of the best spots on the farm to encounter mature bucks that are chasing or looking for does. Last year, for whatever reason, the timing of the rut seemed to be completely out of sync, with very little buck activity observed through mid-November. I was hopeful that situation would begin to change by the start of gun season."
Despite his expectations, the hunter's first couple of hours in the stand that morning were disappointing. Except for two deer sighted shortly after daybreak, there was no other activity in the area.
"By 9 o'clock, I was a pretty frustrated deer hunter," Mike said. "I was well aware that an EHD outbreak had affected deer populations in many sections of the state, and while there had been no dead deer found on this farm or surrounding properties, I couldn't help but wonder if that could perhaps explain the overall lack of deer activity in the area."
One of the great aspects of whitetail hunting is that it is so unpredictable. A hunter never knows when the magical "right place at the right time" will occur. For Mike Wilbur, the time was at hand.
As he continued his vigil, a doe suddenly ran out of the woods 200 yards across the field. Trailing directly behind her was a large buck. Angling slightly away from Mike's position, the two deer quickly crossed the field and disappeared in the same line of trees where the hunter was located.
"I was trying to figure out exactly where the deer had gone when I happened to see another buck run out of the woods, following the same route the first two had taken. I immediately stood up in the stand and hollered, hoping to stop the deer. Fortunately, it worked, and I could see that the second buck was a big 8-pointer."
As Mike was watching the 8-pointer, he noticed that the deer was staring intently toward the line of trees. Quickly glancing in that direction, he was amazed to see the doe and buck heading directly toward him along the tree line.
"I had just maneuvered into shooting position when the buck abruptly stopped about 50 yards away," Mike related. "I knew the buck was big, but at that moment, looking at the deer through the scope, its size nearly took my breath away."
After the shot, the hunter gathered his gear together and walked to where the huge whitetail was lying. Kneeling down, he lifted the deer's head to get a close look at the massive rack.
"That was really a special moment," Mike said. "I've hunted other states, always hoping that someday I might encounter a really big buck, but never dreaming I would be lucky enough for it to happen here at home."
The buck's awesome antlers include 20 scorable points, 10 of which make up the basic typical frame. Tine length is impressive and gives the rack an appearance of great height. Consider for example, 8- and 7-inch brow tines, paired G-2s that tape 12 4/8 and 11 2/8 inches, and G-3s that exceed 9 inches.
The 10-point frame grosses 169 5/8 and nets 161 7/8. After adding in the remaining 10 abnormal points, totaling 33 5/8 inches, the rack's final non-typical B&C score is 195 4/8.
Western Tennessee's Coastal Plain region has a long-standing reputation for providing outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities, not the least of which is waterfowl hunting. Considering the quality of whitetails the region has produced in recent years, however, there could well be a shift in the popularity ranking!