June 18, 2022
Travis “T-bone” Turner grew up hunting in Georgia. He now travels the continent chasing whitetails for the popular Bone Collector television show on Outdoor Channel alongside co-hosts Michael Waddell and Nick Mundt.
“I come from humble beginnings, and I always hunted public land growing up,” says Travis. “Like so many people in the southeast, I joined a hunting club on timber land. Which is great for comradery, but you do have to be careful you don’t step on the other members’ toes while dealing with the timber company coming in and managing the property.”
Travis says that hunting on timber land can make hunting and scouting for whitetails frustrating. Since timber is a cash crop for the south, managing the timber is a higher priority for timber companies than deer hunting. It’s common for timber companies to come in and thin the timber or clearcut areas where hunters spend most of their season. This can lead to obvious frustrations for hunters, and it increased Travis’ interest in owning his own hunting land.
“I never thought I’d be able to own my own property,” says Travis. “That concept just seemed so far off.” In 1999, Travis’ desire to own his own hunting land reached a tipping point. He and his wife didn’t have much, and he wasn’t sure if he could afford it, but he decided it was time to own a piece of dirt. “I bit the bullet and bought 27 acres,” Travis says. “I really couldn’t afford it, but I told myself, ‘Some way, somehow, I’ll find a way to pay for it.’”
When Travis purchased the land, the 27-acre parcel wasn’t prime whitetail habitat. In fact, as any whitetail land manager knows, 27 acres isn’t enough area to provide every single thing that a healthy whitetail population needs. But Travis didn’t buy the property because he thought he could cram things like food, bedding and thermal cover onto it; he bought it because of its proximity to quality habitat.
“I chose that tract because of its location. It is surrounded by a large piece of land that’s about 2,100 acres. There’s a lot of water on the big property, and since it’s owned by a private landowner no one had legally hunted it in over 20 years,” Travis says.
With the 2,100-acre piece having all the bedding that the area would need, the only thing Travis had to figure out was how to pull the deer off the property and onto his. Convincing deer to leave 2,100 acres of little pressured habitat to hangout on 27 acres may seem daunting, but Travis focused on one thing: food.
“I was just getting into planting food plots,” says Travis. “And my thinking was I’d turn my 27 acres into the Baskin Robins that sits beside the mall. I felt that if I had all the food and no one was hunting the other property, I’d be able to draw deer onto my land. It worked fantastically.”
Travis’ initial work paid off quickly. In the fall of 2000, he killed his first buck on the property; a 152-inch 9-point that he had some trail camera images of during a time when you still had to get trail camera pictures developed from film. “There’s nothing like the feeling of owning your own dirt,” says Travis. “I’m proud of every buck I kill, but it adds to the pride factor when you get one on your own land that you put the sweat equity into.”
Learning As You Go
Since buying his initial 27-acre piece, Travis has expanded his land. Over the years, he’s picked-up a few smaller pieces here and there, and even bought some 20-plus acre chunks, too. Today, the once 27-acre piece of land now stretches over 90 acres.
Like the size of his property, Travis’ knowledge and tactics for land management have expanded and evolved. too. When he began managing the land, all the work was done by hand. He didn’t have a skid-steer or any modern equipment. Instead, he created his openings with a chainsaw and did all his food plots with his four-wheeler. Fortunately for Travis, it was all a labor of love.
“There’s more to hunting than just killing a deer,” says Travis. “And when your time is limited, it’s important to just spend time in the woods. That’s always been my mentality, and early on I spent any day in the woods that I could.”
Although Travis enjoyed every second spent in the woods, he had to learn how to balance that time with giving the property the rest it needed so mature deer would feel comfortable using it in the daylight. Early into his journey as a landowner, Travis enjoyed simply recreating on the property; he spent lots of time riding his four-wheeler, spending time on the land with family and even hosting archery shoots on his property. However, it didn’t take long for him to realize he couldn’t constantly be on the land.
“I realized that I had to reduce my pressure. Even though I wanted to ride my four-wheeler and mess around on the property, I knew I had to stay out so deer were comfortable hitting my food sources in the daylight,” Travis remembers.
Georgia isn’t generally regarded as a big buck state. However, in the 20-plus years that he’s managed land in Georgia, Travis has learned that allowing the age class you want to develop is key for producing big, mature deer in a place where it is more difficult to do so.
“It’s really a game of birthdays. It can be hard in Georgia to look at a deer that you know is four years old and you’d be proud to shoot him, but you let him walk,” says Travis. “I’m all for shooting whatever makes you happy and trips your trigger if it’s legal, and I never want to come across as a big trophy hunter who tells others what they can or can’t shoot. But if producing trophy quality bucks is something you want to do, you have to give them everything they need and let them get to the age where they can reach that trophy quality.”
Refining the Food
Travis’ property still borders the large chunk of unhunted land that it always has. And his strategy of making his property the destination food source for those deer is still the goal. However, after over two decades of managing the property, Travis has refined his food plot strategies.
“I can’t tell you what will work all over the country, but I know what has worked well for me in Georgia,” says Travis. “The Buck Forage oat is a stunted oat, and it handles grazing better and stays palatable longer. The deer absolutely love it more. I can’t think of a better kill-plot oat than Buck Forage.”
In the Georgia climate, Buck Forage oats on Travis’ property finish running their course between late February and early March. It’s common for large landowners to use the spring and summer months to plant separate warm-season food plots to keep giving deer nutrition. Like many whitetail hunters, Travis doesn’t own enough land to do separate food plots for the seasons. So, he uses a planting system that gives him year-round food in one planting.
“Buck Forage is what I want to hunt over, but I also want to have something to carry me from March until September. I mix chicory with two types of clover and two types of alfalfa; it’s called Full Potential, and it’s from Arrow Seed Company in Nebraska,” says Travis. “I mix all that with my Buck Forage and plant it in late September to avoid drought. Then, in late February or March when the oats have run their course, I’ll mow them and then spray the plot. This allows everything to thrive through the summer, and I get nearly year-round food plots by only plowing once.”
Travis’ food plots provide him with great nutrition and hunting opportunities, but he also utilizes feeding to increase his deer herd’s health and to get better shot opportunities. His protein feeders help him learn the deer on his property.
“I make the deer walk a long way to get to my protein feeders,” says Travis. “I put them far from where the deer are bedding, knowing I’d probably never get a daytime photo. However, it makes the deer learn and travel my property while I’m taking inventory of the bucks in the area.”
The feeders get the deer acquainted with Travis’ property, but they aren’t tools that he uses to move in and shoot a buck. For that, he has a separate, effective feeding strategy that he calls “appetizer piles.”
Travis explains: “What we do is we take small appetizer piles of corn or something else and put a camera over them throughout the property. This allows us to track the deer movement, and when a shooter daylights, it allows us to go in with the right wind and conditions to hunt him.”
Reaping the Rewards
For Travis, two decades of managing his Georgia property paid off during the 2020 hunting season, when he killed two giant Georgia whitetails.
Throughout 2020, Travis had two huge, mature bucks frequenting his property. Travis spotted one, a big, clean 10-point, for the first time that year on July 4th feeding in a field.
“At the time, I didn’t know he was a buck we had on camera in 2019,” says Travis. “He had blown up, and he put on roughly 20 inches from the year before. We named him ‘Spinal Tap’ after the movie.”
Early in the 2020 season, Spinal Tap started showing up in the daylight. Two different times during the early season, Travis and his friend Brian Schmeck went in to hunt the buck. However, Spinal Tap never showed up. “We saw plenty of other deer, but Spinal Tap never came out,” says Travis. “Then on Sept. 24, 2020, he showed up 45 minutes before dark; but the wind was wrong that evening, so I never went hunting.”
The next day, the conditions were right for Travis to hunt Spinal Tap. However, that also happened to be his son’s birthday, and Travis had already made plans to go to dinner with his family. He wanted to hunt the buck, but Travis says no matter what, family comes first. The family finished up eating sooner than they had planned, and they were all good with Travis going out to hunt Spinal Tap. “I asked my son if he wanted to join me, but he wanted to stay back with his buddies,” says Travis. “So, I went out by myself.”
That evening it was hot in Georgia, and Travis sat in his Redneck blind with the windows closed to contain his scent. Then, an hour before dark, Spinal Tap stepped out after a few does had come out. “I was self-filming,” says Travis. “And I had 28 minutes of footage of the deer before I shot. He kept coming in, but I couldn’t get him in a spot where I could shoot and film him.”
Finally, Spinal Tap saw two does eating on Travis’ appetizer pile, and the buck came in giving Travis a perfect shot. Spinal Tap only ran 50 yards before falling over.“I was ecstatic,” says Travis. “I never thought I’d kill a deer like that in Georgia with my bow. I went back to the house and got my son to come with me for the recovery. That was the birthday buck.”
Travis’ luck on his Georgia property wasn’t done yet. Roughly two weeks later, Travis got an opportunity at an even bigger Georgia hunter’s dream.
About 400 yards from where he shot Spinal Tap, Travis had been getting pictures of a giant non-typical. They named the buck H.O.G., standing for Hands of God, because Travis’ son thought the buck’s rack looked like God holding his hands up to pray.
Although the buck was showing up in daylight hours, Travis was unable to bowhunt H.O.G. because he could never get the wind and thermals right to move in on the buck undetected. So, Travis and Brian set up a blind about 80 yards from where the buck was daylighting and hid it behind two root balls. The plan was to hunt the buck on Oct. 10, the opening day of muzzleloader season.
“We couldn’t get out and hunt H.O.G. on opening day,” says Travis. “The wind was wrong, and it was rainy. But things were supposed to clear up the next day.”
Travis hunted the buck the next afternoon, and Brian tagged along to run the camera. During that first hunt for H.O.G., Travis killed the deer out of the blind they had placed just to hunt the buck. The buck has a gross non-typical score of 186, and he net scores 171 4/8 inches. The buck is now the No. 2 non-typical taken by muzzleloader in Georgia.
“I’d like to say there was one specific thing we did to get a deer like this in Georgia, but I can’t,” says Travis. “I guess we just gave him everything he needed, and we got lucky and happened to hit the perfect blend of things that year.”
To an outsider looking at Travis’ 2020 season, it may just look like another hunter who had access to a great property with great deer living on it. That’s true, but it took time for Travis to develop his property into a great place to hunt whitetails. In reality, those two bucks are the return on a 20-plus year investment.