Hart County WMA Buck Turns Bad Season Into Greatest Season Ever

Reader Contributed | June 30, 2022

Ritch Keener with a Hart County WMA buck he took on Nov. 12, 2020.

By Ritch Keener 

We can certainly say that 2020 was anything but normal. COVID-19 impacted almost every facet of life, and public-land hunting was no exception.

I noticed that Hart County WMA saw a large increase in hunters and hunting pressure during the archery, primitive weapons and gun seasons. I hunted the WMA hard during all three seasons and saw far fewer does and bucks. I attribute that to higher hunting pressure and maybe warmer-than-normal temperatures. I have heard it said before that one instant and one deer can turn a bad season into the greatest season of a lifetime. This is exactly what I experienced during the 2020-2021 hunting season.

As October gave way to November, my anticipation level increased with the expectation of seeing numerous scrapes and bucks cruising or chasing does everywhere. However, my excitement plummeted after numerous hunts without seeing any sign of the pre-rut or rut.

With the afternoon temperature being a balmy 76 degrees on Nov. 12, I almost made the decision to stay home but did not want to waste the vacation time I had scheduled. As I was thinking on my drive to the WMA about the lack of deer and sign I had been seeing, I made a plan to hike as deep into the thickest area I could find.  

At 1:30 p.m., my long hike with a 23-lb. climbing stand on my back ended in seriously thick timber. While looking at a potential tree to climb, I saw two deer run into thick brush, which got my adrenaline pumping. After settling into the stand perched in a red oak tree at 2:30 p.m., I realized how limited the shot opportunities would be due to the high number of small trees. A deer would have to be within 15 yards for me to get a shot. There were two spots about 60 yards to my right where I had a 3-foot window where I could shoot.  

At 4:27 p.m., I heard a grunt in the thick brush below and to the right of me where I had previously seen the two deer. At that moment, a doe followed by a nice buck started running up the hill 60 yards to my right. When my mouth grunts did not stop them, I had to yell before they reached the small opening. As deer often do, they stopped behind thick brush.

After a minute or two passed, the doe took a few steps forward, then turned to look back at the buck. She repeated this a second time, but the buck didn’t move. When she started walking the third time, the buck followed her. I mouth grunted when he reached the small opening, then squeezed the trigger on my .30/06 rifle. He mule-kicked and took off like a rocket until he crashed 125 yards away.


I was simply amazed at this majestic, wide-racked, old, 195-lb. public-land buck. This warrior had recovered from a broken back and front legs, had a tip of his ear missing from fighting and had survived tons of hunting pressure over the years.

One moment and one deer changed my hunting season into one of the best experiences ever. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to pursue one of God’s more majestic creations, and we are all blessed that Georgia has a large amount of public hunting land. The whitetail’s uncanny ability to survive, even with extreme hunting pressure, means that public-land hunters always have a possibility of seeing or harvesting a special creature, the majestic whitetail deer.  

Remember, it only takes one moment and one deer to create the best season of a lifetime.

Editor’s Note: Ritch, get your buck officially scored for GON’s Georgia Deer Records program and we’ll enter it into our Hart County WMA records. One option for you is to bring the buck to the Outdoor Blast where we’ll be scoring deer all weekend. Turn over to page 20 for more information.

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