Hunter’s Journal: Hunt For A Deer Named MAGA

Reader Contributed | June 28, 2023

Barry Simmons, of Lula, with a Hancock County buck from Sept. 29. 2022.

By Barry Simmons 

I was late to deer hunting. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the woods hunting squirrel and other small game, but my daddy was not a hunter and there were no deer in our woods to hunt back then. Growing up in the 80s, the only deer I ever saw in north Georgia was in the Stone Mountain petting zoo. My uncle Rick took me hunting once, and I was invited to go with a friend a few times, and that was about the extent of my deer hunting experience.

In 2004, I was invited to join a hunting club with my Uncle Johnny, his two sons, my little brother and two old men who had done a lot of camping and storytelling but not much hunting. That’s when I began to really enjoy deer hunting, and with some mentoring from the more experienced club members and bit of a learning curve, I harvested my first deer in 2006, a nice 3 1/2-year-old 7-point. Later in the same season, I harvested another 3 1/2-year-old 7-point that we green scored at just over 128 inches. Now I LOVE DEER HUNTING!

Somewhere along my hunting career, I picked up a used bow to get a few more opportunities to hunt each season, but like a lot of hunters, when gun season came around, the bow went back in the closet. I had harvested a doe once with a bow but never a buck.

Fast forward to 2022.

As I usually do around July, I will start filling the feeders and putting out some cameras in a few strategic locations on our hunting property in Hancock County. It’s always good to see if a young buck from last season made it through the winter and how he is filling out for the season or what new bucks may have moved onto the property. This is how I first saw a buck I became very interested in. When I first saw him, he was a nice wide 8-point. My first thought was that he was mega deer, but I decided I would call him MAGA.

MAGA was visiting one of our feeders pretty regularly leading up to deer season, but his visits were mostly between 1-3 a.m. He would occasionally make an appearance in the middle of the day. I knew I needed to make a move on this buck early, but I had no plan. I needed to find his bedroom and get close if I wanted to see him in daylight.

I had a opportunity to hunt him on the Sept. 18. I decided to take my time and not get too aggressive. I didn’t want to push him out of the area. I set up for an observation hunt on the edge of the property in hopes of gaining some more intel. I saw several does that evening but no sign of MAGA.

That morning I had moved some cameras around, and I placed a cell camera on some of our property across the road from the feeder I had been getting pictures of MAGA on. This tract is about 20 acres and has a small food plot on top and a gradual slope to a creek bottom below. The hillside is 20-year-old pines, and the creek bottom is a 5-year-old clearcut.

I placed the camera just down the hill from the food plot. On Monday, I checked the camera and there he was at 5:30 p.m. and on Tuesday 5:45 p.m. Now I knew where to hunt him. I was a little concerned when MAGA didn’t show up on Wednesday. I knew I need to get back to the club before he changed his pattern.

So, on Thursday, Sept. 29, I got an early start. I got my work done by lunch and made the two-hour trip south. It was a clear day with temps in the low 60s and breezy. I suspected that MAGA was bedded down in an area between the food plot and the road less than 100 yards from the road, but if I was going to get the drop on this deer, I would have to come in downwind. This meant I had to circle around the 20 acres to cut him off. I wasn’t sure but traditionally the does on this tract would often bed in a thick area just behind the food plot. I needed to get between him and the does. With bow in hand and my stand on my back, I slowly started slipping in. Fortunately it was breezy that evening, and I was able to use the wind to help cover my movements.

I spent an hour moving a few steps at a time as the wind would blow. As I was sneaking downwind of the bedding area where I suspected some does would be bedded, about 60 yards up the hill I saw a deer stand up. I froze. My first thought was that it was MAGA. However, it was a doe. I just knew at any second she was going to start blowing, stomping and carrying on and my chance of getting in quiet were done. She only blew one time as I stood there frozen while she was waiting for me to make a move. Eventually, she turned to the left and slowly walked up the hill. Crisis avoided.

I pressed on about another 40 yards and set up in a small pine tree about two-thirds of the way from the top of the hill. I slowly climbed up the tree, again using the breeze to hide the sound of the climber. I stopped about 14 feet up. I was just off an old logging road that ran from the top of the hill to the bottom. I was facing up the hill with a dogwood tree on the uphill side of me with some thick foliage. I climbed up just high enough to see over it in hopes it would give me some coverage if a deer came in from the top of the hill. From my vantage point, I could see about 40 yards in both directions on the logging road with a couple of holes to my left and right that I could shoot through. When I finally got settled in, it was a little after 4 o’clock. Now all that was left to do was wait.

At around 5:30, I could here some blue jays start fussing to my left and down in the creek bottom. They were maybe 50 yards or so from me. That was not where I was guessing MAGA would be bedded, but it could him, I thought.

Sure enough, 15 minutes later, I could see his rack to my left just over the saplings. I drew my bow, and he stopped in a small opening. He was standing broadside at 25 yards just perfectly, but just as I was settling in my pin, he turned and started walking straight toward me. Now, I’m thinking I will have to let him walk past me before I get another shot opportunity. The issue was that if he got past me, he would be downwind and smell me pretty quick since I wasn’t very high in the tree.

When he closed to within 10 yards, I could feel the adrenaline, and it was getting a little more difficult to hold my draw. At the last second, he turned uphill and gave me a 5-yard quartering-away shot. I released the arrow, and it found its mark. MAGA gave a big mule kick and plowed through the woods, crashing 40 yards or so right on the other side of a 10-foot deep gully. Luckily, when I went to recover him, I still had some of that adrenaline I mentioned earlier or I don’t know how we would have gotten back across that gully.

And just like that, all thanks be to God, who has blessed me far more than I could ever deserve and blessed me with the opportunity to live in a country where I have the opportunity to hunt these majestic  animals. At age 50, I got my first bow buck and my first Pope and Young.

MAGA was 5 1/2 years old,  grossed 130 3/8 inches and had a net score of 128 7/8 inches. As a cherry on top of my 2022 season, Nov. 27, 2022, I was blessed to harvest the biggest-bodied deer ever, another big mature 8.

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