Big 10-Point Three Weeks After Life-Saving Transplant

Being able to go out hunting again is what kept Zak Avery going, and he got a 150-class buck!

John N. Felsher | September 24, 2021

Most sportsmen eagerly anticipate opening day of a new hunting season. One Georgia man didn’t even know if he would see opening day this year but made the most of it when it did arrive by taking a huge buck.

Zak Avery, a 39-year-old financial advisor from Pine Mountain, discovered he had a failing liver and desperately needed a transplant. He even moved his family to the Atlanta area to be closer to Emory University Hospital where he could get medical tests and treatments.

Zak Avery was just thankful to be alive and hunting this season. He got an added bonus with this big Harris County buck.

“I had this rare, genetic disorder that I didn’t know about until this year,” Zak said. “It affected my liver so it didn’t function properly. I was in and out of the hospital. It was getting kind of dicey, but I had a lot of people hanging around me, praying for me and doing stuff to help me.”

The hospital obtained a liver to transplant into Zak’s body. He entered the hospital in early August. On Aug. 17, 2021, the hospital did a full liver transplant, and Zak began to recover. The hospital released him in late August, less than three weeks before bow season opened on Sept. 11, with strict doctor’s orders not to do anything too strenuous.

“I had a really great team at Emory,” Zak said. “I came back healthier than I was when I went up there. Once I knew I was going to at least be alive, I started thinking about going hunting. I didn’t know how long I’d be in the hospital, much less able to hunt. I didn’t break any of the doctor’s orders and didn’t exert myself. Hunting is really one of the things that helped me fight through everything.”

Zak normally hunts a farm of about 1,000 acres in Harris County that had been in his family for several generations. The family used to run cattle on the property but hadn’t for years. The land grew up in abundant longleaf pines, some old growth hardwoods, loblolly pines and fields in early successional habitat.

For four years, the family had been getting game-camera photos of a good buck. One of the neighbors even wounded it with an arrow two years ago. The problem—this deer loves to fight. Each year, it mangles its magnificent rack by battling other bucks for dominance.

“We had been seeing him and getting pictures, so we knew he was in the area,” Zak said. “He was a huge deer, but by the middle of October, his rack would be all busted up so nobody would try to shoot him. We had seen him many times, but he was never really hunted hard. Sometimes, we would spot him late in the year and half his rack would be missing from fighting.”

Zak didn’t make it into the woods between the time of his hospital discharge and opening day. In fact, he was still living in the Atlanta area so his medical team could monitor his progress. However, his familiarity with his family land and the history with this particular deer helped.

“We got a pattern on him this year,” Zak said. “He was definitely the age where he peaked and was going downhill a little, so we were going to try to take him out.”

Fortunately, some friends—Brenden Blomquist, David Karr and Tony LaJoe—helped with preseason scouting for Zak. They picked a good spot where the deer liked to stay that also had plenty of open terrain for good visibility, and they set up a ground blind.

“I wasn’t able to get down to the farm or do anything before the season began, but I have a bunch of really good friends who hunt with me,” Zak said. “We have been hunting together for years. These guys and others really stepped up for me. They were a huge help. I couldn’t climb a tree, so they put up a ground blind tucked back under a bunch of old privet scrub trees that made an island in the middle of the field. It was close to where we had a feeder. The blind was big enough for three people to sit in it. I haven’t hunted that blind before, but I’ve hunted that same place before.”

While he didn’t step into the woods until opening day, Zak did buy a Ravin R29 crossbow package complete with a scope and arrows. He usually hunts with a compound bow, but with his medical condition this year, that was out of the question. He couldn’t draw it. The crossbow would be much easier for him to hold and shoot. He did get in some archery practice with the crossbow and sighted in the scope to hit at about 45 to 50 yards.

When opening morning dawned, Zak remained in the Atlanta area. That morning, Zak and his family drove down to the farm. The game cameras indicted that the big buck and other deer primarily moved around in that area in late afternoon or early evening.

After arriving at the farm, Blake Blomquist, Brenden’s dad, drove Zak and Clay Johnson out to the field in an electric buggy and dropped them off at the blind. Clay would stay in the blind to help Zak as necessary and to film the entire hunt.

“I was pretty much keyed in on this one big deer and one other one,” Zak said. “We got set up by about 4 p.m. and saw the first deer at about 5:30 p.m. Some other deer were moving around the area, but these were smaller bucks and does, not the big one. The big buck came out about 5:45 p.m. He stopped about 50 yards away but never presented a shot. He was always looking straight on.”

About that time, a curious 4-pointer approached to within 10 feet of the men in the blind but spooked. That caused the rest of the nearby deer to spook. The big buck eased off and disappeared for nearly an hour.

“At about 6:30 p.m., the big buck came back to the food plot and circled the edge of it at about 60 yards,” Zak said. “I didn’t have a shot then either. There was a bunch of deer between us, and he was moving. That group moved off and the big buck did, too. He circled all the way around the food plot and came back out a little after 7 p.m. I still didn’t have a shot then either.”

With shooting hours winding down, the big buck moved around to the left of the blind and stayed there for another 30 minutes. At that angle, it still didn’t offer a good crossbow shot.

“Finally, at about 7:45 p.m., the big buck crossed in front of us about 30 yards away,” Zak said. “I dropped him right there just at sunset. He did not move.”

The typical 10-point buck weighed between 225 and 250 pounds with a healed scar from an arrow on its shoulder. Avery estimated that it will probably score about 150, but it must go through a mandatory 60-day drying period before it can be officially scored.

“Just the fact that I was even able to be there is amazing,” Zak summed it up. “Being able to go out hunting again was what kept me going while I was in the intensive care unit. I’m very thankful for all the support that I got from my friends and family. I really appreciate Blake Blomquist, Clay Johnson, Brenden Blomquist, Tony LaJoe and David Karr for all that they did for me. They stepped in to make sure everything went well. I hope nobody ever has to go through anything like I did, but I really want to thank the people at Emory who did a great job with me.”

Here’s some of the crew that Zak thanks for allowing him the chance to get back in the woods.


Harris County Best Crossbow Bucks Of All-Time

1152 2/8 Chase Metcalf2020HarrisCrossbowView 
2121 5/8 Jaxon Morman2020HarrisCrossbowView 
3118 3/8 Jaxon Morman2020HarrisCrossbowView 
4117 6/8 Wyatt Coleman2021HarrisCrossbowView 

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