Burford’s Mitchell County Booner
Georgia's number one buck of the 2001 season was a 200-inch non-typical that made the Boone & Crockett record book.
For Tommy Burford, of Camilla, growing up in south Georgia was somewhat different because he happened to be born without hearing. There were communication barriers to overcome, but by learning to adjust with the gifts he was given, Tommy managed to complete a normal education, raise a family and become a successful businessman.
Obviously, not everything came easily. Deer hunting, for example, was an activity Tommy thoroughly enjoyed, however, he attributed an early lack of hunting success to his hearing deficit. Certainly, this was a factor. The degree of the problem, however, had more to do with the hunter’s perception than reality. Ultimately, it was his son, Tommy Jr., who provided his father with a much-needed perspective on the situation.
“I realized he was worrying too much about his hearing disability,” the younger Burford recalled. “I told dad that he needed to come up with a better excuse than that, because I had perfect hearing and over half the time I wasn’t able to hear deer moving through the woods either. Actually, I believe part of the problem was that he was trying to overcompensate by constantly moving his head around, attempting to see everywhere at once, and the deer were spotting him first.”
Over time, Tommy Sr.’s deer-hunting success gradually improved, as did his enjoyment of the sport. Prior to the 2001 season, his biggest buck was a great 140-class 9-pointer taken several years ago in Calhoun County.
Although the Burfords have occasionally hunted other southwest Georgia counties, the majority of their deer hunting takes place on their own land in Mitchell County. The particular tract that includes the elder Tommy Sr.’s home is part of a contiguous several-thousand-acre block of land, most of which is covered by timber.
“Our property consists of only a small portion of that total,” Tommy Jr. said. “The rest is owned by relatives and long-time neighbors. Overall, the entire block of land receives limited hunting pressure. We hunt our acreage and the rest is hunted only occasionally during the season. Despite this, the deer population throughout the area is, and always has been, relatively low.”
Tommy said a lack of agricultural acreage and lots of planted pines limits the food sources, and likely the carrying capacity for deer in the area. Most of their hunting is done about 25 miles away on another tract of land that Tommy Sr. owns that has more deer, and it has a cabin.
From a deer-hunting standpoint, the first several weeks of the 2001-02 season were less than memorable. The unseasonably warm and dry weather made hunting conditions miserable, and deer activity more unpredictable than ever. Additionally, Tommy Jr’s hunting time was seriously reduced because he and his family were settling into a new home they had recently built in Turner County. However, during the first week of December, he made plans to hunt with his dad the following weekend.
Prior to this time, all of their hunting had taken place on the tract of land where the cabin was located. Under normal circumstances, that is where the two men would likely have traveled for their weekend outing, but a combination of incidents altered that final decision, producing an outcome beyond either hunter’s imagination
To begin with, one morning shortly before the planned weekend hunt, Tommy Sr.’s wife, Susan, happened to glance out the window of their home just in time to see a large buck trailing a doe through a nearby pecan orchard.
“After arriving at the farm Friday night and hearing about the big buck sighting, Dad and I discussed the possibility of staying there to hunt the following morning,” Tommy Jr. said. “Usually that’s not an option at that time of year because we often have one or two friends hunting with us on the weekends.”
Plus, a couple of weeks earlier while fishing in the farm’s pond, Tommy Jr. saw a big buck cross a powerline just below the pond dam.
“I told Dad about the deer, and he placed a stand there a couple of days later. I hadn’t had an opportunity to give the location a try.”
Weather conditions the next morning removed any lingering doubts the two might have had as to where they would hunt. Warm humid air had produced a fog so thick that it seemingly could be cut with a knife. Highway driving was practically impossible and even navigating the farm’s woods roads proved to be an adventure.
After dropping Tommy Jr. off at the pond, Tommy Sr. drove approximately two miles to the other side of the property. It was then he realized that he had forgotten to bring along an extra flashlight, so he remained in the truck until daybreak before heading out through the fog.
His destination was a tripod stand situated along the edge of a one-acre opening located between a 12-year-old pine stand and a large tract of old growth hardwoods. Years earlier, the clearing had been established as a wildlife food plot, but the predominantly sandy soils coupled with drought-like weather conditions over the past several seasons ultimately ended all planting attempts. Even though broomsedge was now the only thing present, the opening continued to be a good spot to watch for deer.
After reaching the stand and climbing into position, Tommy Sr. took a moment to say a prayer that luck would be with both he and his son that morning. Situated in the gray, fog-shrouded clearing, approximately 16 feet above the ground, the hunter seemed to be sitting in a cloud instead of the woods.
“I had been in the stand about 45 minutes when, directly in front of me, two does walked out of the pines,” Tommy Sr. said. “I instinctively picked up my rifle, but as I did, the barrel tapped the metal railing of the stand. When that happened, both deer, which were no more than 40 yards away, abruptly turned and began staring straight at me. I remained very still and, fortunately, they eventually calmed down.”
As he continued to watch the deer, the hunter suddenly detected a blur of motion off to one side. Turning, he was shocked to see a huge buck racing out of the pines straight toward the does. Before he could comprehend what was going on, the buck struck one of the does in the rear, knocking her sideways and nearly off her feet. Both does disappeared in the fog, but the big deer circled farther out in the opening and stopped, looking back toward the pines.
The outline of the buck was barely visible through the fog. Tommy Sr. attempted to look through his riflescope, but that only seemed to compound the problem. The hunter was somewhat puzzled as to why the buck remained in the clearing rather than continuing on after the does, but as he glanced back toward the pines, he suddenly saw another buck standing at the edge of the woods. At that particular location, the fog wasn’t quite as thick, and he could see that this buck was a 10-pointer, though considerably smaller in body size than the other.
It quickly became obvious that the larger buck was preventing the 10-pointer from following the does. Every time the smaller buck would start to enter the clearing, the big deer would side step into its path.
During this temporary standoff, the fog was gradually beginning to lift from the open clearing. Raising his rifle, Tommy Sr. attempted to aim at the buck, but was unable to see anything through the scope. Slowly lowering the gun, he frantically wiped the scope’s lens with his shirt.
His second attempt provided a fairly clear sight picture.
“When I shot, the buck disappeared so quickly I wasn’t sure what happened,” he said. “Instead of running, the 10-pointer began to slowly move into the clearing, walking toward the spot where the big buck had been standing. Suddenly, through the broomsedge, I saw a deer’s tail flipping back and forth and I knew then that the big deer was down.”
The smaller buck bounded off toward the woods as Tommy Sr. climbed to the ground and began walking to the fallen deer. As he approached where the buck was lying, the big whitetail suddenly raised its head out of the grass. This was actually the first time the hunter was able to see the buck’s entire rack, and the sight, especially up close, nearly took his breath away.
Even before the image had time to fully sink in, Tommy Sr. had to deal with yet another startling development. Glancing up, he was amazed to see the 10-pointer running straight at him across the clearing.
“I thought that any second the buck would stop or veer off to one side or the other, but he kept running directly at me. I raised my rifle, thinking I might have to shoot, however he finally stopped 10 yards away. I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but after about 30 seconds the deer turned and trotted to the edge of the woods.”
After walking over to check the huge whitetail, the hunter saw that his shot had hit the deer in the back, immobilizing, but not killing him. He quickly dispatched the buck with a second shot.
“I had heard dad shoot and a short while later I heard his truck coming,” Tommy Jr. said. “He had several metal beams in the back of his truck from work he was doing on a garage, and from the noise they were producing it sounded like he was driving 90 miles an hour. There was no doubt in my mind he had killed a deer.”
By the time Tommy Sr. reached Tommy Jr’s location, he had decided to play a small joke and told his son he had taken an 8-point buck. However, on the drive back to load the deer, Tommy Jr. noticed that his dad’s hands were shaking and there were tears in his eyes.
“I have a friend who has two big 10-pointers mounted, and I have often mentioned their size to dad,” Tommy Jr. said. “When I asked him that morning in the truck how big his buck was, he replied that, ‘It might be bigger than your friend’s deer!’
When the two men arrived at the clearing it would be a gross understatement to say that Tommy Jr. was in total disbelief at the size of the buck his dad had taken.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the feeling of so many emotions at one time,” Tommy Jr. said. “I was thrilled to death. Absolutely nothing could top standing there that morning and seeing the look on his face.”
From that point on, the remainder of the weekend was like a circus. Neighbors, friends, relatives, and strangers by the dozen showed up to offer congratulations and take a look at the massive rack. No one really doubted it would make the record book; the only question was what the final score would be.
The answer was provided in early February, after the antlers had exceeded the required 60-day drying period. Official scoring results include a total of 20 scorable points, 12 of which make up the rack’s basic 6×6 typical frame. From an appearance standpoint, the antlers incorporate a great combination of spread, tine length and mass. Mass is also outstanding throughout the rack. The 12-point typical frame grosses an outstanding 186 7/8. Due to great symmetry between the right and left antlers, deductions total only 5 2/8, dropping the net score only slightly to 181 5/8. After adding in the eight abnormal points, totaling 20 5/8 inches, the final non-typical B&C score is 202 2/8.
This final figure ranks Tommy Burford’s whitetail as the top buck of Georgia’s 2001-02 season and qualifies it for entry into B&C’s Awards and All-Time record books. It is the biggest non-typical buck ever taken in Mitchell County and ties for the No. 10 slot on the state’s all-time B&C list of non-typical whitetails.
For Tommy Burford Sr., all of this goes to prove what his son once told him, “You don’t have to worry about not being able to hear deer, all you have to do is see them!”
Mitchell County Top Bucks Of All-Time
|1||178 3/8||Ricky Dowis||1997||Mitchell||Gun|
|2||202 2/8 (NT)||Tommy Burford||2001||Mitchell||Gun||View|
|3||172 6/8||Al Collins||1991||Mitchell||Gun||View|
|5||160 6/8||Jerome Tallent||2000||Mitchell||Gun|
|6||183 (NT)||Douglas Hawley||1998||Mitchell||Gun|
|7||181 7/8 (NT)||Jay Joiner||2009||Mitchell||Gun||View|
|8||157 6/8||Brent Beasley||2008||Mitchell||Gun||View|
|9||179 4/8 (NT)||Matt Joiner||2007||Mitchell||Gun||View|
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