Cohutta Dream Hunt For A 150-Class Buck

Here’s the story behind Cohutta WMA’s No 2 of all time, which just happens to be Fannin County’s best ever.

Duncan Dobie | June 29, 2022

Bill Prather (left) crosses the Jacks River at Kenner Ford with John Akin as they make their way to a remote hunting camp. Their trek would eventually lead Bill to a 150-class buck that’s now the current No. 2 buck off Cohutta WMA.

Packing into the Cohutta Wilderness to hunt deer is not for the faint of heart. Even today, with all the high-tech gadgets we hunters like to tote into the woods, backpacking into a vast, rugged wilderness area to hunt remote mountain bucks is a serious challenge. Forty years ago it was much more than a physical and mental test. It was in many ways a self-inflicted ordeal. But since the goal was to shoot a nice buck, and since a willing hunter knew there were at least some good bucks hiding up there among those high ridges, the pain and agony became tolerable. 

With no cell phones and no handheld GPS devices in 1981, a man had to depend on his woods sense, his wits and his outdoor skills to navigate his way around and keep from getting lost. Oftentimes he had to use dead-reckoning and hope for the best.

“I don’t consider myself to be a mountain man by any stretch, not today and not back then,” says Bill Prather, a lifelong native of Blue Ridge who shouldered the challenge more than once over the years. “But there was one big advantage. In many places everything was either straight up or straight down. You never minded going downhill, but when you had to make an hour and a half climb nearly straight up in the black darkness of early morning to reach your intended stand location, it was a considerable task. Going back down was always so much easier, although you knew you might not end up where you wanted to be. At least you knew you would eventually hit a creek or a river or a trail that could help tell you how far from camp you were.”    

Bill is a retired “country” pharmacist who owned and operated Blue Ridge Pharmacy with a partner for many years. His dad and a friend bought the pharmacy in 1946 after returning home from the war. Interestingly, his dad’s partner had a son that Bill later partnered with to take over the pharmacy after the two older men retired. Bill, now 74, is a veteran of many memorable hunts in the Cohuttas, including perhaps his most remarkable of all that took place 41 years ago in 1981.

“My dad didn’t hunt, but he liked to fish,” Bill said. “He fished a lot in Lake Blue Ridge for smallmouth. I’ve always enjoyed guns and hunting, so I just started hunting and shooting with friends. In 1981, I was invited by several local friends to join them on a pack-in trip to the Cohutta Wilderness for opening week of deer season in November. Several of them had done this before, so they knew the ropes. Our group consisted of Don Clement, Don’s brother Joe, Kenneth Woods, John Akin and Bill Nichols. 

“Opening day was Saturday, and we hiked in on Thursday so that we would have plenty of time to make camp and do some scouting on Friday. We drove over to Beech Bottom Trail and walked in from there. When we got to Jack’s River at Kenner Ford, we took off our boots and walked across. Then we walked up Rough Creek Trail a ways and hiked to our campsite from there. We eventually made a cozy camp, gathered some firewood and got settled in.” 

Needle In A Haystack 

“Since I had never hunted that area before, Don Clements was nice enough to take me out on Friday and help me find a spot to hunt on opening morning. From our campsite, everything seemed to be uphill. After a lengthy climb, Don took me to a small gap where he had killed a 6-point buck the year before. In those days nobody used tree stands. We would simply find a promising spot to hunt on the side of a ridge and wait for a deer to come by. I picked out what looked like a good place to spend the day trail watching, and Don and I headed back to camp. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that my chosen stand location would be such a productive spot.

“The next morning I started climbing in the pitch-black dark. It took over an hour to reach my stand. Amazingly, I ended up right where I wanted to be just as it started getting light. I sat down and leaned against a tree. Since it was such a hard hike up the mountain, I planned to hunt all day and return to camp at dark. The morning hours passed without much activity. 

Around 1:30 p.m., I got hungry and pulled out an Almond Joy candy bar. I ate half of it and had just placed the other half on my knee when I heard a little noise to my left. I looked over and my heart almost stopped. Standing there on the spine of the ridge at almost point-blank range was the biggest buck I had ever seen in my life. He was only about 20 feet away, but he didn’t see me. My rifle was across my lap, and I knew I couldn’t move a muscle. 

“There was a small tree in front of him, and I said to myself, ‘If you’ll just take about two steps and go behind that tree, I’ll raise my rifle.’ He did! The moment his head disappeared, I raised my Ruger .270. 

“When he stepped out, I shot him in the neck at about 15 feet. He dropped in his tracks, and I just sat there for a few minutes in stunned silence, trying to catch my breath. Finally I got up and walked over to him. I was in shock. He had a huge 10-point rack that was almost perfectly symmetrical. 

“I had never seen a buck this big in all my years of hunting.” 

Now The Real Work Begins

“After I regained my composure, I field-dressed him and dragged him a short distance from the gut pile. I never had a chance to weigh him, but he was a heavy deer, probably close to 200 pounds live weight. I knew I would need some help getting him out, so I dropped off the ridge and headed back to camp. Surprisingly, I made it straight back without getting turned around.”   

Bill’s hunting companions John Akin and Bill Nichols had returned to camp early that afternoon. Neither man had seen a deer all day. When they asked Bill why he had returned so early, he said, “Boys, I’ve just killed the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that one before,” John said. “Tell the truth now. What did you kill, a spike?”

“I tried to tell them I had killed an exceptional trophy, but they didn’t believe me. But neither man hesitated to hike all the way back up to the mountain ridge with me to help get my ‘spike’ back to camp. 

“When they saw the size of my buck, their jaws dropped to their feet. They were astounded. In some places, the downhill slope was so steep that we had to tie a rope to the back legs of my deer to keep him from rolling down the mountainside. By the time we reached camp, it was nearly dark and the rest of the guys were all back. No one else had even seen a deer that day. Everyone congratulated me, and we had a small celebration. We later hung him up in a tree, and I went ahead and skinned him out.”

It just so happened that the following Monday was Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day. Bill had promised a friend, Aline Crawford, that he would emcee the annual Veteran’s Day celebration in Blue Ridge held just across the street from his drug store. 

“I tried to get out of it after I knew I would be going on this hunting trip, but Aline said, ‘You told me you would do it, and I expect you to be here.’ So I had to keep my promise.”

Since Bill had planned to hike out to his truck on Sunday anyway, he boned out as much meat as he could carry along with the head and antlers. At about 12:30 p.m., he hiked out the same way his group had come in. It took him almost three hours to reach his truck. While hiking out, Bill ran into another hunter walking in. When the man saw the huge rack he was carrying he exclaimed, “Good gosh, where did you kill that buck?” 

“I didn’t tell him where we were hunting, but he was pretty excited,” Bill said. 

When Bill got home, he caped out his trophy and placed the cape, the skull and the antlers in a large freezer. As soon as the Veteran’s Day program was over on Monday, Bill jumped in his truck and headed back to the wilderness camp to rejoin his friends. He arrived at camp right around dark. 

“At the time, there was only a one-buck limit,” Bill said. “So I couldn’t hunt anymore, but I just wanted to be there. I think we broke camp on the following Thursday and headed for home. The only other person in our group to shoot a buck during the week was Don Clements. I think Don shot a nice 6-pointer.”  

The following year, Bill and several friends once again backpacked into the Cohutta Wilderness. That year Bill was hunting with a lightweight Remington Model 600 bolt-action in 6mm that he had purchased just for backpacking. 

“One cold and frosty morning I heard a deer coming toward me right at daylight,” Bill said. “He stopped at about 25 feet. I could see that it was a large buck—probably very close to the size of the buck I had killed the previous year.”

Bill aimed for the buck’s chest and fired. 

“He immediately ran off,” said Bill. “I thought it was a good shot, and I sat and waited for full daylight. As soon as it was light enough to see, I realized that my bullet had dead-centered a small sapling right where he had been standing. I followed his tracks for 50 or 60 yards without finding any blood or hair. I’m sure my bullet was deflected. I later came back to that sapling with a saw and cut out about an 8-inch section where my bullet had splintered the small tree. I put the empty shell casing and the section of the sapling on a plaque so that I would always have a memory of that special day. I knew the Good Lord had really smiled on me the year before… I guess I didn’t deserve to have it happen two years in a row!”    

Bill’s exceptional trophy was officially scored 10 years after he killed it. As a beautifully symmetrical 5×5, the incredible mountain buck scored 150 6/8. Today it is still a record for Fannin County. Because of the difficulty factor, any deer killed on a walk-in pack trip to the Cohuttas is a prize. And if you happen to shoot an exceptional buck like Bill did all those years ago, it is truly icing on the cake. But don’t expect it. Yes there are some outstanding bucks in those remote mountains, but they are few and far between. If it happens, the mountain gods are really sharing their blessings with you!

Bill’s buck is a symmetrical 10-pointer that not only is Cohutta WMA’s No. 2 buck, but it’s actually the No. 1 buck ever recorded from Fannin County.

Cohutta Wilderness Area

The Cohutta Wilderness Area is the largest designated wilderness east of the Mississippi River. It was created in 1975 and expanded in 1986 to nearly 37,000 acres. Just over 35,000 acres are located in Georgia and are part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. The balance of 1,700 acres is in Tennessee and part of the Cherokee National Forest where it is known as Big Frog Wilderness Area. 

Interestingly, in the late-1930s, after the success of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area pioneered by Ranger Arthur Woody in 1936, the state of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service established three more “Game Management Areas” in the mountain region— the Chattahoochee GMA, the Lake Burton GMA and the Cohutta GMA. However, because local residents in the Cohutta area refused to support the new game laws and bag limits necessary to build and manage a viable deer herd, the state finally shut down the Cohutta GMA in 1960. Many local residents petitioned the state to reopen the area, and the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area (WMA) was reestablished in 1968 with much better cooperation from local hunters and residents.

Fannin County Best Bucks Of All-Time

1150 6/8 William Prather1981FanninGun
2148 3/8 Max Falls1973FanninGunView 
3146 6/8 Jason Gray2017FanninBowView 
4146 3/8 Donald Bennett1993FanninGunView 
5142 4/8 Etheridge Ware2001FanninGunView 
6141 4/8 C.W. Woody2018FanninGunView 
7140 4/8 Kenneth Ballew1967FanninGunView 
8140 3/8 Glen Smith2007FanninGun
9140 1/8 Jake Rhodes2019FanninGunView 
10138 4/8 Mike Merck2012FanninGun


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