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Crisp County 19-Point Trophy Lost And Found

This Crisp County buck had just under 200 inches of antler.

Bill Cooper | August 9, 2018

Prior to the 2017 Georgia deer season, David Herrington, of Cordele, had two unfulfilled deer hunting goals. One was to take a big non-typical whitetail, and the second was to place a deer in the record book. Remarkably, he accomplished both of those objectives last season, but not in the way he had planned.

A few years ago, after living and working in the Atlanta area for an extended period of time, David had a chance to return to south Georgia. It was an opportunity he didn’t have to think about twice.

“I immediately made plans to move back to the Crisp County farm where I had grown up; my family’s old home place,” David said. “Working from a rural location where I could also deer hunt on a regular basis was no small consideration in my overall decision.”

Years earlier, after getting out of high school, David had gotten interested in bowhunting. However, employment opportunities and an eventual relocation to Atlanta temporarily ended those pursuits. Now that he was back, living on his own hunting land, he began to rekindle those interests.

David Herrington with a mount created from the rack of the 19-pointer he arrowed on Sept. 22, 2017. The buck wasn’t recovered until the remains were found Thanksgiving Day.

During late summer of 2016, David’s trail cameras recorded several images of a huge buck. In addition to being massive in size, the rack’s right antler exhibited a very unique pattern of irregular antler growth.

“I hunted numerous times during bow season and with a rifle during gun season but never sighted the deer a single time,” David said.

“Considering the buck’s size, I knew I would have heard the news had it been taken by another hunter. Since there were no reports, I was pretty optimistic the deer would still be around the following season.”

In July of 2017, David set out his trail cameras, hoping to record some new photos of the big deer from 2016. However, optimism quickly faded into frustration as the weeks passed without any sign of the buck’s presence.

“No doubt, I was disappointed, but I kept thinking the buck might still be around,” David said. “The only positive note was a late July photo of a buck that actually appeared to be bigger than the 2016 deer. But when no additional photos turned up, I assumed the deer was just traveling through the area.”

However, within days of the season, a chance sighting of the same buck standing in a peanut field on a bordering farm completely turned around David’s hunting outlook.

 

 

David found both sides of the shed antlers from the buck he had trail-camera photos of and was hunting in 2016. These sheds match identically to the 2016 trail-cam photos below, so there is no doubt these sheds were from the buck after the 2016 season. Could the oddly formed right antler in 2016 be from an injury to the antler while it was growing? If so, the buck could have grown a normal right antler the following season, opening up the possibility that this 2016 is the same buck killed by David in 2017.

“The deer was within 100 yards of a big creek drainage on my farm,” he recalled. “I was pretty confidant the buck was bedding somewhere in the thick bottom between trips to feed in the peanuts. My main problem was figuring out the route it was traveling.

“Additionally, I had very little early season hunting experience. Luckily, GON had published an August article by Eric Bruce that outlined early season tips and strategies by bowhunter Taylor Childers, who lives and hunts in the Fort Valley area. I was aware of Taylor’s bowhunting reputation, and his recommendations were a great help.”

Once David determined what he believed was the primary trail most deer were using to reach the field, he began to realize the dilemma he faced in regard to stand location.

“First of all, there were no nearby trees large enough to support a tree stand,” he said. “And I believed setting up a ground blind at this late stage would create too much of a disturbance. I finally decided my best option was to hunt from the ground without a blind. Obviously, the most critical factor of all in this situation would be wind direction.”

In fact, it was wind direction that prevented David from hunting the location for almost two weeks after the opening of bow season. But he understood the importance of not doing anything that might result in the deer altering its current movement pattern.

Finally, on the second Friday of the season, a changing weather pattern produced an ideal wind direction. Around mid-afternoon, dressed in full camouflage he settled in position—a small stool with a pivoting seat provided a slight bit of maneuverability.

The very warm afternoon passed slowly, with no nearby activity. But late that evening, as light was beginning to fade, the big whitetail suddenly and silently walked into view, pausing briefly less than 10 yards in front of the concealed hunter.

“Although I was sitting with the bow in my hand, I quickly discovered the task of drawing the bow while holding it out in front of my body was impossible; I simply could not lock my left arm in position,” David said. “At that point, my nerves and excitement level only compounded the problem. During my second attempt, the buck sensed something and abruptly trotted off several yards, stopping out of sight behind a small thicket. This gave me a chance to pivot sideways and draw the bow. As the deer stepped back into view at approximately 25 yards, I quickly aimed and released.”

He heard a loud “thwack” as the arrow struck the buck, and after a brief search, he found the shaft partially covered in blood. It was nearly dark by the time he trailed the deer a short distance to a small branch of the creek.

“I knew the best thing to do was wait until morning to begin the search,” David said. “But my stubbornness, combined with being terribly excited overrode any common-sense factor. Instead of waiting, I called a fellow I knew who had a trailing dog to see if we could find the buck that night.”

Not surprisingly, attempting to follow a dog through a thick creek bottom in the dark produced less than positive results. The group returned the following morning, but the dog’s trailing attempts again proved unsuccessful.

“It would be an understatement to say I was distraught over the situation,” David said. “Thinking someone else might have better luck, I contacted another dog handler, but his dogs reacted in much the same manner. I’m sure the hot humid weather played a negative roll, but for whatever reason none of the dogs were able to sort out the buck’s trail. The last blood sign we found was approximately 250 yards across the creek bottom. Without any positive reactions from the dogs, the deer’s path beyond that point was pure guesswork.”

Over the following days, David continued to search on foot, while keeping an eye on the sky for circling buzzards, but the big deer seemed to have vanished without a trace. Needless to say, it was a tough situation for the hunter to accept.

An old often-quoted adage states, “To find what you are looking for, stop searching!” Weeks later, while walking through a section of the creek bottom on Thanksgiving Day, David practically stepped on the buck’s skeletal remains.

“That was an unbelievable moment,” David said. “I experienced a wide range of emotions. But I still have no explanation for how the buck ended up in that particular section of the bottom. The blood trail we had followed for 250 yards was heading northward. Where I found the deer was over 350 yards to the south, across another small branch of the creek. At no time did any of the dogs give any indication of heading in that direction.”

Fortunately, the skull and antlers were intact and had not been damaged or chewed on by any scavengers. The deer’s jaw bone revealed an estimated age of at least 5 1/2 years. The massive rack includes 19 points, 10 of which comprise the basic 5×5 typical frame. The remaining nine abnormal points total over 36 inches. After grossing 198 6/8, the rack’s final non-typical score stands at 188 7/8. This qualifies for entry into the Boone & Crockett Club’s 10-year record book (the minimum net score for B&C’s all-time record book is 195). However, due to the extended period of time that elapsed before the deer was found, it must be entered as a “pick-up” rack instead of a hunter-taken trophy. For the same reason, it cannot be entered in the Pope & Young Club’s records.

“I certainly understand and have no problem with the rules,” David said. “I take full responsibility for overreacting that night. I knew better, and I firmly believe if I had waited until the following morning to begin the search, the outcome would have been different. But from a personal standpoint, the deer will always be a special trophy I will be proud of.”

Another Discovery, And An Unanswered Question

Early this year, around the middle of February, David was operating a tractor on his farm, cleaning limbs and debris from a narrow woods road. During the process, something partially covered in the leaf litter along the road caught his eye.

“After stopping the tractor, I walked over and picked up a strangely shaped, massive shed antler,” David said.

“I didn’t immediately recognize it, but later that evening I checked several of my old trail-camera photos, and there was no doubt the shed I had found was the right antler from the 2016 buck’s rack.”

The sheds and the 2016 trail-cam pictures are identical, the sheds certainly had to have dropped from that buck after the 2016 season.

Measurements on the shed total a score of 93 6/8 inches. Considering the shed had been on the ground for about a year, it was amazingly intact. However, minor rodent damage in two areas had removed an estimated 5 to 6 inches of antler. The shed qualifies and has been entered in Shed Antler Records of North American Big Game.

To seemingly defy all odds, about three months later, a neighbor mowing a nearby large grassy bottom found the matching left antler shed to the rack. That antler has a basic 5-point typical frame, plus two small abnormal points and measures 80 4/8 inches.

Using a hypothetical inside spread measurement of 17 inches, the rack of the 2016 buck would have a gross non-typical score of 191 2/8. Obviously, this does not include any of the original antler lost to rodent damage.

Finally, a question asked by many who are familiar with the situation is simply, “Could the 2016 and 2017 bucks actually be the same animal?”

Certainly, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that is the case. One mature buck disappeared, and another buck of the same approximate size and age—but a very different rack on one side—suddenly appeared in the same general area. However, it is also quite understandable to question the plausibility of how the unique irregular right antler growth of the 2016 buck could somehow revert the following year to a fairly normal 5-point typical antler. A possible explanation deals with antler growth and injury.

Dr. George Bubenik, a former zoology professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, conducted research on antler growth in whitetails for more than 30 years. More specifically, his work involved the interrelationship of antler injury and growth.

His research has shown that severe or intense injuries, either to the deer’s body or the antler itself, can have lasting effects that may persist for as long as three to five years. However, minor bumps, cuts and gouges directly to the antler may result in unusual or abnormal antler growth the year of the injury, but not subsequent years.

The abnormal growth of the right shed antler could have originated from a possible injury directly to the velvet antler at its very earliest stage of growth. Much like clipping the terminal end of a plant stem, this resulted in several abnormal points sprouting from around the injury. If this happened, there should have been no carry-over affect on antler growth the following year. Obviously, this is only speculation, and whether or not it is applicable in this case can certainly be debated.

One thing for sure, within the span of a few short months, David has managed to collect a remarkable assemblage of trophy-class antlers. Granted, it wasn’t exactly in the manner he might have preferred, but it certainly isn’t a bad alternative.

 

Crisp County All-Time Buck Rankings

Rank Score Name Year County Method Photo
1 166 5/8 Jeff Davis 2016 Crisp Gun View 
2 188 7/8 (NT) David Herrington 2017 Crisp Found View 
3 161 Kevin Nipper 1991 Crisp Found
4 160 4/8 Jerry Pheil 1992 Crisp Gun
5 160 2/8 Greg Giannoni 1992 Crisp Gun
6 158 1/8 Eric Hester 2010 Crisp Gun View 
7 156 1/8 Bill Hayford 1990 Crisp Gun
8 155 4/8 Gary Fortson 2011 Crisp Gun
9 155 4/8 David Manders 2010 Crisp Gun View 
10 153 3/8 Lee Ward 2009 Crisp Gun View 

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