Crockett Creek Confessions, Quest For The Phantom Part 4

GON's 2016 Fall Fiction Series: The Dream Season

Terry Phillips | November 1, 2016

November – The Hour Glass

November had finally arrived, and the hour glass was now running. A complete sense of urgency had taken over the thoughts and minds of both the bucks of Crockett Creek and the hunters that pursued them. Like a light switch being turned on, the madness had begun. The rut was under way in middle Georgia.

Jordan stood in stunned dismay. He had reached the base of the hardwood hill, gasped for a quick breath and looked in all directions for The Phantom. The buck was nowhere to be found. Jordan surveyed the ground in front of him and saw a faint trail of kicked up leaves headed up the hill. Jordan following, and 40 yards up he saw where a deer had dug in and kicked up leaves, making a 90-degree turn.

“Why did you turn?” Jordan said to himself.

Jordan rose from his bent position and scanned his surroundings again. His arms were covered with scratches from the mad dash through the woods. He wiped his brow and squinted at the sun shining through the oak branches above. The clouds shifted, and that’s when the lock-on stand above cast a shadow on the dry, faded leaves. The buck turned because he knew there was a stand here. Jordan looked up at the empty stand. It was where Tyler was supposed to be hunting until 11.

Thursday, Nov. 3

Bow in hand, Zane Westerfield sat on his lock-on stand, hung along the edge of mature water and white oaks bordering the old Ginhouse bottom. Zane knew this was the place to be. These woods had never been cut, and the oaks were dropping acorns like rain.

Zane was hunting a hardwoods transition, at the intersection of two trails running along the downward crest of a hill that led to a big thicket. The wood lot, approximately 200 yards wide, was shaped like a peninsula separating two giant cotton fields. Elevated 20 feet up, Zane could see both cotton fields from his stand.

He looked across the woods to the south, out into the half cut cotton field. Looking over his estate, he sat reminiscing how just two farms over, deer were restocked in Dooly County.

Zane remembered how his grandfather often told the story about their neighbor placing corn on a lowered tailgate to feed the Wisconsin deer that the state DNR transported to their farm. The story went that every afternoon they would drive the perimeter edge of the field, and the deer would run out of the woods behind the truck to eat the corn as it fell to the ground.

The tick and hum of the approaching tractor grew closer.

“I can’t believe they’re mowin’ cotton stalks on my day off,” thought Zane.

He was especially irritated because it was less than an hour after daylight. He looked over the woods edge and stood up at the movement coming from the overgrown honeysuckle vines that lined the field. The approaching tractor had jumped up a bedded buck, and his escape route had it heading right for him.

Zane took one glance at the approaching buck and drew back on his Hoyt compound bow. He knew it would happen quickly. The buck was heavy and looked more like a cow than a deer as it approached in a steady trot. Its head bobbed with each step, and Zane could see at least 11 points. As it came closer, he noticed that it had massive antlers that had a dark reddish coloration and split brow tines. Sticker points came off the base of each beam. The right G2 had a long, bladed split tine. When the buck reached the junction of the two trails, it stopped at a quartering angle.

The buck sensed danger and turned, ready to bolt downhill to the thickets of the bottom. Zane had one small window. He put the pin behind the buck’s rib cage and released his arrow. At impact, the arrow hit a little far back but was heading in the right direction. The buck lunged forward and ran crashing down the hill.

“Bow only baby, bow only,” whispered Zane in triumphant jubilation.

• • •

Although The Phantom was mostly nocturnal by day, the buck owned the night. It was just after midnight as he made his way to the grown-up field to feed in the Biologic food plot. Recovering from its wound in the sanctuary of The Green Stuff, it had been almost a month since he’d fed on the east end of the property. During that time period, he’d made a full recovery.

The grown-up field of morning glory, sage, dog fennel and Johnson grass parted with each step of the buck’s advancement toward the food plot. It was full of deer. As he got closer to the plot, several of the smaller bucks immediately ran off. The Phantom stretched his neck outward and cocked his head back to scent check the air. The aroma of the matriarch doe feeding in the plot was like the song of the sirens from Homer’s  “The Odyssey.” The Phantom looked at the doe and saw she had two fawns. He knew she wasn’t ready. He was best served by saving his energy. Soon he could have his pick of does in full estrus. Besides, being the most dominant buck in is territory, does would typically seek him out. Suddenly, he sensed a smell that made the bristles on his back stand straight up.

During The Phantom’s absence, looking to expand its domain, a serious challenger had moved into his range. Previously, the 5 1/2-year-old 10-pointer had lived mostly on the Westerfield farm. It was the same buck that Tyler had seen on opening morning of gun season.

In a posturing, sideways motion, The Phantom walked to the middle of the food plot. A 2 1/2-year-old 8-point turned and trotted away. Unfortunately for the 10- point, he had the same idea as The Phantom tonight and was also making his way to the food plot.

Foolishly, the 10-point accepted The Phantom’s challenge and postured his way to the center of the plot. It was a mistake, fueled by testosterone, which would prove very costly for the 10-point. Being a Booner as well, the 10-point wasn’t going to back down. However, even though the 10-point weighed 220 pounds, he was outweighed by close to 80. Going against an older opponent, with headgear a good 25 inches bigger, was going to further complicate matters for the 10-point.

The two bucks squared off and then began circling one another. Ears pinned back, The Phantom let out a deep gurgling growl as he lunged at the 10-point. The bucks locked antlers and began an intense shoving match to gain position. Both bucks grunted and wheezed as they pushed and worked to obtain solid footing, shaking their heads side to side in a feverous display to secure leverage. It was as if the whole 1-acre food plot was their ring to establish dominance.

For a moment, it looked like the 10-point was taking control as The Phantom lost its balance. The combined weight of the bucks, crashing their antlers together with the equivalent of a quarter ton of force, rang loudly like a house alarm going off in the middle of the night. After several minutes, the commotion from the title bout began drawing curious bucks from all over to investigate the commotion.

Recovering, with all his might, The Phantom drove forward like a Sherman tank. He twisted the 10-pointer to the ground, using a power-drive technique perfected over the years. Antlers entangled, the 10-pointer was at the mercy of The Phantom. In an angered fit of rage, The Phantom dipped his head, unlocked the antlers and began gouging, gashing and grating his antlers over and through his opponent’s body.

Struggling to become unpinned, the 10-pointer let out a defeated bellowing noise as it escaped and stumbled off into the tall grass. The Phantom turned to see several bucks and does standing along the food plot’s edge as blood tricked down his antler tips. He glared at his audience. There would be no more challengers willing to test him this year.

Friday, Nov. 4

Floyd had the itch in the worst kind of way. He’d been given a special accounting project at the end of September by his employer, one of those fortune level companies with its name on the building in midtown Atlanta. Except for one weekend of bowhunting in mid-September, Floyd had missed all of deer season. As he rolled down I-75, past the State Fairgrounds in Perry, he imagined what it would be like to be in the Truck-Buck Shoot-Out. He looked out the truck window as he admired the November bluebird sky. To add to the excitement, meteorologist Kirk Mellish from AM 750 had given good news. A high-pressure system was settling over the southeast for the following 10 days.

Chill bumps came all over his body. Traditionally, this was the weekend that the bucks would first be on the move, cruising for receptive does. It was the weekend that had become known to the group as “Sneak Peek Weekend,” and “The Magician,” as Floyd was known, was ready to pull out all the tricks.

Friday night had a party-like atmosphere as everyone in the group was at camp. Zane brought by pictures of his Pope and Young buck, which had tallied with a gross score of 158 5/8. The bladed 7-inch split tine coming off of the right G-2 was a stupid deduction, but nonetheless, it still netted in the mid-140s.

Jay showed everyone the pictures from his camera. They discussed how this year was setting up to be a banner year. No one could believe they’d already taken two 140-class bucks off the property, and now another one taken not far away by Zane to kickoff November. The management efforts were really starting to pay off.

As custom, they also took turns razzing each other. Jordan told everyone how he’d seen The Phantom, and how he’d run the buck right past the stand that Tyler had vacated too early.

“So Jordan, how’d ya know where The Phantom was bedding?” asked Floyd.

“Just read the woods, kinda like a book,” Jordan said. “If you pay close enough attention, the woods will tell you what’s going on. I picked up on the fact that The Phantom had moved. I just went and found him.”

Carboni looked at the group and said, “Speaking of finding him, I was at Jack’s Restaurant today and got introduced to the pilot of that yellow plane. He said he saw a real nice buck on the northeast end of the property while surveying that cotton field this week. Said it was chasin’ a doe and headin’ toward the back end of that peanut field. Somebody needs to hunt that tripod on the creek.”

The conversation switched gears as Tyler told the story of Jay’s phone call, and how Jay thought someone had pulled him to safety.

Floyd chimed in… “Guys, I hate to break the news, but we do have a trespasser. I believe Jay’s story.”

The room grew quite.

“What do you mean?” asked Jordan.

“I decided to stop by the feeder station at the swamp early this afternoon to check my camera,” Floyd said. “It’s been stolen.

“Are you sure,” asked Gus?

“Why would someone steal your camera? Wasn’t it locked?” asked Carboni.

“Whoever it was used cable cutters to take the camera, probably because it took a picture of them. It gets worse. Someone has also broken one of the legs off the feeder trough… with a bullet. The bullet come in at a downward angle. Someone was in a stand hunting over our feeder station,” said Floyd.

“Who could it be?” asked Jordan.

Chiming in, Gus responded, “Let’s start with Raymus. He’s the only one that knows our property well enough to be snoopin’ in both of those different places.”

Tyler looked at Jay. “Didn’t you say the person that pulled you from the water had somethin’ wrong with his hand?”

Jordan said, “Tell you what. After the Sunday morning hunt, Jay and I will go talk to Raymus and see if he acts fishy or has anything wrong with his hand. Alright guys, enough about the trespasser for tonight. Someone is going to be here practically every day for the entire month of November. We’ll catch him. We’ve worked too hard to get distracted, especially during Sneak Peak Weekend. Now where is everyone hunting in the morning?”

Saturday, Nov. 5

The woods were alive with deer activity. The bucks were definitely out cruising. Most of the bucks seen were 2 1/2-year-olds and younger; some of the 1 1/2-year-old bucks had been seen chasing does.

Saturday afternoon found Jordan in one of his favorites, the west food plot on the back of the swamp. Years ago, Jordan had taken a skid-steer in on an old road that led to the spot. He carved a pair of 1-acre food plots out of the sea of wax myrtle and gallberry. This was also a transition point, and it was full of virgin pine trees. The 50-acre strip of land on the back of the swamp ran east to west, and it was no more than 200 yards wide. South of the strip was the Westerfield farm. Jordan had named this long strip of wax myrtle, gallberry and pines the “Gaza Strip.”

It was 4:50 p.m., and Jordan was settling in for the last hour of daylight. He was situated 40 feet up in a bench seat chain-on stand with shooting rails.  It was been hung on an old cypress tree. Jordan could see several hundred yards out into the swamp to his left and behind him. As a bonus, he could also see the entire food plot to his right. The afternoon sun felt good against his face, and a gentle breeze whispered through the pines. The sound reminded him of an old wind chime from his childhood days.

Jordan grabbed his rattling antlers and took in a deep breath. He began his sequence by raking the antlers against the cypress. Then he tickled them together, methodically working them back and forth for full minute. The closer he got to the one minute mark, the harder and more aggressively he rattled.

At the conclusion of the first sequence, all was quiet. At 5:10 p.m., he repeated it and put his antlers down and got ready. Then it happened.

Coming in for a full investigation was a beautiful 10-pointer, easily in the mid 150s. The buck was mature. Its belly sagged and looked like it exceeded 250 pounds.

Like it had a computerized tracking system, the buck strolled completely across the entire food plot and walked within 20 feet of the stand, looking back and forth for the fight. Jordan reached for his camera and began filming the buck. The buck stood there locked up for more than two minutes.

Then Jordan heard a noise coming from behind him. The buck focused its attention on the approaching visitor. The mature buck turned and ran away through the food plot.

“Here’s the buck I’m looking for,” thought Jordan.

Jordan’s excitement level elevated as he turned his head to his right to see what was coming to join the fight. A million thoughts flashed through his mind. Could it be The Phantom? Could it be another monster buck that we don’t even know of? Jordan’s mind continued working over time as he turned to see the new arrival.

Jordan was stunned… he didn’t see anything. He began frantically searching for bits and pieces of horizontal brown movement. Where was the buck? The noise grew louder as the animal approached 30 yards to the right of the stand. It was a heavy animal.

Then suddenly, just like that, Jordan went from the high of highs to the low of lows. Standing on the edge of the food plot was a 300-lb. black Russian boar hog.

“Unbelievable,” thought Jordan.

He looked at the boar. “I just let a mature 10-pointer walk for you?”

The next step was the hardest. Jordan contemplated his decision. Do I pick up my mag and shoot the hog? Or do I pick up the rattling antlers and see if I can bring the buck back? If I shoot, my hunt is over.

After much deliberation, Jordan picked up his antlers and began rattling. To his surprise, the hog didn’t run at the clashing of the antlers.

There was a reason the hog was oblivious and seemingly preoccupied. The hog was being stalked by IT. Like the wind, IT moved in quickly.

Jordan got his gun ready. He looked out past the food plot and was relieved to see the wax myrtle parting as the buck came in for a second look. Jordan was hoping beyond hope for another opportunity.

Jordan positioned his gun on the rest as the buck reemerged. This time it came out on the shooting lane road, which connected the two food plots. Jordan steadied his crosshairs on the buck’s chest and calmly squeezed the trigger. At the impact of the shot, the buck wheeled back into the sea of green.

IT faded back into the cover. Three large animals had just been in view of Jordan. He had seen two of them. None larger than the one he didn’t see…

• • •

The group celebrated Jordan’s buck for hours. Since it was the first Saturday night in November, the guys really went all out for dinner. They feasted on hand-cut rib-eye steaks brought down from the Corner Butcher Shop in Canton, and fresh shrimp and lobster tails that Carboni brought up from Florida.

Tyler gave Jordan’s buck a gross green score of 153 7/8 and aged it at 6 1/2 years old. Not bad for a buck that was initially passed up. The group heckled Jordan about that for most of the night.

Sunday, Nov. 6

The morning sun had just made it over the horizon. Floyd was dressed in ScentLok camouflage from head to toe. He had stalked his way along the edge of the hill, laced with mature pines. It was 38 degrees.

“Perfect morning to pull out a few tricks,” thought Floyd.

From his position, he could see the creek bottom. To Floyd, it looked like an ideal place to set up and rattle.

Floyd pulled out his rattling antlers and began a knock-down, drag-out fighting sequence. His philosophy was more aggressive than most. Floyd always said the bigger the bar room brawl, the more folks it attracts. That was just what he was thinking when he broke the sticks across his knees and saw the flicker of movement. Then the movement stopped. Floyd zeroed in on a buck; it was bedded against the thicket of saplings maybe 70 yards below.

Floyd repeated the sequence, now each time with his rattling bag so the buck couldn’t detect his movement. Each time, Floyd gained intensity in his routine. His blood pressure began to elevate. Finally, the bedded buck in the saplings rose up, and Floyd could now see that it was a nice 2 1/2-year-old 9-pointer, probably scoring in the low 120s.

Floyd’s heart then almost exploded when he heard a loud snort-wheeze. Out of nowhere a buck cleared a nearby pine tree. Floyd froze like a statue; the buck was fully alert and looking for the fight. It was so close that Floyd thought the buck might end up walking over him. To add to the drama, he recognized the buck. It was the one he’d admired in the soybean field back in August with Gus and Carboni. It was the 8-pointer with long brow tines.

“Oh man,” thought Floyd, as he examined the brow tines up close. They were abnormal in length, especially for Georgia. Each brow looked 7 inches long. The main beams were easily 22 inches. To top it off, it looked like it had a spread that a basketball would have zero issues passing through.

“Long Brow,” as the guys had nicknamed him, stopped 10 yards behind another pine tree. This time it was more to Floyd’s left than out in front of him.

The 9-point was now 30 yards below him.

“Long Brow” saw the smaller 9-pointer and turned sideways in a posturing manner, thinking it was one of the fight’s participants.

Just then the 9-pointer saw Floyd and began stomping its foot and moving its head back and forth.

Floyd’s gun was in position. He just needed “Long Brow” to take two steps either side of the tree. Time was of the essence.

“What should I do?” thought Floyd. He reached into his mental bag of tricks and grabbed one of the limbs he had broken across his knees during the earlier rattling sequence. Like skipping a rock across water, Floyd took the limb and side armed it down the hill toward the 9-pointer. It skipped multiple times as it made its way down the hill.

The 9-pointer took off back toward the creek bottom, and “Long Brow” ran 20 yards down the hill to where the limb stopped. Floyd put the crosshairs on the broadside of the buck and squeezed the trigger. Almost instantly, it collapsed. Floyd began hollering as he ran down to see his new prized position.

• • •

Back at camp, Tyler was getting a workout. It was the second buck he had the privilege of scoring in less than 24 hours. The final gross green score was awesome. Tyler handed Floyd the scoring sheet, saying, “Congratulations, a big eight that goes 142 even.”

The guys were ecstatic. It was only Nov. 6 and five mature bucks to show for their efforts.

Before packing up that morning to go home until Wednesday, Jordan and Jay climbed into the black Dodge to visit Raymus. They were sure he was the poacher. Pulling into his driveway, they were surprised to see that he too had taken a buck that morning and was cleaning it as they drove up.

“Nice buck.” said Jordan.

“Thank ya,” said Raymus. “What do ya’ll need?”

“We just came by to see how your rut was going,” replied Jay.

“Well, you can see it went pretty well this morning,” responded Raymus.

“Looks like that eight will go in the 130s,” said Jordan.

“Yeah, I don’t care bout’ that kinda stuff but looks over 130 to me,” spouted Raymus.

Then he went on for 20 minutes, replaying all the details of the hunt and everything going on around him.

“I ran some road hunters off the other night,” said Raymus. “We also have a problem with these guys south of me. I think they’re shootin’ a lot of young 8-pointers they should be lettin’ walk.”

Raymus stood up and walked over to his water hose. He rinsed off his knife. Then, he washed the blood off of each hand. Jordan and Jay watched intently as they wrapped up the conversation. They both carefully studied Ramus’s hands. They wished each other good luck, and off they went back to camp.

“So what do ya think? Is that the person that pulled you out of the water?” asked Jordan.

“It can’t be,” replied Jay. “There’s nothing unusual with either hand.”

“I don’t think it’s Raymus either,” said Jordan. “That puts us back at square one. We all need to be careful. We’ve got bigger issues than I suspected. Whoever it is knows our property. And with you finding that hair on the ground and the locals all being spooked, we’ve got a poacher and an IT running loose on the land.”

Friday, Nov. 11

The bucks were in a full rutting frenzy. The Phantom had been completely overcome by an irresistible urge to breed. His nighttime excursions now consisted of one big loop circling the entire property. It was 4:15 a.m., normally the buck was bedded well before most hunters even turned over to hit the snooze button on their alarm clock. The few upcoming mornings would be different than any other time during the year.

The Phantom approached the white oaks on the far-east end of the property. He was actually across the creek on land that he was mostly unfamiliar with. Like a bird dog, he found the mature doe. He slowly approached her, and she nervously trotted away through the cane thicket. The doe cut back and forth, trying to give him the slip.

The Phantom tracked her through the thicket and followed her across the creek. They came onto the property just below the old Indian burial ground. There, the doe stopped again to feed under another white oak. The Phantom approached and mounted her back. It was now 5 a.m., and daylight was fast approaching. It would be difficult for him to make it to his bedroom in the planted pines along the east end of the swamp before the crack of dawn.

Saturday, Nov. 12

The morning temperature was a perfect 34 degrees. Tyler had been in the woods for a solid week. He needed to make it happen this morning because the Dawgs were set for a showdown that afternoon with Auburn. Tyler would have to hunt from a box stand for the afternoon hunt so he could listen to Scott Howard and Eric Zeier on his head phones.

He’d been waiting for just the right time to hunt the stand he’d named “The Booner.” It was a special stand out in the middle of the swamp. Over the years, it had taken on almost mystical proportions. Jordan and Tyler thought the stand was nothing less than magical during mid-November. It was located on the edge of an old pasture that the swamp had over taken many years ago. High grass and cypress were scattered throughout the big carved-out bowl. The stand was like the food plot stand on the back of the swamp in that it was also a double chain-on stand with shooting rails, and it was some 40 feet high in a cypress tree.

Tyler loved the stand because he could see more than 400 yards to his right, all the way to the planted pines, and he could see 300 yards out in front. The closest view point to any wood line was 200 yards. During the previous ruts, it was not uncommon to see 10 to 15 different bucks chasing does past the stand in one morning.

This morning would be no different. Although exhausted, Tyler got up extra early, and it was still more than an hour before daylight as Tyler neared the stand. Wearing waders, he slipped his way through the swamp water. Other than Jordan and Tyler, no one else was willing to travel 40 minutes in knee-high water to hunt here. Making the wade in the dark made it much more difficult.

Adding to the mystique, they discovered the location because there was an old ladder stand sitting in the exact tree they’d chosen to put up The Booner stand. They often discussed how much they desired to meet the woodsman who had originally hunted here.

Alternating between lures, Tyler stopped along the way to put out scent canisters of Scrape Juice Doe in Heat and Tink’s 69 Dominant Buck Lure. Tyler might not have been so eager to trudge his way along the bright-eye trail had he known he was being watched. From close proximity, IT watched Tyler go by his ambush setup.

One of Tyler’s favorite tricks was to rattle in the dark. He had a theory that it lured bucks away from going straight to their bedrooms as they completed their nightly routine. He just hoped to catch one out in the open just at daylight.

Tyler also had been given a gift. He’d perfected the ability to self-make very realistic deer grunts. During and in between sequences, Tyler would grunt to keep deer curious. He could hear several deer as they sloshed through the water in the pre-dawn darkness.

• • •

The eastern sky began to glow. The Phantom still hadn’t made it back to his bedroom. As the Phantom approached the pines, he stopped to listen. He could hear the bucks fighting, followed by deer out in the water. He heard the deep guttural sequence of a mature buck off in the distance. Instinctively, he charged toward the noise created in the back slough. He stopped just along the edge of the water and lifted his head. He could smell the bucks and the sweet scent of a doe in heat.

• • •

As magic light hit, Tyler was in full concentration, surveying the edges of the swamp. He turned, and his peripheral vision caught the movement of an approaching deer headed his way. It appeared to be a 3 1/2-year-old 10-pointer. Tyler continued scanning the edges.

Five minutes went by. It was 6:10 a.m. Tyler heard a deer making its way toward the planted pines. Tyler took his binoculars and studied the edge of the pines. There he was… it was The Phantom. Even in the low light, the rack looked every bit as big as it did back in August. In fact, it looked bigger.

There was no time to waste. Tyler grabbed “Magi” and searched as hard as he could to find the buck in his scope. It was just too dark. He grabbed his binoculars again and found the buck just as he walked into the pines.

Jordan was also hunting the swamp that morning. He was hunting a ladder stand on the front of the swamp. It was put against a tree that the two had nicknamed “The Haunted Tree,” because the tree looked like it was alive and angry. The limbs looked like they were stretched out to grab anyone who crossed its path. The portion of the swamp that he was hunting was tighter. However, Jordan liked it because it was close to a bedroom.

Jordan sat disgusted. Not wanting to ruin his hunt, he was being forced to watch a sow give birth to litter of piglets. To top it off, a large boar hog had just come by and tried to breed the sow. The only good thing to come out of it, in his opinion, was the boar had discarded all of the piglets.

As the two pigs moved off, Jordan was surprised to see a tall 8-pointer coming his way. It acted like it was being chased. Then, 45 seconds behind, Jordan saw the image of several small animals trailing the buck. Jordan raised his rifle. It was three coyotes. Jordan had enough, he unloaded.

The multiple concussions of the mag hammering three times through the swamp rattled Tyler’s cage. Tyler grabbed his phone and sent Jordan a text… “Think you’re hunting in Illinois during day one of the three-day shotgun season?! Did you get him?”

“Yeah, I got all three. All three coyotes, that is. Get ready dude, they chased a real tall 8-pointer your direction,” replied Jordan.

Tyler got his camera ready as the buck crashed through the water headed right for him. The buck ran across an opening in front of the stand and locked up. The buck was looking straight in Tyler’s direction. While he filmed the event, Tyler quickly guessed the score at close to 135.

“Man, why can’t you run past Gus or Jay?” thought Tyler. “I may regret this later, but you just aren’t a season-ender. Not when I’ve seen The Phantom this morning. At least I got you on video.”

Thanksgiving Week

It was the day before Thanksgiving, and Gus was feeling the pressure of not connecting on a buck. This morning he would follow the tip the pilot had given Carboni. He would concentrate his efforts on a food plot that ran between a 10-acre patch of planted pines and a hardwood vein along Crockett Creek. Gus was determined to stay in the stand until noon before driving to Alabama to be with his family for Thanksgiving.

It had been an eventful morning. An hour after daylight, a doe in heat had run across the food plot with several good bucks behind her. The biggest being an 8-point that would score right at 120. His heart was set on bringing a 130-class buck back to camp. The morning passed, and he’d seen a total of six bucks and three does.

He looked at his phone. It was 10 minutes before noon. He had to go—and in more ways than one. Gus grabbed his things and started down out of the tripod stand. His truck was parked at the south corner of the peanut field. He made it as far as he could before stopping to relieve himself.

While finishing his business, he heard several animals running through the woods. He started walking along the edge of the food plot, parallel with the animal’s movements.

Gus had heard pigs come past him before daylight and suspected they’d got up to feed. He was more than happy to put some “P.I.G. HOG” meat in the freezer. Gus stopped and listened. All was quite. Gus continued sitting. He reminded himself of the advice Jordan had given on stalking. Animals tend to circle back based on the wind direction. With that, Gus turned and started heading back to the stand.

The stand was in sight when Gus heard the animals again. He turned and got into position behind one the planted pines. Gus was completely astonished as a mature doe came to the edge of the woods and food plot lane. She stopped and stared ahead at Gus, before looking back behind her. She was only 15 yards from Gus.

Gus shook his head as the buck grew closer. All the commotion could have passed for a herd of hogs. The buck was grunting with every step.

“Must be one of those bucks I saw this morning,” thought Gus.

As the buck got to the edge of the food plot, it dipped its head to run under a low hanging water oak limb.

When the buck’s head cleared the limb, Gus almost had a stroke at the size of its antlers. The buck stood motionless. It didn’t look real. The buck had at least a 20-inch outside spread with points going everywhere. The G2s looked like they were 12 inches long.

Gus still needed to bring the butt of the gun to his shoulder. The doe looked at Gus and began stomping her foot. It would soon be now or never.

She took one small step and started to bolt across the food plot into the planted pines. Gus threw the gun to his shoulder and took aim. His scope was still on nine-power, and all he could see was brown. He pulled the trigger. It was a perfect neck shot, and the buck melted in its tracks.

“Not bad for a 15-yard shot,” thought Gus.

He ran over to the buck and picked it up by its massive antlers.

“Oh man, Oh man!” yelled Gus. He took off in a sprint to get his truck.

Tyler made him rescore the buck several times while they talked on their phones.

“Unbelievable,” said Tyler. “I can’t believe you stayed in the stand until noon. What a high noon encounter… 161 6/8! And to think, if you hadn’t stopped to take care of business, this might not have happened. Let’s make sure you get plenty of pics, that buck is definitely a potential contest winner.”

The two laughed hysterically as Gus exclaimed, “We’ll it’s hard to miss at less than 20 yards. It was my kind of shot!”

Sunday, Nov. 27

The group had hunted hard for almost a month. It’d been an awesome rut. Still, The Phantom was out there, somewhere. Jordan and Tyler were discussing the previous day’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game as they pulled into camp. They looked across the yard, under the skinning rack. There they saw a huge buck in the back of Zane’s truck. Tyler looked at the buck in utter disbelief.

“Jordan, I think it’s The Phantom. I knew I heard a shot this morning on the Westerfield farm.”

Floyd and Jay were standing beside Zane and one of his guests. Jordan and Tyler jumped out of the truck.

Zane looked at the two and said, “Come on over here and see what I’ve done. I got your Phantom right here in the back of my truck.”


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