Gary Hall’s No. 1 Cohutta WMA Buck
Drifting into the Cohutta... story of a mountain monarch.
No one expected nearly three inches of snow on the ground on the morning of Nov. 29, 1976, but in the Cohuttas, anything goes. Gary Hall, of Ringgold, along with his two companions, Jim Alsobrook and Daniel Atwood, were spaced out across a steep wooded ridge that had been clearcut on two sides. The three men had hunted this same area the season before and found some promising sign from a mature buck that obviously frequented the area.
“We had located a string of large rubs,” Gary said. “Some of the trees had literally been torn out of the ground. Later on, Jim got a shot at a big buck that we believe made all those rubs, but unfortunately he missed. We never saw the buck again that year, and we couldn’t wait to get back in there as soon as the 1976 season opened.”
It had been a natural progression for Gary and his companions to more or less “drift” over into the Cohutta WMA. There they discovered a rugged and beautiful landscape that was a virtual sportsman’s paradise for anyone who loved to hunt and fish as much as they did. “In addition to deer hunting, I started doing a lot of grouse hunting and trout fishing in the Conasauga River for rainbows,” Gary said. “But whether I was bird hunting or fishing in the river, I was always scouting for deer.”
Gary grew up in the LaFayette area. Like so many country boys raised during the 1950s and ’60s (today he’s an energetic 80 years young), few places existed in Georgia to hunt deer in those days, especially in the northwest part of the state. Like so many post-Depression-era boys in the rural South, Gary cut his teeth hunting squirrels and small game. At a young age, he trapped live rabbits and sold them to a local beagle club for $1 apiece. At one time he operated 30 to 40 rabbit boxes. He also developed a lifelong love for all types of fishing.
After getting out of the Army, Gary married and moved to Ringgold. There he and his wife Kathy started a family and began attending the local Baptist church. Gary soon became good friends with Daniel Atwood, the song director at the church. Being an avid deer hunter, Daniel invited Gary to hunt with him over on Pigeon Mountain (before the area became a WMA). It wasn’t long before Gary killed his first buck with a muzzleloader, and he was hooked. Gary and Daniel hunted together in several other places close to home in northwest Georgia, and they usually brought home an envious supply of venison.
Another good friend, Jim Alsobrook, soon joined forces with Gary and Dan. Sadly, Jim passed away from cancer a few years ago.
“Dan was always more of a trophy hunter than either Jim or me,” Gary said. “He taught me so many of the important basics about how to deer hunt; where to look for sign and where to place a stand.”
A Snowy Surprise
“We did some scouting on the ridge a week or two before the 1976 season opened,” Gary remembers. “Even though we were a little disappointed because we didn’t find much sign, we knew it was a good area, and we had hopes that one of us would run into the big buck from last year. We started hunting in there as soon as the season opened without much success.
“On Nov. 29, all three of us were hunting together as usual, spaced out along that ridge. To our surprise, it had snowed during the night and about 2 or 3 inches of snow covered the ground. Dan had always encouraged me to hunt as high up in a tree as possible, so I took my trusty Baker tree stand and went about 25 or 30 feet up a tree near a spot where I had found a few rubs and at least one old deer bed on the side of the ridge. During my Army days, I had served in the 82nd Airborne Division, jumping out of airplanes, so it didn’t bother me a bit to get really high in a tree while hunting.”
Gary didn’t have long to wait. Shortly after daylight, he heard something walking through the snow directly behind the tree he was in. It sounded just like a man, but he knew better. Since the early Baker stands did not have a seat, Dan always stood while he was hunting.
“In those days, I wore a bulky down jacket to stay warm, and it sometimes made a brushing sound when I moved. Suddenly a very large buck walked directly under my stand and stopped and looked straight up at me. He was carrying the largest set of antlers I had ever seen. I think he had heard the slight sound of my jacket rustling, and he was nervous. He looked away and quickly looked back at me. He didn’t like what he saw,” Gary said. “Dan was in a tree about 75 yards away, and the buck started walking very quickly in Dan’s direction.”
Wielding his trusty Ruger Model 77 .308 with a Redfield 2×7 scope, Gary placed the crosshairs on the walking buck’s lung area and squeezed the trigger.
“He started running toward Dan and I lost sight of him through the trees,” Gary said. “By the time I reached the ground in my Baker and walked over to the spot where he had fallen, Dan was already there. I couldn’t believe the size of the buck’s antlers, and a bad case of nerves quickly set in. I did have enough presence of mind to thank the Good Lord for such an incredible gift.
“I was so shaky I couldn’t hold my knife steady, so Dan field-dressed my buck for me. Luckily, we had an easy drag downhill most of the way, and it was a simple task to get him back across the Conasauga River the way we had walked in and to a spot where we could load him in the truck.”
Gary knew he had taken the trophy of a lifetime. He commissioned local taxidermist Gene Sharrock to mount the awesome head. Later the antlers were measured by a local biologist who looked at the jawbone and estimated the buck’s age to be an astonishing 3 1/2 years old. (With a rack like that you would think the buck was at least 5 1/2).
You might expect the largest typical rack to ever come out of the Cohutta WMA to have plenty of character, and it doesn’t disappoint. A basic 5×5 frame with several sticker points on the right side, the two extra-long brow tines that split on each end really make the antlers stand out. With a net typical score of 160 5/8 inches, Gary’s outstanding trophy has ranked as the longstanding No. 1 typical buck for the Cohutta WMA since the year it was killed.
Gary shot another fine Cohutta buck in 1982, a very old ridge-runner with a main frame 4×4 rack containing several burr points. His hunting partner Jim Alsobrook filled his tag that same day with a young spike buck.
“Unlike my first buck, it was a nightmare for the two of us to get our bucks out because we had gone way back into a remote ridge and had a long way to go through some very rugged terrain. We were so exhausted we finally hung our bucks in the woods for the night and came back the next morning to finish the chore. We never worked so hard getting two deer out of the woods.”
Gary’s 1982 buck was a main-frame 4×4 with several additional burr points. It, too, had unusually long brow tines. With a net score of 131 7/8 inches, this buck was believed to have been 7 1/2 years old. Interestingly, while caping out his big 8-pointer, Gary found a round pumpkin ball, obviously from another hunter, lodged in the front of the buck’s head next to its skull.
“We called him the ‘headache buck’ because we figured he must have had a pretty bad headache after that bullet lodged next to his skull,” Gary said.
The Baker “Slide” Hunting in the clouds with a Baker tree stand.
Although Gary Hall never experienced any problems with his Baker tree stand over the many years he used it, the stories are legion about Georgia hunters who did. Baker “climbing and tree hugging” stands out of Valdosta first hit the market in 1969. By the mid 1970s, they were still about the only show in town for hunters who wanted a climbing tree stand—unless you made a climbing platform yourself out of aluminum—which many hunters did. But if you wanted one of those newfangled commercial tree stands, you probably bought a Baker. Notorious for losing its grip on the tree and treating a hunter to the famous “Baker slide,” many a veteran Peach State hunter still bares scars on their arms, legs and chest from riding a tree down to the ground after a Baker stand decided to let loose and plunge 15 or 20 feet straight down.
With a single platform containing foot straps attached to one’s feet, a hunter would have to pull himself up the tree with his arms and lift the platform up a few inches at a time with his feet to gain elevation. Since the early models didn’t have any type of seat to sit on, hunters had to stand on the platform the entire time they were hunting. Some brave souls could maneuver around enough in their stands to sit if they had a sense of balance like a trapeze artist, but it was dangerous making any moves because the unstable platform had a mind of its own and might plunge earthward with any slight motion. And in those days, hunters were not equipped with any kind of safety harness.
“Using a Baker tree stand back in those days might have been a tough (and dangerous) way to go,” Gary says with a smile, “but we were young and foolish and invincible, and I never had any problems with my Baker. It served me well for a number of years.”
Gary was hunting high up a tree in a Baker when he killed the record Cohutta WMA buck in 1976.
Cohutta WMA Best Bucks Of All-Time
Rank Score Name Year County Method Photo 1 160 5/8 Gary Hall 1976 Murray Gun View 2 150 6/8 William Prather 1981 Fannin Gun 3 148 3/8 Max Falls 1973 Fannin Gun View 4 144 1/8 Jason Osgatharp 2019 Gilmer Gun View 5 140 1/8 Terry Fowler 2007 Gilmer Gun View 6 139 4/8 Estle Clayton 2006 Gilmer Gun View 7 135 2/8 Matthew Pickelsimer 2008 Fannin Gun View 8 134 6/8 Chuck Sizemore 2007 Murray Gun 9 134 5/8 Alton Powell 1982 Fannin Gun View 10 134 Steve Bradley 2007 Fannin Gun
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