The Georgia Fab 40 Bucks Of 2003 Season
GON's annual compilation of Georgia's best bucks of the previous season includes two Booners from Hancock County.
Last fall, as the Georgia deer season began to inch ever closer, the buzz among serious big-buck hunters was heating up. Factor after factor began to align, all favorable, all pointing toward the possibility — no, the probability — that the coming season was going to be a good one for big, mature, heavy-racked bucks.
Last year, in this very article, we were buying into the hype, and we predicted an exceptional year for high-scoring bucks. The article cited these factors: “We had a tremendous acorn crop last fall, plenty of rain this spring and summer that provided excellent food, and thereʼs the simple fact that (the 2002-03) buck harvest was way down — more, older-aged bucks will be in the woods this fall.”
The results are in folks, and the pundits were right. Last season was among the best ever in terms of high-scoring bucks, and a good argument could be made that it was the very best — ever. The 2003-04 season produced 30 Georgia bucks that scored above the 150-mark, an all-time record and more than double the number, 14, that were killed during the 2002 season. Thirty Georgia bucks scoring above 150 is well above the 10-year average of 21 bucks in that class.
Prior to last year, the best season on record since GON starting tracking such numbers 12 years ago was the 1997 season. That year, hunters in Georgia killed 28 bucks that scored above 150. The 1997 season also produced three B&Cs and 10 bucks that scored over 160. Compare those numbers to last year, when we had two B&Cs and nine bucks over 160.
While setting the all-time high for bucks over 150 last year, we were also only one record-book buck from equalling the other 1997 numbers (B&Cs and 160-class bucks) that make it the best season in Georgia history. The 10-year average is 6.2 bucks over 160 in a season, and 1.3 B&C bucks per season, so last year was well above those averages.
Georgiaʼs average of late appears to be two Boone & Crockett bucks a season. Last year, for the third season in a row and for the fifth time in the past six seasons, Georgia again produced two B&C bucks. The minimum net scores (after deductions) for a buck to make the B&C record book are 170 for a typical-racked buck and 195 for a non-typical.
Highly unusual is that both of last yearʼs Booners came from the same county, and even more unusual is that they came from Hancock County, which had never produced a record-book buck before. And, according to GONʼs County-by-County rankings, only one buck in Hancockʼs all-time Top-15 had been killed since 1989.
There are changes occurring in the Piedmont counties, primarily a dramatic increase in the number of tracts that are being managed at least to some degree to produce better bucks. In Hancock County, a countywide QDM regulation (all legal bucks must have 4-points on one side) went into effect in 2001. The past two years GON has ranked Hancock among the Top-10 counties in the state in GONʼs “Counties on the Rise” chart, which is based on our Trophy-Buck Scores that indicate a countyʼs potential to produce good bucks.
While Hancock had been showing improvement, the thought of a Booner stepping out was the last thing on the mind of a newcomer to the area. Gary McMahan of Franklin, N.C. was enjoying his first year in a Hancock County club last season.
On the evening of November 22, Gary made a decision that would place him in Georgia deer-hunting annals forever. That evening he went to a thick neck of woods that was rarely hunted by club members. The weekend before, Garyʼs father had hunted the thicket and found a lot of buck sign. Gary hung his climbing stand in the middle of the thicket where he could see a couple of long, narrow openings.
“There was a lot of honeysuckle in there, and the does were feeding in there because the acorns were gone,” Gary said. “It was really thick. I could see out about 150 yards in a couple of little spots. I looked away, and when I looked back, the buck was just there (in one of the openings).”
Garyʼs buck netted 170 3/8 B&C points.
Some counties in Georgia seem to always produce Fab 40 bucks — Worth and Lee counties in the south Georgia plantation country, and Macon, Dooly and Taylor along the Flint River farmland belt. But this yearʼs Fab 40 list raised some eyebrows. There are seven new county-records among last yearʼs 40 best bucks — Atkinson, Baker, Gwinnett, Oconee, Pickens and Rabun counties joined Hancock as those with new No. 1 bucks taken last season.
Pickens, Rabun, Atkinson counties producing Fab 40 bucks? Heading into last season, I doubt there were many hunters who had these counties in their sights when trying to find a club in an area with the best big-buck potential. Last season proved that with the right combination of factors, the genetics from one end of Georgia to the other have the potential to produce high-end, high-scoring racks.
“Whatever the factors were that made last year good for antler growth, it was almost universal across the state,” said Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) biologist Kent Kammermeyer. “It was most likely a combination of many different things — progressive, voluntary QDM (quality-deer management), and the new mandatory antler restriction (only one buck with less than four points on a side is legal, statewide). But I would say that a big factor was that 2002 was a real low year in terms of buck harvest. That season we had rains on key weekends, and then combined with the first year of the statewide antler rule, we didnʼt kill as many deer. We stockpiled a bunch of bucks.”
Conditions were also good for antler growth in 2003.
“We had a very good acorn crop in 2002, and we think that carries over to the next yearʼs antler growth,” Kent said. “Then we had a real wet spring and summer in 2003, and that really helps.”
The final factor that Kent mentioned is what hunters and clubs are doing on individual tracts of land to improve the groceries that are available to deer.
“The other factor is food plots and supplemental feeding. Iʼm getting way more calls than ever from hunters asking questions about food plots,” he said.
It appears that an unusual combination of factors combined to make last year a great one for big racks.
How will this season compare? Hereʼs a look at those same factors heading into this season.
Weʼll start with last fallʼs acorn crops — terrible in the mountains, poor except for water oaks in the Piedmont, and generally pretty good in south Georgia. Overall, it was nowhere near the bumper crop that fell statewide in 2002.
Good rains in the spring and summer may be much more important than most hunters realize. This year we’ve had a mixed bag — it was bone dry in the spring, but since June we’ve had plenty of rain making for prime growing conditions for natural forage. Again, a mixed bag and not as good as we saw heading into last season.
We entered the woods last fall with a stockpile of bucks after a very low buck harvest in 2002. Last fall, the buck harvest leaped back up to more average numbers — and up by 25 percent over the 2002 buck harvest. There wonʼt be that stockpile of bucks in the woods with an extra year of age on them.
Then thereʼs the X factor — the one factor that can negate the three mentioned above, at least on particular tracts of land. Intensive management is increasing — young bucks are being passed, and food plots and supplemental feeding are providing nutrition that can make up for average conditions in the woods.
Last season was a perfect example that every county in Georgia has the potential to grow a Fab 40 buck.
The countdown to opening day has begun. If you kill a good one, the first thing on your mind should be 1-800-GET-GONE or [email protected]. Our editors will hop in the trucks to come get cover shots of potential Fab 40 bucks, but you have to call before the buck is caped out!
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