Billy Joe Padgett’s Georgia State Record Whitetail

GON Staff | January 1, 1999

The 1998-99 deer season will probably be remembered for many things. The weather was scorching hot and bone dry throughout most of the season, white oaks were barren in many places where the deer season normally revolves around white oak acorns, and most hunters reported an absent, insignificant or off-schedule rut. Who would have guessed that such a season will also be remembered for a Telfair County buck that might be the best killed in Georgia in 25 years, maybe even a new state record?

Billy Joe Padgett, 23, of Jacksonville, Ga., killed the buck on Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 26. The non-typical rack has 36 scoreable points on what is a very high and wide 8-point frame, but it is the mass that is most striking. The circumference measurements at the base of each beam is in the neighborhood of 10 inches. The smallest of eight circumference measurements is greater than 6 inches.

These facts are leading experienced scorers who have looked at the rack to estimate that the deer, when officially scored, will approach or even surpass the current state record of 240 5/8 non-typical inches, which is the Hatton buck, killed by John L. Hatton Jr. in Monroe County in 1973.

The 60 days that must pass before the rack can be officially scored are slipping away fast, and we’ll know soon whether we have a new state record or not. And in case you are a Week 10 Truck-Buck entrant, here’s the answer to your burning question: Billy Joe is a GON subscriber, and yes, his buck is a Week 10 entrant.

Billy Joe killed the buck on the White Oak Plantation Sportman’s Club, an 8,800-acre tract on the Ocmulgee River in Telfair County that has been under quality deer management since it was established  five years ago. Billy Joe’s father, Ernest Padgett, was a founding member of the club and helped develop a cooperative agreement among neighboring clubs that has resulted in quality management on more than 14,000 contiguous acres.

This summer, Ernest and his sons were posting and installing locks on a new 800-acre addition to the White Oak club when they came across some very impressive rubs from the previous season. Needless to say, Ernest and Billy Joe had a good idea where they would start hunting when the season came in.

On Oct. 27, the first Tuesday of gun season, Billy Joe got a look at the buck that was probably responsible for the rubs. Watching the buck walk across a field of young planted pines, Billy Joe thought that the deer must still be in velvet: the rack just seemed too big, heavy and dark. The buck crossed Billy Joe’s entrance path and began running for cover, and Billy Joe got one clear shot at 75 yards. He took it and missed clean.

Billy Joe and his dad began hunting the buck as often as they dared, hoping the pressure would not make the buck leave the area. In early November, Ernest got a look at the buck moving at a brisk walk at 175 yards. He shot and immediately saw dust bloom under the buck’s neck. Once again, not a hair was to be found.

Early in the week of Thanksgiving, Ernest heard a buck chasing a doe in a pine thicket, and a loud, deep, steady grin sounded convincingly like a mature buck. Ernest grunted in response, but the deer never appeared.

On Thanksgiving morning, Ernest would not be hunting, so he told his son how to get to the stand where he had heard the grunting buck.

Daylight had barely arrived when Billy Joe finished a short series on his grunt call and looked up to see the huge buck they had been hunting. At 50 yards, Billy Joe was given a broadside shot. When he fired, the buck raised its tail and bolted, and Billy Joe, like any of us would have been, was unable to sit still for a second. He scaled quickly down from the stand, leaped over the last few steps and ran to where the buck had been standing. Forty yards from that spot, Billy Joe began to breathe again when he located the first blood.

Moments later, he topped a small rise and found himself looking at the buck, which was lying on the ground, head up, watching him. The deer began to rise, and Billy Joe snapped of a shot at its neck. As the buck disappeared at a run into planted pines, he fired a third time, then ran after it.

Billy Joe lost sight of the buck right away, but ahead he could see pine sapling swaying in the buck’s wake, and he followed at a sprint. It was not far before he saw the buck again, now its massive rack of antlers had been caught up in a pine sapling. As it struggled to run, Billy Joe charged up and grabbed the left beam in his hand. With the rifle in the other hand, he fired point-blank into the buck’s chest, then turned loose just as the buck freed itself and disappeared again.

Once again, Billy Joe was running after it, but the chase ended only a few yards farther on when the buck piled up, and a fifth and final shot was placed. Fifteen minutes passed between the first and the last shot. Four of the shots had connected.

The rack must dry for a minimum of 60 days before it can be scored by an official Boone & Crockett measurer. Because the scoring of this unusual rack will be difficult and time consuming, and because the final score will be highly anticipated, no green score will be taken, and coming up with an eyeball estimate for a rack like this one is guesswork at best.

Just last season, Blake Voltz, of Columbus, came within 9 inches of matching the Hatton Buck with his Musgoee County non-typical buck that scored 231 2/8 inches. Will Billy Joe’s buck fall short as well or will the state record whitetail have a new name by February?

Editor’s Note: Kim Adams of the White Oak Sportsman’s Club contributed to this report.

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