Giant Fulton County Buck Recovered One Week Later

Justin Mizell just knew his buck was dead. His confidence and never give up attitude yielded antlers in his hands.

Mike Bolton | September 26, 2022

Justin Mizell with his 171-inch Fulton County bow buck that he recovered one week after getting an arrow in him.

Justin Mizell says it was unquestionably the most incredible moment of his deer hunting career. That euphoria didn’t last long. The incredible sense of accomplishment suddenly turned into what seemed like a cruel joke.

His buck-of-a-lifetime from Fulton County had apparently survived Justin’s opening-day arrow. It had seemingly disappeared into thin air. A tracking dog couldn’t find it. After days of looking, several of Justin’s friends encouraged him to give up. Justin says he was bummed.

This story would have a happier ending, however. Seven days—a full week—after shooting the big buck, Justin located it in a most-unusual place. The result was a 13-point buck that has been rough-scored 171 2/8 inches.

The suburban hunter from Cumming admits it was a week of agony—and a lot of prayers.

“I had seen several pictures of this deer before the season,” he said.  “On my lunch breaks at work, I’d knock on doors trying to get permission to hunt the area. I was getting discouraged because I wasn’t having any luck. Finally, I got written permission from one landowner with the understanding that I would teach his kids how to shoot a bow. It was a pretty small lot. It was 1 acre at the most.”

Justin set up a camera two months before the season. He began to get photos of some deer the same night. He put some corn out. Two days later, he got the big buck on camera.

“When I found out that two other people were hunting this same deer in the area, my heart sank,” he said. “Typically, this buck would stay in my area for five to seven days and then disappear. Then, five to seven days later, he would come back. He’d be there a week and be gone for a week.”

The week leading up to opening day, Justin was getting photos of some bucks shedding velvet, but no photos of the big buck. He heard that another hunter had been getting photos of the buck where that hunter had permission to hunt. That wasn’t good.

“The big buck had been missing for a week,” Justin said. “Then, finally on Friday evening before opening day (on Saturday), the buck again showed up on my camera at about 7:30 in the evening.

“I started calling my buddies and I told them I thought there was a pretty good chance that I might get a shot at him in the evening the next day.”

Justin had put up a lock-on tree stand on the property three weeks before.

“My daughter had a soccer game on opening day and fortunately, it was at 12 noon,” he said. “It was raining that morning, so I didn’t mind waiting until the afternoon to hunt,” he said. “I had a nervous feeling all day. I usually get excited when I go hunting, but I never get anxious, but I was nervous all day. I had the biggest buck I have ever seen on camera, and I had a chance to get him. I think the pressure was getting to me. I prayed throughout the day.”

Justin parked his vehicle and walked to his stand at about 4:45. Once in his stand, two does and two fawns came to the feeding area. The fawns looked directly at him, but the wind was in his face, so they ignored him.

“The deer were moving like crazy,” he said. “One of the does started to circle behind me. I knew if it got behind me, it would blow me out of the stand. Thankfully, it walked back to be with the others.

“Just about then, deer started appearing at the top of hill. I knew it was the bachelor group that the big buck had been traveling with. I got my bow, and I started getting ready. A nice 10-pointer came in first followed by an 8-pointer. Another buck with really funky tines followed. Then I saw more movement. It was the big buck. They knew he ran the place. They backed away from the food. He came straight at me. He went to where the other deer were feeding and it was like, ‘I’m the king. Y’all get out of here.’”

The buck of a lifetime was just 22 yards in front of his stand, but it was facing toward the stand and Justin had no shot.

“He was right there, and he had no idea I was there, but there were 10 deer facing me, and I’m thinking ‘How can I draw on this deer?’ He turned and walked from my left to my right. I drew. He got about 25 yards away. When he got in the first opening, I had no shot, but when he got in the second opening, I shot.

“The way he reacted I knew I had hit him. He jumped up and kicked, but then he just walked away. I knew I had gut-shot him, and I was sick. He actually bedded down in front of me, but he didn’t seem like he was mortally wounded. I couldn’t see blood.

“I knew I had to get another arrow in him. I shot again. I hit him. But I didn’t know if I had hit a leg, a shoulder or what. He stood and took off. It was like ‘I don’t know what that was, but it didn’t feel good.’ One of the other deer had seen the whole thing and started blowing. At this point, I was really feeling bad about this hunt.”

Justin waited 30 minutes, then started looking for blood. He found the arrow from the first shot, and it had passed entirely through the buck. It appeared to have liver blood on it. He felt like it might have possibly been a lethal shot. He found the second arrow and it was broken off, but it had no blood. He decided to back out.

“I met a friend who hunts the property where I thought the deer had gone and I got permission to go on the property to look for the buck,” he said. “I saw some drops of blood, but it started to rain. I was in a bad position. I thought it would be best to wait until morning and I could possibly find the deer dead, but there would be no blood trail because it was supposed to rain all night.”

 Justin came back with a friend the following morning. They searched where Justin thought the deer had gone, but to no avail.

“I was not feeling too confident by this point,” he said. “We thought our best bet was to call in a tracking dog. I started contacting the property owners in the area to get permission to look for the deer on their property because that’s what the tracker wanted me to do first.”

The following evening, the handler with the tracking dog arrived.

“The dog was not picking up on anything,” he said. “The dog looked around. We found one small circle of blood about the size of a golf ball. The dog handler called off the search. I knew at that point the next step is that I would be looking for circling buzzards.”

Justin walked the area the next few days looking for smells and buzzards, but no luck. On Friday, he changed his strategy. He studied a map looking for ponds. He visited those ponds thinking the buck may have gone to water like injured bucks are prone to do. Again, no luck.

“I was really bummed out,” he said. “I texted my buddies, and I got mixed reactions. Some of them said ‘You did everything possible to find that deer. Good for you man.’  Other buddies said, ‘That deer is dead. Keep looking. You’ve got to think outside the box.’ I wasn’t ready to stop looking.”

On Saturday, a week after he had shot the buck, he was revisiting some areas he had searched before. He ran into an apartment complex’s maintenance man who he had questioned before. This time, he got a glimmer of hope.

“I asked him again if he had seen anything,” Justin said. “He said, no, but something was sure stinking in some bushes about 200 or 300 yards away. He said something is dead in those bushes. I looked at a map to see the best way to get over there. When I turned the corner, there was a turkey vulture sitting there. I knew that had to be it.”

Justin rushed to the bushes and there lay his buck.

“He was badly decayed, and I was sad about losing the meat, but I was as happy as I could be,” he said. “God really blessed me.”

Justin is a subscriber to GON but will not be able to enter the deer in Truck-Buck. Rules require that an eligible buck be recovered within 24 hours.

“I’d love to be in the Truck-Buck Shoot-Out, but I understand the rule, and I think it’s fair,” he said.

Justin is now waiting to have the buck scored officially. He also sent the jawbone off to have the buck aged.

“I want it scored by a professional,” he said. “I have scored some deer, but I am not a professional. He had seven points on his left side and five on his right plus a split brown tine. On one side the mass was 6 inches and 5  1/2 on the other. 

“I am also curious as to how old he was. I figured he was 6 1/2 years old, but when I was looking for him, I found a shed that was his from the year before, and it was amazing the amount of growth he had in a year, so he may not have been that old.”

Justin’s 13-pointer had seven points on his left side and five on his right, plus a split brown tine.


Fulton County All-Time Best Bow-Buck

1213 4/8 (NT)Jay Maxwell2007FultonBowView 
2170 2/8 Dylan Wylie2018FultonBowView 
3193 7/8 (NT)Lee Ellis2017FultonBowView 
4167 1/8 Bob Coombs2020FultonBowView 
5166 1/8 Lee Ellis2014FultonBowView 
6162 5/8 Kendall Golightly2011FultonBowView 
7161 4/8 David Shepard2023FultonBowView 
8157 5/8 Tyler Brown2021FultonBowView 
9179 2/8 (NT)William Hudson2002FultonBowView 
10156 2/8 Brannan Southerland2016FultonBowView 

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