Harris County’s Chessboard Bucks
For 19 years, Gorman Riley has been making all the right moves to take trophy bucks in Harris County.
Gorman Riley is one of those rare deer hunters who decided that he wanted to kill a Boone and Crockett buck—and then went out and accomplished the feat.
Gorman, born and raised in Harris County, killed his first buck when he was 10. At 15, he told his father that he was going to kill a B&C buck. It took seven years after making that statement, but in October 1983, he downed a Harris County 14-pointer that scored 170 6/8 inches. At just the age of 22, he had put a Booner into the record book.
Gorman is 28 now, and he still lives in Pine Mountain Valley in Harris County, and he is still taking big bucks. Over the years, he has killed nine bucks that would gross 150 B&C inches or better, including a 12-pointer and a 13-pointer last season. His 12-pointer placed fourth in Hilsman’s Deer Cooler’s Big Buck Contest, missing third by just 1/8 of an inch. Lucky hunter you say? Gorman doesn’t think so.
“I never thought about it being luck,” he said. “The hunters who do the right things always seem to get their buck.”
Trophy hunting, he says, is a matter of finding a big buck and then figuring him out.
“Almost every hunter you talk to will tell you about the big buck that’s been seen on their property. But it’s usually the big one that got away,” said Gorman. “Why isn’t that buck killed? All you have to do is know the buck’s habits, read the signs and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
“If you take a contour map of the area where you know there is a good buck, the land lays out like a chessboard. First, you have to know deer biologically and know how they will react to different conditions. Then you have to know the lay of the land: where the food sources are and when they will be producing, where the preferred bedding and escape cover is and which trails the deer are using. You don’t want to hunt unproductive areas. Then you figure out the big buck’s pattern on the board by the sign he leaves and make the moves to intercept him.”
It’s not always as easy as it sounds. Gorman hunted his B&C buck for three years before successfully patterning him. The 12-pointer he killed last fall took four years to bag.
The basics of successful hunting are learning deer and the woods, and Gorman has had a rich opportunity to learn both, growing up on a 300-acre tract of Harris County woodlands. He credits much of what he has learned to his father, Owen, who has a master’s degree in forestry and wildlife management. Gorman himself is nearing completion of his masters in forest management from Auburn University. He works as a licensed broker dealing in large tracts of forest property. With his father, he operates Owen L. Riley & Associates forest managers and consultants, and he’s a broker for ERA in LaGrange, as well. Aside from handling land transactions, the father and son team also manage property for timber and wildlife management. Gorman’s job puts him in the woods a good bit, and he is able to juggle his work load to spend at least part of four or five days a week hunting.
Gorman hunts on three or four large Harris County tracts, including a 4,000-acre hunt club, of which he is president.
Aside from his success taking big bucks, what sets Gorman apart from most Georgia hunters is that he spends only about 5% of his hunting time in a tree stand. The majority of the time he still hunts. In 19 years of deer hunting, all of his big bucks, including the B&C, have come while hunting from the ground.
“If I find some hot sign, I may put up a portable stand and hunter over it a while,” he said. “But most of the time careful still hunting is far more effective for taking mature bucks.”
The places he likes to start are the thickest areas near the hottest scrapes, newest rubs or biggest tracks he can find. He eases through the woods, keeping the wind in his face and stopping often to look and listen—often cupping his hands behind his ears so that he can hear a little bit better.
He emphasizes moving slowly.
“Most hunter move too quickly,” he said. “The deer hear them first and ease off without ever being seen, and then the hunter wonders why he isn’t seeing anything.”
The key is to avoid being seen, heard or smelled, said Gorman. The only cover scent he uses is a liberal dose of doe-in-heat scent during the rut. He particularly avoids fox cover scents because of his observation in the woods.
“I’ve seen deer stomp and blow at fox,” he said. “A fox isn’t much a of a threat, but deer don’t like predators, and they’ll avoid them. Smelling like another deer, and especially a doe, makes more sense.”
The best time of day for stalking is between 9:30 and noon, but Gorman has learned that right after a full moon, the hours from 11 a.m. until about 3 p.m. can be productive.
“The greatest number of deer will move at daylight,” he said. “But the mature bucks tend to be solitary animals, and they move more later in the day.”
If you can’t move silently, he recommends trying to sound as much a part of the woods as you can.
“If you are on dry leaves, a crunch-crunch-crunch walking pattern sounds like a man, but a crunch-crunch…. crunch… crunch-crunch-crunch pattern sounds like a hopping squirrel, and deer won’t pay as much attention,” said Gorman.
Often hunters spot deer at the same moment the deer spots them. When it happens to Gorman, he freezes.
“I don’t breath, I don’t blink, I don’t move,” he said, “If that deer is alert, and you move—say to ease your gun up—he is going to bolt. But if you freeze and he can’t see movement, he may lose you in the background. It may take five minutes to stare him down, and he may still run, but he won’t leave in a panic. Usually, if you haven’t done anything more to alarm him, he’ll finally turn and take a step or two before he runs. When he turns his head, you have to be ready to bring your gun up and shoot.”
Gorman estimates that he let 50 or 60 antlered bucks walk last season.
“I enjoy the encounters,” he said, “and you’ll learn a lot by watching the deer. I’ve had a 10-pointer chasing a doe skid to a stop 10 feet away. I’ve seen two bucks fighting several times, and once I watched three bucks fighting each other.”
Understandably, he advocates trophy management.
“There’s nothing like the challenge of trying to figure out a mature buck, but you won’t shoot a trophy if you are willing to settle for less,” he said. “Set a minimum size that you are willing to shoot, and then hold to it. If you kill the bucks on your property when they are 1 1/2-years-old, they’ll never make it to 4 1/2.”
Today, Gorman’s personal minimum size for a shooter is a 140 B&C class buck. Does he think he will ever put the crosshairs on another B&C?
“The odds are against it,” he admits, “but I feel like I will. A lot of people claim that after a buck reaches 4 1/2- or 5 1/2-years-old that he is virtually unkillable,” said Gorman. “That’s a theory I like to shoot holes in.”
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