The Hatton Buck, Georgia’s No. 2 Non-Typical
Here’s the story of a 38-point, 400-lb. lengendary buck from Monroe County.
It was a typical Indian summer day so common to the central Georgia woods in the Monroe County area for mid-fall. The daytime temperatures on Nov. 17, 1973 had been hovering in the mid-70s, nowhere close to the chill of early winter that most hunters hoped to see at this time of year. For John Hatton Jr., a young salesman from Macon, the short-sleeve weather offered a perfect opportunity to come home and unwind after a long day at the office.
At the time, John lived on 12 1/2 acres in Monroe County about 10 miles northwest of Macon near the present-day junction of I-75 and I-475. John’s family loved venison, and he usually stocked the freezer with deer meat each year.
In addition to raising a few head of beef on his small farm which were also earmarked for the table, putting up a supply of venison each year was probably much higher on John’s priority list than shooting a big buck. Being a longtime gun enthusiast who did a lot of reloading and shooting, John was a crack shot with both a pistol and a rifle.
When John arrived home from work on that balmy afternoon, the sun was only minutes away from dropping down in the trees on the western horizon. Full darkness was less than 30 minutes away. Despite the fading daylight, something compelled John to grab a rifle, pick up a handful of bullets, and head to the open pipeline easement several hundred yards behind his house. The rifle he chose that afternoon was a personal favorite—a Remington Model 788 bolt-action .44 Magnum with a three-shot magazine. It was topped with a Redfield 4x scope. John had hand-loaded the 240-grain Sierra hollow-point bullets expressly for the big-bodied whitetails that were becoming more and more common around his farm in Monroe County.
Behind the Hatton property lay a 2,000-acre parcel of timberland. At the time, the property was tied up in an estate. It had seen very little hunting pressure during the early 1970s.
“I would frequently grab a rifle and go out in the woods and just walk around for a little while after work,” John remembers. “For some reason, on that day I decided to walk over to the pipeline easement. When I got there, I sat down on top of a hill out in the open where I could see a long way down the easement. It was around 5:30, and for a moment the sun was in my face, blinding me. Being out in the open like that, I knew was taking a big chance if a deer did happen to come along. But I never really expected to see anything, and it was relaxing and peaceful to be there.”
For the past year or two John had been noticing an unusually large set of deer tracks on the pipeline easement and occasionally in his own pastures. Although he had never seen the deer responsible for leaving these widely splayed tracks, he strongly suspected the tracks had been made by an unusually large buck that might have an equally large rack. As he walked out of the house on that unforgettable November afternoon, he jokingly told his wife, “I think I’ll go back there and kill the big one today.”
She laughed. “Yeah, right.”
John had been sitting in the open for less than 10 minutes when he glanced down the pipeline and did a double-take. By now, the sun had dipped down into the trees, and he was no longer blinded. But the light was fading fast. About 300 yards down the open easement, a giant buck with a head full of antlers stepped out of the woods into the open. Even at that distance, John knew this buck was something special.
“The moment he stepped out into the open he started walking toward me,” John remembers. “Since I was out in the open like a sitting duck where he could plainly see me, all I could do was sit there and remain perfectly still.”
Within moments the buck had narrowed the distance to less than 150 yards. The closer the buck got, the bigger it appeared to be. John wondered if he was looking at a mirage, like a lost man in the desert searching for water. Certainly no buck could be this big. The deer looked like a young steer with two trees growing out of its head. John knew that he was experiencing a rare moment—a moment that most hunters only dream about.
Suddenly the big buck veered back into the woods. John wondered, “Did he see me? Is it all over? Was I really looking at a buck that big?”
John remained motionless for several minutes. He knew he couldn’t afford to wait too long because of the impending darkness. He finally decided to try to make something happen, even if it was wrong, before he lost the opportunity altogether.
“I decided to go after him,” John recalled. “That’s all I could do. I knew there was a good chance he might see me, but I had no other choice. I slowly stalked over to the edge of the woods and began skirting along the tree line where I had some cover. When I was about 60 yards from the point where he had stepped back into the woods, I saw him standing just inside the trees near a pile of brush that had been pushed up with a bulldozer. He was looking out, but by some miracle, he didn’t see me.”
John calmly raised his rifle. All those years of honing his shooting skills were about to pay big dividends. He settled the crosshairs on the buck’s spine and squeezed off a shot. The big buck dropped in his tracks.
“If I hadn’t been using a good scope, I never could have made the shot,” John said. “I waited a minute or two, and then I walked over to where he was lying on the ground. He had the most incredible set of antlers I had ever seen. I tried to count the numerous points growing out of his main beams, but it was so dark I had to give up. I figured he had to be some kind of record. He was also huge in body size. I realized I’d have to get some help to load him in the truck.”
Less than 20 minutes had passed since John walked out the back door of his house. In the meantime, his wife was in the kitchen preparing dinner with Steve, the Hatton’s 13-year-old son.
“We heard a loud shot from the direction John said he was going,” she said. “It was unbelievable, because he had just left the house. I told Steve he better go find his father to see if he got one.”
Moments later, an out-of-breath and excited Steve came bursting through the kitchen doorway yelling, “Mom… Mom… Dad just killed a world record! It’s got at least 100 points!”
“Quit telling me fibs,” Steve’s mother scolded, thinking it was some kind of prank.
But Steve was dead serious. He had located his father through a couple of loud yells, and despite the almost total darkness, he had seen enough of the tangle of huge non-typical antlers to know that his father had shot one of the most extraordinary whitetail bucks ever taken in Georgia.
Instead of possessing the overly exaggerated 100 points, John’s amazing non-typical trophy did, in fact, contain a total of 38 points. There were 18 points on the right side and 20 on the left. Furthermore, the body size of this prime animal was astounding. John had grown quite good at estimating the live weights of yearling calves on his farm, and he figured this buck had to go somewhere around 400 pounds on the hoof. No, it might not be a world record contender, but John Hatton Jr.’s last-minute monster from Monroe County would turn out to be the largest non-typical buck ever killed in Georgia. What’s more, it would hold the distinguished title of being a state record in Georgia for the next 25 years.
John called one of his closest neighbors, Bubba Vullo, to help him get the massive buck out of the woods. Being an avid deer hunter himself, Bubba could hardly believe his eyes when he saw John’s trophy.
“We’ve got to call the game warden,” Bubba insisted. “This is the biggest buck I’ve ever seen!”
The two men wrestled the heavy carcass into the back of a pickup and drove over to John’s barn, where they hoisted the deer up on a single tree used for butchering cattle. At the time, Bradley Brown served as game warden for Monroe County. Several calls were made, and he was eventually summoned by car radio. Georgia State Trooper Jack L. Barker, who frequently worked with Bradley Brown on law enforcement matters, happened to overhear the call when it went out on the radio. Being an avid deer hunter himself, he, too, drove to the Hatton farm “to see what all the fuss was about.”
Soon a small crowd of family members, neighbors and officials had gathered in the Hatton barn to marvel at the amazing buck. A few random snapshots were taken, but John and Bubba wasted little time in skinning out the carcass. Then they started butchering the meat. In all the excitement, no one had thought about trying to get any really good photos of the hunter posed with his trophy. Likewise, no one had given any thought to weighing this unusually large deer before the butchering began. However, at the urging of several people present, the individual pieces of the carcass were gathered together and weighed. All told, the various body parts tallied up a grand total of 408 pounds!
“Even the buck’s hooves were abnormally large,” John noted. “At the time I had put out several calf feeders, and I’m sure that buck had been helping himself on a regular basis to some high-protein calf feed. There was plenty of other good natural food available, as well. This has always been a prime area for big deer.”
After the required 60-day drying period, John drove the newly mounted deer head to Game and Fish Division headquarters in Atlanta to be officially measured by Jack Crockford. After a strenuous and complicated measuring session, the final score was settled at 240 5/8 non-typical B&C points.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself a new state record,” Jack told John.
The former non-typical state record had been a 19-point buck killed in Newton County by R.H. Bumbalough in 1969. The Bumbalough buck scored 197 3/8 non-typical points.
John Hatton’s state record also ranked extremely high in the overall Boone and Crockett standings. As of the 1981 edition of the all-time record book, the Hatton buck ranked No. 32 in the world in the non-typical category. No other buck ever taken in the Deep South came close to comparing with it (unless you include Texas, which had at that time produced a number of high-scoring non-typical bucks).
John’s Monroe County trophy held the title as Georgia’s No. 1 non-typical buck for the next 25 years as mentioned. On Thanksgiving Day 1998, a huge buck was killed in Telfair County by Billy Joe Padgett that scored 248 4/8 non-typical B&C points, topping John’s longstanding state record by 7 7/8 inches.
Indeed, when it comes to producing world-class whitetails in the south, Monroe County has few equals. Some 10 to 15 years prior to 1973, a small number of Wisconsin deer were released approximately eight to 10 miles northeast of John’s farm in the edge of Jones County in Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. These deer carried superior genes for producing large bodies and massive antlers.
As a result, no other county in Georgia can boast two high-ranking state records. At the time he killed his great buck in 1973, John had no way of knowing that a great typical had been killed over in the eastern section of Monroe County exactly 12 years earlier in November 1961. Many years would pass before the Buck Ashe deer would be officially scored at 191 4/8 typical B&C points and take its place in history as the largest typical buck ever killed in Georgia. As the crow flies, the Buck Ashe buck was killed less than 10 miles from John Hatton’s farm.
As for John’s old Remington Model 788 bolt-action .44 Magnum rifle used to kill his buck of a lifetime so many years ago, it now belongs to his oldest son Steve. Today, that rifle is a real collector’s item.
“It’ll always be in the family,” John said.
Monroe County All-Time Biggest Bucks
|1||240 3/8 (NT)||John Hatton Jr.||1973||Monroe||Gun||View|
|2||191 4/8||Buck Ashe||1961||Monroe||Gun||View|
|4||170 4/8||T.E. Land||1958||Monroe||Gun|
|5||187 6/8 (NT)||Danny Robinson||2019||Monroe||Gun||View|
|6||162 6/8||James Mock||1971||Monroe||Gun|
|7||185 6/8 (NT)||Mike Gordon||2012||Monroe||Found|
|9||183 3/8 (NT)||Addison Wallace||2020||Monroe||Gun|
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