Lefty The Legend

A young hunter's quest for a big middle Georgia buck.

John Henry Spann | November 7, 2023

Drake Rye (right) first discovered this buck on his dad’s trail-camera photo in 2017 when he was 4 years old. In January 2023, Drake finally put his hands on the rack. His friend Dakota Yoder (left) found the antlers while playing in the woods on a nearby farm.

The story of Lefty started during the 2017 rut on a family farm in Macon County. Drake Rye had just turned 4 years old and was checking trail-camera pictures with his dad, Brandon Rye, when they saw an up-and-coming buck with a lot of potential. Macon County requires at least a 15-inch outside spread, and while the deer wasn’t there yet, he was well on his way. 

The rest of that season and the next came and went. The buck continued to grow and Drake and Brandon kept track of him via trail cameras on their farm. By 2019, the buck wore an impressive crown of antlers and looked to be well over 200 pounds. He had also lost most of his right ear, leading Drake to give him the moniker “Lefty.”

By the 2020 season, Drake decided he wanted Lefty to be his first buck, and he and his dad pursued him exclusively. Drake passed up numerous other bucks that season but never got a shot opportunity on Lefty. Brandon did see Lefty in daylight once that season while hunting alone, but he never had a clear shot.

Drake and Lefty both got older. Lefty grew into a 150-class behemoth. He became more nocturnal and cautious, showing up less on cameras. Drake grew more determined to get Lefty on the ground. Unfortunately, the 2021 deer season came and went with many bucks showing up in front of Drake and his dad while in the stand, but never Lefty.

By the start of the 2022 season, Lefty had disappeared. The nearby farms hadn’t see him, and Drake was, for the first time, considering the possibility that Lefty may be gone for good. He was open to the possibility of harvesting a different buck. On Nov. 12, 2022, Drake was hunting with his dad on a nearby farm when a 130-class buck moseyed into his shooting lane. Drake claims that the reason the boss bucks hang around is because he’s feeding them “those peanuts,” which is actually Antler Boost. He said it makes them grow big antlers!

Brandon reached over and flipped the safety off as his son took aim. Drake lined up the shot and paused. Ten… 15… 20 seconds went by. Brandon whispered to Drake, asking what was wrong. Drake said, “I was still thinking about Lefty.” Then he took the shot. 

The big-bodied 8-point dashed immediately into the thick stuff and piled up after about 20 yards. Brandon and Drake got some help from their neighbor’s tracking dogs and quickly got their hands on the deer. While it wasn’t Lefty, it was a first buck anyone would be proud. 

Two months later, in January of 2023, Chad Yoder, the same neighbor who had helped Drake find his deer, sent a text to Brandon saying that he thought the new owners of a nearby farm had found Lefty. Brandon quickly got in touch with them and was sent pictures of the skull and antlers of a large, beautiful buck. It was unmistakably Lefty. 

The new owners’ 11 year-old son and daughter had found the skull while playing in the woods. The two had taken the skull to their dad, and the pictures quickly made the rounds in the community.

Missing its right ear certainly earned this Macon County buck the name Lefty.

Brandon called the new owners of Lefty’s skull, and he and Drake were given permission to come by and see it. When Drake first saw the skull, Brandon could tell his son was holding back tears. The two spent some time holding it, taking pictures and saying thank you. The emotions were overwhelming for father and son, not only because of the beautiful rack, but because of the countless hours the two had spent together in pursuit of this deer, because of the days spent freezing in deer stands and nights spent pouring over trail-camera pictures together and because of the immeasurable blessing of getting to be together through it all as Drake’s love for spending time in God’s creation deepened. 

After a final thank you, Drake and his father were preparing to head home, when the boy who had found the skull walked up to Drake and told him he had been praying last night about them meeting today, and he wanted Drake to have Lefty’s skull. He understood Lefty was the deer that first got Drake excited about hunting so many years ago and thought it should belong to him. Overjoyed and overcome with gratitude, Drake graciously excepted. 

Brandon later took Lefty to Trails End Taxidermy in Macon, who offered to use a spare cape to do a whole shoulder mount, even removing the right ear to match Lefty’s real-life appearance. Lefty unofficially scored 157 inches.

As father and son pulled back onto the main road on their way back home with Lefty’s skull in tow, Drake was starting to tear up and he started to feel the emotional weight of the day’s events. Brandon asked his son if he was alright. Drake answered him with another question, “Daddy, is Lefty a legend? Nobody ever killed him, and he died on his own.”

“Yes, he’s a legend,” Brandon said, deer like that don’t come around very often.”

This season, Drake continues to be all in. From checking cameras to sighting in rifles, to spending cold mornings and long afternoons in the stand, Drake is in search of another buck to rival Lefty. He is 10 years old now and loves nothing more than to be in the great outdoors with his dad. 

When I think of legends, I think of heroes and cautionary tales. I think of figures and events that, whether fictional or not, teach us a lesson, helping us to embrace virtue or avoid evil. I think of stories meant to remind us of what we are called to as men and women made in the image of God. And if Lefty inspired a love for the great outdoors in a young man from Macon County and helped grow and strengthen a relationship between that young man and his father, then I agree with Brandon Rye; Lefty is truly a legend.

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  1. Tim West on November 9, 2023 at 2:20 pm

    Great story! I pray that god allows you and your father many more years in gods great outdoors. God Bless and safe hunting.

  2. gah822 on November 7, 2023 at 11:08 am

    Great story and I love the respect given to such a monarch of a buck.
    You’ll have another deer that captures your attention just like Lefty hang in there.

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