Leon McDonald’s 1999 Worth County Giant Buck
November 15 was the first day of Leon McDonald’s week-long hunting vacation, and so far things were going about par for a Monday. It was just after noon and Leon had come from trimming small limbs around some of his stands when he approached his truck and saw the flat tire. He was stuck 4 miles by road from the house, and his family members were all at work. No one could come and get him. His best option beside waiting at the truck until dark was to hunt his way on foot through his family’s property, the shortest route home. The situation was frustrating, but Leon looks back on that afternoon with a different attitude.
“That was the best flat tire I ever had,” said Leon.
He would stop off at one of his stands and sit for awhile, then walk on through a tract of Worth County land that, over time, has produced the row of big whitetail bucks that now hang on the wall in his home. Over the years, the family owned farm was divided and sold off, but Leon, who is from Sylvester, still hunts the 27-acre parcel along Warrior Creek that is owned by his uncle. He’s hunted it since he was 12 years old.
“We didn’t have any deer in Worth County until they turned deer loose in the late 50s and early 60s,” Leon said. “So what we hunted was the original Wisconsin deer. I killed one buck in the late 60s, when I was about 17, that cut-and-wrapped 198 pounds of meat. That’s what we paid the butcher for, and he had to put it in three washtubs. It took four of us to put that deer in a ’64 long-wheel-base Ford pickup truck, and we had him all the way to the front, and with the tailgate down his head still kind of hung out the back.”
Leon gave the head to his uncle to mount. The uncle has since passed away, and Leon is unsure of the whereabouts of the mount today. Another buck, a 12-pointer with a 23-inch spread, that Leon killed in the 60s was mounted. Leon gave it to a local grocer to hang in the store, and the mount burned up a few years later with the building. Since then, Leon has killed other big bucks, including a 10-pointer that nets in the 150-class of Boone & Crockett, and an 11-pointer that nets 162.
Leon takes a vacation the third week of November every year, timing it to coincide with the rut, but last year the rut came early and Leon was seeing signs that his vacation might have been a little late. On Monday morning he saw no activity and left the woods, returning just before lunch to trim limbs around his ladder stands.
“That was the first chance I’d had to do any trimming, so I went back where I’d hunted that morning,” Leon said. “I had my rifle with me and was dressed for hunting, so I trimmed the limbs and sat there another hour, through about 12:30 or 1:00 p.m. My son-in-law said he had a little bush that needed cutting down on his stand, so I went by his stand and did that. When I found the flat tire it was around 1:30. So, I went to another stand I had and climbed up and just sat and looked, probably for 30 minutes or so. Then I came down. It wasn’t much use to stay at the truck, because everybody was working and wouldn’t be coming hunting that evening. So, I started walking deeper into the creek, across a clearcut that they cut two years ago. The stumps had started to grow suckers.”
Leon had barely walked away from his stand when his eye caught movement in the brush to his right. Fifty yards away, Leon saw a massive rack of antlers and the back of a buck walking through the brush with its head down. He quickly raised his .300 Winchester magnum.
“I had to take another step or two to get in an opening, but I didn’t change my stride until I stopped and threw the rifle up, and he saw me about the time I put it on him. I fired right then, and he whirled around and went running. I had to step up on an old stump to see where he went through that mess. From the stump I shot twice more when he hit an opening, then he disappeared.”
The buck was heading for a scrub-oak hill that had been untouched by the loggers, and bordering the edge of the oak thicket was a logging road. Leon ran for the road, knowing that if he had missed he might still get a shot when the buck crossed, which it would almost have to do. With his gun ready, Leon watched the road and waited.
“He didn’t cross, so I just listened and I thought I heard something kind of like a grunt, but I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. I was smoking at that time, and I lit a cigarette and smoked it, and waited and listened and watched. I waited five minutes, maybe. Then I started walking into the scrub-oaks.”
Leon had walked no more than 25 yards when, at the edge of the oak hill, he saw antlers on the ground.
“He had gone into the oaks and just piled up and kind of slid up under some oak tops. I couldn’t see his body good, but I saw his antlers right off.”
GON’s Official Worth County All-Time Rankings
|234 6/8 (NT)
|211 4/8 (NT)
|209 1/8 (NT)
|George Brannen Jr.
|L. Edwin Massey
|200 3/8 (NT)
|195 6/8 (NT)
|195 4/8 (NT)
Not more than 10 minutes had passed since the first shot, which turned out to be a solid hit in the shoulder. The other two shots had missed. Leon was still within 30 yards of the stand he had been sitting in, so he feels that had he remained in the seat, the buck would have walked out in front of him.
Now, Leon was stranded with a flat tire, a long way between him and the house, and a monster Georgia 12-pointer to contend with — but no one who hears the story is feeling very sorry for him at this point. Leon telephoned his wife, Ruth, who picked up a tire-plug kit and a portable air pump on the way home from work. Leon patched the tire, plugged the pump into the cigarette lighter and filled the tire, then he and Ruth drove to the buck and, together, dragged it 25 yards to the vehicle.
“We had to get down on our hands and knees to drag him the last few feet,” Leon said.
The buck carried a rack with a 22-inch inside spread and 12 points, six on each antler. What is most eye-catching about the rack, though, is the set of G-2s or back tines, near perfect matches and both over 14 inches.
WRD biologist and Boone & Crockett scorer Bill Cooper said that you’re talking about an elite group when you look for Georgia bucks with a tine over 14 inches.
“When you get up to that category, the first deer that comes to mind with a 14-inch tine is the (former state record) Hanson Buck,” Bill said. “But the thing that’s impressive about Leon’s deer is not only does he have one 14-inch tine, he’s got a matching 14-inch tine. That to me is much more impressive, because he gets full credit for that. If the deer had just gone on and finished the rack a little differently, that deer could very well have been up near the state record.
“The only deer I can think of with matching 14-inch tines like that is a set of sheds out of Colquitt County from the late 60s or early 70s. The G-2s on that deer were both a little over 14 1/2 inches. It’s also interesting because of the location. You know, you can speculate all day about genetic links, but still that’s not very far from where Leon’s deer was killed.”
From a gross score of 185 6/8, well above the Boone & Crockett typical minimum, deductions brought Leon’s 12-pointer down to a net score of 169 1/8 (see the score sheet below), just 7/8 of an inch short of making the record book. Of all the bucks killed last season in Georgia that GON is aware of, Leon’s is second only to Brent McCarty’s Macon County Boone & Crockett.
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