The Mystery Of The State-Record Muzzleloader Buck
In 1978 Bob Gillespie killed a huge non-typical buck in Wilkes County that still ranks as Georgiaʼs best muzzleloader buck. The mystery began when a few months ago when the rack was bought at a flea market for $40.
Back in August, Darrin Russell, of Auburn, was browsing through the vast array of garage-sale merchandise at the J and J Flea Market off Hwy 441 just north of Athens. Suddenly an item in the back of one of the booths caught his eye. It was a huge set of antlers on a skull plate. The B&C-class non-typical rack supported a total of 18 points, nine on each side. Being an avid deer hunter, Darrin bought the antlers for $40.
Over the next month, Darrin had a lot of fun with the giant rack — carrying it around in his truck and showing it to all his friends. The rack always drew a lot of attention. Much speculation took place as to where it might have come from. Most of Darrinʼs friends agreed that couldn’t possibly be from Georgia. It was simply too big. Darrin suspected that it might have come from somewhere in the Midwest like Illinois.
Eventually he showed the rack to taxidermist Tom King in Winder. Tom owns Custom Taxidermy and Deer Processing. Tom offered to mount the extraordinary rack for Darrin. (Judging from the screw holes in the skull plate, it was apparent that the antlers had been mounted at some point in the past.) After the antlers had been remounted by Tom, the mystery and speculation continued.
Then, in early October, Darrin received his monthly copy of GON in the mail. As usual, he started going through it from cover to cover. When he reached page 74, his eyes almost fell out of his head. A story about Georgiaʼs best-ever bucks by muzzleloader was accompanied by a photo of Bob Gillespie, the hunter who holds Georgiaʼs all-time record for a buck taken with a muzzleloader. Bob had taken a 216 2/8 inch non-typical trophy in Wilkes County in 1978. The moment Darrin saw the photo, he knew without a doubt that the rack in the photo and the flea market rack were one and the same. By an amazing coincidence, the mystery had been solved!
But one mystery quickly led to another. How could the rack of a fairly well-known B&C record buck from Georgia end up in a flea market? Back in its heyday, both the hunter and the antlers had received a fair amount of attention.
The Story Behind the ʻFlea Marketʼ Rack
Originally from Alabama, Bob Gillespie migrated to Georgia at an early age. In the late ʼ70s, he was living in the Duluth/Norcross area. A few years prior to the 1978 Georgia deer season, Bob and several friends leased 109 acres in central Wilkes County just north of Washington. Although small in size, the property was surrounded on three sides by a large clearcut tract owned by Continental Can Corp. According to Bob, his group had permission to hunt on this property as well.
During the 1977 rifle season, Bob missed a shot at a large buck while hunting on his Wilkes County deer lease. He had been using an iron-sighted Winchester .30-30, and later found that his sights were off, causing him to shoot low. The following year (1978), he returned to the same area, hoping for another chance at the same buck. While out scouting the property several days before the season opened, Bob found an area full of fresh buck sign. He found a number of horned trees along with several red-hot scrapes — all close to the area where he had missed his big buck the year before. Making a quick survey of the area, Bob made a mental note of the spot where he planned to hunt as soon as the season opened.
On November 5, 1978, the second day of rifle season, Bob returned to the area and took a stand on the ground just as daylight was beginning to break. Having left his Winchester behind, Bob was now hunting with a CVA .45-caliber muzzleloader he recently had built from a kit. In fact, the stock of the rifle had been hand-crafted from scratch, using a maple block.
“Before I took my stand that morning, I placed a cotton ball soaked with Tinkʼs 69 Doe-in-Rut buck lure in a small bush near one of the freshest scrapes. I also pinned a patch of cloth soaked in Tinkʼs 69 to one of my boot strings to help mask my human scent. Then, I climbed up on a ridge that overlooked the scrape about 85 yards away and sat down next to a large oak tree. After about 10 minutes, I saw eight does coming up the same path I had taken to my stand. I watched them for a while, and they finally went out of sight.”
The air was cold and heavy that morning, and a thick ground fog blanketed the morning woods. Visibility was limited. About 20 minutes had gone by since Bob had lost sight of the does.
“Suddenly I saw another deer coming up the ridge toward me,” Bob said. “It was a buck. He had his head down, and appeared to be making a low grunting sound. When he got within about 80 yards, I could see his rack. I was thinking that he might be a nice 8- or 10-pointer. The closer he got to the scrape, the more nervous he became.”
Even though it was a rather long shot for a muzzleloader with open sights, Bob nonetheless aimed and fired.
“I had to try him,” Bob said. “When the smoke cleared from my muzzleloader, I saw no deer, nothing at all. I thought I had missed him. I went to the spot where he had been standing and found a small amount of blood. After following an almost non-existent blood trail for a very long distance, I found my unbelievable trophy.”
Indeed Bobʼs buck was much larger than he originally had thought. The incredible whitetail supported a huge non-typical rack with 18 scorable antler points as mentioned. An eight-inch horizontal drop tine coming off the back of the right main beam gave the rack a very unique look. Tine length and mass were exceptional. According to Bob, the large-bodied whitetail was later weighed at a deer cooler in Greensboro in front of several witnesses. The field-dressed weight of the record buck was reported to be 309 pounds.
The antlers were later scored by Carroll Allen, a biologist with the Georgia DNR. At that time Bobʼs blackpowder trophy tallied up 217 3/8 non-typical B&C points, making it the second largest non-typical buck ever killed in Georgia (right behind John Hattonʼs 240 5/8 point state record taken in 1973). Bobʼs buck also was recognized as the largest buck ever taken in Georgia with a muzzleloader, a record that still stands today.
Bob won the non-typical division of the 1978 Georgia Big Deer Contest, sponsored in part at the time by the Georgia Wildlife Federation. At the GWFʼs annual awards banquet held the following year, Bob was given a presentation-grade CVA .50-caliber muzzleloader by Joe Tanner, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.
At the time Bobʼs antlers were originally scored, Carroll Allen was not an official B&C measurer. Later, official scorer Dick Whittington of Fort Valley re-measured the trophy antlers and arrived at an official score of 216 2/8, slightly lower than the original score. Because of the slight difference in scores, Bob chose not to have his buck entered in the all-time B&C record book.
The Mystery Continues
Now, after all these years, the question remains: How could one of Georgiaʼs top record-book heads end up at a flea market? The above story came from a series of interviews I had with Bob Gillespie in 1985 when I was gathering material for my book Georgiaʼs Greatest Whitetails published the following year. During that time period, Bob Gillespie got considerable exposure from Safariland Hunting Corp., the company that manufactured Tinkʼs 69 doe-in-rut buck lure. In fact, Bob and his trophy buck appeared at a number of deer shows around the southeast with Tink Nathan, owner of the company. (Safariland later went out of business, and the scent manufacturing side of the company was purchased by Wellington Products in Madison, Ga.) After the publication of my book in 1986, and after Safariland Corp. went out of business, Bob Gillespie more or less drifted off into obscurity.
Where is Bob Gillespie today? When I knew him back in the mid ʼ80s he lived in the Norcross/Duluth area. Recently, Iʼve heard a rumor from at least two sources that he passed away several years ago after a bout with cancer. I have not been able to verify this rumor. If itʼs true, it might explain how the antlers ended up at a flea market. If youʼve ever been to an estate sale, itʼs easy to see how someoneʼs most cherished possessions in life sometimes end up being sold to total strangers for pennies on the dollar. Perhaps, after the publication of this story, someone who knew Bob will come forward and help answer some of these nagging questions.
In the mean time, what are the odds of finding a state record set of 200-plus inch B&C antlers at a flea market, and what are the odds of later stumbling across a photo of those very same antlers in GON so that they could be identified? They have to be astronomical. It probably would be easier to win the lottery! One thing is certain, though. Darrin Russell is pretty excited about his flea market find! In fact, since most B&C antlers are worth considerably more than $40, you might say Darrin really has won the lottery!
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