Tales From Truck-Buck 2003-04

Meet more of the hunters who had the best bucks of of the Georgia 2003-04 season.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | August 1, 2004

There were some very impressive whitetails killed during the archery weeks of Truck-Buck last year, but it is always the first few weeks of gun season, in particular the November weeks, that produce the most spectacular deer of the season. Last month we told you the stories behind our archery and primitive-weapons week winners in the Truck-Buck contest, and in Part Two weʼll move into those prime gun weeks.

Keep in mind that the Georgia hunters you are reading about will be on the stage before a Buckarama crowd in Perry this month. Theyʼll be shooting it out with pellet rifles to see who wins the Grand Prize pickup from John Megel Chevrolet. Details on the Shoot-Out will follow.

Now, letʼs continue our review of the Truck-Buck Contest winners from last year.


Week 6: Bruce Baldwin

County: Peach

Date: October 18

Net Score: 159 5/8

Notes: No. 3 all-time in Peach Co.

For the past six years, Bruce Baldwin, of Warner Robins, has hunted from the same deer stand, and heʼs put a lot of work into it to get it just right. The stand is in the middle of a 50-acre tract of land in Peach County that was clearcut not long before Bruce began hunting it.

“I’ve watched this clearcut grow up,” said Bruce. “Itʼs not planted, itʼs just all volunteer pines and other trees and brush. Thereʼs a creek on one side and a beaver pond on the other, and itʼs cut lengthwise by a creek, so thereʼs a lot of swampy land in it, and itʼs probably 40 percent high ground with pines.”

In order to hunt this thick, jungle-like clearcut, Bruce built a 32-foot-tall tower stand out of 1x4s, complete with a roof, windows and curtains. He started cutting shooting lanes radiating outward from the stand through the thick growth, and each year he added more while maintaining the old ones. Last year he was able to purchase the 50-acre tract from the owner, and he bought himself a bulldozer to go with it for maintaining the shooting lanes.

“I’ve got about 15 shooting lanes in all now,” said Bruce, “and I sit up in the stand and watch deer out of it pretty much all year long. I call it ʻtruck huntingʼ because the stand is so comfortable. I see a lot of deer out of that stand, and in fact I usually see more bucks than does out of it. A lot of guys didn’t believe me when I told them that, so I got a nice camera and started taking pictures.”

When opening day of gun season came around last year, Bruce climbed into his tower and got his camera, and his Mauser .308, ready for action. In both 2001 and 2002, Bruce killed a nice buck out of his stand on opening day, so he had high hopes for 2003. Like Bruce, most of the hunters on the surrounding properties practice quality deer management.

“That morning was semi-foggy around all the creeks and wet areas,” said Bruce. “About 7:25, I looked up and saw a nice buck step into one of the lanes. I was debating whether to take a picture or reach for the rifle, because Iʼm really pretty choosy when it comes to shooting a buck. But then he turned his head to where I could get a better look, and I put the camera down immediately. He passed into another shooting lane before I could get the rifle up, and when I shot, he ran out of the shooting lane. He ended up dying in the next lane.”

For the third opening day in a row, Bruce had killed a buck, but this one was special. The buck was a huge 10-pointer with four main tines close to or above 11 inches which rose off of sweeping 24-inch beams. Bruce isnʼt sure, but he believes that a buck he photographed the year before might have been the same buck.

Bruceʼs Peach County 10-pointer, which was featured on the cover of the November 2003 issue of GON, scored an impressive 163 3/8 gross and lost only 3 6/8 inches in deductions for a net of 159 5/8. That was almost 15 inches ahead of the next-best scoring buck in Week 6 of Truck-Buck, the first week of firearms season. The score also currently stands as the third highest ever produced by Peach County.


Week 7:

Richard Cravey Jr.

County: Telfair

Date: October 26

Net Score: 164 6/8

Notes: No. 4 all-time in Telfair Co.; No. 3 Georgia buck of 2003-04.

Richard Cravey Jr. with his 2003 Telfair County buck that netted 164 6/8.

You can probably name a handful of Georgia counties that produce the bulk of the better deer entered in Truck-Buck every year. There are also a couple of counties that donʼt produce numbers of good bucks, but when that county does bring a buck to the scales, everyone else can step aside.

Telfair is one of those counties. Last year held true to this pattern, and the second week of gun season, Week 7, went to the No. 3 buck taken in Georgia all year. That buck was killed in Telfair County, near the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers.

From opening day on, Richard Cravey Jr., of Milan, had been hunting a prime stand on a 200-acre tract of hunting land. It was a ladder stand in bottomland hardwoods near the edge of some planted pines.

“I had hunted this stand off and on since opening day and had seen deer nearly every trip,” said Richard. “The first time I hunted it I saw a doe, two yearlings and a young 5-pointer. On my next trip, I watched a small 3-pointer make several scrapes in the area. He put on a real show.”

Richard paid close attention to wind direction, and though it was foggy on the morning of Sunday, October 26, the wind was right to hunt the ladder stand again. Richard walked in through the foggy darkness and got in his stand.

“I had been on the stand a little over an hour when I caught a glimpse of two small yearlings,” he said. “Then a doe appeared. As I was trying to keep count of the deer I had out in front of me, I heard what turned out to be a second doe approaching.”

Before he could pay the doe much attention, Richard caught new movement out of the corner of his eye to his right. When he looked, he was shocked to see a monster buck emerging into the open with the other deer. He raised his .243 and, when the buck was in the clear, dropped it.

At 25 years of age, Richard had taken his best buck ever. And itʼs likely that when heʼs 75, he wonʼt have topped it. The buck had a 5×5 mainframe rack with two, matching sticker points off each G-2. The long, upward-hooking main beams measured 25 inches. Six of the buckʼs main tines measured over eight inches, including two over 11 inches. With numbers like that, itʼs easy to see how the buck grossed an incredible 171 3/8. The main frame suffered only 2 3/8 inches in deductions, then 4 2/8 inches in sticker points were subtracted, bringing the net score to 164 6/8. That was far and away the best buck in Week 7, and it was also the best buck entered all year in Truck-Buck. It now ranks fourth all-time in Telfair County.


Week 8: Scott Carpenter

County: Rockdale

Date: November 4

Net Score: 153 0/8

Notes: No. 5 all-time in Rockdale Co.

“Nobody hunts harder than I do,” said Scott Carpenter, and if heʼs wrong, there are only a few Georgia hunters who put in as much time as Scott does. For years, Scott, who is from Covington, has been able to set his own schedule when it comes to work and hunting season, and the two seldom meet. When archery season comes in, Scott is hunting every day, and he does not slow his pace until after the rut winds down. This effort has twice before put him among the top entrants in the Truck-Buck contest, and both times he has come in second in his week. Last year, things turned out differently.

In August of last year, Scott gained access to a new piece of hunting land in Rockdale County. The 500-acre tract contains some of the prettiest hardwood stands, including big white-oaks and red oaks, that Scott has ever seen.

“But last year, there weren’t any acorns,” said Scott. “None. There were a few water oaks producing, but that was all.”

When bow season opened, Scott focused on areas where water-oak acorns were falling in the bottomlands of the property, and in these areas the deer were also feeding on abundant privet. The season began to pass, and Scott had not seen a deer from the stand. Sign was abundant, but catching deer moving in the daylight was beginning to look impossible. Friends asked Scott why he kept going back to the property when he had yet to see any deer, and Scott wondered that himself. He felt that the property was excellent and had good potential for big bucks, and the only theory he had for his lack of sightings was the abundant population of dogs from nearby neighborhoods that ran the property constantly.

“I hunted over there 40-some-odd days and saw one doe,” said Scott. “Finally, in late October, things turned on all of a sudden. I started seeing a few more deer. I found a good place with a lot of water-oak acorns falling, and I carried my climber in there and set up. It was a long walk to get back into this place.”

Scott first hunted the stand on the morning of November 3, and he saw nothing. That afternoon he returned.

“About 4:45 I looked up and saw two does coming in to feed on acorns,” said Scott, “and right behind them was one of the biggest bucks I have ever seen in the woods. He wasn’t really chasing them, but he was interested.”

Scott raised his Remington .30/06 and fired.

“You know how they react when you hit them good,” said Scott. “He didn’t react, he just disappeared into the privet, and I felt right then that I had not hit him well.”

Scott got down and searched, finding the buckʼs tracks but no blood. He called a friend, Bill Young of Madison, who joined the search, but the two hunters could not find the deer.

“I got really disgusted, of course, and I cried the blues,” said Scott. “My girlfriend told me, ʻI think you need to hunt that stand again in the morning. Youʼll kill him in the morning.ʼ That sounded like as good a plan as any, so I got up the next morning and went back in there. Within 30 minutes of daylight, that same buck stepped out in the same spot under the same water-oak tree.”

Scott aimed and fired once more, and again the buck disappeared into the privet.

“I knew I hit him,” said Scott. “I knew I hit him good. So, I waited, and not 10 minutes after I shot a 4-pointer and an 8-pointer came through feeding.”

Scott climbed down and began his search, finding the buckʼs tracks among the privet but no blood. The tracks led him across a small slough, where he lost the trail altogether. Scott searched the area thoroughly, becoming more disgusted than he was the night before.

“I finally just said, ʻThe heck with it.ʼ I decided to move my stand over near the river bottom where I could see a little better, so I moved my stand and set it up in a new area. I got ready to leave, and I thought Iʼm going to look one more time.”

On his way out, Scott made one last attempt to find sign of the buck, and this time, on his hands and knees among the privet, he found a small spot of blood. In no time, he had found his buck. It had died 100 yards from his stand.

The second shot had been well-placed. Scott also found the bullet hole from his shot the afternoon before. It had hit the buck low in the chest, almost a grazing shot, and had done little damage.

Scottʼs third entry in the Truck-Buck contest sent him to the Shoot-Out. It was a Rockdale County 11-pointer that scored 153 0/8 net, which won Week 8 and is now the No. 5 score all-time in Rockdale County.


Week 9: Terry Strickland

County: Meriwether

Date: November 11

Net Score: 145 1/8

Brothers Terry and Mike Strickland of Pine Mountain are serious about their deer hunting, and they have been practicing quality deer management for a number of years on their Meriwether County turfgrass farm. They even developed their own mineral supplement and are marketing it to the public under the name “Mass Master Minerals.”

Last season was a banner year for Terry, Mike, and their sons. After years of passing up young bucks, the family of hunters reaped some of their rewards. It started on October 20, when Mikeʼs son Justin killed a nice Meriwether County 10-pointer. The following Friday, Terry hunted with his son Travis and ran the video camera as Travis killed his own nice 10-pointer. The next day, Saturday, November 1, Mike Strickland killed an even bigger 10-pointer. This buck ended up scoring 136 7/8 and placed fifth in Week 8 of the Truck-Buck Contest. The following Saturday, November 8, Terry heard his son Matthew shoot, and found out that Matthew had killed a massive 8-pointer.

Four nice bucks in two weeks time, and Matthew was asking his dad, Terry, just how big a buck he was waiting on.

“I told him if I shoot one he would be a good one,” said Terry.

On Tuesday, November 11, Terry headed to a tower stand looking over a field of 5-year-old planted pines.

“I got to the stand at 6:30 a.m.,” said Terry. “It was 51 degrees and clear with a light wind out of the east. I had not seen anything but one spike until about 8:40, and thatʼs when I caught a glimpse of a massive, dark rack with more than four points on the left side. I knew at first sight this may be the deer I wanted to shoot, so I grabbed my rifle. As I was aiming, the deer began angling away from me, so I aimed back toward the rear of his rib cage. But as I was squeezing the trigger, the deer stepped forward and more to the right. I knew as I shot that I might have hit the deer too far back or even missed.”

Terry stayed where he was and continued to watch the field. A swaying pine tree turned out to be a 4-pointer making a rub. Then, Terry saw movement 100 yards from where his buck had disappeared, and it was an 8-pointer trailing a doe.

“By 9 a.m. the sun was up good, and I could spot deer movement very good in the thick pines,” said Terry. “Thatʼs when I saw a doe coming out of the thicket where I shot the buck. I watched her come out of the thicket onto a ridge that is mostly short pines and broomsedge. She came within 80 yards of the stand and went into the older pines.”

Terry watched, hoping that the buck he shot at might reappear on the trail of the doe. Thirty minutes went by with no luck, then suddenly Terry glimpsed movement again.

“I grabbed the video camera and zoomed in on the deer, and I realized this was the buck I had shot,” said Terry. “He began coming up the trail that the doe had just taken. I grabbed my rifle and aimed, and when I squeezed the trigger, click. I had not closed the bolt all the way when I reloaded. During all this, the buck had stepped behind some cover. I waited until he reappeared in another opening, and this time I aimed and squeezed the trigger, and the buck dropped.

“I was so glad I had gotten this buck after everything had tried to go wrong. As I walked up to the buck, I could see six points on the right main beam. Then I counted seven on the left. A 13-pointer.”

The monster buck was a mainframe 6×7 with plenty of tine length. An unmatched 2 7/8-inch G-6 made up half of the total symmetry deductions, and Terryʼs buck netted 145 1/8. That score took first place in Week 9 of the Truck-Buck contest.

“This was my biggest buck ever,” said Terry. “I have had to pass up a lot of smaller bucks, but it was worth it to finally get a 140-class buck.”


Week 10: Joey Sands

County: Cook

Date: November 19

Net Score: 162 6/8

Notes: No. 2 all-time in Cook Co.;

No. 5 Georgia buck of 2003-04.

Joey Sands with his Cook County buck that netted 162 6/8.

Several yearsʼ worth of information from Truck-Buck entrants strongly indicates that high winds are poor conditions for hunting whitetail bucks. There are exceptions, however, and Joey Sands is going to the Shoot-Out as one of those exceptions.

Joey, who lives in Valdosta, hunts on a 1,000-acre club in Cook County. Last year, on Wednesday, November 19, Joey picked up his favorite hunting partner from school — his 13-year-old son, Trey — and the two hunters headed home to change clothes. Trey looked out the window at gray skies and trees bending in the wind.

“He was a little disheartened about going to the woods that day based on the weather,” said Joey. “But as we were backing out of the driveway, I told him, ʻWe have to hang in there and keep going, and sooner or later weʼll get Big Moe.ʼ So, we drove to the woods trying to see which way the wind was blowing.”

Joey and Trey decided the wind was out of the north northwest. Trey wanted to hunt a spot called the “Check-In” stand, which left the “Pole Stand” open, one that Joey had been waiting to hunt when the wind was right. Now, the wind direction was right for the stand, it was the wind speed that wasnʼt cooperating.

After seeing Trey to his stand, Joey made it to the Pole Stand by 4:45.

“As I got in the stand, I noticed a date welded on the stand: 1989,” said Joey. “A good friend of mine, Wayne Carter, had made that stand for me. I thought of old times and how many deer I had killed out of that stand and how much time I had spent sitting in it.”

With the wind howling, Joey had no expectations of seeing any deer, so he let his thoughts roam. He was surprised when he noticed a doe and a grown fawn feeding on live-oak acorns nearby.

“I remembered how another good friend, Al Voigt, who has killed many big bucks, had just told me recently that the only time he had killed a real big buck is when the wind was blowing.”

Joey turned his head to look off in a different direction, and when he turned it back, an enormous buck was standing 30 yards away, feeding on acorns.

“He was so big, I knew I was going to shoot him immediately, and my thumb hit the safety before I even thought about it. Naturally he heard it,” said Joey. “He looked straight up and stared at me eye-to-eye. With my gun in my lap I waited, and I just knew he was going to run. It seemed like 45 minutes, but actually only 30 seconds passed. He lowered his head again and started eating more acorns.”

Joey slowly raised his .280 to his shoulder, took careful aim, and fired. The buck began to run, and Joey bolted another cartridge in and took a second shot. This shot turned out to be a miss, but the buck stumbled and fell right afterward. It was down for good.

Joe walked up to an enormous 10-pointer that wound up weighing 225 pounds on the hoof. He left the buck and drove to get Trey, who asked him what he had shot.

“A spike,” Joey told him.

“A spike?” Trey cried.

“Youʼll see him,” said Joey. “He has an ugly, messed-up rack.”

Joey and Trey drove in to where the buck was located, and Joey handed Trey a flashlight and pointed toward the buck.

“I wish I had a picture of his face when he saw the buck,” said Joey. “He said, ʻWow! What a deer! This is really Big Moe, Daddy!ʼ”

Joeyʼs buck was an enormous Cook County 10-pointer with 27-inch beams and high tines. The rack grossed 165 6/8, less than five inches from record-book territory. The rack was so symmetrical that only three inches in deductions were taken out, for a net score of 162 6/8.

That score puts Joey in the No. 2 spot all-time in Cook County, and for the 2003 season Joeyʼs buck was the No. 5 deer in Georgia.


Week 11: Ken Baldree

County: Cook

Date: November 28

Net Score: 162 5/8

Notes: No. 3 all-time in Cook Co.;

No. 6 Georgia buck of 2003-04.

Ken Baldree with his Cook County buck that netted 162 5/8.

There are hunters who go their entire careers in the woods without seeing a truly memorable buck, and for many of them it is not for lack of time spent in the woods and effort to put themselves in the right place at the right time. Other hunters might put in the time and effort, but when a truly memorable buck comes along, the hunter isnʼt exactly two miles from the nearest road, high in a tree, on a scrape line near a bedding area they found, looking at a buck they were expecting to see after careful patterning and stealthy hunting.

Ken Baldree admits that he has to be put in this last group. Ken was riding in his golf cart when his lottery number hit.

It was the morning of Friday, November 28, and Ken had been planning to go hunting on his 825-acre farm in Cook County.

“I overslept and did not get up until 7 a.m.,” said Ken. “I started not to go at all, but I decided to ride to my food plot and see if anything was in there.”

Ken put his .270 and his hunting gear aboard his golf cart and headed out.

“On the way, I was looking down the rows of planted pines and spotted what looked like a big buck at the far end of one row about 250 yards away,” said Ken. “I stopped and got out with my rifle, walked around to the back of the cart, and I could still see him. In the scope I could tell he was a very good deer, and I took the shot.”

Ken went to where the buck had been standing and found a good blood trail — 75 yards later he found an incredible whitetail. It was a 12-pointer with a 21 1/8-inch inside spread.

Interestingly, Ken said the buck was “bald” over most of its head except for a patch of hair around its antlers (see the photo at left). He said the skin had the appearance of mange, but the buck seemed to be healthy otherwise. The cause of this condition was never clearly determined.

One thingʼs for certain: the baldness had no impact on the buckʼs antler growth. Officially scored for Week 11 of Truck-Buck, Kenʼs deer grossed 165 7/8 inches. After a mere 3 2/8 inches in deductions for non-symmetry, the final score of 162 5/8 topped the week.

Be sure to compare these statistics with Joey Sandsʼ buck from Week 10. The two bucks were killed in the same county, nine days apart, and ended up scoring 1/8 of an inch apart. Joeyʼs 10-pointer scored 162 6/8, and Kenʼs 12-pointer scored 162 5/8. Both bucks wore typical racks, and both lost just over three inches in symmetry deductions. Kenʼs buck, which actually grossed the higher of the two, now holds third place all-time in Cook County, right behind Joeyʼs.


Runner-Up Wild Card:

Stephen Rutledge

County: Gwinnett

Date: November 15

Net Score: 157 6/8

Notes: No. 1 all-time in Gwinnett Co.;

No. 12 Georgia buck of 2003-04.

As a suburban area in the path of metro Atlanta sprawl, Gwinnett County has changed rapidly in recent years, and few people are left there now who can say that theyʼve lived there all their lives. Stephen Rutledge of Snellville has not only lived in Gwinnett County his whole life, he lives on land that was farmed by his great grandfather and great, great grandfather. The land, now only 30 acres in size, is in one of the few pockets of rural land left in Gwinnett County.

“Itʼs all mature woods now,” said Stephen. “My house is actually in mature hardwoods, huge white oaks and red oaks. The rest of the property is mixed hardwoods and pine, but you can still see the old terraces and rock piles where all of this was once cleared fields that were being farmed by my family.”

Stephen is a member of a hunting club in Johnson County, but the small tract of family land is a convenient place to catch an afternoon hunt during the week.

“I killed a good buck in 1993, about a 115-class, with my bow,” said Stephen. “My neighbor down the street has killed several good deer behind his house.”

Last year, Stephen was not aware that any large bucks were using his property, but he had noticed a set of large tracks in his driveway near a creek crossing. Also, a large rub appeared in the woods right in front of his house.

Stephen hunted the family land a few times during the early part of last season with no luck, although he passed a few small bucks. Then, on the evening of November 15, after finishing up some chores around the house, Stephen decided to catch the last hour of daylight in the woods.

“I told my wife Mimi that I was going out into the woods to have some quiet time,” said Stephen. “She said okay, and I put on my camo and headed out the front door.”

Stephen walked out the driveway a short distance from the house and stepped off into the woods. Here, the woods were on a steady slope into a creek bottom, and Stephen stepped down a couple of terrace rows, then sat down with his legs dangling off another terrace and his back to a large tree. He had his .444 Marlin in his lap.

“I had been sitting there a little over an hour, and I was thinking about what the land would have looked like back when it was being farmed, when I heard some steps. I looked uphill over my left shoulder, and I saw a buck approaching. I could see the left side of his rack, and I put the gun up. When I did, he stopped and looked at me, and all I could see was his neck and all the way back. I could see that he was a huge deer. He was probably about 45 yards, and when I shot he went out of sight.

“Two years before I had killed a good buck in that same location. He was three terrace rows up, and I walked up to get him, and he jumped up and blew at me and ran off. I never found him. I wasnʼt going to make that mistake again, so I went straight to the house.”

Mimi wanted to go look for the deer right then, but Stephen convinced her to wait while he calmed down. Fifteen minutes later they went to look and found the huge buck right where Stephen had shot it. It was a 245-lb. 11-pointer.

Stephen phoned his cousin, Buddy Johnson, who won Week 10 of the Truck-Buck Contest two years ago, and when Buddy saw the buck he told Stephen to locate a Truck-Buck application and call GON as soon as possible. Buddy green-scored the buck in the mid-160s, which wasnʼt far off the mark. The buck officially grossed 162 3/8 and netted 157 6/8 after deductions.

Stephenʼs buck wound up coming in second in Week 10 behind Joey Sands, but he had the highest-scoring second-place buck of the year. That honor is rewarded each year with the Runner-Up Wild Card seat at the Shoot-Out.

“Folks tease me some and say, ʻYou killed that buck in your backyard.ʼ” said Stephen. “I tell them, ʻNo, it was actually in my front yard.ʼ”

Weʼll have one more installment of Truck-Buck stories in the September issue of GON, but before then donʼt miss the Grand Prize Shoot-Out (details at left). Also, donʼt forget to renew your GON subscription so youʼll be eligible for the 2004-05 Truck-Buck contest. Deer season is approaching fast!

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