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Tom Cooper’s Silver Bullet Buck

This WMA buck was a legend before and after being killed at B.F. Grant WMA in Putnam County.

Duncan Dobie | January 12, 2019

Tom Cooper was living in Lilburn and was 33 years old when a chance happening in the Georgia deer woods changed his life forever. 

On the morning of Nov. 24, 1974, he set out alone in the cold darkness, driving toward public land for a typical day in the woods. As an avid deer hunter, he had hunted at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Jones County several times before, and this was his intended destination. 

Tom had only been in the car a short time when something compelled him to change his plans. Without knowing exactly why he did it, he suddenly turned east and took the road that led to the 12,000-acre B.F. Grant WMA located in the northwestern corner of Putnam County with a small portion in southern Morgan County. (This UGA property was also known as Central Georgia Branch Station or B.F. Grant Memorial Forest). 

Tom had never set foot at B.F. Grant WMA in his life. He was going into the place cold turkey, without the foggiest notion of where he would hunt or how he would get there in the dark. In addition to being determined, Tom must have had plenty of faith that day, as well. 

Unlike Piedmont Refuge, where any antlered buck would be legal game, the richly soiled B.F. Grant area was one of the few—and we think the only WMA—in Georgia during the mid ’70s that specifically managed its deer herd to produce older age-class bucks.

Any buck taken there was required to have at least four visible points on one antler before it would be legal. This far-sighted management tool was designed to protect 1 1/2-year-old bucks. Today, of course, the concept has evolved into what we know as quality deer management. 

At a time when most deer hunters in Georgia would have gladly settled for a fat forkhorn or a yearling 6-pointer, Tom Cooper decided to shoot for the moon and go for a real wallhanger. He might as well have been hunting on the moon that unforgettable morning because going into a strange place cold turkey in the pre-dawn darkness made about as much sense as hunting with a cap gun instead of a high-powered rifle. But Tom Cooper’s stubborn determination paid off in a big way. 

Tom found the check station, where he obtained his hunting permit and a map of the area. Then he cornered David Edwards, a Georgia Game & Fish Commission area manager, and questioned him about a good spot to hunt. Maybe it was a twist of fate, or maybe it was pure luck. In any event, after Tom finished talking with David Edwards, he struck up a conversation with another hunter, who just happened to be at the check-in station getting his permit at the same time. 

“His name was Pete Morris, and he was from Douglasville,” Tom remembers. “Pete was supposed to meet several of his friends that morning, but daylight was rapidly approaching, and it didn’t look like they were going to show up. Pete didn’t want to hunt alone, and since it was time to be in the woods, he invited me to go with him to an area about a mile up the road from the check-in station where he had previously done some scouting.”

Tom readily accepted Pete’s generous offer. Pete told Tom he’d previously located several large rubs on trees 4  to 6 inches in diameter and several fresh scrapes in the woods just off the road in Area 2, in the very northwestern part of the refuge. Pete was excited. He believed the sign had been made by a very large buck. Since the rut was in full swing, the odds of catching this big buck off guard could be very favorable. 

The amazing deer has a very high, main-framed 5×5 rack with long drop tines on both sides which originated at the base of each antler burr. Each side of the rack also had eight abnormal points, for a total of 26 scorable points. The net non-typical score of 215 7/8 is Georgia’s No. 6 non-typical of all-time.

Unbeknownst to either Pete or Tom, Area Manager David Edwards had found two large shed antlers from this very same buck—one in early 1973 and the other in early 1974. Both antlers were non-typical in configuration, and both contained a total of 13 points. David had not told anyone where he had found the two antlers, but he had shown them to several other hunters who regularly attended hunts at B.F. Grant.

One of these avid hunters was Dick Fogal, of Pine Mountain. The very season before while hunting on the refuge, Dick had killed an outstanding 11-pointer with a 20-inch inside spread. Dick’s buck only field-dressed at a modest 169 pounds, but from an antler standpoint, it was the best buck taken at B.F. Grant during the entire 1973 season. Dick was floating on clouds when he brought his big 11-pointer to the check-in station. After David Edwards examined the rack, however, Dick was in for a considerable shock. 

“Nice buck,” David told him. “Now you want to see what one of our really big bucks looks like?”

David went and retrieved an enormous shed antler containing 13 points. (This was the first shed antler he had found earlier that year. The second shed was found the following spring.) 

Although Dick prodded him relentlessly, David would not reveal the exact location of where the shed antler had been found. Knowing this buck could well be a future B&C qualifier, Dick vowed to return in ’74 and try again. 

In October 1974, Dick returned as promised. He attended a primitive-weapons hunt at B.F. Grant, the first hunt of the season. By this time, David Edwards had found the second shed antler. The second non-typical antler was identical to the first but slightly larger in mass. This sent Dick into orbit. Even though David Edwards still refused to reveal the exact location of where the shed antlers had been found, Dick and his hunting partner Steve Vaughn began do some serious detective work. Steve Vaughn later founded Georgia Sportsman magazine and North American Whitetail.

Dick and Steve located some impressive buck sign in Area 2. Both hunters strongly believed the sign could only have been made by a giant non-typical buck. Although they gave it their all during the primitive-weapons hunt, neither man saw a trace of the huge buck. 

“It was like hunting a ghost,” they would later say.

When the first regular rifle hunt was held at B.F. Grant on Nov. 24, Dick and Steve were right back in Area 2. Dick’s father, Richard Fogal Sr., and a friend of Richard’s, Ben Peyton, were also along in the hunt. With four hunters carefully placed in key locations in the area believed to be heavily used by the giant buck, Dick believed that someone in the group might get lucky and get a shot during the several-day hunt. 

“As far as I knew, we were the only ones hunting in that particular area on that particular morning,” Dick observed. 

Tom Cooper poses with his extraordinary 215 7/8-inch non-typical buck, along with his NRA Silver Bullet Award plaque for the best NRA member buck in the entire nation that year.

Dick had no way of knowing it at the time, but as daylight began to open up the dark woods and as the temperature hovered in the low 20s, two other hunters had made their way into their “honey hole.” One of these men, Tom Cooper, here by sheer chance, would take a position on the ground that would later prove to be right smack in the middle of the big buck’s daily bedding stronghold. 

“After we got into the woods, Pete stopped where he planned to hunt and told me to go on down to a small stream where he said he had found a lot of buck sign,” Tom remembered. “After it got light, I could see that he was right. About 7:30, two does came across a little hill right behind me. One of the does stopped and started rubbing the corner of her eye on a branch. After they were gone, I moved over to the spot where they had come through. I saw a lot of buck sign all around me, and I found a flattened place in the leaves where it looked like a big deer might have bedded down.”

Tom sat down in the center of the flattened area and leaned back against a tree. Within a few feet of his position, he could see several 6-inch saplings that had been horned by what had to be a very large buck. Tom didn’t realize it at the time, but in all likelihood, he was sitting right in the middle of one of the buck’s most recent beds. Furthermore, he had unwittingly placed himself downwind from a major trail that ran along the ridge in front of him. Around 9 a.m., he heard something coming through the woods making a considerable amount of noise.

“My first impression was that it sounded like a bowhunter hitting his bow against the branches of some trees,” Tom remembers. 

“Suddenly, there he was—a giant buck! He came up within 25 feet of me with his nose to the ground, trailing the does that had come through earlier. He couldn’t see me because of the trees. I leaned back and raised my rifle.”

The author took this photo of Tom Cooper and his amazing B.F. Grant WMA buck prior to publishing his 1986 book, “Georgia’s Greatest Whitetails.” Tom is pictured with his NRA Silver Bullet Award plaque and a rifle he won in Georgia’s 1974 Big Deer Contest.

Tom was hunting with an iron-sighted, 8mm German Mauser. He aimed carefully and waited for the buck to present him with a good shot. 

“He finally saw me at the last minute,” Tom remembers. “He raised his head to look at me, and I shot him in the neck. I was shooting 155-grain hand-loaded bullets, and he buckled and fell down into a 5-foot gully.”

Tom’s bullet broke the buck’s neck and severed the jugular vein. Tom stood up and made his way down into the gully. Practically in a state of shock, he sat staring at the most incredible whitetail buck he ever hoped to see. 

The amazing deer possessed a very high, main-framed 5×5 rack with long drop tines on both sides which originated at the base of each antler burr. In addition, there were numerous non-typical points which seemed to go everywhere. Tom tried to count the points, but he kept losing count. By now, a delayed case of buck fever had thoroughly set in, and Tom was so excited he couldn’t think clearly.  

Tom made his way back to his car, which he had parked out on the main road. While smoking his pipe and waiting for Pete to come out of the woods, he saw several men gathered around another car a short distance down the road. They were drinking hot coffee and talking. Tom walked up and introduced himself. The three hunters—Dick Fogal, Richard Fogal and Ben Peyton—cordially offered Tom some coffee. After all of the usual courtesies, Tom spoke up.

“I’ve got a big buck down in the woods, and I could sure use some help getting him out,” Tom said, pointing in the general direction.

Dick’s heart almost jumped out of his chest.

“How big?” he asked.

Here is the vintage photo of Tom Cooper (left) posed with Pete Morris on the day Tom killed his “Silver Bullet Buck” at B.F. Grant WMA on Nov. 24, 1974.

“He’s a pretty good one,” Tom answered. “He’s got about 26 points.”

Tom interpreted the disturbed look on Dick’s face as disbelief. How could he know this friendly hunter had spent hours chasing the very same animal? Now, in the course of a few minutes, Dick’s dream had all but been shattered. 

When the excited group of hunters reached the huge whitetail, little doubt existed about which buck this was. The huge antlers, with 13 points to the side, were identical to the shed antlers found by David Edwards. Dick and his companions helped Tom field-dress the trophy. Then they dragged the heavy carcass out to the edge of a field where it could be loaded into the back of a pickup truck. Minutes later at the check-in station the buck weighed-in at a hefty dressed weight of 208 pounds. Judging by his back molars, the big whitetail was thought to be 4 1/2 years old. During all of the excitement David Edwards brought out the shed antlers which he kept in his office. Except for the fact that the antlers of Tom Cooper’s trophy were much larger, the similarities were amazing.  

After the 60-day drying period, the 26-point rack was officially scored by Jack Crockford at Game and Fish Division headquarters in Atlanta. The massive drop-tined rack tallied up a total of 215 7/8 non-typical B&C points. Not only was this good enough to capture first place in the statewide Big Deer Contest for 1974, but being a longtime member of the National Rifle Association, Tom also won the NRA’s prestigious Silver Bullet Award for having taken the most impressive whitetail trophy on the entire North American continent during 1974.  

Although many exceptional trophies have come out of B.F. Grant and surrounding areas in Putnam and Morgan counties in recent decades, none have ever come close to matching Tom Cooper’s Silver Bullet buck. 

Even today, nearly five decades later, Tom’s amazing buck is still the highest-scoring B&C qualifier ever taken on a Georgia WMA. And it’s still Putnam County’s best-ever buck. 

Tom retired in the early 2000s. At a spry 77, he now resides in “God’s Country,” in the north Georgia Mountains a few miles north of Clarksville.

 

GON’s Official All-Time Buck Records For B.F. Grant WMA

Rank Score Name Year County Method Photo
1 215 7/8 (NT) Thomas Cooper 1974 Putnam Gun View 
2 147 4/8 Kurt McCord 2013 Putnam Gun View 
3 141 7/8 Chuck Fincher 1974 Putnam Muzzleloader
4 140 1/8 Eddie Littlejohn 2006 Putnam Gun
5 139 James Key 2010 Putnam Gun
6 137 2/8 Jason Wheeler 2017 Putnam Gun View 
7 136 5/8 Greg Williams 1995 Putnam Gun
8 136 5/8 Christopher Martin 2012 Putnam Gun
9 134 4/8 Luke Copeland 2013 Putnam Gun
10 133 3/8 Jason Hays 2004 Putnam Gun View 

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