Two Columbia County Record Bow Bucks
Dylan Hankal arrowed the No. 2 and No. 3 bow bucks ever recorded from Columbia County.
Back in 2013, as a 14-year-old boy, I had a passion and the determination to be able to harvest a whitetail deer with a bow and arrow. I worked my tail off all summer long to be able to buy a new Mathews bow in hopes of taking a Georgia whitetail.
During the summer of 2013, I had gained permission to bowhunt a tract of land in Columbia County that backs up to my family’s land by the land overseer. Throughout that summer, I had put a lot of effort into the coming hunting season by scouting a small hardwood finger close to the border line of the hunting land and my family’s land.
Then on Sept. 22, that same 14-year-old boy’s passion of bowhunting had been ignited by a young button buck only 25 yards away. I placed the deer’s vitals between my 20- and 30-yard pins, and the rest is history.
Two years later, the land overseer granted my father, uncle and grandfather permission to hunt with me on the same tract of land in Columbia County. So, as we normally do to get ready and prepare for the upcoming hunting season, my family and I did some summer scouting by placing trail cameras out around our portion of the property. Out in a field where we had placed a camera and some corn, a tall-racked 9-point would start to show on a regular basis around the property. He would later be named “The Big Nine” but would disappear without offering a good clean shot for the next two years.
Fast forward to the summer of 2017. I had just graduated high school and was searching for a job to help pay my bills and to also put in for a New Mexico elk tag, a Colorado mule deer tag and even a Wyoming antelope tag with my great-uncle as a graduation gift. Unfortunately, we did not get drawn for any of the tags we had put in for, so I decided to put all of my efforts into the 2017 Georgia deer season.
Luckily the land overseer, that I had become close friends with, offered me a job doing all the tractor work on his piece of property for the upcoming hunting season. It was a total dream come true for me to be able to make money doing what I love so dearly. Whenever I would take lunch breaks or had a day or two off, it was spent either checking my Browning trail cameras or scouting via topo and satellite maps.
After doing some quick research, it became clear to me what two areas I would try to focus on that fall. One was a thin strip of hardwoods on the backside of a pond drainage and the other was a “hidden” funnel in a massive chunk of hardwoods. By that time, July had rolled around, so I started hanging my stands and trimming shooting lanes.
On Saturday July 8, my uncle and I were out checking cameras and refilling feeding stations. As we approached a kill plot we made that February, I figured we may have bumped some deer off of the plot to check the camera, and boy was I right. We checked the camera in pure amazement. “The Big Nine” had reappeared after going missing for a whole year. This buck in particular loved being in front of the camera so much that it was rare to not see him on a weekly basis.
A couple months later we still had the high-racked 9-pointer on camera and just in time for the opening weekend of the Georgia archery season. Although I never had an encounter with the buck, as October approached, he slowly started to wander off of the cameras we had scattered around the property.
Thankfully I was blessed to be able to make enough money to pay my father the insurance money I would owe him in the next four months. This would ensure that I would be able to quit my summer job, so that I could take the time off strictly for hunting.
October came quickly, but I was prepared thanks to my summer scouting. I hunted my Millennium lock-on religiously in the thin strip of timber, knowing that if I stuck to my guns, a mature buck would eventually make the mistake of running a doe by my stand. Multiple young bucks would come in hot to my calling sequences for a few days until finally a mature buck showed himself on the ridge next to me at approximately 11:30 a.m. The wide-racked 10-point slowly fed on the ridge line to my left not offering a clean shot for what seemed like an eternity. He eventually fed off into the pines leaving me heartbroken, but also encouraged. I rapidly pulled out my phone in excitement to call my dad and explain what I had just witnessed. My father is always my first call anytime something exciting goes down in the woods.
The very next day I hunted that stand waiting to catch another glimpse of that buck. Every 30 to 45 minutes I would gently rattle my two antlers together along with some mixed in grunts using my voice. Suddenly, a large-bodied deer with the same wide antlers appeared in front of me walking down a heavily used trail that many other deer had been traveling. The deer walked into about 70 yards and stopped, looked around and carried on through the thick brush. He would continue this pattern for the next four days. After watching this buck continue his pattern for so long, I scouted the area again and placed a ground blind about 20 yards off of the trail he had been using and put my grandfather in that same blind the next Saturday. Pops didn’t see the buck but did see multiple does, plus a couple of coyotes.
On Oct. 24, I hunted my lock-on in the thin strip of woods again, only to see nothing. That night I decided to try a midday sit, something I had never done before.
The next morning, Oct. 25, I got up around 8 a.m. and headed off to the blind that my grandfather hunted the past Saturday. While I was on the way to the blind, a huge-bodied buck ran out in front of the golf cart, and I immediately knew it was going to be a promising hunt.
Around 11:30, I was in the blind, but like some hunters do, I got carried away on my cell phone. After a few moments of being on my phone I happened to look up and in my shooting lane 35 yards away stood the wide-racked 10-point. The buck fed in front of the blind for at least 10 minutes, giving me the worst case of buck fever I’ve ever felt. Then, the buck walked straight at the blind, and 20 yards away he started to turn away and head down the trail he had walked for the past week and a half. While in fear of not getting a crack at the buck, I drew back and settled my pin on the buck’s last rib and squeezed it off. He ran to my left about 50 yards and stopped, started swaying, then plopped over. No words can describe the emotions I felt in the blind that day.
As usual, I hurried and dialed my dad’s phone number in excitement. We talked for a few minutes, and he assured me to give the buck at least 30 minutes to expire. After half an hour, my emotions just couldn’t handle it any longer. I eased out of the blind, and there he laid in sight. Not only was he my biggest buck to date with a bow and everything I could ever want from a deer, but he also had some character as well. The wide-rack 10 turned out to be a wide-racked 11-pointer thanks to a kicker coming off of his brow tine.
My grandfather came to help haul him back to the house and to take a few pictures.
A week later, my longtime friend, Ethan, and I decided to hunt on the same piece of property, so I put him in my other stand in the hardwood funnel. We would communicate with each other during our hunts about what all we were seeing and Lord knows what else.
About 9 a.m., Ethan texted me saying he spotted a good-sized buck chasing some does up and down the funnel but offering no shot. All he told me was the buck was big bodied and carried an impressive set of head gear. I told Ethan that it’d be one heck of a story if he could seal the deal on another impressive buck only a week after I had been blessed to harvest the wide 11-point. I didn’t have to encourage Ethan too much to go back to that stand again the following morning.
So, we went back to our stands and again saw deer on our sits. This time Ethan said that he had seen a few other deer, including the big buck he had seen the morning before. Ethan wouldn’t be able to hunt again for a while due to some needed work around the house.
With the heavy pressure we had put on those areas for two straight weeks, I decided I’d take a break from hunting to give the woods a rest. It had been a while since all of my Browning trail cameras had been checked, so I figured they’d be worth looking at. I pulled up to the camera on the cart not allowing my scent to touch the ground and started going through the pictures. The Big Nine had showed back up again, but this time in daylight hours. It was obvious he had come through scent checking for does.
On the morning of Nov. 13, I came up with the game plan of sitting in the pines near the plot where so many bucks had been seen traveling throughout the rut. The plan was a dandy. However, every deer that passed through seemed spooked. I came to the conclusion that the wind had been swirling down in the pine bottom where I was sitting. With that said, I immediately left that location to keep from spooking any more deer.
Later on in the day, while I was home, I remembered that I had seen a nice buck almost exactly a year before heading into that hardwood funnel where Ethan had been hunting recently. That was enough for me to head back to that stand later that evening.
As the evening approached, I was in the stand around 3:30 p.m. It didn’t take long for me to get in and get my bow and camera gear all set up, but I soon noticed that something was missing. Then it hit me. My safety rope that hooks around the tree and to my harness was in another tree I had been sitting in. Anyone knows that safety should be our No. 1 priority as hunters, so I climbed out of the stand and rushed to get my rope. While walking back to my stand, I heard a big deer running away but not in a panicky way.
That evening was very calm, so calm that it was easy to hear anything going on for hundreds of yards around me. Daylight was fading fast, as it does in the late fall, and I felt my phone vibrate. It was a text from a friend of mine at 5:28 p.m. While reading the message, a sound every deer hunter knows well came to my attention.
A heavy-sounding deer ahead of me to my left came briskly walking down the ridge heading toward the funnel. I squatted down in the stand to try and catch a glimpse of the deer. Not being able to see anything, I stood up and made a loud but higher pitch grunt to mimic the sound of a young buck tending a doe behind me. Soon after my grunts, the deer stopped in his tracks. I knew I had his attention. He then turned and started walking my direction, so I grabbed my bow and pointed my camera in the shooting lane I cut the past summer.
About 30 seconds later, I caught movement to my left. It was the big-bodied buck Ethan had seen before. I quickly ranged the trail at 22 yards and drew back waiting for my shot. The buck read the script perfectly and walked right down the funnel as anticipated. When he came into the shooting lane, I stopped him, settled the pin on the crease of his front shoulder and squeezed it off. The 2-inch Swhacker broadhead slammed into his ribs as he tucked up and bolted.
My emotions went insane as you can hear me belt out “GOSH, YES!” in the video. Just like before when I arrowed the split-brow buck, I hurriedly called my dad on the phone, but I got no answer. I then called my uncle, who works with my dad, knowing they were both in the same truck on the way home from work. He answered on the first ring, and I explained what had just taken place. After the phone call, I gathered my gear up and climbed down to go search for my arrow.
When I got down to where the shot took place, I couldn’t find my arrow, but I knew it was a good shot, so I backed out to go home and review the footage with my dad.
As I got home and put the video up on the big screen, we both confirmed that the deer should be dead close by. I called my uncle and told him that I wanted him and my cousin to tag along during the recovery.
Thirty minutes later we met up at my uncle’s house and were off to recover my buck. It didn’t take long for us to get on the blood and follow the trail. One hundred yards later at the end of the blood trail laid my largest buck to date.
I remember their words like it was yesterday, “Yep, that’s the Big Nine.” My heart was about to explode because I couldn’t believe it. After two long years of chasing this buck, he was finally dead and the story of The Big Nine was over. We stayed there with the buck for about 15 minutes taking pictures and soaking in the entire moment. However, the fun was over, and it was time to get to work. My cousin and I drug the 175-lb. buck 200 yards through the drainage ditch and up the ridge to the cart to load him up.
I was later informed that both deer I harvested that season may be record-breaking bow-bucks for Columbia County. Eight months later, I took the deer heads to the local DNR office in Thomson to confirm their score. The official measurer measured the split-brow buck with a 122-inch gross score and 118 1/8 inches net, placing him as the third-biggest buck ever taken in Columbia County with a bow.
The Big Nine came out to be 127 inches gross and 122 7/8 inches net, placing him just under the record Columbia County bow buck by less than 4 inches.
It still hasn’t completely hit me that I harvested two of the largest bucks ever taken and recorded in Columbia County with a bow, but I know I am completely blessed to have taken both deer in the same year. Things like this do not happen every day, nor do they come easy. Even though it took a summer’s worth of scouting and preparation to make it happen, I know that without God giving me the knowledge, patience and time off to make it happen, none of this would have happened. For that, I am beyond thankful.
Nevertheless, my passion for the outdoors and the whitetail deer have been strengthened immensely, making me so much more eager to get back out there and do it again if the Lord’s willing.
Columbia County All-Time Bow-Buck Rankings
Rank Score Name Year County Method Photo 1 126 5/8 Ralph Blackwelder 2009 Columbia Bow View 2 122 7/8 Dylan Hankal 2017 Columbia Bow View 3 118 1/8 Dylan Hankal 2017 Columbia Bow View 4 117 7/8 Gunn Stewart 2010 Columbia Bow 5 111 1/8 Bill Brookshire 1982 Columbia Bow 6 110 6/8 Trey Kerr 2022 Columbia Bow View 7 109 William Ellis 2006 Columbia Bow 8 107 1/8 Jacob Almeter 2022 Columbia Bow View 9 102 5/8 Richard Doolittle 1994 Columbia Bow View
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