How The Weeks Were Won: Second Half Of The Truck-Buck Hunt Stories
We are now just weeks away from the 30th annual Truck-Buck Shoot-Out. Thirty years! That’s a fleet of John Megel pickup trucks GON has given away to Georgia deer hunters, and enough Browning deer rifles and Mathews bows to fill the beds off all those trucks.
Eighteen weekly winners and four wildcard qualifiers are headed to the Truck-Buck Shoot-Out on Sunday, July 28 at the Ag-Pro GON Outdoor Blast. There are actually two Week 15 hunters who tied with exact net scores, so they’ll have a little Shoot-Out before the Shoot-Out.
This is a big deal for these folks, and it’s great sporting drama for spectators. If you’ve never seen a Shoot-Out, this is a great way to wrap up a day after visiting all the Outdoor Blast vendors.
Killing a big buck is special in itself, but GON’s contest is some sweet gravy on top. A Georgia deer hunter will win a new 4X4 pickup truck from John Megel Chevy, and another hunter is going home with a Ultimate Hunting Buggy from Beast 48. The five weekly winners during bow season have already earned $1,100 Mathews Triax bows, the Week 6 winner gets a CVA Accura rifle, and the 11 weekly winners during gun season each get $1,140 Browning deer rifles. All weekly winners also earned a package from Tinks, HSS safety harnesses and Shoot-Out shirts from Realtree, and wildcard winners get a prize from Havalon Knives.
Let’s meet the second half of this year’s Shoot-Out field. (Click here to read about the first half of the field.)
Tye Cottle, of Tifton, says he was fortunate to start hunting dove and quail with his father at a very early age and develop a love for the outdoors, but he didn’t start deer hunting until he went with his brother-in-law at the age of 19.
“It has been a passion of mine ever since,” Tye said. “I have been blessed to be able to hunt some property that is just a few minutes from my house, and we have tried to trophy manage it for many years now.”
Tye has killed some exceptional bucks, and last year he downed one that netted above that magical 160-inch mark.
“I got a picture of this deer at when I think he was 3 1/2 years old. Even at that age, he was tall and had really good mass, and you could tell he was going to be something special. My nephew named him ‘Chubs’ because of how much mass he had. We got pics of him the next couple of years, and I had three close calls bowhunting him as a 5 1/2 year old.
“The crazy and unique thing about this deer is his rack was much smaller at 5 1/2 than it was at 4 1/2. I didn’t know if he was sick or injured, but something wasn’t right.
“I didn’t get any pics of him starting in the 2018 season in August or September, so I gave up on him and thought he must not have made it. While checking one of my cameras in early October, there he was, and he had blown up into an unbelievable deer. On the morning of Oct. 22, the first cold front of the year came through. I was bowhunting in an area that I believed was close to where he was bedding. About 7:45, I caught some movement over my left shoulder. As I turned, there was no mistaking it was him. He was trailing a doe at about 60 yards, and they were coming my way. I had some shooting lanes cut out, and they were headed for one at about 50 yards. I got ready to draw my bow, but as he stepped into the lane, he turned and walked straight away from me. Watching that big of a deer walk away was a hard thing to do.
“After sharing the story with my son and a friend of mine, I started carrying both my bow and my rifle to the tree with me. I hunted him hard the next three weeks, and on Nov. 17 around 8 a.m. he came from the same thicket he had before. He got to 80 yards and I took my bow off the hanger, but he just wouldn’t come any closer. He turned and started to go back to the thicket, and I grabbed my rifle and made the shot. I couldn’t let a deer like that walk away again. I did not make a good shot, but thanks to Randy Vick, his dog Reba, and the Good Lord’s blessings, I was able to put my hands on the biggest buck of my life.”
E.J. Mullis, of Sumner, just turned 10 years old in May. As a 9-year-old, during a late November hunt last season, the young man killed an amazing buck with a very tall rack. The 10-pointer had great tine length and netted just shy of the 160-inch mark. The way the buck was killed should teach a few lessons to all deer hunters. For one, the hunt is not over when you climb down from the stand. And if you see a doe by itself, it’s more than likely not by itself!
“As my dad and I were leaving the stand after a morning of hunting, we saw a doe making her way down the fire break. We knelt down to watch her from about 80 yards away,” E.J. said.
“As she came into a clearing, we realized there was a buck following her. She turned to walk into the creek bottom, and he followed. We started to make our way toward the creek and realized they were only about 70 yards away. My dad told me to get ready, and when they noticed us, the buck stopped, and I fired. The buck dropped in his tracks. He was quartering to me, and I shot him in the base of the neck.”
E.J. shot the buck-of-a-lifetime before his 10th birthday, and since his dad is a GON member, he earned a new Browning deer rifle and spot in the Shoot-Out, where he’ll be one of 22 contestants with a chance for a new pickup truck or Beast hunting cart.
When the calendar turns to December, the peak of the rut is over in many areas of the state, including Worth County. Something to remember—the peak of the rut is when most does typically come into heat. That doesn’t mean the rut is not still on the minds of the area bucks a few weeks later.
Jim Markey, of Columbus, climbed into a Worth County stand on Friday morning, Dec. 7 with the hope any deer hunter feels, but little could he know the action he would encounter.
“It was a cool morning with a slight breeze out of the northeast,” Jim said. “I had a smaller buck come by me around 8 a.m., and a few minutes later, I was glassing the thinned pines when a doe and yearling busted me moving in my stand. When she stomped her feet and blew at me, the same buck came running back and started chasing her, grunting the entire time, and then another buck joined in from the south. I thought to myself, this was going to be a good morning.
“After they were out of sight, I was looking over my left shoulder toward the north when I saw some does coming through the pines, and a second later the antlers appeared. He was cruising with five does. The does made a small circle and brought the buck to about 30 yards from my stand. When I shot him, he bowed up and ran about 80 yards, and then I saw him go down.
“I was so excited that when I went to recover him, I literally walked the wrong way. I had to go back and follow the blood trail. This was the first time I had ever seen this buck, and he is my biggest to date.”
Jay Thompson, 31, lives, farms and hunts in Mitchell County. For the past three seasons, there’s been one buck on his mind.
“His brow tines never changed character. They were bladed, and they just got longer and thicker,” Jay said. “The first year I saw him was the 2016-17 season. He was a 10-pointer. I was hunting him that year—he would have been the biggest deer I ever killed even then. I couldn’t have imagined then that two years later he would gross 160 inches as a 13-pointer.
“During the 2017 season, he must have broke off his left side fighting. About the whole side was gone. Then last season I never had a daytime picture until Nov. 13, 2018. He was in there at 5:30 p.m. I wasn’t hunting that day because I had to go to a bull sale.”
On Tuesday evening, Dec. 11, Jay was his stand, an insulated box stand he made that sits on a boat trailer, so he can easily move it around if needed. He was hunting a food plot with a feeder.
“He came in the plot at 5:50 p.m. When I spotted him, I pulled my gun up. My heart went to pounding. He gave me a good broadside shot, but when I pulled the trigger, that joker just clicked. I pulled the gun in to make sure I had a round in. Then it misfired again. I took that shell out and put a new shell in. I just knew he was going to disappear, and I would never get this opportunity again. He was looking straight at me then. What an emotional roller coaster. Luckily when I pulled the trigger the third time, he dropped. I shot him straight on at 75 yards.
“He’s the biggest buck I’ve ever harvested by far and will be the most remembered. This was definitely a hunt I will be talking about for a long, long time. Probably the biggest buck I’ll ever kill.”
What are the odds two bucks in the same week would net exactly the same, down to 1/8 of an inch? It happened in Week 15. Two hunters will have a ‘Shoot-Out before the Shoot-Out’ to determine which one will then go for the truck against the other weekly and wildcard winners. Both hunters won Browning rifles.
Michael Segars, 34, lives in Ila in northeast Georgia. On Dec. 15, he got in a stand on a small tract of private family land in Madison County. He was up and settled a good 20 minutes before daylight.
“It had been raining the whole day prior and the night before, but there was a break in the rain that morning, so I figured the deer would be on their feet,” Michael said. “At about 7:45 to 8, it started raining again, and it continued off and on just enough to make the woods noisy and get you wet. At 8:30 to 8:45 after no luck, I decided to get down and slowly walk out and hunt my way back out of the hardwoods to where I parked that morning. The leaves were wet, so you could literally slip around undetected in those hardwoods, which doesn’t happen often.
“I got up on a trail that led through the hardwoods to an agricultural field, and as I was easing my way out, I caught a glimpse of the deer bedded in the hardwood bottom across the trail from the stand I was originally hunting that morning. I knew the deer was a shooter, but I did not realize how good he really was. I raised my gun to see if I could make an ethical shot, and my scope was blurred from all the rain that morning. I proceeded to clean my scope as slowly as I could without spooking the buck to his feet and out of my small tract of land forever.
“I had no way to get close enough to a tree for a rest, and I had already spent enough time with the scope cleaning and trying to pick a shot, that I figured my window of opportunity and luck was soon to run out on a buck of this caliber. I got my scope clean enough where I could make out the deer’s shoulder, and I shot him free-handed at about 50 yards.
“The closer I got to the deer after I shot him, the bigger he got, and it took me a minute to realize what caliber of deer I had actually harvested.
“After some prayers and thank you Lords, I finally got calm enough to get the deer out of the woods. Just goes to show, always be alert when out in the woods, whether you’re in the stand or going to and from your stand, you never know what you will run across, and you never know where that buck of a lifetime may be.
“A little luck and being at the right place at the right time and a little help from the good Lord above made for a very memorable hunt.”
We don’t have to tell anyone in Georgia how important high school football is to local communities, especially for title-winning programs like Colquitt County High, where they’ve won three state titles and a national championship this decade.
Football coaches stay busy, so time in the deer stand is precious. Kirk Woodall is the head coach of Colquitt County’s 9th grade team, and he’s the line coach for varsity. Kirk has some hunting property in Mitchell County.
“I haven’t hunted much this year and didn’t run cameras or keep the corn piles going,” Kirk said. “I shot a pretty good buck during Thanksgiving but rushed the recovery and lost the deer.”
On Saturday morning, Dec. 15, Kirk was at the Mitchell County property for what’s been an annual hunt.
“My brother and good friend came down to do a hunting weekend since football season was over. I decided to move my climber about 300 yards from where I had shot the buck during Thanksgiving. I had asked my brother, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to hunt there?’ Then I asked my friend. There were some good scrapes in there. So I got to my brother’s campsite, and we all headed out hoping to see some deer. This was a morning after a flood of rain.
“I selected a tree with good visibility near the scrapes I found earlier in the season. Right after good light, I grunted pretty aggressively and waited. I grunted again about 7:35 and sat back and watched. I prayed, thanking the Lord for a great football season and a wonderful family. When I finished praying I saw what looked like a rear end of a deer in the pines. I picked up my rifle and looked at the deer. The buck lifted his head, and I about fell out of the stand as this giant was looking toward my direction. I lined up and shot!
“The buck ran toward me and paused, I shot again, and he started going down. As I sat there and looked at my buck, he got up and started stumbling off. I shot him again, and he was down. Not losing this one. Biggest buck I have ever killed.
“Thankful for my brother helping me drag him out.”
Dale Lunsford lives in Meriwether County, long known as one of the best big-buck counties in the western Piedmont region of Georgia. You might wonder why Dale leaves the good hunting in his backyard to travel to southeast Georgia to hunt in Early County. You might also wonder why Dale killed his very first buck with a crossbow at the age of 56, and he did it in December.
The answer to both questions was the opportunity to hunt a well-managed tract where archery is the preferred method. Dale said when he was younger he had a compound bow, but rotator cuff surgery put an end to that.
Dale’s stand for his fateful Dec. 22 hunt was over a food plot and a feeder with rice bran and corn. And he touted the rice bran as an attractant that may have helped pull this buck into the area. Dale also made a mock scrape, and that may have also helped this hunt come together successfully. A final factor was trimming a limb that Dale felt was blocking one of his best chances for getting a close-range shot with the crossbow.
“I got into my stand around 3:45 p.m. I saw a couple of deer to my right when I first got in,” Dale said. “Then around 4:15 p.m. I was scanning around, and I caught movement over my left shoulder. When I saw him, I knew it was the big deer that I got pictures on camera since the week after Thanksgiving.
“As he walked up the bush hog road, he was looking around, taking his time, and then he stopped by the scrape that I made. Then he stepped into the clearing that I cut to give me a clean 20-yard shot.
“He ran about 50 yards and fell. My first crossbow harvested and biggest deer I’ve ever harvested.”
Heading into last deer season, Lee Ellis, 29, already had some amazing bow-bucks under his belt, including three in the Top-10 all-time from Fulton County, one of the best counties in the entire nation for giant bow bucks.
Lee’s success hunting the north Atlanta suburbs is well-known. But last season had some significant unknowns for all the hunters—how legalized baiting would affect the specialized hunting on small tracts in the suburbs.
The 2018-2019 season was rapidly slipping away for Lee as the New Year came and went.
“I have had five years of trail-camera history with this deer, and he had all my attention this year,” Lee said. “I knew going in he would be difficult to figure out because he has been known for the last five years to be incredibly random with no pattern. I had 12 cameras and six stands up for this deer, all on different properties.
Last season, Lee felt like he had figured out the area the buck liked the most, and Lee concentrated on hunting that tract of land.
“I hunted in that spot 30 plus times. He had me patterned on where I was entering and exiting. I threw him a curveball by tucking in a ground blind on the opposite end of the property, so I could access from a different direction, and that was what it took to trick him.
“The story is too long to explain, but this was the smartest deer I have ever hunted. He had evaded me all year, with just one encounter in November where he winded me.
“Thankful is an understatement.”
For the first time since Truck-Buck began 30 years ago, last season we added a Week 18 scoring period. Our very first Week 18 winner has a familiar name for GON members. Central to the Mennonite community around Montezuma and Macon County, members of the Yoder families have won quite a few spots in the Truck-Buck Shoot-Out over the years.
William Yoder was our Week 18 winner with a late season Macon County 10-pointer.
“We had a few pictures of this deer this summer,” William said. “The last picture we had of him was on Oct. 9, and then he disappeared. A few days later, my son-in-law started getting pictures of him on their lease, 2 miles away the way a crow flies,” he said.
It’s not unusual for a mature buck to have a summer range, and then to make a move during the rut and hunting season, and then to move again after the breeding activity wraps up and winter sets in. The big 10-pointer showed up again on William’s trail-cameras on Thursday night, Jan. 3.
“I was gone over the weekend and wasn’t able to hunt until Monday evening. I saw him that evening, but it was too dark to shoot. So I went back Tuesday morning (Jan. 8) to a different stand across the pond, and he came in to about 70 yards. I shot, and he only made it about 30 yards before crashing.”
It was Sunday evening during the opening weekend of Georgia’s firearms season. Kelsey Perry, 23, (Kelsey Godfrey at the time, she’s since gotten married) was about to start her 2018 deer season off with a bang.
“I was given a great opportunity to harvest my biggest buck—yet—on Oct. 21, at 6 p.m.,” Kelsey said. “My fiance (now husband) and I decided we would hunt in the evening because it was finally starting to cool off. The weather was feeling like fall, and we knew the deer would be moving. We did not expect the evening to end with me taking down this big boy!
“We’d had this buck on camera for the last few weeks, and he was staying around the stand called ‘secret spot.’ He came out with his head down and clearly on a mission to get to the corn spread out in front of the stand. The buck took a few minutes, but he finally turned and gave me the perfect broadside shot.”
Kelsey’s buck was the highest-scoring entry by a female hunter who didn’t win a week outright, earning her the Ladies Wildcard spot in the Shoot-Out. Kelsey also entered a big buck in 2016 while hunting with her then boyfriend, Josh.
Merrick King just turned 12 years old, and he was 11 last deer season when the young man killed a buck the likes of which most hunters will never lay eyes on from a deer stand.
“The night I killed my buck I went hunting with my mom,” Merrick said. “That night we saw a couple of 8-points and some does. Some bucks were chasing some does and grunting.”
The stand they were in was over a food plot planted in clover.
“When my buck came out of the woods, my mom and I were very excited. When I shot my buck, he ran about 50 yards and dropped.
“It only took one shot to kill him, and I’m so excited that I killed my big 13-point!”
The Worth County buck netted 156 1/8 inches, which during most weekly scoring periods during most years of the Truck-Buck contest would easily win a week outright. This year, Week 11 has some crazy good bucks, and Merrick finished third behind Tye Cottle’s Tift County buck and Ronny Vaughan’s Wilcox County, which earned the Runner-Up Wildcard.
Ronny Vaughan and his Wilcox County buck are the perfect example of why GON created the Runner-Up Wildcard spot in the Shoot-Out. How could a buck that nets 159 not win its week? Week 11 was just that strong.
Ronny said he had never seen this buck before.
“It took 20 years to get this hunting club the way we want it. Everybody around has been cutting their timber, but we have 730 acres of virgin timber, and right at 300 in planted pines.
“It was overcast and in the 30s,” Ronny said about his Nov. 17 hunt. “I was hunting without scent, lure or a feeder. The winds were 5 to 10 miles per hours out of the west. I was in my tripod stand on a pine and oak hill. Two bucks came out running a doe. I finally got one to stop by making a noise with my mouth. My Browning .308 using 150-grain Core-Lokt ammo was already up with the safety off. When he heard my sound, he stopped in a bunch of bushes. The only clear shot I had was in the shoulder. I had an opening about the size of pie plate. When I shot, he jumped up in the air, and I could not see him anymore. I was pretty sure it was a good shot but wanted to wait to be sure. I shot him at 7 a.m. but did not leave the stand until 9 a.m. to give him time to lay up. I got out the stand and found him in a small bottom with water 30 yards from where I shot him. He had a prefect shoulder-lung shot. I had never seen this deer before.”
Ronny said at 71 years old, he might not have the best chance during the Shoot-Out. But he’s been in the Shoot-Out before—quite a few years ago, Ronny finished fourth.
To see the 30th annual Truck-Buck Shoot-Out, make plans to attend the Ag-Pro GON Outdoor Blast June 28 at the Infinite Energy Center. For the 30th time, a Georgia deer hunter will drive home in a new pickup truck.
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