Meet Rufus, A Giant Deer You Can Pet

Rufus was a hit at GON's Outdoor Blast in Macon. Here's the story behind the giant buck.

Brad Gill | September 28, 2011

Rufus, a 9 1/2-year-old buck that was born in Lowndes County, is said to be as healthy as a 4 1/2-year-old buck.

Many of us met Rufus for the first time at GON’s Outdoor Blast in Macon in July. Rufus is a 9 1/2-year-old whitetail that was born in Lowndes County. Rufus’ latest rack has been estimated at a little more than 200 gross inches.

Rufus’ owner, Gary O’Neal, of Valdosta, found the newborn buck hung in a fence on June 2, 2002.

“He was just born, still wet and had the belly cord hanging from him,” said Gary.

Because Gary is a licensed rehabilitator of deer, Rufus was able to spend the first four months of his life living in the O’Neal home. He’s now living in an 8-acre enclosure with his own barn on Gary’s 110-acre farm.

“I’m turning my farm into Spring Creek Wildlife, where we have a place where the kids come out and take the hunter-safety course and have events. We’ve got a lot of kids who come out and have never touched a deer. Spring Creek Wildlife is for education purposes to get people involved in hunting and fishing and getting them off the streets, and that’s my main goal. People will be able to call and set up appointments. We want to get to kids.”

Gary said he really enjoys taking Rufus to hunting shows and other events because he likes the reaction people make when they see Rufus. He also enjoys the comments he hears.

“At the shows, I have all his antlers mounted up on the trailer,” said Gary. “I had one lady ask me, ‘How do you get Rufus’ hide off to mount his antlers on there?’ I said, ‘We hang him up every year and skin him out, and he grows a new hide every year.’ Then I told her (the truth) people shoot a buck and don’t use the cape and give it to me.”

Gary said he enjoys talking to hunters, too. Many of them point to Rufus’ first-year rack and can’t believe a deer like that would later produce 200 inches of antler.

“It was a messed-up rack,” said Gary. “They were little ol’ horns. Most people in the woods would have shot this deer thinking it was a cull deer.”

Rufus is currently a 230-lb., 25-point buck.

This photo was taken in early August of this year. Rufus is fixing to turn 9 1/2 years old. Gary O’Neal (from left), Vickie O’Neal and Jefferies Eldridge are all caretakers for Rufus. Gary’s bond with Rufus started when the buck was a fawn.

“It surprised me,” said Gary. “I thought he was going to go back a little bit this year.”

Although a more accurate score can’t be determined until his antlers fall off in the winter, his best “official” score was when Rufus was 7 1/2 years old and grossed 190 inches.

“Right now Rufus is putting on some weight,” said Gary. “Rufus eats fresh stuff every day. He looks for fruit twice a day. It’s got to be fresh, too. I tried to go buy some stuff that was discounted. He turned his nose up, he won’t touch it.”

Rufus’ daily diet costs about $24 and consists of 21 percent protein pellets, corn, carrots, celery, apples, Vanilla Wafers, Nutty Buddies and peanut butter. Gary spends time with Rufus every day.

“When he’s in peak prime, I leave him alone,” said Gary. “I know when to stay away from him. I don’t get in the pen when he can hurt me. I don’t let anybody in the pen when he loses that velvet.”

Still, Rufus expects his coat brushed on a daily basis.

“I got a gate between us,” said Gary. “If he does sort of act up, I could get out.”

Rufus is fixing to be a TV star. He just got done filming for the Oct. 16 release of Walking Dead on AMC. Rufus also has his own Facebook page. Log on to


Rufus was a highlight of GON’s Outdoor Blast in Macon. At the show, an official B&C scorer made a rough guess at gross score and came up with 187 inches. With five more weeks of growing still to do, he’s estimated at 200 inches now.

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.