Marak Wins 2003 Truck-Buck Shoot-Out
The 13th annual Shoot-Out for GON's big-buck contest winners was a battle to late rounds.
The final shot of last deer season was fired on August 17, and Keith Hardy, of Winder, pulled the trigger. More than a thousand people saw him do it.
Once again, a standing-room crowd at the Perry Buckarama was treated to a tense, exciting Truck-Buck Shoot-Out, courtesy of a group of contestants who were well prepared for the final stage of last yearʼs GON Truck-Buck contest. The Shoot-Out is a pellet-rifle competition that determines who wins the Truck-Buck Grand Prize, a brand new Chevrolet Silverado 4×4 from John Megel Chevrolet in Dahlonega. A second Grand Prize is also awarded, a Suzuki Vinson ATV from Motions of Marietta.
Our 21 shooters had been practicing and preparing for months for this day, which not only gives them plenty of time to work on their shooting, it also allows for plenty of pressure and anxiety to build. Apparently, many of our shooters were both accurate and in control of their nerves.
This year we added a new feature to the Shoot-Out, three remote TV monitors among the spectators that were wired to a video camera aimed at the target backboard. This allowed folks in the crowd a close-up view of the target. They got to see many of our shooters punching the center out of clay pigeons. As Round 7 began, when the target shrinks to a raw egg, spectators could see exploding eggs in detail.
The 21 Georgia hunters in the Shoot-Out this year is the largest number of GON subscribers to make it to the Grand Prize competition ever. Thatʼs thanks to an added week of deer season last year (making a total of 17 weeks). Plus there are our four Wild-Card winners: the best second-place buck in all the weeks, plus the hunter with the best buck taken all year on a WMA, by a lady hunter and by a youth hunter.
This year our Lady Wild-Card winner also happened to be a youth, 9-year-old Tifton Pace. She and our Youth winner, 11-year-old John Lee, were crowd favorites from the start, as our youth competitors always are. Itʼs fun to cheer for the underdogs in a Shoot-Out dominated by adult men, and most of our Shoot-Out viewers remember well that kids are not to be taken lightly. It was in 1997 that 9-year-old Zack Hammond of Leesburg won the pickup truck. This year, Tifton and John were cheered on by the crowd from the start of the show, and saluted even more loudly in support when they were eliminated from a very tough Shoot-Out.
Each year our Shoot-Out rounds start with a regulation skeet at a distance of 30 feet. Second- and third-round distances of 45 and then 60 feet follow. Then the target size is reduced to a “midi” skeet, also shot at 30, 45 and 60 feet.
By the end of Round 6 (the midi skeet at 60 feet) we had only cut the field of competitors down to 10 shooters, all of whom had shot flawlessly through the first six rounds (The Shoot-Out is single-elimination: one miss and youʼre done). With these 10 shooters entering Round 7, when the target becomes a raw egg at 30 feet, the GON staff began to wonder if two-dozen eggs was going to be enough. That concern grew when only two of the 10 shooters, Terry Lang and Andy Odell, were eliminated in Round 7.
When the shooters backed up to 45 feet for Round 8, four more were eliminated, including Jacky Stanfill, Roger Pollock, Zak Avery, and Tom Winn. That left four shooters going into Round 9, the egg at 60 feet, which is as difficult as the Shoot-Out gets.
The outlook for our egg supply did not appear good when Billy Whittaker, Rusty Marak and Keith Hardy all popped their targets easily. Only Adam Baldwin missed in that round.
When Round 9 ends and no truck has been awarded, shooters remain at 60 feet shooting at eggs until a winner is determined. At the start of the tenth round, Billy Whittaker missed. In late rounds like these, it sometimes happens that no one scores a hit, meaning that everyone survives that round even with a miss. That was not Billyʼs luck — Rusty Marak sent him to join the other eliminated shooters when he broke his Round 10 egg. Rusty also assured himself a prize of some kind — either a new truck or a 4-wheeler. If Keith Hardy could not match his hit, it would be the truck.
Keith matched it. In the crowd, the “Keith Hardy Cheering Section” — which appeared to be a dozen or more family and friends — easily topped the volume of the rest of the spectators.
GON publisher Steve Burch, M.C. of the Shoot-Out, summed up the situation. “Now we know whoʼs winning our Grand Prizes,” said Steve. “We just donʼt know whoʼs dragging which vehicle home!”
This Shoot-Out was a near record-setter for endurance. In August of 2000, more of our shooters made it deep into the competition — six shooters made it to Round 9 (an egg at 60 feet) while this year four shooters made it to Round 9. But that year the truck winner, Will Oder, took his prize in Round 10.
So, when Rusty Marak and Keith Hardy entered Round 11 together, we had the most rounds shot without a truck winner since 1994, when Brian Lowery won in 15 rounds.
Then, Rusty missed clean. In Round 10, Rusty had been poised to win the truck if Keith missed. Now he was poised to give Keith the truck if Keith broke the egg. But the crowd broke into loud murmurs when Keith also missed.
Rusty was still in the game, and he stepped up to the shooting platform again to start a clean round. This time the egg splattered. The situation had reversed again — once more Rusty was in a position to win the truck if only Keith missed.
Thatʼs when Keith fired the final shot of last deer season, a clean miss. For Keith, all was not lost. He had already earned a Grand Prize, and the Suzuki ATV and trailer were his to hook up and pull home.
One of the people on hand to congratulate Rusty Marak was last yearʼs truck winner, Barry Murray. Itʼs an interesting fact that both Barry and Rusty made it to the Shoot-Out with a 130-class buck, both killed in Jasper County, and both killed in Week 5 with a muzzleloader. Rustyʼs buck scored two inches less than Barryʼs and is listed three names below Barry in the Jasper County buck records.
That last shot of deer season is also the first shot of a new deer season, the one that starts in two weeks! And that means another year of Truck-Buck.
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