That morning had started out unremarkable like so many others. In the predawn, 79-year-old I.W. (Bill) Hearn drove his truck from his home in Daisy, a tiny town on the outskirts of Claxton in Evans County, to a 40-acre field he owns south of town.
He walked several hundred feet along the edge of the field before turning into the woods. He then climbed a tree stand, one of several he had erected around the field’s perimeter at the beginning of the season. He pulled a rope that was attached by carbineer to his waist, and hauled his compound bow up the 20 feet to his perch in the heavy canopy. The leaves were still green and thick, with only a hint of change in the air on this early fall day.
Bill stood, scanned and waited. The sky began to brighten with the dawn. He looked to the right, then to his left, and saw a doe below, walking right in front of his stand. He grunted, and she stopped. He was ready. He drew slowly then released his arrow, which found its mark. The doe jumped and ran straight away for about 30 yards, then fell. The day was Oct. 6, 2014. Bill Hearn had killed his 100th deer with a bow.
The Evans County native was born in Bellville on Jan. 17, 1935 and began hunting and fishing when he was a young boy. After graduating from Claxton High School, he attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, graduating in two years with an associate’s degree in agriculture. He had aspirations of joining the Air Force and flying airplanes, but a minor medical issue and falling in love changed all that.
In 1955, he married Priscilla Smith, of Daisy. They moved to Savannah, where Bill worked for Sears, Roebuck and Co. as the manager of its electrical department and later worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a security clerk and radio operator. The latter assignment entailed operating a short wave radio, transmitting and receiving encoded messages by Morse code.
He later moved his family, which included two small children, back to Daisy, partially because it was 1963 and Savannah was in the crosshairs of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and partly because Motorola was looking for someone to provide authorized service for two-way radios in the Claxton area. He and a cousin answered that call, then a few months later Motorola offered the same opportunity in the Savannah area. Seizing the chance to serve a much larger market, Bill established Savannah Communications in Garden City, just outside Savannah. He erected radio towers and provided two-way radios and pagers to government agencies and industrial interests, while his family remained in Daisy. Bill made the two-hour round trip each day for the next 15 years. But the toll of driving, combined with a good offer, convinced him to sell Savannah Communications in 1978.
In semi-retirement, Bill returned to hunting and fishing, even getting his captain’s license and offering charter cruises on his 34-foot boat, the Fishin’ Fever, out of Pine Harbor in McIntosh County. But he felt too young to retire, so he went to work for NeSmith Chevrolet in Claxton as parts manager.
After taking a break in 1982 to rebuild his home in Daisy, which had been burned beyond repair in a botched burglary, Bill returned to NeSmith in 1988. In 1990, NeSmith began its Power Train program with Bill as outside salesman. Over the next 15 years, the territory expanded from an initial 100-mile radius to 867 dealers in six states. Bill retired in 2005, at which time NeSmith was the largest General Motors power train dealer in the U.S.
These days, Bill devotes himself to hunting and fishing like never before. Over the years, his love for fishing has evolved from saltwater to freshwater, and he is particularly fond of going after hybrid, striped and largemouth bass at Lake Oconee. His love of hunting whitetail deer with a bow has only continued to grow stronger in the nearly 50 years since he was introduced to the sport.
“In 1965 or ’66 we were installing mobile telephones for the Statesboro telephone company,” Bill explained. “We would work from early morning until after dark. One day, the telephone company’s liaison, Rodney Harville, said he had to leave early to go to an archery meeting that evening. I said, ‘What is that?’ He replied that it was deer hunting with a bow and arrow. The only kind of hunting I had ever known was using a gun, most often with dogs. I was curious, so I bought a cheap bow that cost about $14 just to see if this was something I might want to do. Before I knew it, I had become an avid bowhunter and a member of the Bulloch Bowman’s Club in Statesboro.
“I killed my first deer in November 1966 with a recurve bow that I purchased for $37. All of the family was at our coastal home at Pine Harbor, and I took my boat over to Blackbeard Island. At the time they had three hunts a year, in October, November and December. This was Thanksgiving Day, and I killed a 6-point buck.”
In those days, DNR was trying to get the deer population, which had been decimated by overhunting and under-regulation, built back up. At the time, Georgia hunters could only kill one deer per season, and it had to be a buck. But on Blackbeard Island, where they needed to thin the herd, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed hunters to kill two deer, and it didn’t count against their tags on the mainland.
“I was able to hunt Blackbeard for 10 years straight without missing a hunt,” Bill added. “I often went over with my buddies from the archery club. I haven’t been there in the past five years or so, but Blackbeard will always hold a soft spot in my heart.”
Bill started counting his kills on one of his trips to Blackbeard, when he met a fellow hunter from North Carolina who commented that he had just killed his 75th deer with a bow.
“Wow,” Bill thought to himself. “I won’t live long enough to kill that many deer.”
He had only killed about a dozen or so with a bow at the time. With regulations limiting the number that someone could kill, and the scope of difficulty in bowhunting to begin with, reaching 75 deer seemed an impossible goal. Nonetheless, he started keeping a written record at that point. Several years ago, it dawned on him that he had killed 75 deer with a bow.
For the first time, he felt a glimmer of hope that he might actually reach 100 kills with a bow in his lifetime. It was a benchmark he finally attained on that otherwise unremarkable morning of Oct. 6, 2014.
Over the years, Bill has bow-hunted for whitetail deer in Georgia and South Carolina and killed one elk and one mule deer in Colorado. He, with other long-time members of the Bulloch Bowman’s Association—Brooks Waters, Charles Howard, Gene Durrence and Rodney Harville—have hunted together on Georgia’s Blackbeard, Sapelo and Ossabaw islands. Another hunting buddy, Derry Banks, along with Gene Durrence, introduced him to the Battle Creek Hunting Club on 3,500 acres of leased land in Tattnall County, where he also became a member. The men often gather at a simple hunting cabin they constructed on the riverbank a few years ago, which they nicknamed, “The Ohoopee Hilton.” And, of course, Bill continues to hunt on his own land in Evans County, often with his son, Phil.
Over the years, he has been witness to the evolution of bowhunting, from his first tree stand—a handcrafted piece of sheet metal with no seat or safety features—and the recurve and longbows used in the early days, to the sophisticated compound bows and state-of-the art equipment used now. But the most significant and positive change he has seen is in the deer population itself.
“I think it started in the 1970s,” Bill recalled. “The DNR increased the deer limit to two per year. It was a few years after that before we could shoot a doe. Now our limit is 10 antlerless deer and two antlered deer. One of the antlers has to have 4 points on one side. So now, we can shoot up to 12 deer in one year. My best season so far, using only a bow, is five deer.”
If you ask Bill what it takes to be a bowhunter, he’s quick to provide an answer.
“The number one thing you have to have is patience,” he advised. “You also have to have a strong desire to do that kind of hunting. It can be frustrating when a deer is close, and you can’t get a shot. But you have to keep your frustration down. Be diligent. To be successful, you have to put in time, in the trees, in the woods. And you have to practice. In the early days, when we used recurve and longbows, it took an incredible amount of practicing. Even now, with the compound bow and all of its enhancements, it still takes skill and luck. It’s unbelievable the options and gadgets and things we have now we didn’t have in 1966.”
Finally, one must ask why one would prefer still hunting with a bow to other forms of hunting, or devote oneself so completely to the sport as Bill Hearn has done.
“It’s a lot more exciting to have a deer come in close enough so you can hear it breathing,” Bill explained. “They don’t know you’re around. You can pull the bow back and get a shot without them hearing or seeing you. I just enjoy being out there in nature, not hearing anything, just listening to nature and enjoying what God has made; enjoying the stillness and solitude.”