Don Spillers, of Fort Valley, received a little luck last Thanksgiving morning when a 6 1/2-year-old giant Houston County buck showed up directly under his stand. However, the hard work and dedication that led up to the buck’s fall proves that Don’s hunt on Nov. 24 was anything but luck.
The 11-pointer, appropriately named “Sky Scraper” for its tall frame and long tines, first appeared on Don’s 1,500-acre farm in 2012 as a 2 1/2-year-old buck.
“We could tell he was going to be something special,” said Don.
Even though Don spends many days hunting his farm each fall, he stays busy with other activities. Don owns Spillers Orthodontics and has offices in Warner Robins and Macon.
“Helping others is very important to who I am,” said Don. “I volunteer my time and am a board member of the Rehoboth Life Care Dental Clinic. My family and I traveled to Tanzania on a dental mission trip, and we are very involved with the Angel House Orphanage there. I am also a sponsor of the Wounded Warriors Program and have taken military members and their families on fishing trips. I am a part of the 30-30 Ministries program, as well. I am on the Leadership Team for Cross Point Baptist Church in Perry. I am a provider for Smiles Change Lives, a nation-wide program that helps families who cannot afford the full cost of braces, and we secure treatment for their children by connecting them with local orthodontic providers willing to donate their services.”
Like I said, despite Don’s schedule, he still gets plenty of hang time on his property each deer season. He hunts with his two kids, Amy and Trey, both of who are now in college. Don’s best friend Dr. Scott Westmoreland, a veterinarian at Westmoreland & Slappey Animal Hospital in Perry, and his son, Bryce, also hunt the property.
With the exception of a weekend of youth hunting with 30-30 Ministries, no bucks are taken on the property with a gun. Don’s hunting crew are all bowhunters.
“We’ve shot a lot with a gun,” said Don. “I feel like hunting with a bow makes you a better hunter. It makes you think. You got to get close, pattern, watch the wind and pay attention to scent. It’s more of a competitive hunt with the deer. It’s not easy. They are smart, and everything has to be just right.”
Through the use of trail cameras, Don had Sky Scraper pegged to a home area of only about 75 acres.
“He would branch out to about 150 acres, but he stayed right there,” said Don. “We like to run about one camera for every 100 acres.”
Don puts most of his cameras on feeding stations, which stay loaded with supplemental protein feed from March to September. Then, Don will switch over to corn until January.
“From our trail cameras, we get our information, figure out the crop of deer we have and then figure out our doe harvest goals. Last year, we shot 25 does,” said Don. “From the pictures, we also figure out how many mature bucks we have that make our shoot list.”
There is a misconception among some hunters that a shoot list like Don’s would only contain bucks with high-scoring antler.
“We don’t just shoot racks,” said Don. “We’re looking at body size and maturity. We shoot age.”
Don’s son Trey killed a buck with his bow last year that won’t score very high. However, it was 5 1/2 years old and weighed a whopping 265 pounds, about as heavy a buck as you can expect to find in the South.
Don first laid his hands on Sky Scraper’s antlers after recovering matching sheds in 2014. In 2015, he also found matching sheds.
“They were in a small block. The two sets of sheds were only 300 yards from where I killed him,” said Don.
Even with hundreds of pictures of Sky Scraper, the mature buck didn’t make his first appearance in front of a hunter until 2015, when Don and Trey both saw him out of bow range.
The natural instinct for many bowhunters after seeing a buck of Sky Scraper’s caliber would be to grab the rifle for the very next hunt. However, being a serious bowhunter takes discipline, and this story proves it can work.
During the 2016 bow season, Don began to see Sky Scraper from the stand on a more regular basis.
“I wasn’t doing anything different from previous years,” said Don. “Before he was just nocturnal.”
The day before Thanksgiving 2016, Don hunted daylight to dark in a climbing stand inside of Sky Scraper’s home area.
“A climber lets me be mobile,” said Don. “I can get higher up and watch the scent. We usually tote our climbers in and out. We like to stay versatile and be mobile.”
Don was hoping to catch Sky Scraper on his feet looking for does. However, he immediately became sidetracked when another one of their shooter bucks showed up and worked does out of range for about three hours. He had a plan to kill that buck the next morning, which was Thanksgiving.
“I moved my stand over about 50 yards from the previous morning into a thicker area where I had seen the deer the day before,” said Don.
About 8 a.m., Don decided to sit down and check a text from Trey.
“We had planned to sit about 200 yards apart to see if we could catch the buck from the day before working through the pines from an oak bottom,” said Don.
Don had only been sitting down for a minute when he heard a noise behind him.
“I looked back, and all I could see was horns coming through the bushes,” said Don. “I eased up and grabbed my bow. By that time, the buck was directly under me. I drew back as he walked away from me into a thick area of sweetgums. I realized at that moment I had let a big buck slip by me. I was holding back on the bow at full draw. My only option was to snort wheeze at him. I did, and he stopped and turned to the right into a small opening at 30 yards. I took the shot and saw the arrow embed into the deer, and as he ran away, the arrow caught in the bushes and pulled out. I still did not know that the deer was Sky Scraper.”
Don waited an hour before him and Trey began to look for blood.
“There was blood everywhere,” said Don. “We proceeded to follow the blood and found where he bedded down, and there was lots of blood. He had gotten up and moved 30 yards and laid down again. At this point, we heard something run up ahead, so we decided to back out and wait. I was sick with emotions. I kept asking myself, ‘What happened?’”
Don did what most would do after hitting a mature buck. He called someone from GON’s Dial A Tracking Dog list. Mike Lopez got the call, and Mike’s dad came out.
Don, Trey and Scott were along for the tracking job.
“The dogs got on his trail, and we found him about 100 yards from the last spot he laid down,” said Don. “He was still alive but could not get up. I placed a second arrow into his side to finish him off.”
Don was thankful to have quickly recovered the buck, but his emotions were about to soar.
“It was at that point that Scott said, ‘You shot Sky Scraper!’ My heart was crazy with emotions. I was excited, overwhelmed,” said Don. “Also, he was the legend on the farm… a part of the emotion is a little bit sad. You put so much time into hunting and figuring him out.”
Don made it to the last round of the Truck-Buck Shoot-Out, where he won a rifle for entering and competing. He now has the distinction of taking the top bow buck in the state for the 2016-17 season. As if that weren’t enough, Sky Scraper is the No. 6 typical bow buck ever taken in this great state.
“It doesn’t seem real,” said Don. “It’s very rewarding, knowing the time I put in reading, working, tractors, clearing and doing what it takes. It’s rewarding to accomplish that.”
Looking back on Thanksgiving 2016, Don will always be reminded how much he has to be thankful for.
“The Lord blessed us with a great place to spend time and manage,” said Don. “One thing we can do is give back, introduce people to hunting and share the Gospel. I want to encourage other people to do the same.”
The above quote was the last thing Don wanted to say in my interview with him. Don has been a friend of mine since 2013. I’ve heard stories and looked at trail-cam pictures of Sky Scraper for the last few years. It was a big deal on the morning the legend of the farm was killed. But, even with all the well-deserved hype around the state’s new No. 6 bow buck, I’m so proud to know that my friend has stayed grounded and kept all things in the right perspective.