I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. It was a windy morning, November 10, 2004. I was sitting with Glenn Garner in a double-ladder stand we call Olympus, which sits atop a ridge on one of our Harris County properties. While we hunt alone a lot, we sit together whenever we have a chance. I think it’s because we share an incredible passion for God, family, and big whitetails. We talk every day about how to make our properties better for deer. We spend a bunch of time and money to feed them year round and show restraint in not shooting good deer before they are fully mature.
Around 8:30 that morning we decided to try rattling. We alternate turns with the horns because each of us thinks we’re the best rattler in the free world. It was Glenn’s turn, so I accompanied him with the grunt call. Ten seconds into the sequence, I grabbed his arm and whispered, “I hear a deer running…”
Glenn quickly pinpointed it and slowly turned to look behind us.
“Don’t move,” he barely breathed, “Big buck right behind us.”
The buck was glassy eyed and looking for a fight. He slowly walked to our left and stopped 30 yards in front of me. I don’t remember shifting into shooting position, but I found myself with the crosshairs behind his shoulder. Looking at his rack I could see he was a main frame 8-pointer with mule-deer forks on both of his G- 2s. Shifting my eyes to his body I quickly aged him, and whispered to Glenn, “He’s 4 1/2, isn’t he?”
A great judge of deer, Glenn confirmed my assessment.
“I’m going to let him walk,” I said as I slowly raised my face off my rifle.
The buck crept off, seeming to sense he had been duped, but not sure just quite how. In the minutes that followed, filled with, “Man that was cool!” and “He came in on a string!” we started mentally adding him up. We decided he would gross around 152 B&C inches. Glenn laughed and asked, “How many guys in Georgia do you think passed up a 150-class deer this morning?”
I said, “Well he’s good now, but next year he might be a monster!”
Little did I know that statement would be prophetic. We named him Zeus because we had seen him from Olympus.
Amazingly, the next morning in a hardwood bottom half a mile away, we rattled him up again. He was looking for love and chewing up some real estate doing it. Again I stood firm in my decision, but he sure did look good.
This was the beginning of the pay-off. I had begun hunting in Harris County four years earlier. Three years ago I bought my first parcel of land there. I immediately hired Glenn because I had known him for years and saw what he had started during his time at Rocky Branch Plantation. I had seen, heard and read volumes about quality deer management but wasn’t convinced it would work in Georgia. Glenn assured me it would.
With the help of Tecomate consultant Brian Sheppard, we began experimenting with seed to find what types of food plots would work best for our conditions. We have a few weed problems that they don’t encounter in south Texas. We quickly discovered that by treating fields and using Roundup-ready products like soybeans and Monster Mix, we could have plots to rival anyone’s.
We began to plant for year-round deer nutrition, including planting corn for cold months when bucks are trying to replenish their bodies which have been worn down from the rut. Not just so they could survive the winter, but also so when they started consuming nutrition in the spring they wouldn’t have to restore their bodies before it started going to their racks.
We decided we needed to control our doe population so the big bucks would have to move to find them, and we remain committed to that. Just as importantly we made a pact to not shoot bucks until they reached 4 1/2 or 5 1/2. They just don’t begin to reach their full antler potential before then.
We established sanctuaries that we never entered so they had a safe haven, and we started shed hunting in earnest so we could pinpoint home ranges and track the growth of individual deer.
Amazingly we saw it work! In the year Rocky Branch was a commercial operation the average weight of a mature buck was 178 pounds. Within three years it had jumped to 236. Almost a 50-lb. increase! We also saw it in antler development. Instead of just heavy bases, we saw mass increase for the entire length of the main beams, and then it extended into the tines.
Of age, nutrition and genetics, I’m now convinced the first two are the most important, and the good news is anybody can do the things necessary to affect them. It just takes a little sweat and patience.
I also discovered it added immensely to my love of deer hunting. Instead of just three months in the fall, it became a passion I could pursue year round. As I’ve evolved as a hunter, I now love the challenge of chasing fully mature bucks. They are a different animal than does and young bucks. Quite simply they are survival machines, and when you’re lucky enough to take one, you’ve done something special, regardless of how many inches he has on his head.
Zeus became the subject of many dreams and daydreams for both Glenn and me. In late March, Glenn found one of his sheds in a Tecomate Monster-Mix food plot, and it confirmed our estimation of his size.
In the summer of 2005, Zeus showed up in several trail-cam photos, and one night we got great video footage of him on the Wildlife Eye. The decision to let him walk proved to be a smart one. Now with a fully mature body, all the extra nutrition from our Tecomate Lab-Lab and Monster-Mix food plots was going to his antlers. He was more massive, and his tine length had really jumped. We decided to try and score him individually and then compare notes. Glenn scored him at 162 3/8 and I had him at 163 5/8. We decided he would be the deer we focused on when hunting season rolled around.
I only got to bowhunt in Georgia a couple of times because we went on an archery elk hunt in New Mexico in September, and I burned a lot of my kitchen passes. Glenn smoked a giant bull at 28 yards that scored 370 B&C. I shot a big bull too that ultimately survived, but it was a great trip for both of us.
Every year a group of guys that include my brother, my childhood best friend and his son, and some of my buddies from my bible-study group get together to hunt whitetails for a week. In an effort to make everybody’s schedules work, we picked the first week of November. When it finally arrived, it was way too hot. We were disappointed but knew we’d have a great time just hanging out together.
On the Sunday evening before we were to gather together on Tuesday, Glenn decided to sit with a video camera and watch a food plot. The footage he shot that night was jaw dropping. There was Zeus chasing unreceptive does and bowing up on every buck he saw. He was stunning! Not only were his antlers huge, he had the body of an Angus bull. He dwarfed everything in the field.
Tuesday evening found Glenn and me in a double-ladder stand overlooking that food plot. Plenty of does and young bucks followed the shadows into the field, but the guest of honor was a no-show. Wednesday brought more of the same. We decided Thursday morning we would go back to the hardwood bottom where we had seen him the year before.
Daylight was still 30 minutes away when we slipped into the stand overlooking a creek bed in the hardwoods. It was too warm for the time of year, but it was foggy and felt like a “deer” morning.
When it was light enough to see, I grabbed the horns and beat and ground them together for about 30 seconds.
In a matter of minutes Glenn said, “I see legs back in the trees, 80 yards.”
Seconds later we caught a glimpse of antler as he began walking to the right trying to get downwind of the deer he had heard but could not see. Catching a better glimpse of his right side, Glenn whispered, “It’s him.”
I grunted several times trying to turn him, to no avail. He was just too smart as those big bucks always seem to be. Seeing that he wasn’t going to stop until he smelled the source of the commotion, I leaned across Glenn and searched for an opening in front of him. The only spot I could find was between the trunks of two trees that shared a common base. It was 20 yards in front of the buck and about 60 yards away. The gap couldn’t have been more than a foot wide, but beggars can’t be choosers.
When he walked into the opening, I squeezed the trigger. We saw him make one leap, and then he disappeared. I listened, but neither heard him run nor crash. The whole episode had happened in a matter of 30 seconds. It was 7:10.
Once we caught our breath, Glenn asked how I felt about the shot. I told him I was steady but also worried because I didn’t see him react to the shot. We decided to just sit and wait because it was so thick in there, and if the shot was marginal, we wanted to give him time to lie down and expire.
At 9:45 I told Glenn I couldn’t stand it any longer. We climbed down, and tentatively approached the split tree. Walking behind it, I saw nothing. Not a drop of blood or a piece of hair. Anyone who has hunted very long knows that sick feeling. It actually makes you feel physically ill. A chance at a monster is so rare, and to blow it is totally deflating. Glenn continued back past the tree about 20 yards and said, “Come here!” On the bank of the creek bed he pointed to a tuft of brown hair. I had hit him!
Though the hair was encouraging, we still could not find one drop of blood. After making several circles, we decided to slowly work opposite sides of the creek. Without blood we were flying blind.
After a few minutes Glenn returned to the spot we had found the hair and called me back. He looked back at the stand, and he said, “Put your gun down against that tree, and walk toward the stand so I can line up the shot.”
Slightly confused, I did as he asked and was slowly walking toward the stand when suddenly Glenn body-slammed me to the ground and started hitting me in the back, shouting, “He’s dead right over there!”
We both started laughing and punching each other. The buck was just 40 yards away in some thick stuff. Running to him, I was shocked at how big he was. I’ve been fortunate to take some big deer, but he looked like a giant. His 258-lb. body looked like an Iowa or Montana deer, but it did nothing to take away from his stunning rack.
He had grown into a main-frame 9-pointer with split G-2s and a split brow tine on his left side. His beams were 25 and 24 2/8 inches, and his longest tine was his left G2 that mea-sured 13 7/8. For as long as I live the picture of that awesome deer lying there will remain in my mind.
Of all the whitetails I’ve ever taken this was the most special, because he was on our property. He was fair chase. We had grown him on year-round Tecomate food plots. We had passed him up the year before, and we had finally taken him while hunting together. Glenn Garner is a world-class bowhunter and knows as much about growing big deer as anyone I’ve ever met. But more importantly he is one of my dearest friends. I’m so lucky to have him manage our properties and thrilled we were both there the morning Zeus went to meet his maker. He belonged to both of us.
I’m blessed to have a wonderful wife that understands my deer obsession. Blessed that God has entrusted me with land in my beautiful home state of Georgia and given me the resources to take care of it. And blessed that every once in a while he lets me see one of the giant bucks I lie there at night and dream about. Thank you Lord!