It began, like many hunts for a giant buck these days, with a trail-camera photo.
The camera was put out by Hawkinsville’s Blake Smith, 39, on one of his two Pulaski County farms. On August 19, Blake got a photo of a wide, impressive buck, and when deer season started, his hunt began.
“I couldn’t stay off my deer stand,” Blake said. “I had to make myself stay off of it so I wouldn’t push him too hard.”
The area where Blake was hunting, and where he got the trail-camera photo, was a 10- acre food plot planted in chicory, alfalfa, wheat and greens.
Blake had a tripod stand overlooking the food plot, and during an early November hunt from that stand he witnessed an amazing sight. The buck he was hunting — the one he recognized from the trail-camera photo — suddenly bolted out of the woods 75 yards from his stand, running wide open across the food plot. And something was running behind the buck.
“For a second I thought it was a doe running behind him,” Blake said. “I threw my scope up, and I couldn’t believe it — a coyote was chasing him.”
The buck was running too fast for Blake to get an ethical shot.
“He was running a two-second 40. He was smoking it across that field,” Blake said.
Later that week, Blake stayed home from work on a Friday.
“I was not feeling well, to put it lightly. I just kind of laid around all day, but I went and got in my deer stand late that afternoon,” Blake said.
His decision to tough it out in the stand that evening despite being sick was about to pay off.
“To my left, out came a doe. She was acting very, very bizarre. All of a sudden she bolted down the length of the field, and then she just stood there, like she was waiting. Right where she was standing, that’s where he came out. It’s like she knew to run all the way down the field to that exact spot. At first I didn’t know for sure it was him. I was looking through my binoculars. He turned and looked in my direction, and I still didn’t know it was him, but I knew it was a shooter. I hit him with the range finder, and then I got nervous. He was way out there, 230 yards.
“When I shot, he bolted straight up in the air. I said, ‘He’s hit.’
“Then I said, ‘Blake, sit.’
“I sat 10 minutes, and then I couldn’t stand it. I started walking down the road along edge of the woods, and I found blood. He ran right along his scrape line. I’m stepping on leaves, and it sounds like a bazooka going off it’s so dry. You know what happened — he got up. I could see him walking away at a brisk pace. I said, ‘I can’t believe I’ve done this.’ I sat down on a log, and I was really kicking myself. I sat there for a good 20 minutes until it got pitch-black dark. I found where he had laid down, and there was a pool of blood. I went another 80 yards, and there he was.”
Blake took the buck to Cochran taxidermist Frog Mullis, and he put his rifle up in the gun cabinet.
“When I killed him, I cleaned my gun and put it up,” Blake said.
Blake grew up on a farm in Pulaski County, and he started deer hunting when he was 8 years old.
“We had a pretty good deer population when I started, though nothing like it was in the 80s when the population exploded. Then it tapered back down, and it got better in the mid 90s.
“We didn’t see any big bucks when I first started deer hunting — fours, sixes and basket eights is about all you ever saw.”
Blake killed his first deer, a doe, when he was 9. Blake’s dad built stands over small food plots — long before most hunters knew what a food plot was. The plots were only about 10 feet by 10 feet where he scratched in wheat or oats with a metal rake.
“He was a pretty smart fellow,”
Blake said of his late dad. “He killed one of the first bucks recorded from Pulaski in the late 60s.
“I became obsessed with deer hunting in my early teens. We had a farm we lived on, and then we had another farm about 6 miles away where we hunted. My brother was a few years older than me, and my parents let him drive an old Volkswagen to the other farm so we could hunt. I think I was 11 when I killed my first buck. It was a 4- pointer. We field dressed him with Old- Timer Buck knives we had. We didn’t know what to do with him, so we stuffed him in the back seat of the Volkswagen. Of course the dang thing didn’t start. I was covered head to toe in blood from trying to field dress the buck, and I had to walk three miles to the closest house. The lady opened the door and about had a stroke when she saw a little kid covered in blood.
“From that point on, I was obsessed with deer hunting. When my brother got older and started chasing girls, I’d strap a gun on and ride my motorcycle down there and hunt.
“I’m still obsessed. I’ll get up and hunt for 10 minutes before work. Back in ’97 I killed a 130-class deer wearing penny loafers with my camo pulled over my work clothes. If I could get there before dark, I’d go.
“As I got older I got into serious food plots. And we all decided years ago that we wouldn’t shoot smaller bucks. I know that a lack of hunting pressure, letting these deer walk, certainly played a large role in what I killed last season.”
Putting his rifle away last season lasted all of a couple of days, until his friend Al McCranie called and wanted to go hunting.
“I said, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’”
Blake planned to take Al to the farm where he had killed the big buck, but first he went to his other farm to check on some timber cutting that was going on. He had a ladder stand in the back of the truck.
“I rode back there looking at an area where we were going to plant trees. There were burn piles smoldering, lots of logging activity,” Blake said. “I decided to ride up and look at this hardwood ridge. It’s a beautiful spot, kind of a sink-hole on top of a ridge, and nothing but white oaks. I decided to put the ladder stand up there, thinking I might come back in two or three weeks. My friend said, ‘Blake, the only thing I’d change is I’d hunt here this weekend. This is a pretty spot.’ ”
The next Saturday, that’s where Blake and Al headed.
“I put Al on a food plot, and I went on up to my stand on the hardwood ridge.I was about 300 yards above him,” Blake said.
The action started first near Al’s stand. In a cypress bottom below the food plot he was hunting, Al heard two bucks grunting very aggressively. Al grunted back, then he tried a grunt- snort-wheeze call he had just bought. Instantly everything got quiet in the cypress bottom. Then he spotted a small 8-pointer that wasn’t big enough to shoot.
About 30 minutes later, Blake spotted a doe, and it was coming from the direction of Al’s stand.
“I looked behind her and saw nothing but horns,” Blake said.
“My theory is when he finally ran the younger guy off, the doe started traveling and he went with her.
“The doe was 40 yards in front of him. They were walking straight toward a burn pile that was still smoldering, which suprised me. It was kind of an open area, but he was continually getting behind something where I couldn’t get a shot. I had my gun up. ‘OK, there he is.’ Boom, something else would get in the way. He got parallel at this point, and he was between two young hardwoods. He decides he’s going to stop. That was my shot. It was 75 yards away.”
Blake shot the buck with a single- shot Thompson-Center Encore.
“I had bought it with a .50 caliber barrel, but I couldn’t get it sighted in like I wanted to. So I bought a .30/06 barrel. I had it sighted in good, but I’d never hunted with it. It looked so pretty in the case that I decided to take it that day.”
Blake didn’t have a feel for how big the buck was until he picked up its head and saw the spread.
“We had a tape measure and we started measuring right there, and we’re hitting 23, 24 inches on the inside spread,” Blake said. “We were pumped.”
Blake’s second Pulaski County buck of the season scored very well. The wide-racked buck netted 159 4/8, making it the No. 1 buck taken in the entire state during the 2006-07 deer season, and the buck also broke
the all-time county record.