For Wendell Davis, one of the major benefits of growing up on his family’s Ben Hill County farm was participating in the annual fall opening of deer season. Over the years, Wendell and other family members have had some great hunts and taken a number of impressive bucks.
“Every year there is always a natural anticipation leading up to the season,” Wendell said. “But last year, a surprising development in late summer definitely heightened the excitement. Around the end of July, we decided to put out some corn at a site where my parents could sit in the afternoon with some of the grandkids to watch deer. We also set out a trail camera at the location. Several days later when checking the camera’s recordings, we were stunned to find images of a giant buck included in the group of deer photos.”
The big deer was never actually seen in person, but the photos definitely made a lasting impression on everyone involved. Not surprisingly, weeks later, as opening day of gun season approached, Wendell selected a stand location on a nearby section of the property.
Much of the farm’s acreage is forested, a combination of planted pines and mixed timber; however, there are also several large fields that intersperse the woodlands. At one time, these were planted in row crops by Wendell’s grandfather, W.J. Wilson Jr., who managed a large farming operation.
“We no longer maintain any large-scale agricultural plantings, but we do keep the fields bush-hogged,” Wendell notes. “Additionally, in early fall we plant four or five 1- to 2-acre openings to a mixture of soybeans, wheat and oats. The deer are definitely attracted to these plantings, but they also spend a lot of time feeding in the areas that we bush-hog.”
Wendell hunted a number of times during the first few weeks of the season. Whenever possible, he took along his son, Elan, who was about to turn 7. They sighted a number of deer, but unfortunately, the big whitetail buck seen on trail-camera did not make an appearance.
Occasionally, and often without warning, life throws a curveball. For Wendell, an early November trip to the doctor’s office because of some abdominal discomfort resulted in an extensive array of tests, with the ultimate diagnosis of colon cancer.
“I don’t think anyone is prepared for that type of news,” Wendell said. “But the doctors assured me my situation was completely treatable. I have always been a pretty strong-willed individual, and while I made the commitment to do everything the doctors advised, I wasn’t about to stop living my life, and that included deer hunting.”
Cooler temperatures in mid-November improved hunting conditions. The rut also kicked into gear with a number of small bucks observed chasing does. Wendell hadn’t forgotten about the giant buck in the trail-camera photos, but considering the amount of time that had elapsed without the deer ever being sighted, he reasoned it had likely moved on to adjoining land.
“We don’t use trail cameras during the season,” Wendell notes. “There’s no arguing about the data they supply, but I’ve always been concerned about the disturbance factor in regard to frequent trips in and out of the hunting area and scent left behind.”
On Nov. 20, a surprising call from his dad prompted an immediate change in Wendell’s future hunting plans. While out early that morning checking on the farm’s pecan trees, the elder Davis jumped a huge buck near one of the planted food plots. While he couldn’t positively identify the deer, there was no doubt it was the biggest buck he had ever seen on the farm.
“From his description, I was fairly confident it was the same big deer in the photos,” Wendell said. “The sighting somewhat explained my lack of success at encountering the buck, since the location was on the opposite side of the farm, well over a mile from where I had been hunting.
“Obviously, I was familiar with the terrain in that area of the farm, but not having hunted there at all during the season, I was completely in the dark as to deer activity or current movement patterns. Not wanting to disturb the site, and realizing there was already a permanent ladder stand positioned in the woods line about 150 yards from the food plot; I decided to sit there the following morning. Fortunately, Elan was out of school for the weekend and was able to go with me.”
Well before dawn on Nov. 21, Wendell and his son made their way down the woods line and climbed into position. The weather was ideal—clear and cool with no wind.
“My expectations that morning were simply to observe deer movements around the field and food plot,” Wendell said. “With the rut going on, I knew bucks wouldn’t be coming to the plot to feed, but there was a chance they might show up to check on any does feeding there.”
Shortly after daybreak, a doe walked out of the woods approximately 50 yards away. After pausing briefly at the edge of the field, she turned and continued on toward the food plot.
“The doe acted extremely nervous, and I kept thinking there was another deer behind her, but nothing else appeared,” Wendell said. “However, after about 10 minutes, I began hearing the low grunts of a buck from back in the timber. I whispered to Elan that there was a buck coming.
“At the time, I was just happy about everything Elan was getting to experience,” the hunter continued. “I don’t think I seriously considered that the buck heading our way might actually be the big deer. But there was certainly no doubt seconds later, when the buck exited the woods, 50 yards away.”
Wendell instinctively grabbed his old Savage bolt-action Model 110, a gun he has carried for more than 22 years. For a brief second, he thought of stopping the deer with a mouth bleat, but he quickly discarded that idea as an unnecessary risk. Quickly maneuvering into shooting position, he aligned the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the buck immediately crashed to the ground.
“Son, I believe we got the big deer,” Wendell exclaimed.
“Yep, that’s him for sure,” Elan responded.
The hunters remained in the stand for several minutes, just to make sure the deer didn’t get back up. Everything had happened so quickly, there was no time to get nervous. But now, looking out toward the big whitetail, Wendell could feel the excitement as he reflected on the roller coaster range of emotions he had experienced within a few short weeks.
“After walking to where the buck was lying, we had a quiet moment of thankfulness and appreciation for the animal,” Wendell said. “Up close, the buck’s size far exceeded my expectations, especially the rack. It seemed almost too big to be a south Georgia deer. It’s hard to express all the feelings at that moment, but I was really thrilled to have taken such a great animal, particularly on our farm and with my son being there.”
Later, official scoring measurements revealed the buck’s truly outstanding size. The 9-point typical frame includes exceptionally long main beams of nearly 28 inches. However, tine length is even more remarkable, with G-2s that tape 14 and 13 2/8 inches, followed by matching G-3s of 12 5/8 inches. After grossing 167 6/8, minor deductions drop the rack’s final score to 164 6/8. What makes this score so remarkable is that it represents only an 8-point frame, since the extra unmatched G-4 tine is deducted from the final score.
Within Ben Hill County, the buck now stands as the top all-time whitetail according to GON’s official County-by-County records, replacing a giant 7×7 typical, scoring 162 4/8, taken in 2009 by Dwight Thompson.
We checked in with Wendell on Friday, Oct. 14, the day before the special youth deer season week started. Wendell said he has finished chemo and had his final surgery, and everything is looking good.
Additionally, Elan has a new youth-model rifle in .243 caliber.
Hopefully, Elan may have a chance to tag his very first Davis Farm whitetail, and no one will be happier than his dad.