Southwest Georgia has long been known for its pristine large acreage plantations, southern hospitality and bobwhite quail. However, another trend over the last 30-plus years is the region’s reputation for producing big whitetails.
The corridor of the lower Flint River has been a long-established big deer area, plus Colquitt and Worth counties rank as two of the state’s top three counties for producing bucks that score high enough to make the Boone & Crockett record book.
Growing up in the region, near Moultrie, Jonathan Summerlin, like most kids in his age group, spent many of his fall mornings and afternoons in the outdoors hunting. However, deer hunting was not his preference.
“I always enjoyed the social part of deer hunting, being with friends and family, but what really got me excited was going on a dove or waterfowl hunt,” Jonathan said. “I really didn’t begin to get serious about deer hunting until about seven or eight years ago. My family enjoys the meat, and while I would never be categorized as a trophy hunter, I hoped of one day having the chance to take a big deer.”
Last fall, Jonathan’s plans included returning to a nearby farm that he had hunted various times over the past five seasons. The actual site was a stand of natural pines flanked by agricultural fields that are rotated year to year between cotton and peanuts. A large acreage tract of private timberland borders the location.
“Within the pines is a 14-foot elevated blind with a couple of cut shooting lanes,” Jonathan said. “However, most of the timber is mature, so visibility really isn’t a problem. In some directions it is possible to see more than 200 yards. In regard to deer harvest, there are no specific antler criteria; however, as a general rule only mature bucks and does are taken.
“About a week before the season, I scouted the area and found numerous tracks and droppings around two food strips planted in iron-clay peas,” he continued. “There was also a large fresh scrape and the remains of a young pine the buck had practically destroyed. At that point, I was pretty optimistic about opening day.”
Unfortunately, tracks and rubs don’t always guarantee deer sightings. Jonathan, along with his 11-year-old son, Cameron spent the majority of opening weekend in the blind without seeing a single deer. Being familiar with the area and having hunted the site a number of times in the past, it was hard for him to understand the sudden absence of deer activity.
“The following Friday morning I had an opportunity to hunt the site again,” Jonathan noted. “I was planning to take my son again the next morning, and didn’t want him to experience another outing like the previous weekend. I really felt that this location was our best option, but if there was still no activity in the area, I could explore the option of hunting another farm.”
On this particular occasion, it didn’t take long for the action to begin. Shortly after daybreak, Jonathan was looking down one of the shooting lanes when he suddenly spotted a large buck about 150 yards away, as it entered the woods from a distant cotton field. Despite the yardage, he had no problem seeing the deer’s big rack. Unfortunately, about as quickly as the buck appeared, it immediately disappeared back into the trees.
“Needless to say, I was pretty distraught,” Jonathan said. “I sent my wife, Samantha, a text saying I had just missed getting a shot at the biggest buck of my life. However, within minutes, I happened to glance off to my left and saw that another large buck had exited a different section of the field and was now standing about 75 yards away. The deer appeared to be staring in my direction, and my initial thought was that it had spotted my movements. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. Instead, the big deer appeared to be lifting its nose in the air, apparently checking for any available scent. I immediately dropped down on one knee, got my rifle positioned and clicked off the safety. But before I could shoot, a doe suddenly came out of nowhere, running between me and the buck, and he instantly took off after her.”
Understandably, the hunter’s nerves and heart rate had now risen to near peak levels. In the brief span of a few short minutes, he had experienced encounters with two giant whitetails.
“Admittedly, at that point I was wound up pretty tight,” Jonathan said. “Being unable to get a shot at either deer was extremely frustrating. I kept thinking about what I should have done differently, but everything happened so fast.”
While reflecting on the unpredictable and disappointing happenings of his hunt, Jonathan suddenly detected the distant sounds of a running deer. Within seconds, it became apparent that it was headed in his direction. Still holding the rifle, he continued to listen while watching for any sign of movement through the trees.
“It crossed my mind that the doe might have circled out through the timber and was now coming back,” Jonathan explained. “If that was the case and the buck was still with her, I could possibly have a shooting opportunity.”
Considering the amazing twists and turns that had already taken place that morning, one more surprise for the hunter seemed only appropriate. When the deer was finally sighted, it wasn’t a doe that triggered Jonathan’s sudden adrenaline rush.
“It only took one glimpse for me to instantly recognize the same big buck I had briefly sighted just after daybreak,” Jonathan said. “There was no mistaking the huge rack. The deer was trotting when he came into view, but he quickly slowed to a steady walk. When it reached the approximate location where the second buck had been standing, it abruptly stopped and put its nose to the ground. At that point, I already had the crosshairs aligned, and I squeezed the trigger. The deer dropped in its tracks.”
For several minutes, the hunter remained in the stand, trying to calm his nerves and gather his thoughts while replaying the morning’s seemingly unbelievable sequence of events. When he eventually attempted to text his wife, it was nearly impossible for his fingers to formulate the words.
During the process of getting the big deer out of the woods, Jonathan, assisted by his cousin Mike Sanders, counted a total of 19 antler points on the massive rack, including an unusual twisted drop tine on the right antler. The buck’s body was also huge, tallying a live weight of 272 pounds at the local deer cooler. Understandably, during this process the buck generated a great deal of local attention and many photos were taken. A couple of these images made their way to the school that Jonathan’s son attended, which pretty well made the big whitetail their topic of the day. In fact, Cameron was eventually allowed some time to go see his dad’s buck.
From an appearance standpoint, the buck’s exceptionally massive non-typical rack is awesome. Tine length is particularly outstanding, with five of the 19 total tines measuring between 13 7/8 and 10 4/8 inches. The right antler includes 12 points—three are normal and nine are abnormal. The left antler includes five normal points and only two abnormal points.
In regard to scoring, the rack’s 11 abnormal points, totaling 54 3/8 inches, push the gross non-typical score to an amazing 211 2/8. However, measuring guidelines still require asymmetry deductions for the rack’s basic typical frame. This is a very important factor in this particular scoring, because there are no G-3 or G-4 typical tines present on the right beam. This results in a very significant deduction total of 32 inches, which drops the final non-typical score to 179 2/8. It is unfortunate that this final figure falls slightly below the minimum entry level for record-book consideration; however, there is certainly no question the buck is truly a record-class whitetail. In fact, the buck still ranked as the top non-typical gun kill for the 2014-2015 season.