They say one of the hardest things to do in sports is to hit a 90 mph fastball. The equivalent in outdoor sports would be to kill a mature whitetail buck with a bow and arrow. As challenging and difficult as that is, bagging a trophy big enough to qualify for the bowhunting record books is even more elusive.
When you’ve done this several times—taken Georgia bucks that score above 125 inches—that is rare air.
Some hunters have traveled to the Midwest to bag their trophy in Illinois or Kansas, where mature bucks are generally more plentiful and certainly patternable. Bowhunters who have arrowed multiple record-class bucks in Georgia are in a special club. When you can take numerous mature bucks with a bow and arrow in the Peach State, you’re doing something right, and you’re likely doing something different than most hunters.
There are only a handful of Georgia bowhunters who have three or more Pope and Young bucks on their resume.
I talked to three of them who I know through social media and the GON Forum to try to see what their tactics and strategies are for killing mature bucks, and what they might do differently from most of us.
Roger Reynolds is a 45-year-old contractor who hunts in Rockdale County. In 1994, he decided to go bow-only when he gained permission to hunt a 400-acre tract where the landowner stipulated that only archery hunting would be allowed. That began a hunting career that has seen Roger harvest 10 bucks that scored around 130 inches, with six of them netting above the record-book minimum of 125 inches.
“My strategy is to hunt weird spots, tight places that no one else wants to hunt,” said Roger. “My stands are off the beaten path, tucked away in thickets where the bucks feel comfortable.”
He’ll find spots in thick cover with a single acorn-dropping oak or some well-used scrapes. Oftentimes he won’t be able to see more than 20 yards, but that Roger said those are the type areas where the mature bucks live.
In 2008, Reynolds was set up in a thick privet area with water oak trees and some scrapes. It was dawn on Nov. 10 and barely light enough to see when Roger turned to spot a buck 22 yards away standing on the same trail that he had just walked in on. The buck sensed something amiss, but the human scent was not strong enough for him to bolt, so the buck just stood there nervously looking around. The hunter took about four minutes—an eternity when a mature buck is so close—to slowly stand, grab his bow, aim and shoot the buck without it seeing him. The 10-pointer scored 132 inches gross and netted 129.
Roger hangs his stands only in the summer, and he doesn’t use climbing stands. He runs trail cameras constantly and frequently moves them.
“I run cameras so I know when and where they are,” Roger explains. “I’ll place them on hot scrapes during the rut, food sources such as dropping oaks, and on trails for inventory. I do my best to determine if a buck is there, and if I spend enough time in the area, I may get a crack at him.”
Roger’s biggest buck was one he called Junior that he followed for years on trail camera. Roger had all the sheds from the 4 1/2-year-old buck and hunted him hard. On the firearms opener in late October in 2007, Reynolds was bowhunting by a dropping white oak in a privet thicket. Deer were moving well, and he had seen nine bucks that morning, all small bucks. But when Junior appeared at a scrape 25 yards away, it was time to shoot. After messing in the scrape, the buck walked down the trail, and Roger drilled the 144-inch trophy.
Hunting in thick areas, such as privet thickets, is one of the keys to his success. As nice as it is to sit in the pretty open hardwoods, that’s not where mature bucks are found unless they’re following an estrous doe. That’s how he killed a 133-inch buck in 2006 as it followed a doe into a perfect hardwood ridge. However, Roger’s stand was next to a thick overgrown field that the deer used as sanctuary cover.
An intriguing tactic for Roger is his knack for playing the wind. Many Georgia hunters do not take this into account simply because the wind seems to be constantly shifting here, and deer can come from many directions.
“I started playing the wind in 2004,” Roger said. “You have to know your area and how the wind flows through it. The terrain turns the wind and creates eddies.”
Learning those wind patterns involves trial and error, getting busted, and watching milkweed or wind floaters.
“I’d rather hunt a steady 10 to 15 mph wind than a light and variable. A steady wind is best,” Roger said.
Based on what the deer sign tells him, he’ll set up downwind of the food source or where most of the deer sign or trails are located to avoid getting busted.
Roger also believes in putting his time in the woods. In addition to summer stand set up and running cameras, he fervently hunts more than 50 times each season pursuing these bucks.
“You have to hunt where they are first, pass up the small bucks, and hunt a lot,” Roger said. “I laugh when people say that I’m lucky. They don’t know how much time I put in behind the scenes.”
Billy Bouchillon grew up in Newton County and just recently retired from being the Deputy City Manager of Covington. Billy got into hunting on his own and became an accomplished competition archer, winning the state championship seven times.
He killed a 135-inch 12-pointer in 1999, the first day of Georgia’s muzzleloader season, and never hunted with a firearm since. In 2002, Newton County began allowing permit bowhunting on their treated sewage wastewater Land Application System property, and Billy took advantage of it.
“I was hunting a hardwood ridge with acorns and had killed a doe the first afternoon,” Billy recalls. “At 11 a.m. this buck came cruising through, and I took him with a 45 yard shot.”
His first record-book buck was a 9-pointer that grossed 142 and netted 127 inches.
“I got that buck pretty much because I was in the stand late in the day, when others were at the check station,” Billy said.
Other factors that contributed to his success was being on previously unhunted land and hunting a food source during the rut.
Billy’s next trophy was taken in 2008 at a stand he calls the Skinny Pinch, also in Newton County.
“The stand is a draw between a river and a cutover. The buck was sneaking back to his bed area, very cautious and wary, at 10:45 in the morning,” Billy said.
He had killed a 122-inch buck there the year before, and in 2008 the rut was kicking in early when Billy hunted there on Oct. 29 and killed a buck that grossed 153 and netted 137 as an 11-pointer.
Having superb shooting skill definitely helps Billy, now 56 years old, have confidence to make the high-pressure shots needed when a big buck shows up. Many of his kill shots were taken at distances that most bowhunters would have a hard time making. He hunts with an Obsession bow, Ramcat broadheads and Easton FMJ arrows weighing in at 460 grains.
“I like having an exit hole,” Billy admits.
In 2013, Billy let his wife talk him into going to the beach in early October.
“I couldn’t wait to go hunt,” he said after finally getting back. “I have a small spot behind the house, a small food plot, that my son had been hunting.”
Billy wasn’t expecting anything special, but 30 minutes before dark he saw a buck headed his way.
“If he kept coming, he would cross my path (where Billy walked in), so I knew I needed to shoot before then,” Billy said.
The 12-pointer scored 128 inches.
Billy’s final tip?
“If you’re going to kill a Pope & Young, you’ve got to stick with a bow. Most are killed during gun season,” he said.
Jay Maxwell, of Monroe, has arrowed 11 Georgia record-book bow-bucks, including the state record taken in Fulton County in 2007, a 213-inch non-typical monster.
Jay grew up in McDuffie County, and although he hunted extensively, he did not take any big bucks. When he moved closer to Atlanta and began hunting the suburbs, his trophy room started filling up.
“I moved to suburban Atlanta in 2007, that’s when it started happening,” Jay said. “You’ve got to hunt where the big bucks are.”
Jay hunts in the metro Atlanta counties of Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, and DeKalb. He likens the terrain and deer movement patterns to the Midwest states like Illinois, where deer travel in wooded strips and corridors. But in Illinois, beyond the wooded strips are agricultural fields, around Atlanta it is houses and office parks.
Starting in October, Jay sets up his trail cameras to begin monitoring the deer. During the season he checks them daily or at least every other day. He also has a network of fellow metro bowhunters who share information about the big bucks they’re seeing.
“My bucks are constantly changing, they travel a lot, sometimes five miles away,” Jay said.
“If I get a photo of a big deer, even if it’s only on 20 acres, I’ll pound that spot trying to get him. Chances are the buck is hung up on a hot doe in my block of woods. Then they’re gone,” Jay said.
That’s what happened in 2013 when he got a trail-cam photo of a buck they named Crawdaddy because of a crab-claw antler. A friend had photos of the buck at a feeder 8 miles away before the season, then the buck disappeared.
“On Oct. 20, I got a picture of him at a mock scrape both in the morning and the afternoon, and I knew he was there,” Jay said.
He hunted the 50-acre tract every morning for several days trying to get him.
“On the 25th, it was a crisp, cool morning, and I was seeing several small bucks including two small 8-pointers fighting. At about 8:30 I put up my binoculars and saw a rack, a shooter,” Jay recalls.
Jay did a snort-wheeze call to the buck, and he saw its posture change, and then the buck began walking toward him.
“I’m a very vocal deer hunter. I know when to call and when not to call,” he said. “I call to every deer, and 80 percent of the time they come. You have to know how to read them and watch their body language.”
Jay does this by frequently using his 10×42 binoculars that are always around his neck.
Crawdaddy closed the distance from 100 to 60 yards, and then the big buck stood still, looking.
“I had to convince him to keep coming, so I did some tending grunts, and he came on in licking his nose. At 25 yards he was facing me, and I was already at full draw. When he turned to go to a scrape, I shot him.”
The trophy buck was 147-inch 9-pointer and was Jay’s seventh Georgia record-book buck.
Active and aggressive calling is one of Jay’s keys to success, and he has used it many times to bag bucks. In 2014 he was hunting a main corridor trail next to a thicket.
“That’s one of my favorite places to blind call because I know a shooter could be bedded nearby,” he said.
On that October morning, he began calling as soon as it was light, and immediately he heard a deer walking in. It was a 100-inch 8-pointer that Jay let walk on by.
“Then I began more calling using tending grunts, a buck roar and grinding horns,” Jay said. “I heard another deer coming next, and at 25 yards I could see that it was ‘Jim Beam.’”
He had about 10 pictures of a buck he called Jim Beam because of its long, sweeping main beams. He had not seen the buck on camera in the last week, but apparently it was bedded up in the thicket. Jay arrowed him at 17 yards. This bow trophy was a 144-inch 10-pointer.
“I love having deer around me,” Jay admits. “They’re like live decoys.”
Knowing when and how to call and reading a deer’s body language is key to Jay’s success. He also credits trail camera as a valuable tool, and he keeps them set up on scrapes, even mock scrapes, all season. Also critical to success is proficiency with your tackle.
“You need to practice a lot,” Jays insists. “And know your equipment.”
The 38-year old is self-employed in nuisance wildlife control, which affords him time to hunt almost every morning during the season. That time, dedication and skill has earned Jay a crowded trophy room.
There are a few common themes among these successful bowhunters. The No. 1 ingredient is the necessity of hunting where big bucks live. If you’re not catching them on trail cameras, seeing big rubs or seeing the bucks themselves, it’s unlikely you’re going to be consistently successful. These three hunters are hunting suburban areas, but there are big bucks throughout the state. They are hunting them with their bow during the rut when most others hunters are toting rifles then.
All of these men are very proficient with their bows and practice a lot. When the shot materializes, they know they can make it and have the confidence and ability to put it where it needs to be. Trail cameras are a key component of tracking the locations and movement of mature bucks. Cameras are extremely helpful is knowing what, when, and where bucks are and provides valuable information.
The adage, ‘You can’t kill them at home’ is employed with these sportsmen. They hunt a lot, 50 times a season or more. The more you’re in the woods, the more chance you’ll be there when the buck finally comes by.
Roger Reynolds plays the wind and specializes in hunting thick out-of-the-way areas that other hunters don’t go and mature bucks do. Jay Maxwell hunts small urban pockets and is skilled at calling bucks. Billy Bouchillon tactically hunts locations that mature bucks travel.
They have a strategies and skills that work to consistently arrow big Georgia bucks.