Buckmasters Magazine



By Mike Handley

Put on your bibs, because here are a couple of ’Bama whitetails that’ll make you drool!

Alabama has one of the longest and most generous deer seasons in the country, as well as one of the largest herds. But it isn’t known for bucks that’ll make a discriminating hunter salivate like a dieter watching a KFC Double Down commercial.

There were quite a few exceptions last season, however. One such buck was taken on opening day of the state’s firearms season. Another was shot as the final week arrived.

Here’s the beef … supersized.


Had it not been day one of Alabama’s 2009 gun season, Keith Smith of Ramer probably would’ve stayed home on the gray afternoon of Nov. 21. He’d been out that morning, in the rain, but saw only a few does before throwing in the wet towel. Fed and dry, the itch returned around 2:30.

It would’ve been easy — even logical — to stay home. Keith had the whole nearly three-month-long season ahead of him. Plus, he was expecting his brother’s family for supper.

“But it was opening day,” he grinned.

By 3:00, the 45-year-old homebuilder was parking his truck at his favorite 40-acre tract — part of the family’s 260 in Montgomery County. The half-mile walk to his shooting house was twice the distance he’d driven.

The house is no ordinary box blind. It’s 8 square feet, roofed, windowed and on stilts. It overlooks a 100-yard-long green field flanked on both sides by woolly woods.

“That stand is almost too nice,” Keith admitted. “My framer built it about three years ago. I just told him I wanted a shooting house that would accommodate two or more people, because I like to take kids.

“Before 2009, I’d never shot a deer from it,” he continued. “The highlight of my 2008 season was taking a friend’s two boys. I gave them two-hour shifts, and one of them shot his first deer — a 6-pointer. I thought the other one might be a little jealous, but you should’ve seen them high-fiving each other.”

As Keith quietly approached the field, he saw a few does feeding in it.

“I didn’t want to spook anything getting into the house, so I sat down and watched the does through my binoculars,” he said. “The wind was blowing in my favor. It was just a matter of being still.”

The does eventually ran out of the food plot with their tails high. Keith knew he hadn’t spooked them. Eager to see what had sent them scurrying — or at least to get into the house while he had the chance — he climbed the stairs, set his rifle in the corner, opened the windows and sat in one of the swivel chairs.

Twenty minutes later, a couple of spikes entered the field. The next arrival was a whole lot bigger. If Keith had been chewing gum at that point, he might’ve swallowed it.

“It was like a mirage,” Keith said. “I couldn’t believe it. After one quick peek through the binoculars, just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I reached for my rifle. I can’t believe I didn’t bang it on a wall or something.”

One shot dropped the (processor-weighed) 285-pound buck in its tracks.

Supper that night was a bit delayed. Keith’s brother, Earl, was happy to drive a four-wheeler and trailer to help Keith load his 18-pointer.

Split beams must be a genetic trait on the deer there.

“Earl shot a big buck with an extra beam on the same piece of property back in 2007,” Keith said. “A friend from Louisiana shot one from there, too.”


Had Bill Curran not recovered the buck he shot on Jan. 23, he might’ve joined the tinfoil hat-wearing crowd. From the moment the 33-year-old tire store owner entered the woods that day, almost nothing went according to plan.

A less stable deer hunter might’ve heard the wind whispering with the trees; perhaps answered them. For it sure seemed a conspiracy was afoot.

When Bill woke at 4:30 that Monday morning and walked outside, he saw stars. The clear sky was in sharp contrast to the storm clouds that had roiled overhead the previous evening, when he hunted and saw nothing.

SupersizedSince he didn’t have to open his store until 10:00, he donned his camouflage and drove to the property he and a half-dozen friends hunt in neighboring Russell County.  Next stop was a fixed-position stand, chosen because of its location in relation to the wind’s direction. Very soon after he was aloft, however, the breeze shifted in the worst possible way. So Bill got down and went to a climbing stand.

“It took me awhile to get over there,” he said. “By the time I reached it, it was already prime time. I was all sweaty and frustrated. I had mud on my boots, which had grown to the size of snowshoes. My feet wouldn’t even fit in the stirrups.”

Bill was peeved. Once he began scaling the tree, he just kept going up until he was about 25 feet high. It was as if every 6 inches he climbed allowed him to blow off more steam.

“I was higher than I was comfortable,” he admitted. “But it seemed solid enough.”

The treestand overlooked a hardwood ridge separated from a pine plantation by a small creek. He’d followed a road through the pines to reach it.

Not 20 minutes after he’d settled in, Bill saw a deer in the pines. It stepped into the road and began following it — taking the same route the hunter had taken a few minutes earlier. As soon as Bill glimpsed the tall rack, he knew it was a shooter.

When the buck stopped at 80 or 90 yards and looked his way, Bill touched off the .308. His only target was the deer’s neck, not a shot he normally takes, but he was convinced the animal wasn’t going to continue walking into the hardwoods.

“It had to know I was there,” he said.

At the boom, the giant whitetail collapsed like Newton’s apple. But while Bill was frantically fishing in his pocket for his cell phone, eager to tell everyone he knew, the undead rose from its leafy bed.

Bill had stuffed three cartridges into his rifle that morning. By the time the zombie buck disappeared into the pines, the gun was empty.

When Bill walked over to where the buck had fallen, it was as if Wes Craven had designed the set. The deer couldn’t have gone far, Bill thought. But rather than plunge into the briar-choked thicket, where the wet pine straw made tracking difficult, he decided to walk out to his truck and call for help. His father and a friend arrived an hour later.

The three men zigzagged through the pines until almost 1:00. That’s when Bill remembered seeing a flier someplace in Opelika about a guy who tracks wounded deer with a dog. He couldn’t remember where he’d seen it, and none of his friends knew. All he could recall was the guy lived in Smiths Station.

A call to a friend in the same town solved the riddle, and Bill called the man.

A.J. Niette arrived in short order, dog box in the bed of his two-wheel-drive truck. En route to the pine thicket, however, the mud claimed the houndsman’s truck, and they had to transfer the dog box onto another.

When they finally got to the spot, the tracking job through the wall of briars took less than 20 minutes. The beagle-pointer mix and the brindle-colored cur made short work of it. After the (second) coup de grace — the first attempt flew wide — the deed was done.

“I missed the first time,” Bill said. “You just don’t know what it’s like, walking up to within 40 yards of a buck like that, and it’s looking at you.”

Bill doubled A.J.’s fee.

By the time they got the deer to a friend’s shop, close to 60 people were there to ogle the 15-pointer. Many more arrived afterward.

The rumors started the very next day, and they all eventually reached Bill’s ears. Some protested he merely found the dead buck; that it had been shot by someone on the neighboring property four days earlier. So unusually big for that part of the state, there also were claims that the deer was pen-raised; that it might’ve been “flown in.”

“I’m not sure where that last one came from, other than left field,” he said.

“It got to the point I just wanted it all to go away. I never expected any of that,” Bill said. “I won’t say I regret shooting this buck, because I don’t. But these rumors were just crazy. It was like a great big Easter egg hunt with only one egg. I just happened to get it.”

Bill says he passed up at least six 120-inch or better bucks last year. All the guys in his group are like that. There might not be any formal rule or definition of a shooter, but if any one of them brings in a small buck, the price is eternal ribbing.

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This article was published in the Winter 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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