Mature bucks’ antlers might grow a half-inch or more a day during the spring and summer months, but that doesn’t mean they’ll double in size from one year to the next. After all, unless they’re on the downswing, whitetails have to regrow what was shed (or something similar) before adding mass, length or extra points.
That wasn’t the case with a south Georgia buck in 2013, however.
The deer never shed its 2012 rack, which means all new growth – nearly 100 inches – sprouted from the crown it was already wearing.
Mikell Fries would’ve been elated to arrow the distinctive whitetail in 2012. Not only had the 38-year-old bowhunter never taken a deer in velvet, but the 135-inch rack was also much larger than average in Evans County, Georgia.
“If you take a buck in the 130s where we hunt, you’ve done something,” he said. “Such a deer would make the top 10 in this county.”
Mikell first became aware of this buck from a trail camera photograph.
“It was a slick 8 then,” he said. “It had pretty much the same frame as it does now, minus the 18 abnormal points. Its rack might’ve gone 135 inches, which is really outstanding.”
That he didn’t put an arrow through the 4x4 wasn’t for lack of trying. He climbed into treestands at least 10 times a week, every evening and at least a couple of mornings, whenever he could find time away from the family poultry business.
But he never saw it on the hoof.
Prior to the 2013 bow season, a neighbor called to see if Mikell had collected any photographs of a big non-typical in velvet. When he checked his cameras later, the strange deer was one of the first images he saw.
He recognized that 8-point frame immediately.
After a month of checking cameras and watching for the deer, Mikell thought he’d patterned it. It was a loner, for one thing, and it seemed to be spending its days in a thicket, coming out only at night to visit a cotton field on the neighboring tract.
It sometimes visited a nearby cornfield and a pea patch, too. But when the acorns started falling, it spent more time within its travel corridor – an oak flat beside a small creek flanking the cotton field.
During the week leading up to the bow opener, Mikell’s cameras photographed the buck nearly every night.
He knew his best chance was to stake out the paths it took to its favorite dinner tables. All he needed was for the wind to cooperate.
“I knew it was never going to be rutting, which meant it wouldn’t be doing anything stupid later on,” he said. Thus, food sources were his best shot.
On Monday, Oct. 14, he retrieved the first daytime photo of the buck. It stepped in front of a camera at noon. The next day, it was photographed at 7 p.m., during the last hour of daylight.
On Wednesday, Mikell scaled some climbing sticks and was sitting in a stand 22 feet up a water oak. He was aloft by 5:00 with two and a half hours of prime time in front of him.
Close to 7:00, Mikell heard an eerie coughing sound.
What in the world is that? he wondered. Soon after he heard it again, he saw a buck – THE buck – fast approaching.
“It came in too fast for me to do anything,” he said. “I couldn’t stand or even pick up my bow, let alone take a shot.”
The buck didn’t go far, however. It stopped within 20 yards of Mikell’s tree and began snuffling up acorns.
“When it coughed again, so close, it liked to have scared me to death,” he said. “I didn’t know deer could make that kind of noise. Before that, I thought the coughing might’ve been someone trespassing.”
Because the deer was so close, standing was out of the question. But Mikell did manage to take hold of his bow, since the deer was facing straight away from him.
“I have to admit that I gave some hard thought to taking that up-the-tail shot and hoping for the best,” he said.
“But I decided to wait instead.”
In the interim, a second buck came into the flat and started working a scrape. The big one looked at it, but it didn’t turn its body. And it eventually resumed eating.
When a third buck, a smaller one, approached, the big guy turned broadside, and Mikell skewered it from 16 yards.
The deer ran for about 60 yards, and Mikell was pretty sure he heard it go to ground.
“When I finally stopped shaking, I called my wife,” he said. “I’d told her that if I ever got that buck, I wasn’t go to take any chances; I was going to leave it until the next morning.
“But the arrow looked so good and the trail so inviting, I started following it,” he added. “Besides, I kept remembering the crashing noise.”
The deer was very dead when he found it.
The animal hadn’t grown much – body-wise – in the year since Mikell got that first photo, when it was a wide 4x4. It still weighed close to 130 pounds on the hoof. But the rack had packed on at least 90 more inches.
Mikell couldn’t find any injuries on the buck that might’ve explained the poor weight. But he and a veterinarian friend discovered that it had suffered some testicular damage. One testicle was missing altogether, and the remaining one was much smaller than it should’ve been.
Mikell thinks the animal was 4 1/2 years old.
When news spread, it seemed like everybody had an opinion on why the buck never shed its antlers or lost the velvet. Some even opined that the well heeled businessman had shot the deer in Texas and claimed it was a Georgia buck, which was dismissed easily enough by the trail camera photos Mikell’s neighbor got of the deer that year.
This explains why such a big south Georgia deer hasn’t been plastered all over the Internet or appeared in other magazines.
“Because of all that, I just decided to keep a low profile,” Mikell said. “It wasn’t worth the stress.”
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Hunter: Mikell Fries
BTR Official Score: 215 1/8
BTR Composite Score: 231 7/8
Weapon: Compound Bow
Location: Evans County, Georgia
Date: October 16, 2013