It was a very welcomed and unseasonably cool September day for the opening of the 2015 Georgia archery deer season. This day found me thirty feet up a nice loblolly pine, overlooking a lush acre and a half of the prettiest iron and clay peas we had ever planted. Plenty of lime, triple twenty fertilizer, and that stark Georgia red clay really had those peas shining in all the glory they could muster, and I was a proud part-time farmer. Anticipation was high, thanks to a long hot summer of waiting, and the cool temperatures made the evening hunt an absolute delight.
We tend to give all our stands a name, and this one was no exception. The lock-on was given the distinct honor of being called “KHA”, of which I will not give the full definition, but one can certainly ascertain its’ meaning on his own. The general area where the lock on was situated is called “The Front Stand” as there is a nice shooting house still standing that was built several years ago, and it was on the front part of the property by the county road and dubbed as such. KHA produced a nice non-typical ten pointer for me that we affectionally named “Coat Rack.”
As the shadows of those tall loblolly pines started to lengthen into the sea of peas, a nice doe and two fawns eased into the field and started to feed, causing a dump of adrenaline, a gasp in my breath, and a quick beating of my pulse. I hope I never lose that feeling. As the three deer fed in the peas, I accepted the fact that my opening day hunt was already a complete success.
The minutes passed by in a blur, and that magic time when the sun gives way to the night, movement in the far-right corner of the field caught my eye, and I shifted slightly to see what was approaching the field. To my delight, a couple of two-year-old bucks were sparring like young bucks do, and I had to get my binoculars up to see exactly what they were. One was a nice little eight pointer, and the other buck really got my attention – a very good looking one hundred and ten-inch ten pointer. What a delight to see this young buck! I got some video of the bucks with my phone and enjoyed the waning hours of the evening watching them. My son and I immediately gave this buck the nickname of “FST” for “Front Stand Ten,” and said he was off limits with the hopes that he would survive to become an older deer with very good genetics.
We only got a few trail camera pictures of FST that year and had high hopes he survived the hunting season. Pressure around our farm is intense and the long Georgia firearms season makes it hard for a nice buck to reach that magical five and half years of age when they really show their potential, but we were hopeful FST made it.
As the calendar always does, time rapidly flashed by, and the 2016 hunting season was quickly approaching. Late August trail camera pictures revealed a wonderful sight – FST in all his glory at three and half years old. He was simply magnificent for our farm. A lovely main-frame and perfectly typical ten pointer gave us high hopes that FST will turn into a true giant Georgia buck. He was off limits again, and with only three of us hunting the farm, we were hopeful again that FST would survive and make it to four and half years of age and beyond. He was a camera glutton that year, getting many daylight pictures at feeders and in food plots. We were very hopeful of his survival, and with a couple of larger, more mature bucks on the property, we felt like he had a good chance to survive.
Here is a trail camera photograph of FST at three and half years old.
The rut can cause many unexpected things to happen in both man and beast. Bucks grunting, and chasing does right under your stand can make you react quickly – a little too quickly sometimes. And you guessed it – FST made a mistake of chasing five does right under a stand called “Horseshoe” wherein sat one of the three people hunting the farm. In the heat of the moment and a rush of adrenaline, a shot was made, seemingly a good shot to the right front shoulder area with a .270 rifle, but FST was never recovered. We were all distraught. Things happen. Spur of the moment reaction sometimes take place of hesitation, and we were all just sick about the loss of FST.
It wasn’t until late November when we pulled some trail camera cards to see what was showing up, that we got an unbelievable set of pictures, all at night, and in some white oaks that were still dropping acorns. It was FST! Obviously wounded, but very much alive. For a few nights we had pictures of him eating acorns in the same general area, and we were so hopeful that he would somehow escape the coyotes, heal up and survive. FST was the topic of conversation every time we talked about deer, the farm, what to plant, what protein feed to try, etc. and that year we decided to start feeding the deer a product called Buck Muscle in the off season.
Here is a trail camera picture of FST at three and a half years old, wounded but surviving and eating acorns.
Winter passed, antlers dropped, and the deer were eating the Buck Muscle about as fast as we could fill the feeders. We were amazed at how quickly they adapted to the supplemental feed and were anxious to see what late July pictures would show in antler development. To our amazement, some of the first good buck pictures we got was with, you guessed it, FST. He was obviously changed, but we knew for a fact it was him. He was crippled in his right front leg and shoulder and his antler configuration had changed, but it was FST without a doubt. How could he have survived? How could he escape the song dogs of the night? He quickly became a legend, but we never saw him in the daylight during hunting season. When we got pictures of him, it was always at night, he was always alone, and pictures in order would show him constantly looking left and right, rightfully nervous of his surroundings and the never-ending chase from predators both canine and human.
Here is a picture of FST surviving strong at four and a half years old, thriving on Buck Muscle, and keeping our hopes high.
Another season passed, and FST remained the topic of conversation. “Do you think he made it?,” and “Man, I sure would like to find his sheds,” and “I know that Buck Muscle is what kept that deer alive!” Luckily for me, I found one of his sheds from 2017. I couldn’t believe he made it! And even more so, I couldn’t believe I FINALLY found one of his sheds! Spring led into summer, and we kept the feeders full of Buck Muscle the entire time, hopeful for a great 2018 season full of big bodied bucks with antlers to amaze us. And yes, FST survived – 2018 spring, summer, and early fall trail camera pictures showed some amazing sights – FST with a much larger set of antlers, working scrapes, chasing does (somehow!) and hopefully passing his great genetics along. He was never seen in the daylight while we were hunting, but the pictures kept the conversations and the respect of his survival strong. What an incredible testament to the desire to live – Severely wounded, but still alive. Still doing what mature bucks do.
Here is a picture of FST at five and a half years old looking stronger than ever with a much larger set of antlers eating some brassica.
The rut passed with the taking of one of the mature bucks on our target list from the farm, and the trail camera pictures would reveal rutted down bucks with weight loss, broken antlers, gouge marks, and skinned place from fighting, but the new Georgia law allowed us to keep Buck Muscle in the feeders all year, so the deer had plenty of good food to pull them through. We use a few of the Spartan cameras to get pictures sent to our phones as soon as they happen, and one mid-December evening a picture popped up of FST with only one antler, headed to the feeder. He had already dropped one side! I vowed to find that antler, and with work scheduling I wouldn’t be able to go look for a couple of days. To my amazement, the very next evening FST showed up with both antlers missing. We wondered why he dropped so early, but the pictures revealed the answers to the puzzle, He looked really bad. You could see his ribs and backbone showing through his skin and he just looked worn out – worn out from the rut and worn out from limping on one leg for the last couple of years. It had to be a miserable way to get around. Another picture the next evening showed him just lying in some clover near the feeder. We felt like he probably wouldn’t survive.
Here are the pictures of FST on the three days he shed his antlers and his run-down condition while he got some food from the feeder.
Saturday couldn’t come quickly enough, and I headed down to find FST’s sheds if I could. Amazingly, I found the good side – five points on it, dark stained from rubbing, and I was simply elated! But try as I may, I couldn’t find the other side.
Here is a picture of me holding the shed from that day.
December turned into January and the months passed, but I never quit thinking about FST. In mid-March bucks were dropping antlers all around us and I wanted to go do some antler hunting as well, and of course, FST’s other side was on my mind. I got to the farm and immediately found both sides of a nice eight pointer we had named “Sweeps”, so I was elated with my findings for the day. I decided to go look around the feeder and clover field where FST used to hang out. As soon as I got out of the truck, I saw it. FST’s other antler. I had walked right by it back December! How did I miss that antler laying right out in the clover? But, it was mine now! I had both sides and I was very pleased with my findings. But, I still had that lingering suspicion about the old buck’s mortality. We had recently burned some planted pines that bordered the clover, and I felt like that would be a good place to find some more sheds. The first thing I found in the pines was FST. The rut, the injury, and time had taken its toll. His carcass had pretty much been picked clean, but the injured shoulder and leg bone revealed the old warrior’s identity. I paused for a long while by that carcass. Sadness and respect flooded my thoughts. How this deer survived this long with such a severe wound was simply amazing to me. God had blessed me with finding his best antlers of his life and I will cherish them for as long as I live. FST was a true testament to the breed, the unyielding desire to live, and the pure strength of a white-tailed deer. I am sure we will talk about this old buck for many years to come and I firmly believe that had it not been for the supplemental feed using a quality product (Buck Muscle) FST would not have survived as long as he did.
Here is picture of his left side sheds from four and half years old to five and a half. What a difference it makes, even with a wounded deer, to let them walk and get to five and half if you can.
Here is FST where he laid down his last time. I hope he’s breeding does somewhere on the other side, with a good set of front legs to carry him.