Rack Magazine

The State Record that Never Was (Officially)

The State Record that Never Was (Officially)

By Mike Handley

Fourteen years before the late David Melton shot the buck now recognized by Buckmasters and “Alabama Whitetail Records” as the largest deer ever felled in the Cotton State, a man from downriver in Belmont shot what would’ve been a state record — the one to beat — if records had been kept in 1942.

Many people believe the deer Melton shot in Greene County in 1956 had just swam the Tombigbee River from the Sumter County side. Ironically, the late Jim Spidle shot his buck in Sumter County before it jumped into the river, bound for Greene. But his deer just didn’t have the oomph to scale the opposite bank.

Of the two enormous and gnarly racked whitetails, the Spidle Buck was taped first, but that wasn’t until the mid-1980s. By then, two other giants — taken in 1961 and 1972 — had bested it, which saw the “Belmont 48-pointer,” as it once was known, fall into third place in the maiden edition of Alabama’s privately owned record book, which then used the B&C scoring method.

The Melton Buck wasn’t measured until later.

I scored the Melton Buck for Buckmasters in 2008. Its 275 inches of antler easily landed it in the No. 1 spot for Alabama (overall) and No. 2 in the world (in the shotgun/irregular category). By the time the Spidle Buck was scored by BTR master scorer Steve Lucas last year, thanks to Lyle Gilbert, who now owns the mount that has been passed from generation to generation within the Spidle clan, the outstanding whitetail was again relegated to the No. 3 spot in the world (and behind Melton’s buck in the shotgun category, for Alabama).

Regardless of its bridesmaid status in the BTR, the Spidle Buck is the oldest on record from the Heart of Dixie.

Though it was regarded as a 48-pointer for more than four decades, it wasn’t. When Jim Spidle shot the deer with the gnarly rack, a point was counted as such if you could hang a ring on it. Nobody measured the deer’s antlers while Jim was alive. Alabama had no record book, Buckmasters’ founder hadn’t been born, and the Boone and Crockett Club hadn’t even dreamt up its current measuring system.

When “Alabama Whitetail Records” publisher Dennis Campbell, then a B&C measurer, put the first tape to the antlers in the mid-1980s, they netted 230 7/8 inches as a 37-pointer. The 11 other ring-holders were less than the requisite inch long. (Campbell has since forsaken the B&C system for one based on gross score.)

The State Record that Never Was (Officially)Jim Spidle wasn’t around for the scoring, but his son, John, was there. He was also there when his father shot the buck.

If a man on the opposite bank hadn’t been so kind as to ferry the enormous deer back across the Tombigbee River, Jim Spidle might’ve spent the rest of his days cussing his luck and the turtles he imagined were feasting on the biggest buck he’d ever seen.

Mr. Spidle told his story thousands of times before he died. The mount that hung in his dining room was as much a landmark as the Washington Monument. Family members grew accustomed to unexpected knocks on the door from people wanting to see the “48-pointer.”

That the man from Belmont even sprung for taxidermy speaks volumes about how he felt about the buck he shot in the river swamp.

John relayed the story to Dennis Campbell, who had heard about the Sumter County giant long before he learned his way with a measuring tape and set out to document Alabama’s biggest whitetails, a passion that culminated in the state’s first record book.

John’s father had organized a deer drive with Walker hounds, which is pretty much how everyone hunted in Alabama in those days. Jim followed the dogs on foot, and John rode his beloved horse into the swamp, as was his custom. Four or five other men had spread out ahead of the dogs to cover known deer crossings.

Dennis wrote in 1989 that much of the swamp the Spidles hunted, now known as Belmont Lake, was flooded when the Demopolis Lock and Dam were built.

When the dogs jumped the big buck, the elder Spidle was in the right place with his Winchester Model 12 shotgun. The deer fell to the load of buckshot, but it regained its footing and headed for the Tombigbee.

When John rode up to see what all the fuss was about, he and his dad dashed to the river, arriving just in time to see the buck trying to climb the opposite bank, a task too great. Fortunately for them, a man in a boat saw the spectacle and was able to reach the whitetail before the river claimed it.

Hunter: Jim Spidle
BTR Official: 225 3/8
BTR Composite: 240 2/8

— Photos by Steve Lucas

This article was published in the August 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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Copyright 2018 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd