Family man squeaks in successful New Year's Day hunt
By Dale Pitts (as told by Keith Maddox)
Tuesday, December 14, 2009, started out like many days for Keith Maddox, rising before 5 a.m. to go hunting. Little did he know that what he'd see later that day would dominate his every thought for the next 17 days.
The rut was in its early stages in northeast Alabama, and Keith realized the next couple of weeks would bring the season's best chances for bagging a mature whitetail buck.
With the acorns mostly gone, he believed hunting a portion of property with planted pines would be his best bet for locating deer since it contained thick walls of briars and honeysuckle. But first, he'd have to do a little scouting.
Normally, Keith's weapon-of-choice is Mathews Drenalin bow, but on this day, he brought a rifle since he was mainly walking and scouting the seldom hunted area.
He began by walking cautiously around the thick 80-acre pine thicket, looking for sign. Keith was primarily searching for trails where he could potentially set up a stand.
About halfway around the thicket, Keith heard limbs cracking in the thick stuff. He quickly scanned for movement and caught a glimpse of a huge main beam sporting what appeared to be 10- to 12-inch tines.
Knowing this was a true trophy he quickly shouldered his rifle. Although the buck was only 30 yards from where Keith stood, only parts of the big rack were visible and there was no clear shot.
As quickly as it had appeared, the giant vanished deep into its briary home.
Keith has lived and hunted in Cherokee County all his life and has taken his fair share of nice bucks with both gun and bow. This one was far larger than anything he'd ever seen before, and it quickly became an obsession.
Bowhunting is his first love, but Keith knew his only realistic chance to bag this particular buck would be with a rifle because of the thick cover.
He decided to take two weeks off for Christmas to be with family, but after what he'd just seen, Keith knew exactly where most of his vacation would be spent.
He hunted hard for the next few days, only seeing a few small deer around the edges of the pine thicket. Then, on a cold Saturday morning a doe stepped out and headed toward the thick cover of the pines. She stopped occasionally to look behind her. Keith quickly got ready in case the big buck was on her trail.
A nice 8-pointer trailed the doe, following only a few yards behind. Keith took careful aim, but soon lowered his gun. This buck was nowhere near as big as the one he'd seen earlier. He wouldn't settle for a lesser deer.
Keith hunted every day except Christmas Day for the next week. Knowing the rut would soon end, he realized his chances for seeing the big-racked buck were dwindling.
On New Year's Eve, Keith awoke to a rainy, windy day. He spent all morning stalking around the outer edges of the pine thicket with no luck. He returned home to spend the evening with is son Luke and wife Ava.
Already feeling guilty for not spending much holiday time with them, he decided to stay home New Year's Day.
But Ava told him she and Luke were going to town in the morning, so Keith decided he'd hunt a just little bit after all.
When the alarm clock buzzed, he looked outside to the sight of trees swaying in a howling wind. He started to remain in bed, but knew this would likely be his last crack at the big buck.
Arriving at the gate of his hunting club a little later than usual, Keith decided to drive his UTV to the far side of the pine thicket and stalk up a logging road running through the center.
After he opened the gate, he caught movement ahead in the thicket. It wasn't the buck, but rather a large doe, and it was headed toward the road.
Keith hurriedly extracted his rifle, fumbled for a shell and loaded a round as quietly as he could, just in case the buck was nearby. He knelt immediately, hoping the doe wouldn't spot him as she crossed the road. The doe stepped across 25 yards away without even looking his direction.
Keith couldn't believe his eyes when the huge buck appeared from the pines, following directly behind the doe!
He instinctively raised his .270, aimed, flipped off the safety and fired.
The heavy-antlered buck bolted across the road and disappeared into the thicket.
Keith hurried to the spot where the buck had stood and found a small spot of blood. Not knowing exactly where he'd hit it, he sat down and allowed the deer at least 30 minutes to expire before taking up the trail.
It was the longest half hour of his life, but he didn't want to push a wounded deer, knowing it could be incredibly difficult to recover it in the dense thicket.
When Keith began tracking, he only found small spots of blood and completely lost the trail several times. A sinking feeling began to form in the pit of his stomach, and he wondered if the deer was hard-hit.
About 20 minutes into the search, as Keith was kneeling to study a small patch of blood, he raised his eyes for a second and saw his buck of a lifetime lying just ahead in the thicket. It was a huge 165-inch 12-pointer!
The big buck he'd hunted so hard that dominated his mind for two and a half weeks was finally his!