The flower gardens in metro Atlanta are safer now.
By Mike Handley
To have a conversation beside the company watercooler with Jay Maxwell, you'd better be standing in front of his truck's radiator. As a door-to-door salesman of sorts, his pickup is his office; the backseat his filing cabinet, which is often stuffed with hunting clothes.
The 29-year-old's job is making house calls in metropolitan Atlanta. Between stops, his eyes search out property - make that "lots" - that could hold deer, a tall order in a place where houses outnumber trees. Nevertheless, although Jay has no shortage of places to hunt closer to his Bethlehem, Ga., home, he's always open to the possibilities.
"You never know," he grins.
Last October, Jay called upon a homeowner with a large 3-acre, cul-de-sac lot in northern Fulton County, considered Atlanta's back yard. While on the man's rear deck, Jay could see almost a dozen rubs on trees. He saw a doe and a fawn feeding on acorns in the middle of the day, and when he went to investigate, he stumbled across a scrape.
"I asked the guy if I could bowhunt there, and he said okay," Jay said. "He didn't care. He was selling his house anyway."
Jay isn't shy about asking.
"If it looks deer-y, I'm going to ask if I can hunt it," he said. And this place looked Deer-y with a capital D.
Jay keeps all of his hunting gear in his truck, just in case opportunity knocks. The door shook on Nov. 20, 2007, while he was finishing up a sales call.
Jay had already made a couple of calls that day when the owner of the cul-de-sac lot phoned to tell him deer were running all around his back yard.
An hour later, Jay was standing beside his truck in the man's driveway, pulling his Inspector Gadget routine - slipping into his scent-proof clothes and stuffing his pockets with every kind of call imaginable.
"I'd already decided I would hunt from the ground if I ever went there," he said, adding that it was his first time to visit the place in an unofficial capacity. "I was going in with the intention of hunting the rest of the day. The guy said it hadn't been 30 minutes since he last saw a bunch of deer, and one of them was a big buck.
"I normally hunt from treestands, but that just didn't seem right there. You could see houses everywhere," he said. "That's really kind of weird, ya know?"
Jay had gone no farther than 100 yards when he spotted a 6-pointer standing stock-still and staring into a thick area.
"I knew it had to be looking at more deer," Jay said. "It was about 80 yards away, and I had to get closer. That meant going from tree to tree in pretty open woods to reach the thicket. I picked out a white oak and started slipping toward it."
Jay got no farther than the next tree, perhaps 5 yards, when he jumped a doe. She ran into the thicket, and four bucks (including the original 6-pointer) chased her out of it. One of the bucks was enormous, exactly what the homeowner had promised.
The big buck stopped behind a cedar at 60 yards. Only its rump was exposed.
"At that point, I still didn't know what I was looking at," Jay said. "It was just the biggest of the bunch."
With a cadre of insistent suitors, the doe soon forgot about Jay.
When all the deer disappeared to the other side of the small woodlot, Jay decided he needed to reach the spot where they'd crossed, in case they came back the same way. He got most of the way there before the whitetail train returned.
This time, Jay got a better glimpse at the big buck's rack and started drooling. He figured it for a 150-incher, far better than the deer he and his dad hunt closer to home. He still needed to gain some ground to have a chance.
"I eat, sleep and breathe turkey hunting, so I know how to move," he grinned. "Besides, the 15-mph wind was helping to mask any noise I made."
While Jay was easing noiselessly forward, the doe burst out of the thicket at less than 60 yards, and the big buck was following her. Tired of the game, the doe then lay down, and the buck stood guard, charging any of the other three that dared approach too close.
Jay took advantage of the distraction to gain another 5 yards in 15 minutes.
The buck ran off its adversaries at least three times.
Jay was so mesmerized that when he decided to check on the doe, she had disappeared.
"I was having a blast, until I realized the doe had given me the slip," Jay said. "I thought, 'Oh, God, where has she gone?'"
Turns out, she had moved only a short distance before lying down again.
"I'd been watching the bucks, which were maybe 20 feet below me," he said.
"The doe moved 15 yards, but not away from me. She'd just come up to my level."
When the buck noticed and approached her, it passed through a clear lane. Comfortable and experienced with 50-yard shots, Jay didn't let the broadside opportunity pass. When the buck hit the opening, Jay used his mouth and grunted.
"There I was with a call in every pocket, including one around my neck, but I wound up using my mouth," he said. "And the buck still never heard me. So I did it again, a little bit louder, and the deer stopped ... AFTER it had passed beyond my lane. So I took a step and a half to my right and took the shot.
"I'd estimated 50, but it was exactly 47 yards," Jay said. "I got both shoulders. The arrow went through just above the heart.
"The deer ran 10 yards, turned and loped straight back to me with its head lowered," he continued. "I had another arrow ready, but it was unnerving. It was sort of like being charged by a Cape buffalo. I'd already picked out a nearby tree probably 10 inches around that I could climb to get out of its way.
"I kept my bow in front of my face, trying to hide behind it," he said.
When the buck was only 8 yards away, it whirled; completely reversed course. That's the first time Jay noticed a drop tine.
Moments later, the buck bedded down 15 feet away, facing away from Jay. But it turned to stare over its rump at the slack-jawed hunter. A couple of ragged breaths later, it died.
"I was in shock," Jay said. "I eased over to it, picked up the rack, let it down, thanked God and started making phone calls.
"I know a lot of people are going to think, 'Oh, there's another one of those suburban guys who went out and got lucky,' but it wasn't like that," Jay says.
"I'm not new at this. I took my first deer with a bow at age 12, and I've shot well over 100 since then," he continued. "Nobody can say I don't hunt and scout hard."
Lady Luck might have played a role in this neighborhood drama, but most hunters would ignore such a small tract. Even more would be too shy to ask permission. And there aren't many bowhunters who feel confident taking a 50-yard shot, let alone making it count.
Hunter: Jay Maxwell
Official Score: 213 7/8"
Composite Score: 234 3/8"
-- Reprinted from the Winter 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.