By Mike Handley
Gene Daniels might be on the road to becoming as superstitious as Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, who ate chicken before every game.
Like Boggs, the Harriman, Tenn., deer hunter believes in lucky charms. And he seems to have found his on the road, or at least standing beside it.
Gene was 16 years old when his Papaw Kelly took him deer hunting for the first time. While driving through Oak Ridge, Tenn., the night before that maiden trip, Gene saw a monstrous buck standing beside the road.
He was still excited when he got to his papaw’s house, and he told him about the whitetail.
“Sounds like you seen a deer of a lifetime,” the old man smiled.
Gene didn’t sleep a lick that night.
The following morning, about half an hour after his papaw left him holding his dad’s .30-30, Gene shot an 8-pointer.
Despite his seamless introduction to deer hunting, another 10 years passed before Gene was able to shoot another good buck.
Once again, he’d driven through Oak Ridge and seen a huge buck standing on the road’s shoulder. He couldn’t hunt until the following day and didn’t have access to the land where he saw the deer, but he shot a nice 9-pointer the next morning.
It took several more seasons for him to shoot another one, and it, too, came on the day following a nighttime spotting of a buck rooted beside the pavement.
Convinced he’d found his lucky charm, Gene began driving through Oak Ridge more often, always on the lookout for antlered talismans. He says it drove his wife crazy.
On Nov. 13, 2010, Gene drove into town to pick up a car that was being repaired. On the way back through Oak Ridge, his wife following in the other car, he came to a screeching halt. His wife almost rear-ended him. There, on the side of the road, stood the biggest buck he’d seen in years.
Gene sat there until his wife started blowing the horn.
“I guarantee I’ll shoot a big one tomorrow,” he told her.
On a rainy day he might otherwise have stayed indoors, Gene was already soaked when he reached his stand around 7 a.m.
He began by flipping his Primos can. He bleated some more around 8:15 and, almost immediately, saw a great buck approaching from 115 yards. It looked like a big 10-pointer.
The deer vanished shortly afterward, but when it reappeared, Gene wasted no time in acquiring it in his scope and squeezing his muzzleloader’s trigger. He thought he’d missed, at first, but then he heard a crash within the nearby gully.
No more than five minutes later, he was down in the gully and staring at a much bigger deer than he remembered shooting. It even had a drop tine. After rolling the deer over, Gene sat down and stared at it. He was weak-kneed.
At 185 6/8 inches, the Roane County 20-pointer is a runner-up to the Tennessee blackpowder record. So eager to take a shot at the buck, Gene didn’t even notice the 10 irregular points until all was said and done; he thought he’d smoked a 5x5. Its composite score is 200 1/8.