By Mike Handley
Betting against Larry Lee could empty your wallet.
Whether puttering around the golf course he now manages or perched in a treestand, the 56-year-old former coal miner is apt to win. The man from McCalla, Ala., is a competitor to the core. And the only thing he takes more seriously than golfing is bowhunting.
“Some people say that my house is built to accommodate the deer,” he laughs. “The den is huge, and it’s full of trophies.”
He’s not talking about squares of wood bearing nameplates and little gold, club-wielding golfers. He refers to the 17 shoulder-mounted deer on the wall, not to mention the 45 sets of antlers on plaques. Joining the whitetails are three largemouth bass and a 41-inch-long striper.
“Too many,” adds Kimberly, his wife of six years.
“Not enough,” insists Larry, who remembers all too well the days when even shooting a buck was a rarity.
Like most hunters in Alabama, which has a nearly three-month-long gun season and a buck-a-day limit, Larry bought his first bow merely to take advantage of the extra month afforded the state’s archers. That was nearly 40 years ago, when he was just a pup.
For the past 20 or so seasons, however, he’s pretty much confined his deer hunting to the stick and string. “I went gun hunting eight times and shot eight deer. That’s when I went 100 percent bowhunting,” he said.
Since then, Larry’s arrowed 272 deer – about half of them bucks – while hunting his home state as well as Kentucky, Texas and Mississippi. Eleven of those bucks are recorded in “Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records,” the largest a 21-pointer from Tuscaloosa County, Ala., that taped out at 159 7/8 as an Irregular.
“They call me lucky,” he smiles.
But it wasn’t always like this, he’s quick to add.
He didn’t stick his first buck until 1991, long after he bought his maiden recurve back in 1968. He switched to a compound bow the first year that Bear Archery introduced the Polar II.
Little has changed, though, since he fell in love with cams. Larry’s brown hair might be fading to gray and his blue eyes might be behind contact lenses, but the technology with which he’s comfortable dates back, unchanged, to when he laid down his recurve.
Now that he’s whacked so many whitetails, he subscribes to the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it philosophy. He can still draw against 64 pounds as easily as a knife cuts through butter.
“It was real slow the first 15 or so years,” Larry said. “But then it picked up for me. It took me that long to really learn how to hunt … to respect their noses. Knowing when to take the shot is crucial, too.”
Those are perhaps the two biggest factors in Larry’s consistent success afield.
He shoots most of his bucks either during the first week of the season or during the rut. “They go nocturnal once they get that first whiff of human scent in the woods,” he says. “You can’t fool their nose. I’ve learned that the hard way. They can smell you three or four hours after you’ve walked through an area wearing rubber boots!
“Everything that’s ever been written about scent control, I do it,” Larry says. “Although none of it matters if a deer gets downwind from you, scent control has to minimize chances of your being smelled.”
Like most hunters, Larry is going to the woods whenever he gets a chance – no matter the position of the moon, the time of year or even the wind. Unlike most, however, he’s got the luxury of a wide choice of stands so that he can hunt under any circumstance.
He has close to 50 stands, most of them fixed-position models overlooking bottlenecks and creek crossings scattered about his hunting territory. Most are between bedding areas and fields or food sources. These are travel corridors that could see deer traffic at almost any time during the day, places where bucks will often have scrape lines.
The wind and the last time he sat in a particular stand dictate where he’ll spend his time on any given day. He will not hunt from a stand if the wind isn’t right. Neither will he visit a site more than once a week.
“Rule No. 1 is don’t mess up your place,” he insists. “Two times a week is too much traffic. If you don’t put too much pressure on, if a deer walks out at 10:00, it’s less likely to know you’re there.”
Even if he should forget these things he’s learned in four decades of bowhunting, all Larry has to do to remember is glance inside the many logbooks he’s kept since 1970.
Back in his early years, especially, the thing that robbed him of even more opportunities than a bad wind was choosing when to try the shot. Just because a deer is in range or about to be doesn’t mean the deal is sealed!
Trial-and-error has taught him well.
“To be honest, I have a knack for making the shot. Not only do I know when to move, but I also stay calm 95 percent of the time,” he says. “It’s afterward when the tree starts shaking.
“I probably wouldn’t make it on the tournament trail,” he adds. “But I can hit a deer!”
Another tactic that has brought him results is grunting and bleating to lure a deer within bow range. Whenever a buck is within 50 yards, Larry says he can bring it closer 80 percent of the time.
He has confidence in rattling, too, even in Alabama. Many hunters reject the technique in the Heart of Dixie because the buck-to-doe ratio is so out of whack in most places. Yet tickling the horns at the right time can produce amazing results for those willing to try it.
“I once called in nine bucks to the horns near Selma,” he boasts. “Of course I’ve done it without ever seeing a deer as well. You just can’t be too scared to try it. It all depends on the buck-to-doe ratio where you’re hunting.”
Larry is apt to try anything that works. And if it does work, he’ll stick with it until something better surfaces.
For example, he’s not one to scale a tree for 30 feet – not when 18 will suffice. That seems to be his lucky mark, where he insists the shot angles are far better than from anywhere higher. In his book, any perch higher than 18 feet is ridiculous.
“I’m real competitive, especially in golf, fishing and hunting,” he laughs. “With golf, I compete with friends. We always put down little side bets. With hunting, I’m competing against the deer.
“And I like winning!”
This article was published in the July 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.