It’s not often a Georgian hunter has a chance with a Class 190 whitetail deer, but Cory Croft actually had two chances at a giant buck in the same season. Croft took an unfortunate bad hit on the buck during an early season archery hunt, but managed to kill the deer while chasing the rut with his rifle. All told, Croft, who runs a prime stretch of white land, has had a three-year history with the Peach State monster.
Croft first saw the ball in the 2019 season. “He was a 3½-year-old in the 150 class that year,” he says. “It’s a super dollar, but on this property we manage for 5 1/2 year old males so it was off limits.” Croft, a certified wildlife biologist and owner of Veritas Wildlife Services, obtained his first trail-cam photos of the male in November. “It hung around for a few weeks and then disappeared. We are good friends with the neighboring owners, and they had pictures of the buck from this summer, 2½ miles away. He made a few trips to visit both properties, but I figured if the buck wanted to spend the summer on them and come see us in the fall, we got the best part of this deal.
With high hopes for the 2020 season, Croft scanned camera after camera for the money, only to be disappointed. “It just disappeared from our property that fall, and I use a lot of cameras in a grid survey that’s pretty intensive,” he says. “I can’t say I get every dollar, but I don’t miss a lot. When I checked with the neighbors, they had the same report; the male was just a no-show. So we thought something bad had happened. With so much distance separating our properties, it wasn’t hard to imagine.
But when the 2021 season rolled around, Croft got a pleasant surprise. “One day I got a text from the neighbor that just said, ‘He’s back,’ and I knew exactly what deer he was talking about,” Croft says. “As before, the responsibility left them in the summer and came to us in the fall, just in time for the archery opening.” And he had exploded into a real giant. Croft chased the buck several times during the first few weeks of the arc season. “We have 120 acres of food plots on the property, with lots of clover, oats and other Whitetail Institute varieties, and he was hitting them pretty hard.”
Finally, Croft was able to lay eyes on the buck on a last-minute bow hunt. “After being busy for a while, I finally had an afternoon to hunt, but gathering my things, I couldn’t find my release anywhere,” he says. “I had no choice but to run to the store and buy one. I came home and shot a few times, but really didn’t have time to tune it well. It came back to bite me when I finally went out hunting.
That very afternoon, with Croft all settled in his tree, they got out and walked within 20 yards. “I needed him to take two steps so I could test his vital signs,” he says. But the coyote suddenly came in from behind and startled the male, who fled about 80 yards. The coyote chased all the deer off the patch and trotted over to Croft. “I decided not to shoot him because there was still 90 minutes of shooting light left and I thought maybe I still had a chance.” He spooked the coyote, and sure enough, the male came back to the plot about 20 minutes later, but this time from 60 yards away. “It fed for a while then disappeared, and I thought to myself Well, that’s all for tonight. Then suddenly, just in prime time, he came out and stood 22 yards away. I drew and I was settling in, and that’s when I didn’t know the release hurt me,” Croft says. “I barely hit it and it went off before I was ready. I watched in shock as my arrow hit the buck in the shoulder. I’m shooting 70lbs but got a almost zero penetration and I found very little blood.
Although obviously upset to have injured the male, Croft received good news from the neighbor. “I called to tell him about the hunt and to keep an eye on the buck,” he said. “He told me he had the responsibility on camera at 3am, just hours after I hit him. I was relieved to know he was alive, but obviously disappointed that I hadn’t been able to kill cleanly when I had the chance.
Croft figured his big buck opportunity had come and gone and the old whitetail deer would avoid the property. “Then, for some reason, the responsibility fell back to us in November,” he says. “I was still bow hunting, because the rut was starting to form. I saw it several times, but it was always out of reach. Croft finally decided to start taking his gun. “On the morning of November 12, there was a lot of fog and when it was daylight, I could see a few bucks with a doe. As I watched them through my binoculars, I spotted the big one in the background , lying down. He had been there the whole time. One of the smaller males, a 3 and a half year old, started walking towards me and I thought It’s perfect, and sure enough the big one got up to follow and as he stood in the tall grass I got a good shot at his vital signs. When I pulled the trigger, he resisted and ran away, then quickly disappeared. I felt like the shot was good, and it was, because he only ran about 10 yards.
Croft was thrilled to get a second chance at a dollar of a lifetime, but for another reason as well. “The deer was not well after the arrow wound,” he said. “He had lost a lot of weight and he didn’t seem to be participating in the rut. He might have recovered, but you never know, so I was really happy to have another chance. Croft Peach State’s main 10-point chassis with matching forked G2s and G3s had 18 scoring points and netted 196 B&C inches. “It’s a dollar of a lifetime almost anywhere, I guess,” Croft says. “But a really special whitetail deer in Georgia.”