Which is better, hunting with your good buddy on opening day of deer season or taking a trophy white-tailed buck in velvet? Apparently both! John Stillwell and Ben Craddock of Greenville are members at a hunt club in the Lowcountry and as the picture shows, they had some great luck during the deer season opener. Deer herd management and good nutrition are two of the keys for taking quality bucks like these guys were fortunate to make their picture with.
Hunting on a 2,000-acre farm in southern Orangeburg County these buddies were part of a group of six that hit the woods. The other four hunters were unable to harvest a deer on opening day. (much like the result of my own opening day hunt.) Stillwell was the first to shoot and he was sitting on the edge of a peanut field along a ditch bank that the club had maintained recently to provide good shooting lanes.
“Almost immediately after getting in my stand at 7 p.m. a young spike buck came into the field and stood there,” said Stilwell. “Fifteen minutes later a grey ghost of a buck came out and it didn’t take me long to take my shot.” Stillwell’s aim was on target and his .270 WSM dropped the symmetrical 8-point at 150-yards. The buck weighed 184-pounds and had a 17.5-inch spread.
Meanwhile Ben Cradock was trying to salvage his evening hunt after his Yamaha Rhino blew its engine on the way to the stand. He called hunt club member Brian Casey to come get him and take him to his stand that overlooked a small soybean patch. Two does emerged from the woods and each of them had two fawns with them, and they provided Craddock with something to look at as the sun went down.
The does exited the field and Craddock thought his hunt was surely over when a bachelor group of five bucks stepped out broadside to him at a distance of 60-yards, giving him a great look at what he thought was a ten-pointer. “That big buck got tangled up in the rest of them for a minute and I thought it might get too late to shoot, but then he took the lead position in the group and that’s when I shot,” said Craddock.
His Ruger .270 is trustworthy but Craddock had such a case of buck fever he immediately began to think that he somehow missed the trophy buck. Casey texted him if he needed assistance and Craddock replied, I don’t know! When Craddock got down after dark to look for the deer he found the buck laying in the beanfield, a gorgeous 11-pointer with a 19.5-inch spread. The buck weighed 170-pounds.
Craddock’s deer was a younger age class than Stillwell’s buck and though it weighed less, it still had a superior rack. Herd management and good nutrition are two of the keys for Quality Deer Management but the third key will always be genetics. The younger buck likely possessed superior genetics, which allowed him to become ‘full-grown’ and a great addition to Craddock’s trophy room.The two bucks were loaded up and taken to Great Outdoors Taxidermy in Bowman to see John Mellis, who serves double-duty as the deer processor too. Mellis has been creating trophy mounts for Lowcountry outdoorsmen since 1981 and he does excellent work whether the species is turkey, deer, duck or fish. Mellis told me that the Craddock buck was above average and one of the nicest bucks brought in during the early season.