B.J. Davis of Hoover has lived through the peaks and valleys of a deer hunting career in Alabama. This season he reached the pinnacle with High Hopes, a buck that changed the record books for Buckmasters and Alabama Whitetail Records.
The 42-year-old Davis started his deer-hunting career with a dog hunting club in south Alabama in the early 1980s and moved to a stalk-hunting club in Coosa County.
“My dad and I, hunting was our thing,” Davis said. “He put the passion in me.”
Davis was 21, a student at Auburn University, when his father was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. A short time later, Brian Davis, B.J.’s namesake, passed away.
“When that happened, I kind of lost my passion for it,” B.J. said. “It was good memories but bad feelings. So I got away from hunting for a while. I would go every once in a while, but not like before.”
Then B.J. got married and his wife (Kasey) came from a family that loved the outdoors. Kasey’s father and brother (Bruce Shore Sr. and Jr.) were big hunters, pursuing deer and wild turkeys.
“They kept wanting me to go when we had family get-togethers,” B.J. said of his in-laws. “Slowly, they started working on me and got me fired up again about four years ago. I got all excited again and got in a club in Wilcox County, which is about two-and-a-half hours from our house. We’ve got five kids and I was leaving on Friday and coming back on Sunday during deer season. My wife is sweet and understanding, but that was a little tough to handle every weekend. She said, ‘We need to figure out a different plan.’”
Davis had been following a group of suburban deer hunters (SeekOne) in the Atlanta area on YouTube, and he thought he could possibly find a way to do the same in the Birmingham area.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham and wondered if that would be possible,” he said. “I started looking at the legalities and how it could be done. I knew a lot of landowners, so I got to digging into it.”
Davis had access to a piece of property near Hoover where Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Law Enforcement Section officers made a case of illegal hunting. That bust gained a great deal of media attention. Soon, other landowners in the area were contacting Davis to keep an eye on their undeveloped property in exchange for bowhunting rights. He soon had about 3,000 acres on all sides of Birmingham where he could bowhunt. Davis established an online presence with Suburban Bowhunter on Instagram and YouTube, and one of his viewers sent him an interesting photo one day.
“Three seasons ago, somebody sent me a trail cam picture of this deer and put a pin where the picture was taken,” he said. “The picture looked Photoshopped the deer was so big. It was taken near some property I have access to. It sparked my interest, but you never know what you can believe on the Internet. So I threw a lot of game cameras up to see. That season, I didn’t see anything.”
During the following season, Davis had harvested his three bucks by the middle of December but was still checking for deer in his hunting spots. One of those spots was particularly thick with an overgrowth of privet hedge, near a busy highway and railroad tracks.
“It was so nasty, but it had this one little tiny oak ridge,” he said. “Something told me to walk up on that ridge. One day, maybe it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I walked up there. It looked like elk had been up there, and it was a mile from where the guy had sent me the picture.”
Davis put up a game camera and started getting photos of the big buck he named High Hopes. The antler characteristics were the same, but the deer was not in good shape physically.
“He had gone down from that prior year,” he said. “It was post-rut, and he looked old and sickly. I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it, so I put the protein to him to try to bring him back. When he dropped his rack, he disappeared. I didn’t get a single picture until June, when his rack had started growing back. He wouldn’t get anywhere near an artificial feeder, but I was able to watch him grow. He kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It just blew my mind.”
Davis sent a photo to Lee Ellis of SeekOne, who told Davis that 16-point buck had to be a 200-inch deer.
“I’d never heard of deer that big,” Davis said. “If I got a 120-inch deer, I was elated. After he lost his velvet, I thought he might not be that big, but Lee told me, ‘Brother, that is a 200-inch deer.’ He had a little nest area that he would pop in and out of. I tried to put minimal pressure on this deer. I was going to wait until he got consistent, and then I was going to slip in on a perfect wind and try to shoot him.”
But High Hopes disappeared again, this time for 30 days. The next picture Davis got was on Thanksgiving evening.
“He was still alive, but as nocturnal as he could be,” he said. “But at least he was in the area. It was still hot and muggy with mosquitoes, but on Nov. 29 there was a cold front coming in. On Sunday morning, my wife said let’s do late church, so I decided to go sit in a tree stand. I had two stands in the area. I felt one had a better chance, but the other was better for the wind. I’ve got a flip-the-coin app on my phone. I flipped it, and it was for the stand I didn’t want to sit in. I flipped it two more times, and it came out the same.”
Davis eased into the stand he didn’t really want to go to and managed to spook a deer on the way to the stand.
“I figured it was High Hopes and he was off to Texas or somewhere, but I got in the stand anyway,” he said. “It was a beautiful morning to hunt, overcast and cold. At 7:30, I saw feet in the old roadbed. I figured it was a doe. I clicked my cameras on so I could film me taking a doe. Lo and behold, when he came around the corner, I could see it was him. He came right in and got about 15 yards from me and stopped behind a tree. I drew my bow back and held it for what seemed like 15 minutes. When I looked at the video, it was about four seconds. I let it down. It was the most scary let-down I’ve ever had, afraid that arrow might pop off (the rest). As soon as I let down, he walks out in the open at 12 yards. I was able to get my bow drawn again and let one go. I knew right off it was a good hit. He butt-kicked and ran off toward that oak ridge. I saw him fall over.”
When Davis walked up to the big buck, he still didn’t realize what he’d done, figuring High Hopes would score 165 to 170. He sent a photo of the buck to his in-laws, who were about 1½-2 hours away. Both Senior and Junior hopped in their vehicles and headed to see the deer.
“They put a tape to the deer, and we were all just blown away,” Davis said.
After a trip to the processor, Davis took the caped-out head to the taxidermist. A couple of days later, Steve Lucas with Buckmasters and Larry Manning of Alabama Whitetail Records paid a visit to measure the antlers. Both scorers came out with the same exact measurements of 199 4/8 inches.
“I asked them to measure again to see if they could squeeze in another half-inch,” Davis said with a laugh. “I was just tickled to death.”
In the Alabama Whitetail Records book, High Hopes is the second-best archery buck in the typical (symmetrical rack) category and ranks fifth in the non-typical category.
In the Buckmasters scoring system, which has perfect, semi-irregular and irregular categories, High Hopes is the top semi-irregular ever taken in Alabama with a compound bow.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Davis said. “It’s been exciting. I documented the whole thing with High Hopes. I put some stuff up on my Suburban Bowhunter, and Lee is going to put the video on SeekOne on YouTube probably in October this year.”
Although suburban Atlanta may hold some giant bucks, Davis figures deer the size of High Hopes are rare in suburban Alabama.
“I mean, a 150-inch deer in Alabama is a deer of a lifetime,” he said. “This deer was in a spot where he was able to get really old. We think he was 7½ years old. His diet was heavy in protein with plenty of kudzu, and there were tons of acorns. I don’t think there’s another one like him. Praise to God if we do find another one. I think it will be another lifetime before another one like him shows up.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.