Travis “T-Bone” Turner stuck close to home during the 2020 hunting season, but that didn’t stop him from punching tags on a trio of huge whitetails
Travis “T-Bone” Turner knew his 2020 deer season was going to look different than most, but he had no idea what was in store. As co-host of Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector, Turner typically spends deer season traveling across the country, but this year the COVID-19 pandemic changed things. Like most people, Turner had to cut back his travel schedule, so he planned to hunt primarily on his own land in Georgia and Kansas. He worried that limited travel would mean limited success, but he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead, Turner had his most successful deer season yet. He shot three giant bucks — two 180s and a 160 — during the early season, all on his own ground.
“I kind of feel like I killed a unicorn and a vampire,” he says. “When it comes to taking big deer, this has been my most successful season ever. I say that with a great appreciation for all my years of hunting experiences and opportunities. If I never kill another deer for the rest of my life, I know that I’ve way outlived my dream. I never thought as a kid that I’d be able to hunt like I do.”
Turner credits the great fall to better preparation, hunting the early season, and “at least a little bit” to the COVID pandemic.
“For the past 10 to 12 years, Michael, Nick, and I have traveled so much through the winter, spring, and summer that we’ve just not had time to do much in the way of preparation on our own properties,” Turner says. “I’m always late at putting out the trail cameras and just getting things going. But this year, we were cautious about traveling, so we planned to hunt more at home. I’ve planted more food plots and put out more game cameras this year than I ever have.”
The Kansas Booner
Turner was able to spend a week in August on his Kansas property hanging stands, putting up blinds, and scouting. That extra prep time paid off a month later with a massive 180 5/8-inch buck.
He usually doesn’t head to Kansas until November, but the deer were hitting trail cameras in the daylight, almost daily, and he knew it was time to act.
“The big buck was showing up on my cameras three times a day, and I knew he was regular and predictable,” Turner says. “So, I decided to hunt him while he was still easy to pattern.”
On Sept. 16, after three days of hunting, he dropped the giant at 23 yards with an arrow through both lungs. For most people, that giant buck alone would make for a fantastic season, but Turner wasn’t finished. While he was hunting in Kansas, he was simultaneously scouting his Georgia farm.
“I upped my game and got 15 cellphone game cameras this year,” Turner says. “Cell cameras have really improved and the prices have come way down, so I was able to get more than usual. I love them because they provide instant info. Before cell cameras, you had to base your plan on the last set of deer images you got, which could have been days or weeks before. Now you have instant and constant information. Even while I was hunting in Kansas, I was getting info on the deer activity at home, and honing in on their daily travel routes.”
Two Georgia Giants
Full of information, Turner returned to Georgia with a dilemma many hunters would envy. Which of two monster bucks on his farm should he pursue first: a 6 1/2-year-old 186-inch non-typical giant that he’d been watching on his game camera for four years, or the 160-inch typical 10-pointer that had a reputation for roaming? He decided to go after the roamer before it left his property.
He managed to tag the 160-class buck on Sept. 25 at a spot he calls “Pimple Hill,” where he planted a small food plot 18 years ago that has paid off time and again with great deer. The target buck came out an hour before dark, which Turner says is “unusual down here,” and he made a successful 22-yard shot as it quartered away.
Two monsters down and one to go.
“During the daylight hours, my game cameras captured him in an area with very tight quarters,” Turner says. “I knew I couldn’t hunt him with a bow because I would have bumped him or caused him to go nocturnal, so I decided to wait until muzzleloader season.”
Opening day of muzzleloader season was a no-go because of bad weather, but the weather cleared the next day and Turner headed to his blind and waited. The big buck finally emerged 40 minutes before the end of shooting light, walked toward Turner, and turned broadside at 86 yards. The bruiser ran just 30 yards after the shot before falling dead.
Turner says it’s no surprise to him that he took all three of these huge bucks during the early season.
“If you do your homework and preparation, like I was able to do this year, your early-season hunts can really pay off. People have always had it in their heads that the end of October and November, during the rut, are the best months to hunt. But there are a lot of disadvantages to hunting the rut. Sure, the rut is fun and there’s a lot of activity, but the deer aren’t patternable, so you have to try to figure things out as you go. Plus, their antlers are often broken up. Early-season deer are more docile, easier to pattern and less pressured, so your odds of success are better. Just watch your cameras. They’ll tell the story.”
Some hunters skip the early season because of the hot weather. “The deer have to go about their lives, whether it’s 95 degrees or minus 5 degrees, so you might as well get out there too,” Turner says. “Plus, one of the big advantages, in my opinion to hunting the early season, is you get to sleep in because the deer aren’t as active in the early mornings. They’re bedded down during much of the day trying to stay cool. They come out to feed in the late afternoon, so you can take your time getting to your stand or blind.”
Home Sweet Home
Turner says the enviable success on his own property this year has made him rethink his typical busy travel schedule.
“I now realize I don’t have to travel as much as I do to take big deer and enjoy a great season of hunting. But don’t get me wrong, I really like to travel and I like my busy schedule. It was just nice to have a chance to spend more time at home with my family and reset.”
Even though he still plans to travel in the seasons ahead, Turner says he’s going to start saying ‘no’ just a bit more, too. “Life is too short and I’ve spent much of it on the road,” he says. “In the early 1990s I was traveling the country competing in archery tournaments, and then in the early 2000s I started traveling for the hunting industry. I’ve made it over the hump and I’m on the back hillside, so I don’t feel as pressured as I did when I was just getting started.”
He says in addition to enjoying his time at home, the pandemic has given him a new appreciation for the outdoor industry and opportunities. “It seems like the outdoor industry is having a banner year. Bow sales are up. Gun sales are up. People are rediscovering the outdoors. Yeah, COVID is bad, but we in the outdoor community needed a shake-up. For my family and me, it’s been a great reset. And as a whole, I think people are seeing that the one thing you can always count on is the outdoors.”
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