MMA Fighter Wins 5-Year Battle with Giant Georgia Buck
|Rack Report Details|
|Buck:||195” Green Gross|
|Time of Year:||September 13, 2023|
|Place:||DeKalb County, Georgia|
After his family, Georgia hunter Michael Fortner has two main passions in life: professional MMA fighting and bowhunting big whitetails. The latter pursuit took a turn back in 2018 when Fortner saw what he suspected was a 2-year-old buck with an almost unbelievable non-typical rack. “The rack just didn’t match the body size. I knew right then that, if we let this buck get mature, he would be something special,” Fortner said.
Fortner watched and chased the buck for years before getting the shot.
The buck almost didn’t get the chance. In 2019, Fortner had the buck in front of him. Its 140-class rack was bigger than anything he had ever killed to that point as a bowhunter. And so when he got a chance, Fortner took the shot. The hit was high on the shoulder and the buck lived. At that point, Fortner christened him with the name Lucky. The buck shed early that year, possibly as a result of the errant shot or maybe just by his nature as he continued the early shed, early grow pattern for the next several years.
Early trail cam photos of the young buck offered a glimpse into his potential.
As Fortner watched the buck grow over the next few seasons, it soon became apparent that his theory on the buck being special was correct. The buck retained his non-typical frame and kept stacking on inches. In 2022, Fortner had another chance at the deer, which was now in the 160-170 class range. The years of cat and mouse with Lucky had proven the buck to be a homebody. It would likely stay on the property Fortner hunted or on a neighboring property, where the hunter was equally interested in what the deer might become if allowed to mature. Both Fortner and, later in the season, his neighbor, passed on shot opportunities last year. The buck returned to Fortner’s area late in the season. The hunter’s internal debate on whether to take a shot if presented or to hold off another year was answered when Lucky shed both antlers before season even went out.
After a non-fatal shot a couple seasons ago, Fortner got a second chance this year.
This past summer, Lucky returned on camera. “Just like always, he was early on his antlers. He was over half grown while other bucks in the area had barely sprouted. He was also a bully, clearly the dominant buck in the area that routinely pushed other bucks around,” Fortner said.
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By this point, Fortner knew the buck’s habits almost as well as it did. He knew where the buck bedded and his travel routes to food sources. He decided to get aggressive with his hunting tactics in the early season and try to get on the buck before it had time to leave his hunting area.
With heavy mass and 13 additional points on the 10 point frame, the gross inches kept adding up.
On his opening-day sit, Fortner saw Lucky and had him at the edge of range. Because he had hoped to film the buck and didn’t have his camera, and because he didn’t want to risk a second bad hit on the buck, he held off.
On his second sit of the season, Fortner was covered up in deer, including some nice 140-inch bucks. He’d seen around 20 deer over the evening when he looked up to see a huge body emerge from the thick bedding area just 60 yards away. He knew instantly that it was Lucky. “My heart started to race and my hands started shaking as I watched him walk in to the mock scrape I had made in front of my stand. That’s when I noticed another buck between Lucky and me. It was staring right at me and I knew at any time he was going to bust me and the game would be over,” Fortner said.
Instead, Lucky made the first move. He aggressively turned to walk toward the younger buck, intent on running him off the scrape. He let out a quiet snort wheeze and lunged at the other buck, which quickly turned and bolted a few yards away.
Lucky was always first to grow antlers each season and was the dominant buck in the area.
At that point, Lucky was just 30 yards from Fortner’s stand. The big buck took two more steps toward the younger buck. When he did, Fortner came to full draw. “Hunting and professional fighting have a lot in common. You spend months, even years, training for one particular moment. For both sports, you have to learn to keep your emotions in check, to control your breathing. At that instant, everything just felt right. I knew in my heart that I was going to make the shot,” Fortner said. He released the arrow and watched as it hit perfectly. Lucky crashed off but only ran 40 yards before falling.
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“All along, I thought the buck would score around 160 or better, but when I got my hands on it, I started noticing all the extra points. When we got the buck back and put a tape to it for a gross score, the inches just kept adding up. It passed 160, then 170, then 180 and 190. With the 6.5-inch bases, heavy mass, and 13 extra points, the buck grossed 195 inches, way bigger than I ever dreamed it would be,” Fortner said. “I still can’t believe it. I’ve eaten a bunch of tags over the last 10 years hoping for a chance at a buck like this.”