No one ever forgets their first buck, but Bryce Spillers’ is extra memorable. First, the 21-year-old hunter took his ice-breaker buck earlier this month with a bow, which is added challenge. Second, his whitetail just happens to be one of the biggest ever taken in Georgia by an archer. Spillers’ buck sports 18 points and scored 198 2/8 inches nontypical. Georgia’s current top Pope and Young nontypical is a 213 4/8-inch giant killed in 2007 by Jay Maxwell, but the No. 2 buck, tagged by Kevin Carnes in 2015, scored 195-2/8. So Spillers’ buck has a solid shot at the runner-up spot.

Regardless of its record-book placement, Spillers’ buck is a dandy, and it comes with a cool hunting story, too. “I first encountered this buck in 2018, which was my first year of bowhunting, as a 17-year-old,” Spillers told F&S. “I set up a ground blind in the hardwoods overlooking a swamp bottom. I was in the blind and watched this pretty 8-point buck stand up. I noticed he had kind of floppy ears, and one had a rip in it. So I put a camera out and started getting pics of him; I could always identify him by that rip in his ear.”

Over the next couple of seasons, busy with school and then working the night shift after graduation, Spillers didn’t have much time to hunt. But he used trail cams and scouting to keep track of the buck. “He grew into a 10-point the next fall and, based on the pics I was getting, I moved my stand to a clearcut that bordered that swamp. After the season, I put out protein pellets to see if it would help him and the other deer grow better. But that year and the next (2020), I really didn’t have time to hunt, so I just stayed out of there, other than checking trail cams. It was kind of rare to get pics of that buck in daylight, but it was starting to happen once in awhile.”

When the 2021 season arrived, the buck had blown up into a 16-point monster. “In mid-August of that year, I got a pic of him at twilight, and he was just huge,” Spillers said. “I still was short on hunting time, so I told my brother to go after him. He didn’t have much time to hunt either, so the buck made it another year. I didn’t know it at the time, but neighbors all around were getting pics of the deer. Still I think he knew that swamp on my uncle’s property was a safe place.”

trail camera photo of buck
A trail-cam photo of Spillers’ buck from this past summer. Bryce Spillers

This fall, Spillers knew it was time to throw some serious effort at the buck. “He’d exploded into an 18-point monster, and he was showing up in daylight, sometimes between 1 and 4 p.m.,” he said. “I even saw him once when I was checking cams. I spotted a deer’s body and when it lifted its head, I was like Oh boy! When he looked away, I snuck out of there.” On opening day, Spillers decided to sit all day, and I saw the at about 10 a.m.. “He was in bow range, but I wasn’t comfortable with the shot so I passed; I wasn’t risking anything with a buck that big.”

Finally, everything came together for Spillers. “On October 8th, I decided to get aggressive and moved my stand near his bedding area,” he said. “I found a good trail that led into the swamp and made a mock scrape on it, then hung a stand. Then the morning of the 10th, I got in the stand, and at about 7:30, I heard crunching in the leaves and looked to see him coming right down that trail. He stopped to work the scrape and gave me a 30-yard shot. I watched him pile up, and it was kind of amazing; he died almost exactly where I’d seen him first stand up out of that bed in 2018. When I walked up to him, it was like all my dreams about him had come true. When word of the buck got around, I started getting texts and pics from what seemed like everyone in a 5-mile radius who’d had pics of the buck and were hunting him. It was pretty cool, but kind of bittersweet at the same time. The chase was everything for me, and it was a little sad that it was suddenly over. But he’s an amazing buck and one I was so fortunate to hunt and harvest.”