Thanksgiving Day, 1998, will be long remembered by Billy Joe Padgett and his father, Ernest.
Had it not been for (1) his father's keen hearing and (2) decision to go on a dove shoot, an average-sized Virginia whitetail buck wearing an awesome, potential state record, 36-point set of antlers might still be wandering in the Telfair County, Ga., woods.
Both Padgetts had seen the deer before, but not within shooting range.
The elder Padgett, who lives near Jacksonville, Ga., told his son about hearing the deer grunt in the woods on the afternoon before Thanksgiving. He also mentioned he was going dove hunting.
"I told him that I'd be sitting in his deer stand that morning," said 23-year-old Billy Joe, who is handling the publicity generated by the buck in stride.
About 7:20 a.m., on Thanksgiving Day, Billy Joe shot the deer, which had appeared on the edge of a pine hill next to a creek bottom about five miles from the Ocmulgee River. He was hunting a portion of 8,800 leased acres called "White Oak Plantation."
The Douglas Enterprise published a four-column color photo of man and buck on the front page of its Dec. 2 issue and the Padgett phone hasn't been silent since.
"I believe the rack has a 50-50 chance of breaking the record," said Bill Cooper, a game biologist who works out of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Albany Wildlife Resources Division office.
"The state record rack scored 240 3/8 points (based on the Boone & Crockett Club standard system) and I believe Billy Joe's deer will score no less than the 230s," said Cooper, who compiles a publication called the Georgia Deer Registry.
"This isn't your normal or unusual or radically different deer rack. It has a normal, typical whitetail frame, but the entire rack is exceptionally massive," said Cooper, who personally examined the deer.
"On top of that, the rack has a variety of kicker points, stickers and a set of double brow tines. The reason it will score so high is that it's fairly symmetrical side-by-side. You don't take off many deductions (in scoring) for symmetry in a typical frame.
"It does have the potential to be the state's non-typical record."
Cooper, who must wait a minimum 60 days (the end of January) to score the deer, believes there are at least three reasons the deer was able to grow such an unusual headpiece.
"The first is genetics, the second nutrition and the third is age. That deer is at least 5 1/2 years old and maybe 6 1/2 , so it reached the age where its genetic potential would show itself.
"Then it enjoyed a smorgasbord of farm-grown foods -- peanuts, soybeans, corn -- to supplement its natural food diet."
The happy hunter, who is having the trophy mounted, has been going hunting "since I was old enough to go. My father would drag me behind him. I killed a 9-point buck at the age of 9 and I've also killed a nice Pope & Young buck with my bow," he said.
There must be something in the air to produce such huge critters.
Just down the road from Jacksonville leading to Lumber City, Ga., is Montgomery Lake where, on June 2, 1932, George W. Perry caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce bass, which still stands as the all-tackle world record for the species.