By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
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.”