“By chance!” That seems to be the way so many “super bucks” have been located, and the monster non-typical taken by soft-spoken David K. Melton fits right into that category as well.
While thumbing through an old issue of Alabama Game & Fish (November 1982), I ran across an article by my good friend Marvin Tye. The article concerned record deer from Alabama, and more specifically was about the then-current state record non-typical taken by Pete Royster in Perry County. As I read the old article intently, something suddenly seemed to make the Royster deer become far less important: almost as an afterthought, Marvin had included a photo and story about a trophy belonging to one David K. Melton.
I was to learn that Marvin had simply heard of the Melton deer, and had made an appointment to go by and photograph the antlers at Mr. Melton’s home. The buck was interesting, but no really big deal since an unofficial scorer had scored the deer at only 215 points…not as large as Royster’s.
Now, “by chance” (there we go again), I had scored a rack very similar to Melton’s freakish-antlered buck only a short time prior to my rereading of this 1982 article. The similar deer I had measured had scored well over 200 points non-typical, and I knew that the photo I was looking at revealed a rack with longer and more numerous tines, indicating a high-scoring deer.
Locating Mr. Melton was not a difficult task, and a quick phone call got the ball rolling. Mr. Melton himself was out of town, but I made the necessary arrangements with his son, and set out to score the deer in August 1988. My quick, conservative rough score was well over 270 under the old system, far outdistancing the then-current state record taken by John O’Hanlon in Greene County.
It was sometime back in the hazy yon around 1956 that David Melton went hunting with a small group of men in Greene County, Alabama. On that fateful day, his hunting companions were Red Griffin (a police officer from Montgomery); another Montgomery policeman, Earl Sellers; Earl’s brother, whose first name is now unknown, but who was police chief in the nearby town of Boligee; and a certain Mr. McGraw, who was known to the others as “The Indian.”
This intrepid group was hunting along the Tombigbee River, and they had to use a small boat to get to the desired area downriver. A small drive, the third one that day, was staged using only one small dog that belonged to the Boligee police chief. David Melton himself was using a J.C. Higgins 16-gauge bolt-action shotgun with buckshot, and was positioned along a well-used trail. The deer appeared suddenly, crossing the trail only 50 feet away. David shot, and the deer went down and out of sight. When David ran down the trail, he saw the huge buck get-ting up, and he fired once more…putting the great animal down for good. According to Mr. Melton, when he got to the buck it was soaking wet, obviously from swimming the river from Sumter County. (The river was only 150 yards from Melton’s stand, and was the boundary between these two Black Belt counties.)
The rest of the hunting party was ecstatic over David’s good fortune. Red Griffin got to David first, and later told me that David was shaking so badly that he could not even point him in the direction of the carcass. The men almost sank their boat trying to get the deer back to the 1954 Lincoln auto that had brought them to their hunting area. The buck was a huge-bodied animal, but the cotton gin was closed, so no accurate weight could be determined. David told me that he got 180 pounds of packaged meat from the deer, so logically it had to be around 300 pounds on the hoof.
Melton did not shoulder-mount his prized trophy, but chose to have it nicely done as antlers only, on a plaque…the reason being that at some point the animal had been hit in the face with bird shot, which had resulted in a festered place above the right eye. David said that at the time it just did not seem right to seek out another deer cape with which to mount the buck, so he was satisfied as it was.
While the Melton rack was still in my possession, Baldwin County taxidermist Charlie Barnett came by to visit. Knowing that he would appreciate seeing the new state record, I showed it to him; he was excited indeed, and on the spot offered to furnish a large cape from his Gateswood Taxidermy business and mount the animal as well. Mr. Melton agreed to this arrangement and even wrote a letter giving me permission to display the trophy in my Adamsville drug store (where several mounts are avail-able for public inspection) for the next two years.
In January 1989, I delivered the trophy antlers to the taxi-dermist for mounting. Later that spring I was visited by David Melton’s nephew William Hayes, who was on his way to Montgomery to visit his uncle. William explained to me that Mr. Melton had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and asked if there were any way that the taxidermist could be persuaded to finish the deer sooner. I immediately phoned Charlie and made him aware of the situation.
In the weeks following, William stopped by a couple more times to give me updates on Mr. Melton’s condition (it was not good). Then in early May, William came by and reported that the time was short, and could I call the taxi-dermist again? Charlie Barnett was surprised at my call and the news that Mr. Melton’s condition was deteriorating so rapidly. He did have good news, however, in that the deer was finished and even though not completely dried, if handled carefully it could be picked up at his shop. I had made plans to make the trip to Baldwin County to get the finished trophy, but William insisted that he wanted to pick it up that very day. So I gave him the directions, and he said that he would bring it back to my pharmacy after Mr. Melton had kept it for a while.
In only two weeks William returned with the beautiful deer. Of course it was the first time I had seen the finished mount, and it was extremely impressive. William reported that Mr. Melton was most pleased at seeing the buck so closely restored to its original grandeur. On June 3, 1989, David K. Melton died, less than one year from the time that I had discovered his trophy deer. As time passed, Mrs. Melton began stopping in periodically… according to her, to check on David’s deer. Having gotten to know her by now, I believe she really just wanted to have another oppor-tunity to think about Mr. Melton as he was before his illness.
The date for Alabama’s 1990 deer exhibit arrived, and I knew that this would be an excellent opportunity to get another group of measurers to go over this tremendous tro-phy. After probably three hours of study, measuring, and remeasuring, the final score came to an astounding 287 6/8 under the old system, and an amazing 310 points even under the current NAWR system. This score was much larger than the previous score by the panel… how could that be??
The David Melton non-typical is a great example of the fact that no two scorers will measure every rack the same. Scoring whitetail deer is by no means an exact science. In all fairness to the five different individuals who scored this set of antlers, Melton’s trophy is really a measurer’s night-mare. All but one of the five were on hand to examine the score sheet and compare it to the rack, as were several other scorers. All support the final interpretation and agree that 310 is a fair and appropriate score.
The Melton buck would have scored even higher if it had not broken off a couple of substantial points before being taken back in 1956. The broken tine on the right side appears to have probably been a match to a 14 5/8-inch non-typical on the left. The broken place on the left side indicates a probable match with an 8 4/8-incher on the right. Mr. Melton never mentioned these broken tines or speculated on what might have been. He was most satis-fied to just be the owner of those plaque-mounted antlers, and to have the memories of that day spent with friends in Greene County in 1956.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The tremendous amount of antler material grown by the whitetail we know as the Melton buck is almost beyond belief. Truly, this buck deserves its #1 spot. Will there ever be another whitetail in Alabama to beat it? Only time will tell. By the way, the Melton buck was #1 in the Third Edition of AWR, when we used the old B&C measuring system. Of course, under the NAWR sys-tem he was #1 last time, still is, and might be #1 forever. -by Dennis Campbell