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Alabama Whitetail Records Museum

A Priceless Moment, Preserved Forever

By Carolyn Drinkard

As deer season nears each year, Alabama hunters begin the time-honored tradition of preparing to take that once-in-a-lifetime trophy buck. They plant green patches, place game cameras in strategic locations and scout trails, learning the paths deer take and hoping to outsmart these clever creatures. Hunters preserve their treasures with pictures, mounts and racks. Years from now, these will help them spin their tales and fondly relive each special moment.

In the 1980s, Dennis Campbell recognized the value of recording Alabama’s free-range trophy bucks. Working with the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the AWF’s “Big Buck Program,” Campbell coordinated hundreds of volunteers across the state, who carefully measured and recorded the successes of Alabama’s hunters. He compiled this data and published his first Record Book in 1989. The book not only had pictures of both typical and nontypical deer but it also contained stories about the people and places associated with these amazing deer. Campbell continued to score free-range whitetails and publish more books through the years; however, in 2014, he passed the baton to Hale and Michael Smith, who have passionately continued Campbell’s work and the tradition of excellence he promoted.

In 2015, Hale and Michael Smith brought Alabama Whitetail Records to their hometown of Thomaston. Their goal was to provide a permanent place for the records in a museum that would continue Campbell’s legacy, while showcasing some of the largest bucks taken in Alabama. In 2017, the Smith brothers opened the Alabama Whitetail Records Museum in a brick building on Buck Corner, at the intersection of Highways 28 and 25.

From October to April, hunters loan their treasures for display in the museum. Usually, there are 20-25 deer available to view and inspect. The Smiths try to rotate the exhibits every three months. In April, these deer are returned to their owners, as the Smiths transition to the next season. A few deer remain on display at all times for visitors to enjoy, however.

The Alabama Whitetail Records Museum displays only deer that have achieved Alabama Records’ standards. For example, a typical deer, killed with a gun, must measure 150 inches; a nontypical, 175 inches. A typical, killed with a bow, must measure 115 inches; a nontypical, 140 inches.

The museum showcases Alabama’s amazing deer population.

“We have deer here in Alabama that rival any other deer in this country,” Hale explained. “By keeping really good records for the past four decades, we have been able to spotlight our impressive deer herd to the world.”

Hale believes the quality of Alabama’s deer population is a testament to the state’s conservation department. These dedicated men and women provide the programs to keep deer healthy and the oversight necessary to manage the deer.

“In the 2017-2018 season, we measured more 170-inch deer than we ever have in one season,” Hale stated. “It was a heck-of-a-year from all corners of our state. This is a tribute to the conservation department and their programs.”

Not only have the Smiths provided a permanent home for Alabama’s trophy buck records, they have also moved record keeping to a digital format. Now, anyone can access information on their website and Facebook page. They also have an app with a database, which provides a plethora of valuable information. For example, not only can a hunter compare his deer to others killed across Alabama but he can also compare that deer to ones killed within his own county. A hunter can also look up the largest deer killed in the specific area where he may be hunting. The app will also send notifications when a new deer is measured and recorded.

Volunteers throughout the state continue to measure deer, but they now have more up-to-date information, because of social media such as Instagram and Facebook. When hunters post their pictures, scorers can communicate with the individual hunter, measure and score that deer and then record the story behind the trophy buck. This can now be done much more quickly and efficiently.

Hale and Michael see themselves as overseers of records. However, they also believe hunters have needed a home place to showcase some of their trophies; therefore, the Whitetail Records Museum in Thomaston was the perfect location.

“We are within 60 miles of the place where the largest deer was killed in Alabama,” Hale explained. “The No. 1 nontypical, killed by David Nelson in 1956 in Green County, scored 310 inches. The No. 1 typical buck was killed here in Marengo County by Joe Gandy. It scored 213 6/8 inches. These deer will rival those killed anywhere else.”

In April, the museum held its first Alabama Whitetail Records Official Buck-Scoring Day. Held in conjunction with the annual Pepper Jelly Festival, the sponsors provided a crab boil and other activities for hunters. Over 250 people showed up with their mounts. Out of 21 deer scored at this first event, seven met the requirements for Alabama Whitetail Records. The day was a chance for hundreds of hunters to visit with each other, share their stories and learn new techniques. The sponsors plan to make this an annual event on the last weekend in April.

For Hale, the Alabama Whitetail Record Museum continues David Campbell’s record-keeping system. However, it is also a way to give back to his community and to promote tourism both in this area and in the state of Alabama. Just since fall 2017, the museum has welcomed hundreds of visitors from 14 different states and many other countries.

“I love the great outdoors, and I am passionate about promoting the recreation, history and culture in this area and in the great state of Alabama,” Hale said. “People don’t have to go to other states for big deer. We got them right here in Alabama. Our deer can rival any found anywhere else!”

The museum is open Wednesday-Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Come on by and see these amazing deer. Relive the priceless moments preserved for all to enjoy.

Growing Young Minds Through Gardening

By Morgan Graham

Eufaula Primary School (EPS) first and second graders start their morning off by watering and weeding the school’s vegetable and herb garden.

“We’re teaching students the whole cycle of how to grow a plant from seed and eventually end up with something they can eat,” said guidance counselor Tracey Gulledge.

The garden started Fall 2017 when the Barbour County Jr. Master Garden Club teamed up with the Barbour County Extension to build raised beds in the courtyard at EPS.

Throughout the past three years over 200 students have had the opportunity to learn about gardening and enjoyed growing their own food.

“The student’s reaction is priceless when they get to harvest the vegetable,” Gulledge said. “It shows them what hard work and patience will produce.”

While students learn how to grow plants from seeds, they also learn how to be good stewards of the land by composting and fertilizing their gardens with the recycled nutrients.

The garden has a wide variety of vegetables and herbs depending on the time of year. “Fall always seems to be our heavier planting,” Gulledge said. “We have kale, broccoli, collards, peppers, radishes and cauliflower in the fall, and sweet potatoes and corn in the spring.”

Once the garden starts producing, the kids will harvest the vegetables to sell to faculty and staff at EPS to help raise money for improvements in the garden.

Over the past three years students have added a butterfly garden, turtle habitat and bird houses, all from produce sales.

The main goal of the garden harvest is to raise money for next year’s crop; students do take a sample for themselves. After the garden is harvested Gulledge shows students different ways the produce can be used in the kitchen.

“Kale Smoothies are my favorite”, said second-grader, Lauren Johnson.

“Sausage and Cabbage is my favorite,” echoed Lauren’s classmate Katelyn Hicks.

Every October, students host “Grow Our Garden Day” where parents can join students to weed beds, put new plants in raised beds and see the impact the garden is making in each child’s life.

EPS received a $2,000 grant from the Wiregrass Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc.

“This grant specifically provides new plants and mulch for our fall garden,” Gulledge said. “We were also able to purchase some new shovels, rakes and watering cans for the students to use.”

Grants like this help make learning outside the classroom for our students possible. This also gives students a chance to see where their food comes from, Gulledge said.

“The garden is a great hands-on tool to teach the kids responsibility and life skills on how to grow their food,” said Gulledge.

A Spotlight on Artistry

By Carolyn Drinkard

Doug Butts could be described as a “jack-of-all-trades,” but even that would be an understatement. You see, Doug Butts is an artist! He can take a simple scrap of wood or a solitary strip of steel and transform both into something sensational!

Born in Colorado, Doug Butts later moved to New Mexico. His father was a farrier who worked around racetracks in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Since his stepfather was a welder, Butts said he grew up “beatin’ on a lot of hot steel.”

After graduation, Butts’ father got him into a school for ornamental blacksmithing. It was here that a teacher first sparked his interest in using cable to forge a Damascus steel knife. Butts loved the art of working with metal, but he had no interest in horseshoeing as a living.

When a friend helped him land a job in the movie industry, Butts used the basic carpentry skills he had learned along the way, starting first as a laborer and then working his way up to a general contractor’s license. When the movie industry boycotted the state of New Mexico, Butts moved to Hawaii to work in special effects. On the side, he still played with metal as a hobby.

While working on a movie in New Orleans, Butts met Victoria Madison, who was celebrating her birthday with a friend in the Crescent City. In 2009, the couple moved back to her hometown of Linden, where Butts opened a small construction and remodeling business, called “Doug’s Remodels and More.” He restored an old deer-processing building in the Hugo Community to house his carpentry, metalworking and blacksmithing equipment.

Butts is an accomplished woodworker, but when he moved to Linden he was in awe of all the hardwoods that grew naturally in the Black Belt.

“In New Mexico, pine was just about all we had,” he explained. “If I got a piece of walnut, I handled it with great care, because I had paid a lot for it.”

Butts uses the beautiful grains of maple, black walnut, red oak and even chestnut to make jewelry boxes, cutting boards, furniture and much more. His cabinetry work is some of the finest in this area.

In his spare time, Butts still plays with metal, making knives. He especially enjoys the Damascus types with distinctive banding and mottling. Through the years, he has sold most of the blades he has forged.

In 2018, Butts’ brother-in-law suggested he check out a TV show about knife making. The hit show, “Forged in Fire,” appears on the History Channel and features a three-round elimination contest in which four bladesmiths forge weapons that are put through various strength and durability tests. A team of judges determines a winner, who receives $10,000 and the title.

The first show Butts watched was about using cable to make Damascus blades.

“It fired me up,” he laughed. “I thought about that professor who had inspire me so long ago.”

After that, Butts forged a few knives, using a piece of cable a friend had given him many years before. Butts had brought it from New Mexico to his workshop in Alabama.

When Butts watched “Forged in Fire” again, he found himself serving as an “armchair quarterback,” critiquing the contestants. Victoria urged him to enter the competition. In fact, she emailed the show for him! Soon after, Butts received word that he had been accepted as a contestant.

In early winter, Butts traveled to New York to tape the competition, which proved to be very intense.

“They gave us our assignments, but I had very little time to strategize or plan,” he explained. “Once they told us what to make, we went right to work.”

In the first round, Butts forged two karambits, small Indonesian curved knives that resemble a claw. Once he was named one of two finalists, he had to come home to forge a cane sword, a weapon requiring both his bladesmithing and carpentry skills. The show’s crew came to Linden and filmed Butts working in his own shop, using the forge he had built by hand.

“Everybody on the show was great,” he stated. “I had been on many movie sets, but I had never been on that side of the camera before. It was pretty stressful!”

Butts could not reveal any details of the competition; however, July 31, when the show aired, over 100 family and friends gathered for a “watch party” to see Butts win the competition and capture the $10,000 prize. It was quite a celebration.

“Winning ‘Forged in Fire’ was one of the best experiences of my life!” Butts added.

Success has not only made Doug Butts a local celebrity, but it has also showcased his lifelong passion for “beatin’ on hot steel.” Most importantly, it has focused the spotlight on a gifted artisan.

The Ultimate Charcuterie Board

"Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble." - Those famous words from Shakespeare's Macbeth begin to sound in my head the moment the clock strikes midnight on October 1st each year. While you won't find my family conjuring spells or channeling the dead to celebrate Halloween, you will find us enjoying the commercial side of this time of year by picking out fun costumes, filling our buckets with candy and enjoying a laugh with friends and family as we try to give each other a good scare every now and then.

Our collection of Halloween decor has grown larger over the years, as my oldest daughter squeals with delight at the sight of a jack o' lantern, fake spiders and spooky black cats. Seeing her get excited over simple things like this make me all the more eager to get into the Halloween spirit, and what better way to do that than to celebrate with the ultimate Halloween charcuterie board!

Charcuterie boards (pronounced shar-koo-tuh-ree,) and commonly referred to as a "cheese board" is the simple concept of preparing and displaying a variety of cured meats, cheeses, fruits and nuts that all compliment each other. A charcuterie board is ideal for parties and events where people can casually graze over the selection of snacks and food pairings.

Because so many people associate Halloween with candy, I thought it would be fun to prepare a Halloween charcuterie board to show several ideas that are both kid and adult friendly to serve at a Halloween party or gathering that don't utilize candy. When making my food selections, I tried to think of cheeses, meats, fruits and nuts that had a lot of texture that could look a little bit creepy-ish sitting out on a platter.

If you're preparing a hauntingly fun charcuterie board this year, here are a few ideas to help get you started:

Cheeses - I opted for a marbled blue cheese as well as a cheese ball that was more orange in color. Pair your cheese selections with a variety of chips or crackers for easy serving. I also included a red colored pepper jelly to serve with the cheese.

Meats - While it's not completely necessary to use cured meats, it is common practice to use a variety of shelf stable meats in a charcuterie board. I opted for pepperoni to give a pop of red color to the board, and I also used beef jerky. Salami or summer sausage would also be a great choice in a Halloween charcuterie board.

Fruits and Vegetables - Having a variety of both fresh and dried fruits is a great idea when preparing a charcuterie board. For fresh fruit options, I chose darker colored grapes, blackberries, blueberries, black olives, a peeled orange and rambutan. For dried fruits, dried apricots, raisins, and dried cherries or cranberries are great picks. I also snuck in a few gherkin pickles and carrot sticks for another pop of orange color.

Chips/Salty Snacks - There are a lot of great options for this category that would match the Halloween theme perfectly. I chose blue tortilla chips, pretzel sticks, cheese curls and Bugles. You can also add in cheese balls or puffs!

If you're making party preparations this Halloween season and are looking for the perfect thing to serve that doesn't involve candy, get those creative juices flowing and make your own Halloween charcuterie board! The possibilities are endless on what you can add to them, and there's no wrong way to do it! Happy munching!

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