With seven national champion big trees and four grandchildren to his name, Jimmy Mock is a lucky man. A retired teacher of agriculture and forestry, now working part time with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Commerce, Georgia, Jimmy became a big tree hunter back in 1979 when he discovered his first national champion — a turkey oak in Pierce County, Georgia.

Georgia-based big tree hunter Jimmy Mock. Courtesy: Jimmy Mock

Jimmy is a bit partial to turkey oaks, as his favorite champion is a turkey oak in Screven, Georgia. This former national champion is a tough tree, surviving high winds that have broken several of its limbs. Despite being dethroned on the National Register of Big Trees, the tree remains the Georgia state champion for its species, as well as a local favorite. A nearby church has constructed a fence to protect the tree and posted a metal plaque inside to inform passers-by of its crown. The Georgia Department of Transportation has even put up a road sign to direct people to it. Though the tree is now a runner-up (the current national champion resides in Florida), the county still takes great pride in their turkey oak.

Beyond hunting for his next Georgian national champion — to join the ranks of the mountain maple, pondcypress, aloe yucca, co-champion myrtle oak, co-champion post oak, co-champion pitch pine and co-champon rosebay rhododendron that are national champs discovered by Jimmy — his favorite things include gardening, his grandchildren and the mountains of northern Georgia.

For Jimmy Mock, the best part of hunting for big trees is the simple joy of being in nature. “Champion trees can be found in county, state and national parks, and I am always amazed to be surrounded by the beauty of the woods.”

Check out more of Georgia’s champion trees at http://www.gfc.state.ga.us/ForestManagement/ChampionTree.cfm, and check out the 2011 National Register of Big Trees.