Photo courtesy of Mike Turner
Photo courtesy of Mike Turner
Every year, I set aside the last weekend in February in order to make a visit to the Western Virginia Sports Show, which is always held at the Augusta County Expoland in Fishersville. For those Old Dominion sportsmen who hunger to kill, view and learn about trophy bucks, this show is the one for those individuals to take an initial gander at some of the best broadbeams tagged from the year before.
Show operator Mark Hanger explains the event’s appeal.
“Of course, one of the most exciting things about the show is that it gives the avid trophy hunter his first look at the best bucks taken during the preceding season,” says Hanger. “The late February date gives many hunters a chance to have their bucks mounted and for the antlers to have dried.”
Hanger relates that the 2005 affair sported an incredible number of trophy bucks. He also emphasizes that there is no question that more and more Old Dominion sportsmen are managing the properties they own, lease, or hunt on with the goal of producing better quality deer. And that there’s also no question that more and more state hunters are content to let lesser bucks walk and hold out for a mature one.
Here, then, are the stories behind some of the most intriguing big bucks of 2004.
MARK CULLINANE’S FOUR-YEAR QUEST
Mark Cullinane, a 39-year-old stonemason from Purcellville in Loudon County, found the sheds for the deer that became his quest in February of 2001. Cullinane, an ex-Marine, noted that the animal was a 10-pointer and a solid 140 class. The next year while on a Sunday scouting expedition, he spotted the buck and then decided to concentrate on him during the 2002 season.
“That one time I did see him was in the summer when I was looking out over a power line right of way,” Cullinane recalled. “It was near dark, and three bucks in his group had already gotten up from their beds and were feeding. But, there, still hidden in the brush was my buck. He was so cautious and secretive that he wouldn’t even expose himself before dark during the summer. I knew then he was going to be a real challenge to hunt.”
The Virginian never saw the buck that hunting season, despite the fact that his rubs and scrapes dotted the Loudon County landscape, which Mark describes as being “big timber hardwoods.”
Adding to his frustration was the fact that a hurricane blew over the tree where Cullinane had placed a stand — this spot had been deemed the most likely one where the sportsmen could waylay the buck.
The 2003 season came and went and Cullinane never laid eyes on his dream buck and the same was true with the 2004 early bow and muzzleloader seasons.
“I knew the buck was bedding on land that I did not have access to, and I knew that he would never leave that land before darkness,” Cullinane said. “So finally I hit upon the strategy that my only chance to kill him would be to catch him during the rut coming back a little late to his bedding area in the morning.”
Cullinane then located just the right spot — a classic saddle on the downhill slope from a ridge peak. Mountain laurel thrived in great profusion at the top of the saddle, and at the bottom, Cullinane and compatriots had conducted timber-thinning operations. The result was that the surviving hardwoods were producing great numbers of acorns and that the left-behind treetops were providing additional thick cover. On the cold, crisp morning of Monday, Nov. 15, Cullinane was positioned near the top of the saddle where it adjoins the ridge. It was the first Monday of the regular gun season in Loudon County.
“I saw three juvenile bucks move through the saddle, one of them even stopped to make a scrape,” Cullinane recalled. “Of course, I let them pass. I just had the feeling that I was going to see something spectacular. Around 7:45 a.m., I stood up to stretch and scan the woods. I knew I would have to leave soon, because I had planned to be at work around 9 a.m. Then, I heard something moving through the brush, saw just the antlers and I knew that a shooter was on the way.
“The buck’s body language was very relaxed, but I could also see that he was dragging a little — probably from chasing does all night. I could also tell that the buck was angling toward me. So I took a good rest and waited for him to move through an opening. The shot was an easy one.”
And Mark Cullinane’s four-year quest was over, as he was soon standing over a 16-point, 178 Boone and Crockett non-typical. Cullinane was also understandably late for work that morning. He describes himself as a serious trophy hunter, as he had previously tagged six 140-class bucks since he began deer hunting in 1980. The keys to his success?
“I would say four things,” Cullinane replied. “I try to be really quiet entering and leaving my hunting area. I won’t use climbers because I feel they make too much noise, and I will only use super quiet hang-ons that allow me to get into a tree quickly and quietly.
“The second thing I do is really study terrain. For example, on the 600-acre Loudon County property that I hunt, an old, overgrown drag road leads up the mountain. The deer will always take that path because it is the easiest one up the mountain. I also know that a buck will stop at certain benches leading up the mountain, so that he can scent check for does really quickly and also grab something to eat. And I know that a buck will use a saddle to arrive at a bedding area.
“Third, I am really careful with my scent. I wear sweat pants and a T-shirt, no matter how cold, into my stand site every morning. Then when I arrive, I take off those clothes and seal them within a plastic bag. Then I get out clothes that have been washed in a scent free detergent, and finally I put on my Scent-Lok suit.”
The last part of Cullinane’s game plan is that he stays afield all day. Two of his trophy bucks have been tagged in the middle of the day, one at 1 p.m. and the second at 1:30. He convinces himself to stay put all day by playing mind games and if he has to, climbing down from his portable and taking a nap. He will do anything, he concluded, to stay in the field, because it is impossible to bag a trophy buck at home.
FREDERICK DODSON’S GET LUCKY BUCK
Mark Cullinane’s buck was the second-best non-typical at the Western Virginia Sports Show and was the result of four years of hard hunting. Fr
ederick Dodson of Brightwood claimed the top non-typical — a Madison County monster that scored 192 4/8 and that features a 21-inch outside spread. The deer was taken on Nov. 13, the first day of the regular gun season. Dodson admits that he is not a trophy hunter and that he is just a “regular deer hunter” who has killed about 40 whitetails in his 21 years of deer hunting.
Dodson, a 34-year-old logger, had never before seen his broadbeam but had heard stories of it feeding in a soybean field over the summer.
“I have permission to hunt this one farm in Madison County, and I only go there once or twice a season,” he said. “The farm has some hay fields, but mostly what it has is some really thick cover — standing pines, fallen pines and honeysuckle vines. I’m not very good at sitting still. I usually only sit in one place for an hour then I get up and go sit somewhere else for a while.
“On that morning, I had already moved once and had come to a spot that had some scrapes and really thick cover. It was around 10 a.m. and I had already seen two does walk by in the short time I had been there. Then this huge buck showed up and walked straight toward me when he was about 30 to 40 yards out. I let him keep walking and then I shot him at about 12 to 15 yards.
“I’m not going to pretend that I’m this great trophy hunter. I don’t even see a lot of trophy deer. I just happened to get lucky, that’s all. Heck, I wasn’t even dressed in camo that day. I had on blue jeans and a brown coat. I just enjoy not being at work and finding some peace in the woods.”
Taxidermist Dale Wenger, one of the scorers at the show, told me that Dodson’s broadbeam would likely have made the all-time B&C book if it had not lost one of its tines when the buck was in velvet.
WAYNE COX’S CANOE BUCK
On the morning of Nov. 6 last year, 53-year-old Wayne Cox of Riner rose at 2:30 a.m. — not to tote his smokepole into the woods for early muzzleloader season, but to milk 95 cows on his dairy farm. As is typical for the Commonwealth’s farmers, work always comes before pleasure, and Cox’s major goal that day was to take care of the animals on his southwest Virginia property.
But when the milking was at last done, Cox took off his work clothes and, of all things, met with three friends to go canoeing on the Little River. This tributary of the New River is a good little smallmouth bass and rock bass stream, and some satisfying fall fishing exists. But these four men had not gathered at the river for fishing purposes.
“Bretton Chaffin of Riner and I got into one boat and we paddled across the Little River in the dark to the Montgomery County side,” Cox recalled. “Some of my friends and I have been canoeing the Little River for several years now as a way to get away from the hunting pressure. One year I killed a 10-pointer with a muzzleloader that way, another year I got a doe with my bow.
“We like to hunt properties that are only accessible by boat or by someone walking miles to get to where we are. We find a place where deer are either wading or swimming a river, then we follow the trails up the mountain from a river to a spot where we can ambush the animal going to its bed.”
The locale that Cox had found for this particular hunt is a classic stand site. A cornfield lies across the river, and a ford exists for the deer. A narrow funnel then leads up the mountain. For much of the way, acorn trees line one side of the funnel and deer frequently stop to forage. On the other side lies thick cover and potential bedding areas. At the top of the mountain, more bedding areas exist — the result of an ice storm that toppled numerous trees.
On that November morning, Cox positioned himself near the top of the funnel and among the oaks.
“I always see most of my deer at the top of the funnel and just after daylight, so I know not to set up at the bottom of the funnel,” Cox explained. “I also like to use a climber stand to go up about 25 feet. I don’t want the does or little bucks to scent me before I get a chance at a big buck. I’ve never been seen, heard or smelled when I’ve been up that high.
“Just after 7 that morning, I saw a doe and her fawn come by. So I knew I had selected a good spot. Some of my friends had also seen some 6-inch-wide hornings in the area, so we all guessed that a big buck had to be working the funnel. About 7:10, I saw this big buck about 75 to 100 yards out. The shot wasn’t hard.”
Cox’s 11-pointer scored 149 6/8. In his 42 years of hunting, it was one of the 100 or so deer that he has tagged. What is Cox’s basic philosophy?
“Find a good place, sit down, and stay there all day,” he answered. “I have killed a lot of big bucks in the middle of the day. And I have spooked a lot of deer when I move around. I don’t move around anymore.”
MIKE TURNER’S AFTER-WORK BROADBEAM
Mike Turner, a 46-year-old maintenance technician from Massanutten Village, will tell you that he is just starting the process to become a trophy hunter. Previously, the only bucks that he had tagged (Turner goes afield only with a compound) were ones with basket racks. But when he arrowed a nice 9-pointer several years ago, Turner’s metamorphosis into a trophy hunter began.
Turner will also tell you that sometimes his first impression about a property is wrong.
“I like to bowhunt this one property, one reason being that I can get there pretty quickly after work,” he explained. “The place doesn’t get much hunting pressure, either. During the early bow season, I had hunted the place and saw a lot of does but hadn’t seen any buck sign at all. So I pulled my stand there and started hunting another farm.
“Well, one of my co-workers shot a really nice buck there with his muzzleloader, and my friend told me to go back and give it another try. So last Nov. 11, I got off work around 3 p.m. and headed over there. I decided to put up my climber at a doe crossing and just wait for evening.
“Around 4:20, I saw this buck coming and he walked right under my tree. I was so afraid that he was going to smell me or a bungee cord I had left under the tree. But he walked within 2 feet of the cord and right under the tree and gave no indication that he realized something is wrong. When the buck moved about 10 yards out from the tree, I put my sight pins on him and released the arrow.”
The Page County 11-pointer scored 162 3/8 with an outside spread of 21 inches.
For more information on the Western Virginia Sports Show, visit
www.westernvirginiasportshow.com; or call (540) 337-7018.