A Look At Last Season's Big Virginia Bucks

Some big trophy whitetails showed up at the annual Fisherville deer show this year. Here's a look at some of them and the stories behind the trophies. (September 2009)

Boone Brockenbrough of Buena Vista with his Amherst County 12-point buck. The rack had an inside spread of 20 1/2 inches and scored 161 3/8. Photo by Bruce Ingram.

The annual Western Virginia Sport Show in Fishersville at Expoland gives the Old Dominion's big-buck enthusiasts their first look at the premier deer taken from the season before. Additionally, this Augusta County show offers a number of hunting and fishing outfitters, vendors and celebrities.

I attended the show this past February and despite the poor economy found Expoland packed with state sportsmen, many of them drawn to the big bucks display. Bob Rawley, co-owner of the sport show with Mark Hanger, told me that some impressive racks were on view.

"Because of the recent droughts, I thought 2008-09 might not have been a good year for big bucks, but we had some really nice bucks brought in," he said. "I think one of the reasons why is the continued emphasis by individuals and hunt club members on minerals, protein and just general nutrition on the lands they hunt on or manage. In Virginia, we still have a long ways to go in that area, but we are definitely getting there."

Taxidermist Dale Wenger, who is the official scorer for the show, offers his analysis.

"The show was probably the best year we've had for overall quality, although we didn't have the sheer number of really huge bucks that we've had in the past," he said. "One thing I noticed is that we are having more and more people come from a long distance to show their bucks. I would agree with Bob that more and more hunters are taking it upon themselves to manage their own land and the properties they hunt on with the idea of improving habitat.

"I also believe that the mentality of people shooting any buck that moves is disappearing. One hunt club I know of used to have a philosophy that if their members didn't shoot that 1 1/2-year-old buck, someone else would. Now I know that that same club is seeing bucks in the 130 to 140 class on the property. The use of trail cameras also has had a major impact on how people hunt. If someone sees a picture of a big buck on the land they hunt on, that person is going to be a lot more likely to let those smaller bucks walk. Before, they wouldn't have even known that such a buck was out there."

BRIAN PUFFENBARGER: DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN

Of all the years I have covered the Fishersville show, I have never interviewed the same individual two straight years -- until this year. Last year, Brian Puffenbarger of Staunton displayed a 4 1/2-year-old buck that scored 147 5/8. What's even more amazing is that both last year's and this year's bucks were taken with a recurve within the Staunton city limits. And, incredibly, the 42-year-old manager for Tangent arrowed his trophy last Dec. 19 -- a time when many bowhunters have put away their compounds for the year.

This story begins during the summer of 2008 when Puffenbarger glimpsed two twin 9-pointers, both missing G-4s. The duo was so similar in appearance that Brian and the individuals he leases the land with speculated that the bucks were brothers. Nevertheless, the Tangent employee never observed either buck throughout October and November, although he witnessed a great deal of big-buck sign -- specifically, rubs. Frustratingly, he also shot at but missed a 120-class 8-pointer in November.

So by mid-December, Puffenbarger still had two buck tags, although his hunt club, which has leased the land for three years, had shot 17 does on the land under the DMAP program.

He wanted a nice buck, especially one of the twin 9-pointers, and found what he thought would be a great late-season spot: a 6- to 8-acre island of trees along a fencerow and with dense brush on both sides. So last Dec. 19, on a warm, overcast afternoon, Brian slinked into the island.

"Around 4:45, it started raining pretty hard and I thought about climbing down and going home," Brian recalled. "But then I saw these long tines moving through the brush and realized that if the buck came around a rock ledge to my right, he would only be 8 to 10 yards away and if he came to my left, he would be about 25 yards out, which is a long shot with a recurve.

"The buck came to the left, so I took the shot and felt that the arrow had complete penetration. I heard the buck's hoofs cross over the rock ledge and then saw him fall head over heels. He only traveled about 40 to 45 yards. He was a huge buck for that time of year."

Indeed, the 9-pointer scored 142 gross and 130 3/8 net and was estimated to have been 3 1/2 years old.

Interestingly, that wasn't the only buck he shot in December. Puffenbarger also arrowed another solid buck from the property, a 4 1/2 year-old that had a 5-inch base but only 4-inch tines that, interestingly, were still in velvet. The buck had hip and leg injuries and may have been hit by a car. In any event, the Staunton sportsman is sold on late-season bowhunting.

"In December, the deer food sources really shrink and so do the places that the deer concentrate in," he said. "The acorns are usually all gone and so is most of the soft mast. So I concentrate on croplands, browse and fields. Once I find the travel corridors that lead to those areas, I feel that I have a good chance.

"Deer movement periods also shrink this time of year. I don't think morning hunting is very good in December. Deer do move at midday, but it is more of a stop-and-browse type of thing as they travel from one bedding area to another. The evening movement is much more consistent, and it is really like hunting in October when peak movement also seems to be in the evening.

"On the other hand, during the rut, I think the peak time for movement is in early morning. The difference between October and December evening movement is that deer bed much closer to their food sources late in the season."

Puffenbarger believes that many bowhunters are not taking advantage of the marvelous urban hunting that exists in the Commonwealth. He adds that the landowner that has leased the property to his group was skeptical at first about their being on her acreage and told them that she did not even want to hear about them killing a deer.

"Now she sees us killing all these does that have been causing damage and she has really warmed up to us, even stopping and chatting when she sees us and wanting to know if we have killed any does," said Puffenbarger. "A lot of people complain about deer damaging property, and bowhunters can help solve that problem."

MARCUS WRIGHT'S HENRY COUNTY BROADBEAM

Marcus Wright, a 41-year-old sputtering engineer from Fieldale, has been deer hunting for some 25 years and has tagged approximately 40 whitetails, most with a bow. Over the past four years, he has become a big-buck devotee, passing on some dozen bucks the past two years alone. Yet, he wasn't prepared for the events that transpired last Oct. 29.

While afield in Henry County the last week of October, he had rattled in two 4-pointers and several spikes. The spot he was hunting looked promising: A ridge led down to a spring and creek that bordered the flat where Wright had positioned a stand. The flat featured a number of bearing red and white oak trees and was bordered on its other side by a clearcut. Indeed, the Henry County resident estimated that some 70 trees were dropping acorns, and deer sign was abundant. At about 7:15, Wright glimpsed movement.

"I spotted the buck when he was about 30 yards away and moving across the flat," recalled Wright. "I believe he was on his way to the clearcut to bed. I picked up my bow and waited for him to come even closer. When he was about 15 yards out, he stopped to eat acorns. It was a chip shot, and the deer only ran about 60 yards."

The shot may have been an easy one, but Wright soon realized that what he had accomplished was not the mere killing of an ordinary whitetail. Wright called his best hunting buddy, Jackie Severt of Bassett. Wright was so excited on the phone that Severt at first thought his friend had experienced a heart attack and was desperately calling for help.

That's because the Henry County broadbeam possesses 17 points, a 20 4/16 outside spread, and scored 160 5/8 at the Fishersville show. Interestingly, both individuals are disciples of what they call cluster rubs.

"This particular flat produces bucks for Jackie and me every year," explained Wright. "The reason why is that it has cluster rubs. By that I mean, the flat will have a rub here and there for every 5 to 10 yards, then all of a sudden it will have 10 to 15 rubs in a 20- to 30-yard radius. That particular cluster rub this year also had two active scrapes."

Wright and Severt are not content to just bowhunt around the cluster rubs, as both believe in freshening the scrapes within to enhance their appeal. Sometimes, they will kick leaves into the scrapes with the goal being that a buck will have to spend time there clearing away the debris. They will also urinate into them with the philosophy that "testosterone is testosterone." I found fascinating another activity that they conduct.

"We will take a syringe and empty the bladders of both bucks in rut and does in heat that we have killed," said Wright. "Then we will squirt out that urine into scrapes. Jackie and I will also save deer urine from one year to the next by refrigerating it, not freezing it. We have found that refrigeration will keep urine from one year to the next."

Although they don't mind urinating into a scrape, they are fastidious about their body odor. Only rarely will they hunt a specific spot two consecutive days, and if they do so, they will then avoid the area for three or four days. They also believe in hunting extremely high in their climbers; Wright, for instance, was 20 feet off the ground when he arrowed the Henry County trophy.

"I also take a bath every day before I go bowhunting, and I wash all my clothes every time after I hunt," concluded Wright. "I then store my clothes in a plastic container and put inside with them leaves, droppings, deer urine and scent wafers. If a big buck smells you, you can forget about killing him that season."

BOONE BROCKENBROUGH'S BIG BUCK

Boone Brockenbrough comes from a Buena Vista family that takes deer hunting very seriously. The 24-year-old corrections officer is the youngest male in the family, and his dad, Jackie, and brothers, Jason and Jeremiah, nurtured his outdoor interests throughout his childhood years. The trio began taking the youngster afield when he was 7 years old, and in his 17 years as a hunter, Boone has killed around 20 whitetails.

Interestingly, all four men hunt on the same land, a parcel on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Amherst County. They have a basic rule regarding the public land -- any buck shot has to feature at least 8 points and a spread beyond the ears. Occasionally, the quartet will take a decent buck, says Boone, but most of the time, they will all hold out for a broadbeam.

"We sort of look on this part of the national forest as 'our land'," said Boone. "We really don't have any private land to hunt on. The family has been hunting this same section of the national forest since my dad (now 56 years of age) was a kid. The area always seems to have a lot of mast, and there's a clearcut nearby that the deer bed in."

Last Nov. 26, Brockenbrough was afield in the family's traditional hunting ground where he had viewed some shooter bucks earlier in the autumn. The area was rife with rubs, scrapes and droppings, and the Buena Vista resident had seen a fresh scrape as well. Brockenbrough was not heading to a stand; however, he was practicing the art of still-hunting.

"If I'm in a good area, I may move only 20 yards in 90 minutes or maybe just 50 in a half day," he explained. "I even still-hunt with a bow. My basic game plan is to move along an edge next to really thick areas where I'm not so visible. I wear Seclusion camo and Scent-Lok clothing, which I also think helps to conceal my presence.

"I've learned from my mistakes in the past when I used to be really antsy. Give me a damp day or a day when the wind is blowing toward me, and I can sneak around pretty good. Still, I can't afford any slipups, which is why I also spray myself down with a scent remover and concentrate on feeding instead of bedding areas.

"I often see nice bucks when I'm still-hunting. To be successful, we just have to put in our time and learn the deer patterns. The place where we hunt is about a mile back in the national forest, so we don't see very many other people. Still, hunting the national forest is a challenge because we know that anybody can come into our area. They just don't seem to come very often because I guess most hunters don't like to walk much."

As Boone was inching along, he glimpsed a doe walking by with her tail upward -- and she was constantly looking behind herself. Then a big buck metamorphosed.

"The buck came from the clearcut and stopped behind a tree," Brockenbrough recalled. "He then walked about 10 yards and stopped about 35 to 40 yards away. That's when the doe really took off. I fired my rifle and hit him in the neck."

The buck collapsed and Boone was soon standing over his trophy. He admits that his brothers and even his dad tease him about his deer hunting tactics, but they may not be able to do so anymore. That's because the Amherst County buck sports 12 points and an inside spread of 20 1/2 inches, scoring 161 3/8.

For more information on the 2010 Wester

n Virginia Sport Show, call (540) 337-7018, e-mail hangerent@ yahoo.com, or consult the Web site www.westernvasportshow.com. The show usually takes place in mid to late February.

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