4 Big Virginia Bucks
September 30, 2010
Every year hunters bring big racks to the Western Virginia Sport Show in Fisherville. Here are four great bucks from this year's show.
Woodlawn's Mike Brown holds the mount of his Carroll County 14-pointer, which scores 181 6/8. On the table in front of him are the sheds from the deer in 2007. Brown killed the buck on the opening day of early muzzleloader season. Photo by Bruce Ingram.
When the subject is big bucks and quality outdoor related seminars, the Western Virginia Sport Show, held every February at ExpoLand in Fishersville, ranks with any exhibition on the East Coast. For a number of years now, I have been attending the Fishersville show so that this magazine's readers can learn more about the individuals (and their hunting tactics) who tagged some of the most impressive broadbeams from the previous season.
Mark Hanger, co-owner of the show with Bob Rawley, says that the 2010 event brought in some of the most impressive bucks ever viewed at ExpoLand. He contends that four factors were involved in this state of affairs.
"First, it's an on-going process, but I do believe that an ever-growing percentage of Virginia hunters are buying into the philosophy that we should not shoot little bucks," said Hanger.
A second factor, continues Hanger, is that sportsmen involved in hunt clubs or leases are purposefully creating rules and restrictions that protect bucks until they have a chance to fully develop. And third, Mark believes that the outdoor fraternity possesses so much more knowledge about deer nutrition today. People are not only creating food plots, but also doing so that various areas on a property are designed to fulfill a whitetail's nutritional needs all year and not just in the autumn.
Finally, Hanger believes that the outdoor media has played a positive role in the evolution of this philosophy. People view or read about in television and print how individuals have shot trophies, and these folks likewise want to experience that thrill.
"Virginia is not like South Florida," concluded Mark. "If we do the right things, we have the ability here in this state to grow big bucks."
Lance Hanger, Mark's 19-year-old son, has an interesting take on these hunting trends. Lance began deer hunting when he was seven and killed his first whitetail at nine.
"I really think my generation has really bought into the philosophy of letting small bucks walk," he said. "Sure when we first start hunting, it's okay for us to shoot the first few bucks we ever see. But once we advance beyond that, we know that we have to shoot does, keep the herd in balance, and manage habitat.
"My generation has grown up thinking this way. I think that's a real positive for Virginia's deer herd and a real positive thing for hunting's future."
OVERVIEW OF FISHERSVILLE'S BUCKS
One of the things that always stands out to me is the number of quality bow-killed bucks at Fishersville. This year's event, though, seemed to have more rifle and muzzleloader broadbeams. Dale Wenger, the official scorer for the sports show, agrees.
"There were fewer bow trophies but more rifle and muzzleloader ones," he said. "From my experiences and from talking to others, 2009 was a good year to kill a deer with a bow but certainly not a trophy buck. I think the reason why is that, generally, the deer were much more difficult to pattern statewide because of the spotty acorn crop.
"Unless you located those trees, the bowhunting was tough, and then the acorns didn't last long in those spots before the deer, and the bowhunters, had to move again. When the early muzzleloading season arrived, the deer were moving more into the fields because the acorns were largely gone. And the bucks followed the does there and so were more vulnerable to hunters."
Chris Westmoreland and his son Hunter, of Shawsville, with the 11-pointer that Hunter tagged on the opening day of the 2009 early bow season. The non-typical buck scored 142. Photo by Bruce Ingram.
Hunter Westmoreland: A Teenager's First Buck With A Bow
Certainly, one person who experienced a glorious bow season was 14-year-old Hunter Westmoreland, a ninth grader at Eastern Montgomery High School. At 5 he started tagging along in afield with his father, Chris, and at 8 he started hunting. The Westmoreland family, which lives in Shawsville, is one that truly enjoys the outdoors as Chris and wife Luvada both pursue whitetails.
The story starts on Saturday, September 26 when Hunter and Chris are aloft on youth day.
"Dad and I had patterned the deer," explained Hunter. "They are coming to a corn and alfalfa field, and we had put up a stand about 100 yards back in the woods. The deer are funneling around this big white oak tree that has fallen. The stand is at the upper end of where the tree fell."
On youth day, the deer, as expected, meander around the fallen hardwood, and among their number is an impressive eight-pointer as well as a real mossyhorn.
But when the deer "break" around the tree, says Hunter, no shot is possible because the whitetails are not very visible. On opening day of the regular bow season, October 3, Hunter is back in the same general area, but on his dad's advice, the twosome have moved the stand to the bottom of the area where the white oak lies.
The morning of the opener produces no deer sightings, but Hunter remains faithful to the stand and returns at 2:00 p.m. The woodlot has produced no hard mast, even though another hardwood stand not far away is brimming with chestnut oak acorns -- again indicative of the season's spotty acorn crop. The youngster feels that the deer from the previous Saturday's outing will just have to visit the field sometime during the afternoon.
Again, though, no whitetails pass through the area, and sometime after 5:30, Hunter observes a gray squirrel scurrying along the forest floor. The teen arrows the bushytail, climbs down to retrieve it, and then returns to his stand.
"About that time about 100 yards away, I see a big buck, maybe the same one from the Saturday before," remembered Hunter. "I stand up and my knees start shaking, and a squirrel starts barking at me. The buck suddenly looks my way, and I can't move."
Eventually, the bruiser resumes feeding and contin
ues moseying toward the fallen-oak-created funnel.
"One of my legs is still shaking so bad, I have to push on my knee to try to make it stop," continued Hunter. "I close my eyes, tell myself to calm down, open them back up, and the buck is 35 yards away. He's coming, he's coming.
"The buck jumps the prone hardwood and then walks behind some thick leaves of the tree. The whitetail next steps around the other side of the foliage, just 13 yards away."
Hunter came to full draw.
"The buck stops to look out toward the field, and I release the arrow," said Hunter. "A few seconds later I hear him crash. I call Dad and say 'I just shot a monster, you've got to come'."
Although Hunter has killed about 20 whitetails since he began hunting, this is his first buck with a bow and later he learns that the arrow pierced the buck's heart. His dad also offers some advice.
"I told him to never again shoot squirrels, let alone go retrieve them, when he is bowhunting for deer," laughed Chris, a taxidermist. "But we have 18 deer mounted at our house and none of them is close to Hunter's. We called everybody we knew and had a great night celebrating.
Indeed, the 11-point non-typical scores 142 and Hunter's mom is just as proud of the accomplishment as father Chris.
"I think hunting teaches kids to have respect for animals and that hunting is a good positive thing for a youngster to do," said Luvada. "I started hunting the same time that Hunter did, and it's a real family activity for us. Bow season especially is our favorite time to be in the woods."
Hunter's advice to other young folks?
"Practice, practice all summer," he said. "I shoot 70 arrows every evening from between 20 and 30 yards. Dad taught me to practice at the same distance I will shoot. He doesn't believe in taking long shots."
Page Campbell's 9-point buck scored 158 4/8 and was killed on the first day of the late muzzleloader season. Photo by Bruce Ingram.
Page Campbell's Page County Late Season BruiserWhile Hunter Westmoreland tagged his trophy extremely early, Page Campbell of Luray did so extremely late. Campbell, the 46-year-old chief of police for the Town of Luray, has killed some 50 whitetails since he began hunting when he was in his early teens.
"I'm an all season hunter and only shoot bucks that I will mount," he said. "In the area of Page County where I hunt, I killed a 140-class 8 pointer during the early muzzleloader season last year. But I had seen rubs as big as my leg the past three years and that were made from a bigger buck. I never saw that buck in October or November, but I just felt that he was still around."
So when the late muzzleloader season began last December 12, Campbell returns to the same Page County woodlot, which he has hunted for the past decade. The property lies along a mountaintop, part of which borders the Shenandoah National Park and part of which boarders private land.
"I'm mainly a morning hunter but something came up that day, and I didn't enter the woods until around 2:00 p.m.," continued Campbell. "I had only been at my stand around 15 minutes when this huge buck shows up chasing a single, mature doe."
The police chief fires and misses and the two whitetails continue heading toward a thicket. Inexplicably, the doe stops to look back toward the tree stand and the broadbeam pauses as well.
"I can't find my nipple wrench, so I can't reload, and my heart is just pounding," remembers Campbell. "Finally I find the wrench, reload, get my nerves under control, and the deer are still there. No way that buck would have stopped if the doe hadn't."
Page fired and this time the buck dropped -- and it was most definitely the buck that has been making those massive rubs. The nine pointer scores 158 4/8, field dresses at 189 pounds, and a taxidermist later ages the deer at around 5 1/2 years.
"There's no telling what that buck would have weighed earlier in the year because he just looked completely worn out," says Campbell.
Page shares the property (which is some 400 to 500 acres) with a friend, and he attributes their success to "not wearing out any one area."
Each man has three or four stand sites and they carefully rotate among them. Interestingly, Campbell feels that this particular buck has long vacated his home area during the early muzzleloader and general firearms seasons.
"I came to feel that my best time to kill him was either in the early bow or late muzzleloader seasons," Page explained. "Several years I found his shed antlers, and one year I saw a huge buck that had dropped his antlers and that I suspected was him. After I failed to kill him during the early bow season, I felt that I had better try to kill this buck very early in the late muzzleloader season when he came back to his home woods."
And that's exactly what happened.
Mike Brown's Massive Muzzleloader Mossyhorn
Mike Brown of Woodlawn in Carroll County has been a deer hunter for 40 of his 54 years. During that time, he has tagged some 20 whitetails that scored 120-plus. But this dedicated trophy hunter recorded the buck of a lifetime last October 31, opening day of the early muzzleloader season.
Brown, a corporate pilot, had been after this particular buck for three years. Indeed, Brown first found one side of the rack in 2007 and dedicated himself to taking the whitetail. A friend, Kendall Webb from Fancy Gap, had located the other half that same year, and another hunter came across the buck's sheds in 2008. As the buck's legend grew locally in Carroll County, other individuals were no doubt chasing this whitetail as well.
"Kendall deserves a lot of credit for my taking this buck," explained Brown. "He helped me pick the stand site and knows the property really well. We scouted it together and decided for me to put a stand inside of a mountain laurel and rhododendron thicket."
Within this thicket, which extends about a quarter mile, runs a long funnel that is about 100 yards wide. Both Kendall and Brown determined that this was the buck's main travel way through the funnel. But one problem remained that the twosome couldn't solve.
"During pre-season sc
outing before opening day of bow, we can't figure out where the buck would likely walk down that long, clear corridor between the laurel and rhododendron thickets," recalled Brown. "There's big buck sign in that wide gap but there's no one place that indicates that the buck is often using the same trail.
"So I decide that I'm unlikely to kill the buck during the early bow season and will wait until early muzzleloader to go after him."
A week before the smokepole opener, Brown returned to the gap and hung a stand in a place where he could cover much of this natural funnel. Several major rubs exist in the general area, as do scrapes -- and opening day arrived.
"One of my basic hunting game plans is that I will not walk to my stand site in the dark," Brown continued. "I got sick of bumping deer in the dark and not knowing whether they were bucks or does. So now I leave my vehicle at first light and slowly still hunt to my stand site."
So at daybreak, Brown inched toward his stand and arrived there about 20 minutes later. Drizzle and fog filled the murky air. Visibility was quite poor and, as Brown remembers, he "couldn't see as far as I could shoot." The first animal he observed was a bobcat, which is a bad sign as whitetails do not like to be around this predator.
"The bobcat is licking his fur, he's so wet," continued Brown. "Finally, he wanders off and I am staring in the direction he went. Suddenly, I hear crashing behind me, try to turn around but my safety harness gets hung up, and then I see a doe running by. I get the harness free, finally turn around, and there is this huge deer, head down, and all I can see are these massive shoulders. I know from his size that this is the buck I have been after for three years."
The buck took two steps, raised his head, and paused 100 yards away. Brown fired, the buck bolted 40 yards and then collapsed. And Brown's three-year quest ended with a 14 pointer that scores 181 6/8.
David Bake killed this 168-class 11-point on Nov. 21 last year in Rappahannock County. Photo by Bruce Ingram.
David Baker's Peanut Butter And Jelly, Cigar BuckDavid Baker, a 53-year-old retired police officer from Culpepper, will readily tell you that he's not a trophy hunter. Heck, he's not all that interested in taking a buck. In his 40-plus years as a deer hunter he has killed some 100 deer, most during the general firearms season. So last November 21, he was watching over a Rappahannock County power line, a place where he has killed half a dozen whitetails.
"I intended to shoot a doe and come on out," recalled Baker. "But things were slow, and I ate two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then some tenderloin that had been in my back pocket, and then I started smoking a cigar. Next, this little doe runs by and I can't shoot because I'm eating and smoking. Then, this buck runs by and I shoot him. That's all there is to the story."
Except for the fact that the buck has 11 points and scores 168.