The Western Virginia Sports Show annually gives state sportsmen a first look at the best Virginia bucks from the previous season.
Of all the many years I have been covering the Western Virginia Sports Show, held annually in February at ExpoLand in Fishersville, the most recent incarnation offered some of the most intriguing big buck mounts — and stories.
CALEB MAYS: 13-YEAR-OLD TROPHY HUNTER
Of all the stories I heard at the 2010 event, none topped the one concerning seventh grader Caleb Mays, a confirmed 13-year-old trophy hunter from Williamsburg.
The youth has been hunting for six years, has killed 10 bucks (five of which have been mounted) and lost track of how many does he has tagged. The broadbeam he killed this past Thanksgiving, however, is one he will never forget
“I’m a trophy hunter and have been since I was 11,” he said. “When I started watching the hunting shows on television and helping my dad manage land, I decided that I wouldn’t shoot a deer until it was at least four years old and had reached its potential.”
The Mays family lives on a 472-acre spread in James City County and it is that property that the young man’s father Robert manages. The parcel features flats, swamps, and a few hummocks, and borders the James River. Earlier in his career, having killed a 9 pointer with a bow and an 8 pointer with his favorite gun, a .257 Roberts, Caleb was very much looking forward to this past year’s Thanksgiving vacation from school.
“I had only seen this big buck one time and that was the night before Thanksgiving last year,” recalled Caleb. “My family saw him out in a field next to our house when we were going out to dinner. The buck was feeding in the field and looking for does. I decided right then and there that I would hunt him on Thanksgiving morning.
“So before sunrise that morning, I walked to where a forest borders a swamp, which is where I thought he was bedding. But in the dark I set up too close to the swamp’s edge and spooked what I think was the buck.”
Nevertheless, Caleb felt that given the circumstances (the rut and the buck not having been unduly pressured earlier in the season) the chances were that the mossyhorn would return. Caleb remained on the stand until 11:00 and glimpsed several does as well as a 4 and 6-pointer. But the mature buck did not reappear, so the middle school student went home for lunch. Later around 3 p.m., Caleb returned and selected a stand in the transition zone around the field.
“About 30 minutes before dark, that big buck returned to the same field where I had seen him the evening before,” said Caleb. “There is a wood line that basically cuts the field in two, and he was moving down through there.
“I had to crawl though the field about 125 yards before I could get within range of the buck to have a shot. After looking through a rangefinder to make sure I was no more than between 180 and 190 yards, I fired my Roberts .257. The buck only went about 40 yards before he fell.”
The non-typical scored 128 3/8 B&C and sports 14 points.
JASON CONNELLY: HIS FIVE-YEAR QUEST
Jason Connelly, a 33-year-old swimming pool service worker from Amherst, is not an obsessive person by nature; nevertheless, he shadowed one buck for many seasons.
“I had been watching this one buck for five years near my home,” explained Connelly, who has killed over 40 deer in the 23 years he has been pursuing whitetails. “I have seen him on trail cams, followed his rub and scrape lines, and even saw him two years ago coming through a thicket.
“Twice a friend, while working, even jumped that buck. But that one time I did see him, I didn’t have an ethical shot. From the trail cameras, I even learned that the buck liked to visit an orchard, but only at night.”
So on November 1, based on those years of frustration, observation, and data, Connelly positioned a stand where he believed the buck’s core area was. Then he grew determined to hunt as long and as often as he could in that area. On that Monday, however, Jason had to work, so he positioned his 14-year-old son Justin in another stand and went to work.
During the morning, Justin shot a button buck and texted his dad to come give him a hand. Later the two hung the whitetail, had lunch, showered with scent removal soap, and around 2:30 proceeded to return to evening stand sites some 200 yards from the vehicle.
“On the way to our stands, we stopped to look at two fresh scrapes, then took three more steps,” recalled Jason. “We heard something run off the ridge above and then saw the buck run down into some laurel about 125 yards from where we were standing. The buck knew something was below him but seemed to be confused about what it was.
“I was shaking so hard, but I raised my Traditions Magnum muzzleloader and fired. It just seemed like it took forever for the smoke to clear. I had always dreamed of killing that buck and in my dreams when I did shoot, that shot would come from a tree stand. But at this point, I really didn’t care if that version of the dream ever came true.”
When the father and son reached the downed Amherst County deer, Justin burst into tears when he called his wife to tell her the news. Later, Mike Carwille of Staunton River Taxidermy aged the buck at nine years. The non-typical flaunts 20 scorable points and scored 186 5/8 B&C.
ADAM ELLIS: DEDICATING THE SEASON
The pictures of the nocturnal monster buck on a game camera convinced Adam Ellis, a 29-year-old electrician from Gretna, that this was the whitetail he would dedicate himself to killing during the 2010 season. Ellis, who has tagged some 20 to 30 whitetails (six of them mounted) since he began hunting at 14, decided to hunt the same stand site for as long as it would take to get his buck.
Because of the trail cam images, Ellis had some realistic hope of ambushing the monster whitetail, as the deer had given some indication of where his core area was. That home turf included the back of a rock quarry and a bean field that bordered it. A draw led down from the quarry’s backside, and it was at the top of that terrain that Adam positioned his stand on the Pittsylvania County property.
Acorns littered the area right where the draw necked down, and several finger ridges intersected there as well. It was, the electrician reasoned, a perfect place to take a buck during the early bow season. So for three straight outings in early October, Ellis hunted from his climber stand in that natural funnel.
“The first three days I hunted the draw, I saw three or four small bucks, some spikes, five does, and about 30 turkeys but no trail cam buck,” recalls Ellis. “I was not happy with the results, as I felt like I should have seen more deer. So I dumped my plan to hunt from the top of the draw until I killed the buck.
“On the fourth day out, I moved my stand down the mountain about a quarter mile and climbed up in it around 3 o’cock. I know it sounds strange to move farther away from a known bedding area, but I had lost confidence in my first plan. Most guys would have gone higher, I went lower.”
Ellis just had a hunch that the buck was bedding lower on the mountain, and when he was aloft in his climber, the Gretna sportsmen observed sign that seemed to indicate that that feeling was correct. Both large and small rubs, two huge, fresh scrapes and a natural funnel all combined to make the second stand site a potentially productive one. The scrapes and some of the rubs were only 30 yards from the stand.
“By 4:45 on October 8, I was covered up with mosquito bites and I was so miserable from the heat and mosquitoes that I had decided to leave,” remembered Ellis. “But I heard something, looked to my right, and there coming toward me and just grunting away was the trail cam buck. I hadn’t been calling or had any estrous scent out, but the buck was aroused about something. I don’t know what had gotten into him.
“The buck was following a trail that looked like a bunch of cows had been coming down it regularly. That buck continued running all the way to where I was, 22 feet up in the climber. And then, for some reason —and I have no clue why — the buck stopped. I turned to look at him, and I think he saw me. When the buck spooked, he ran up the mountain and stopped about 30 yards away, standing broadside.”
It was then that Ellis released an arrow from his Matthews Z-7, which pierced both lungs of the behemoth. The ran about 70 yards before collapsing. The 10-point typical scored 159 5/8 P&Y. And oh, by the way, it was Ellis’ first bow-killed buck.
“I’m going to be pretty much a bowhunter from now on,” confirmed Ellis. “I was already a trophy hunter and have taken a 12 pointer with a rifle. It’s weird that I’ve had such good luck. The things I try to do most are be as scent free as possible, stay calm when a deer appears, and never look at those horns.”
BRUCE ALLEN: HIS 200-POUND PLUS BEHEMOTH
Bruce Allen is a 49-year-old sales rep from Richmond, but one of his favorite places to hunt is outside Emporia in Greensville County. Until recently, however, Allen had not hunted in 15 years.
“When my wife Cynthia and I started thinking about having a family, she told me that I had to pick between hunting and fishing as hobbies and give up one of them,” said Allen. “So I decided to give up hunting. When our son Cole got older, she said I could start hunting again, but I couldn’t go at first because I was recovering from minor surgery.
“Before this year, I had only killed two deer, and none of them were trophies. One, in fact, was a button buck, which I had killed in 2009, my first year back hunting.”
Nevertheless, last October 2 on opening day of the early bow season, Allen had to choose where to hunt. His friend Bob Alford had captured two monster bucks on a trail camera. After pondering which stand to hunt from, Allen picked an old homemade box stand 20 feet off the ground. However, the next morning things became dicey.
“I couldn’t find the tree stand in the dark,” recalled Allen. “I was blundering around before sunrise, not knowing where I was or what to do. I was frustrated and getting ready to leave the area when I finally found the stand. It wasn’t long before sunrise.”
Indeed, by the time Allen became settled and prepared his crossbow, legal shooting light had arrived. Then five minutes later…
“Not one but two trophy bucks showed up,” continued Allen. “When the first one came out, my eye glasses fogged so badly that I had to take them off and not attempt a shot. While all that was going on, the first buck stepped back into the woods, but a second one, which was even bigger, stepped out. Then that buck walked back into the woods, and I grunted several times.”
Allen anxiously awaited to see if either buck would reappear.
“It seemed like it took forever for either of the bucks to respond to the grunting, but I guess it was just a few seconds,” said Allen. “But when one of them did come back into view, I fired a bolt.”
Given the extreme height Allen was above the ground, he apparently did not adjust the shot for that distance. But what was an error turned out to be a favorable result as the bolt struck the broadbeam in the spine and the deer only stumbled six feet before collapsing.
“I considered waiting to see if the second buck would come out, but I was too excited to wait for him,” says Allen. “I had just killed the deer of a lifetime and couldn’t wait to see him up close.”
That desire is understandable for the Richmonder had just killed an 8 pointer that scored 137 1/8 and weighed over 200 pounds. And there’s still more to come regarding this fascinating story.
“When I was looking over the buck, I saw a hole in one of his ears,” marvels Allen. “A while later when we were eating venison from the buck, someone spit out some buckshot. Obviously, the buck had been shot before.”
Stories like these are what will make me want to attend the 25th annual Western Virginia Sports Show this February. For more information: www.westernvasportshow.com.
Editor’s Note: Bruce Ingram writes a weekly outdoors blog at his website: www.bruceingramoutdoors.com.