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.”
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’.”