Carrying on longstanding traditions, stocking the freezer with meat and being a vital part of game management are all significant components of deer hunting. But the prospect of taking a wallhanger is what really gets most hunters' blood pumping.
When it comes to such exceptional creatures, the Mountain State is well represented, with 95 bucks meeting the qualifications of the state's Big Buck Certification Program last season by reaching a minimum of 125 inches typical or 155 inches non-typical for bows and crossbows, and 140 inches or 165 inches, respectively, for muzzleloaders and modern firearms.
The four-county bowhunting-only area in southern West Virginia traditionally makes a significant contribution to this listing, and last season was no exception. The bow-only restriction, combined with the rugged terrain found in Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming counties, allows many bucks to reach maturity. But trophy bucks are taken across many areas of West Virginia, like Destiny Reynolds' 164 4/8 inch typical from Roane County, which placed fifth on the bow list, and many more.
RYAN LINVILLE TYPICAL BOW
For the past 18 years, Ryan Linville has pursued whitetails, nearly exclusively with a bow in his home county of Logan. In 2012, Linville's trail camera captured an image of a big buck, one with an unusual black growth on one of its hind legs.
Armed with the knowledge of the buck's presence, Ryan hunted the area during the fall of 2012 but had no encounters, other than nighttime photos, but his season concluded with the taking of a nice 8-pointer.
In 2013, the buck twice found its way in front of his camera during the daytime, both on Saturday's when he was hunting a different location with his son. Then, prior to the 2014 season, Linville's trail camera was stolen. Frustrated, he decided to hunt a different area.
"I love looking at the pictures," Linville noted. "For me, half the fun of it is seeing what you have in your area."
Ryan hunted a different area in 2014 and 15. Ironically, though, it was another stolen trail camera that motivated him to return to his original area.
"Two seasons had come and gone, and I never dreamed that he'd still be there," Linville recalled. "But in late October a nighttime picture of him turned up."
In late November, Ryan took a week off work to concentrate on the buck, which has shown itself three different times during daylight hours.
On Nov. 21, Linville began his week-long adventure for the monster. A contest that didn't last very long.
"I climbed in my stand that Monday morning, and he was the first deer I saw," Linville said. "I was set up alongside of a point. I heard a noise, and thought it was probably a squirrel, as there are a lot of squirrels in the area. I glanced over my left shoulder but didn't see anything. A few minutes later I hear something again. Again, I glanced, but this time the buck was there, standing still, looking out over the point. I couldn't see all the deer, but I could see the rack and knew it was him."
After determining it was safe, the 15-point buck slowly walked toward Linville, who was getting ready for the shot.
"When he was about 35 yards away he looked my way, and it seemed our eyes met, and I thought I was busted," Ryan noted. "But he didn't hold contact. He just continued on the direction I needed him to."
The buck passed a small tree, and Linville drew. Then, it stopped broadside at 17 yards. The shot was good, with the buck crashing down after about 40 yards.
"I thanked the Lord for the buck and the good shot, and acknowledged mentors like Marty Hurley, Cecil Wintz and Eddie Ellis for introducing me to the outdoors," Linville noted. "Brian Perry and George Smith helped me get the buck out of the woods, no small job."
It took five years for Linville to take the buck, which had 15 scoreable points and an inside spread of 19 3/8 inches that scored second all-time for typical bow, and first for last season. It scored 177 3/8 inches.
CHARLES HOOVER GUN NON-TYPICAL
Pendleton County, one of several high elevation counties that comprise the tracts of the Monongahela National Forest, isn't one closely associated with trophy bucks. Expansive areas of mature timber aren't prime, nutrition-wise, for growing big antlers. However, the remote corners of such places ups the chances for bucks to grow old, as proven by Charles Hoover last fall.
"To be honest, last year started off as a disappointing gun season," said the 31-year-old Pendleton County native. "I hunted every day of the opening week, starting at first light and not coming in until dark. I'd had only seen two does. It was the most down I've ever been deer hunting."
The first Saturday of the season, November 21, brought some spitting snow and lots of wind. Feeling less than inspired, Hoover didn't get out early in the morning. By the afternoon, however, he realized that he couldn't kill anything if he didn't go.
After riding to the edge of the national forest, he started still hunting, moving when the wind would blow, and watching when it subsided. Eventually, this put Hoover three miles in, deeper than he normally hunted.
"It was getting late, and I figured it was nearly time to turn around and to start back," said Hoover. "Then I caught movement through some thick brush, and made out an antler, about 80 yards away."
Hoover moved into a position for a shot through the brush, and let loose a round from his .270.
"I knew I'd hit him, but I couldn't be sure how good a hit I'd made, especially with the brush," Hoover recalled. "A few years back I'd lost a big buck because I pushed him too hard. I didn't want that to happen again."
At this point, Hoover had no idea of the size of the buck, but realized he might need help. So he headed back to his ATV to shed some clothes and unneeded gear, and summon some friends.
However, when he got back to the road, he saw some fellow members South Fork Volunteer Fire Department responding to a call about a lost hunter. Hoover joined the search. By the time the hunter was found and the group made it back to the station it was 11 p.m.; he decided to wait until morning to look for the buck.
"When we got back the next morning we started looking in the brush," Charles explained. "We found some blood and began working our way through the brush."
After about 30 yards, the cover opened up, and 50 yards further laid a non-typical with 18 measurable points, a 22 3/8-inch inside spread and measured 185 2/8 inches. The estimated six and a half year-old buck became the largest deer killed last season with a gun. As expected, Hoover was both excited and pleased.
TERRY COLLINS CROSSBOW TYPICAL
Terry Collins' exceptional crossbow harvest, taken last October, is a testament of what can happen after implementing a sound deer management plan onto property, one aimed at allowing bucks to reach maturity and keeping the buck to doe ratio at a somewhat natural balance.
Collins, 64, has been hunting for more than 50 years, almost exclusively on his family owned farm in Tyler County.
"I live on our farm," Collins said. "We have a cow-calf operation, with about 25 acres of corn and a woodlot. The rest is pasture and meadows."
While the farm is mostly hunted by family, they have allowed a few other folks to deer hunt, all of which is done from stands and everyone is encouraged to pass on smaller bucks.
"They've taken some smaller bucks in past years, but if they take another smaller one, I get on them," Collins said. "Outside the rut, when bucks are chasing does, the deer stay pretty calm here. They've gotten some nice 10-pointers in recent years."
The December muzzleloader season also plays into the deer management program of Collin's property, with the last three days of the season having a doe-only agreement.
"If the bucks make it through the rifle season, there's a pretty good chance they'll be around the following year," Terry noted. "So, we don't want to take any during the muzzleloader season. And even though there's a late archery season, bowhunting is about all over around here by that point."
All of this favors growing bigger bucks, like the 140-inch class 10-pointer that the group would see in the pasture and the meadow.
Collins began hunting the big buck on the opening day of the bow/crossbow season in late September, sitting in his ladder stand each evening. The Friday of opening week was rainy and wet, so he spent the weekend at his camper near Elkins. When he returned, the trail camera contained photos of the buck during daylight hours. Monday evening, he was back in his ladder stand.
"It was getting toward twilight, and several other deer came in, but I was starting to think he wasn't going to show," Collins said. "But all of a sudden he busted in."
Collins identified it as the buck before making the shot, which turned out to be from 18 yards. He had no problem finding the blood-covered bolt. But he was concerned that he might have gut shot it. So, he waited until after dark to follow up his shot.
"I got in the side by side and started up the lane in the direction I'd last seen him when he went out of sight," Terry said. "I only went 75 yards until I saw him. I'd been pretty nervous sitting in the stand after the shot. But luckily the shot happened so fast I didn't have time to be nervous then."
The Collins buck sported 10 points, with a 22-inch beam lengths that were within 3/8 of an inch of being perfectly even and scored 164 4/8 inches. While Collins didn't weigh the buck, he estimated it at 160 to 165 pounds field dressed, meaning it was in the 200-pound range live.