West Virginia Trophy Bucks
December 21, 2018
A proud state with a host of outdoor traditions, deer hunting in West Virginia is top of the list for many. This is mostly because deer hunting provides both food and fun, and is a great way for folks to spend some time off the grid, or at least away from today’s fast-place living.
Deer camp is just a place to get away from regular life with friends and family to spend time in the woods, as well as around the fire to tell tall tales about deer that were taken and some that got away. Not that the fire needs stoking, but a few good old-fashioned hunting stories can help prepare one for this fall’s hunt, especially when it comes to big bucks.
RANDOLPH COUNTY NON-TYPICAL GUN 189 3⁄8
Growing up in the Mercer County town of Athens, Bryan Farley joined the military service when he was 18, and after a 20-year career returned to the Mountain State. He began hunting deer when he was 13. Up until last season Farley had taken several respectable bucks, 8- and 10-pointers, but nothing that would meet Boone and Crockett or Pope and Young standards. He currently lives in Raleigh County, but his deer hunting is done out of a cabin in Pocahontas County.
“We hunt out of the cabin every year in gun season,” Farley explained. “We hunt both Pocahontas and Randolph, and know the land very well. We have several good spots, but during the past five to 10 years that area has taken a big hit in terms of big bucks. We simply hunt good cover and good terrain, but had no idea there was a buck this big there.”
During the three days of gun season that Farley hunted during last year’s season, he only saw nine deer. He claims that 20 years ago you couldn’t walk a trail or powerline without jumping deer. He feels some exceptionally tough winters with heavy snow cover have negatively impacted the deer population, and that an increase of bear hunters drives remaining deer deeper into the woods during gun season.
On opening morning, Farley hiked back a couple miles in to an area in which he had great confidence. Things were quiet during the morning, and around 1 p.m., he observed another hunter enter the area and set up.
“I’m not going to confront another hunter,” Farley said. “He didn’t know I was there, and has as much right to hunt the spot as me.”
Bryan hiked another mile back to his alternative area, setting up on an oak hillside that overlooked some thick cover along the opposite side of the hollow. The cover on the far hillside featured oak, along with an understory of mountain laurel.
“I like to hunt those thicker areas, where I think the deer feel safer,” Farley explained. “At one point I saw two or three deer running a trail. Then about 4:30 I caught a glimpse of a deer in the laurel, about 120 to 130 yards away. All I could see of it was that it had a huge snout.”
Feeling confident it was a buck, Farley kept close tabs on the deer’s movement. After seeing a glimpse of a horn, Farley knew it was a buck, but couldn’t tell its size. He grunted, so Farley grunted back. When it went to get downwind, Farley realized it was a bigger buck and found an open spot where he might get a shot.
The buck crossed a creek and entered the opening, providing a 110-yard shot, which Farley felt good about. However, when he reached where to buck should be, it wasn’t there.
“My heart stopped, as I hate the thought of wounding a deer,” Farley noted. “I looked for a blood trail, walking up the hill. There was a depression in the ground, probably from where an old tree had fallen, and he was lying there dead. It was then that I realized how blessed I was.”
It was also when the real work started, as he was three to four miles in the Monongahela National Forest. The massive buck featured 8 points on each side, with main beams measuring 24 /6/8 and 24 3/8 inches and an inside spread of 17 5/8 inches.
WYOMING COUNTY TYPICAL BOW 173 6⁄8
Living in West Virginia’s four bowhunting-only counties, Logan County hunter Mark Lafferty has downed his share of quality bucks, including several Pope and Young qualifiers. But the big typical whitetail he downed last fall with a recurve, the second largest in the state, was on another level. It was a buck he’d been hunting for three years.
Lafferty’s first encounter with the buck was in 2015, when it was an 8-pointer. Mark stalked the deer, had a chance to shoot with a longbow, but decided to pass, feeling it was still a young deer.
On the opening day of the 2016 season, he had another meeting with the buck, which was with a doe. He estimated the buck, which was now an 11-pointer, at 35 yards, but it turned out the shot was only around 30, and his arrow went over the buck’s back.
Lafferty says he had trail cameras set up around the old homestead, but hadn’t come up with any pictures of the buck. After his near miss he re-positioned his cameras to observe this spot, but the buck didn’t return until December of that year. Then, in late October of last year, his trail cameras captured him, in broad daylight in an open field from 8 a.m. until noon. Come November he dedicated two weeks of vacation to hunt.
“I had over a hundred pictures on him that October day,” Lafferty exclaimed. “But I never saw the deer until November 13, which was a Monday. I didn’t feel well when I got up, and it was around 9 a.m. by the time I got to the old farm. And there he was, feeding in the field close to the barn.”
Knowing that he didn’t have a shot at the buck, Mark let it feed, and naturally work its way out of sight. Tuesday’s hunt was uneventful, and Lafferty was beginning to feel the effects of consecutive days of hunting.
“I use that old, abandoned barn as a blind,” Lafferty explained. “I’d hunted out of that blind for nine straight days, and come early afternoon I was burned out. I called my wife and said ‘this is crazy, spending all this time trying to kill this deer,’ but she told me I might as well stick it out the rest of the day. So I got back into the barn a little after two.”
Around 4:20 he heard something outside the barn, so he peeked through a window. The buck was standing five yards from the barn. Since Lafferty stands back from the window, he estimated the deer was 8 yards from him. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a shot. The deer turned to look down the ridge at some turkeys, which is when Lafferty repositioned for a shot. But the buck heard him.
“He stood there for two minutes. And I’m talking graveyard-still,” Lafferty recalled. “I could see his eyelashes blinking. After those two minutes he turned a full circle, giving me a shot.”
Even though he’s taken many quality bucks, Mark admits he lost his composure when he took his shot at 10 yards, claiming it was the worst shot he had ever made. However, as the buck ran through the field, Lafferty could see the blood running down its leg, and the deer only went about 100 yards before piling up.
Lafferty’s trophy is a mainframe 12-pointer, with six points on one side, seven on the other. He put the deer at 4 1/2 years, with a weight over 200 pounds.
RALEIGH COUNTY TYPICAL GUN 163 0⁄8
Mention Raleigh County, and it would be natural to think of the New River Gorge and its national park recreation area, and the famous bridge that spans the gorge. But the county is slowly building a resume that includes trophy whitetail bucks.
But Raleigh County attained another level when it produced Jeff Toney’s 163-inch typical whitetail last season, the top typical buck taken in the state with a gun.
The southern West Virginia native has been deer hunting since he was 16 years old, which was 38 years ago, taking several bucks along the way.
“I’ve gotten some 8-pointers, but never anything that I’d want to put on the wall,” Toney said. “I thought I’d live my life out without getting a trophy. But I got lucky.”
Toney was not aware of the big 10-pointer. In the past he’d put out trail cameras, but discontinued the practice when theft became a problem. However, other folks that hunt the same area had cameras up, and none had recorded any images of the big buck. Nor had he heard of anyone seeing it.
“It seems it just showed up in my area during the end of the first week of the season,” Toney recalled.
The first part of West Virginia’s gun season was relatively uneventful for Toney. He hunted alone the first two days, eagerly awaiting the arrival of his son-in-law, Nicholas Barker, who was enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He was coming in from Cherry Hill Tuesday night, and wanted to get in as much deer hunting as he could,” Toney explained. “So we hunted Wednesday, and of course Thursday was Thanksgiving, and we had family obligations.”
On Friday, the two saw an 8-pointer. Nick had jumped the deer, but Jeff did not have an opportunity for a shot, but he got a good enough look at it to know it wasn’t the same deer he would encounter the following day.
Saturday, according to Toney, was a perfect hunting day, and he was optimistic when he climbed into his stand, with intentions of removing it at the end of the day if it didn’t produce. It was situated among three close trees which helped break up his outline, with the surrounding woods made up primarily of oaks.
“Around eight, here comes three does in front of me,” Toney recalled. “And then I saw a buck. I got a look at it and knew it had horns on it, but nothing like what I walked up to after I’d shot it.”
The three does presented a problem for Toney. They stopped about 20 yards away and sensed he was there, stomping their feet. The buck held back about 70 to 80 yards.
Toney had to split his attention between the does and the buck, with the primary concern that the does not bust him. He knew the buck was a nice one, but beyond that discounted its rack.
The buck started rubbing a tree and the does calmed down and resumed feeding. Then the buck decided to join the does, giving Toney a shot. The buck was about 60 to 70 yards, presenting a quartering away shot when Toney touched the trigger on his .30-06. The big buck quickly collapsed.
“Man, when I walked up on him, that was something else,” Toney said. “I got a real good surprise.”
Toney’s mainframe 10-pointer was 21 1/2 inches wide, with main beams measuring are 26 inches and 26 1/2 inches. He estimates the buck at 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 years of age, weighing over 200 pounds on the hoof.