Each year Old Dominion hunters interested in big deer get their first look at some of our top trophies at the Western Virginia Sports Show. Here's the story of two of these deer.
Daren Wood of Buena Vista displays the Rapidan WMA trophy he killed last October 24. This massive rack scored 174 under the Pope & Young scoring system. Photo courtesy of Daren Wood
By Bruce Ingram
Over the past 16 years, late February has been the time for Virginia sportsmen to travel to the Western Virginia Sport Show, held at the Augusta County Expoland in Fishersville. Show proprietor Mark Hanger presents a number of well-known hunting and fishing celebrities who give seminars and man the booths. But without a doubt, some of the show's biggest stars are the mounted trophy bucks - and the individuals fortunate enough and skilled enough to arrow or to shoot those broadbeams. At this year's show, I asked Hanger whether or not 2002 would go down as a noteworthy year for mossyhorns.
"The only thing I have to go on is the bucks that come to the show," he said. "And some super heads were shown. We generally don't have the same individuals bring in deer year after year. A lot of guys that bring in mounts are people that have killed their biggest buck ever.
"I think that the impression that this show always leaves with me is that we have the potential for some world-class bucks in Virginia, if we all would just practice some restraint in letting those 2 1/2-year-old bucks walk. I am not putting anyone down who kills a 4-pointer, for example. All I am saying is that we need to kill more does for the health of the state's herd, and we need to consider passing on those 4-point, 6-point and small 8-pointers."
MIKE MAGGIO'S OCTOBER BROADBEAM Although Mark Hanger noted that many of the deer presented at the show are once-in-a-lifetime trophies, Mike Maggio of Shipman in Nelson County is one individual who definitely did not "luck out" into killing a fine buck. The 52-year-old has tagged some 200 deer over his lifetime, a dozen or so of which have been 8 points or better. The story behind his 12-point typical bow kill, which scores 139 Pope and Young and features a 19 1/2-inch inside spread and 23-inch outside spread, is a testament to his expertise.
The narrative begins on the last day of the 2001 rifle season when Maggio was still-hunting a Nelson County cutover. While doing so, he dislodged seven does and an impressive broadbeam. The buck offered a potential shot, but the Nelson County resident did not want to risk wounding the whitetail.
The memory of that mature buck stayed with Maggio, and he devised a plan to outwit it during the 2002 early archery season. During his pre-season scouting, he found that this area had produced a heavy mast crop - as opposed to Nelson County and Western Virginia as a whole, where the hard mast trees largely failed to bear. That meant that the area's deer would likely be concentrated in that one locale. The area also contained a great many 6-foot-tall red maple trees, which deer like to browse, plus honeysuckle thickets that add to the site's appeal.
After he determined where the best food sources were, all Maggio had to do then was to select a stand site. He located a ridge above the clearcut that was perfect. Immediately below that ridge were three other ridges that came together and that served to funnel the deer by a large black oak. Bedding areas existed to the right and left of the hardwood. Obviously, that oak was where Maggio positioned a tree stand some 18 feet above the ground.
On opening day of archery season, Maggio saw a 10-pointer, which he didn't have a shot at, near that oak, and as the days passed he continued to periodically hunt from the tree. In late October, at the peak of the pre-rut, matters came to a head.
"I was in the stand before sunrise and stayed until 11:30 a.m., but never saw a deer," Maggio recalled. "So I got out and went down the ridge about 300 yards, but then, on a hunch, I decided to go right back to my stand. I have a lot of faith in hunting the midday period, plus I had heard a buck grunt that morning. So after a 20-minute walk, I was back in the stand again.
"Not long after I returned, the wind started to blow at about 15 mph, but I didn't care. Around 2:30 p.m., I saw three does coming in from my right to feed, and shortly afterwards, a doe broke and ran from some cover behind me. And what I think was the buck from the year before was behind the doe."
Maggio then emitted several grunts from his tube, and both the buck and doe stopped. He then uttered a bleat, and the doe immediately began walking toward his stand and upon arrival began to feed. The buck, by then, had disappeared but just as suddenly reappeared - this time moving directly toward his stand and downwind of it.
"The buck was staring directly at the doe, which was directly in front of me, so I couldn't move," said Maggio. "The buck curled his lip, then wet his lips and generally acted as if he were going insane. For 15 minutes, I watched that buck, meanwhile my bow was still hanging near my stand - I just couldn't risk reaching for it. And my heart was just pounding.
"At last, the buck turned away from me and moved under one of those 6-foot maples. That's when I grabbed my bow and checked on the doe, which by then was right below me. Next, the buck turned around and started to take a step. I stood up and drew, at the same time, and then put a pin on him. I was fortunate enough to make a good heart shot."
When Maggio began to examine the animal, he saw several things about it that insure that he will be hunting from the same area this year. Although the buck is obviously a trophy in every sense, the broadbeam apparently had been the loser in several recent brawls. Fresh cuts and old scars existed on its neck and shoulder, and one ear was badly split. The Nelson County sportsman theorizes that the 10-pointer that he saw on opening day - and perhaps an even more impressive buck - had been giving the 12-pointer a thrashing.
Mike Maggio attributes his deer hunting success largely to his scent control regimen. He always dons a scent-absorbing suit, wears rubber boots and showers with scent-free soap. He also heavily ladles on scent-free spray, coating his face with so much ointment that it is if he were "applying after shave lotion," as he puts it. The Shipman resident is also a firm believer in bleat callers and tube grunters.
"Most big bucks that I have heard give a grunt that is very deep and guttural and sounds almost like someone letting loose a beer belch, you know the kind of belch that guys with big bellies give," he said. "That's why I will only use tubes that are capable of making that type of grunt - as if the sound were coming from deep in the deer's diaphragm. Wit
h that type of call and a doe bleat call, I am ready for just about anything."
DAREN WOOD'S PUBLIC LAND MONSTER Daren Wood of Buena Vista in Rockbridge County owns a construction business and also has begun to guide other hunters for deer. Like Mike Maggio, Wood is a veteran hunter, having tagged over 200 whitetails and possessing 36 deer worthy of being mounted. Last Oct. 24, the 34-year-old Wood killed a massive non-typical that scored 174 P&Y and had an inside spread of 23 5/8 inches and an outside spread of just under 25 inches. What's also very intriguing about this buck is that it came from public land, the 10,326-acre Rapidan WMA in northern Virginia.
In fact, Wood is a real fan of the state's public lands and regularly hunts the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Nelson, Botetourt, Bedford, Rockbridge and Amherst counties and the Rapidan WMA in Greene and Madison. His explanation for preferring public land is insightful.
"The national forest and state WMAs give me the chance to move far away from the crowds," said Wood. "Depending on the area, I like to walk about two or three miles back into the forest to do my scouting and hunting. Every year in July and August, I begin to scout, looking for old rubs and scrapes from the year before and fresh sign like bedding areas and droppings.
"Late August is the key time for this kind of scouting. In Virginia's mountains, the biggest bucks make rubs at that time in order to remove their velvet. I hope to find really rough terrain near those rubs. Steep mountainsides, boulders and mountain laurel thickets - the kind of places that are hard for people to get back to - are the types of places that big bucks like to bed."
This past August, Wood found several places on the Rapidan WMA that offered this combination of big buck sign and forbidding habitat. He also talked to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologists who told him that the public land received a great deal of hunting pressure during the various gun seasons but was pressured lightly during the bow season.
Another plus for the Rapidan was that it borders in places the Shenandoah National Park (SNP), where hunting is prohibited and the bucks have a chance to live to an older age. The SNP bucks have a tendency to wander into the Rapidan WMA.
With information gathered, Wood determined to make the two-hour drive from Buena Vista to the Rapidan WMA every day for the month of October, which he decided to take off from his job.
"My usual routine was to get up between 1:00 and 1:30 a.m. every morning, drive two hours to the Rapidan WMA, then walk back into the forest for 2 1/2 hours," said Wood. "I would stay until dark, then walk out and drive home. I could do that kind of routine for three days, usually Monday through Wednesday, before I would give out.
"On Thursday, I would sleep in and then drive up for a half-day hunt. On Friday and Saturday, I was back to my regular routine. For the first few weeks of the season, every day I either saw bear or bucks and would sometimes videotape them."
Last Oct. 24, the Buena Vista resident was late arriving at the Rapidan WMA and decided that he would not be able to trek deep into the forest to one of his usual spots. He was also beginning to become exhausted from his standard regimen, so Wood opted to leave his portable stand behind and only go about one-fourth of the way up a mountain he had been hunting. He arrived at a stand site about 6 a.m. and set up on the ground. The locale was a flat that was directly above a steep hillside.
"I waited for sunrise and then gave a bleat," recalled Wood. "I heard something moving around below me feeding on acorns, but I just assumed it was a bear. But I decided to give two more bleats anyway. When I first saw the buck, it was about 70 yards out and coming toward me, looking for the source of that bleat.
"I had not remembered to put camo on my face, so I edged my right hand up to my face - both to help cover it and to get ready to draw. Meanwhile the buck was still angling toward me, and when he was 30 yards away and in some poplars, I drew my bow.
"When the buck was 16 yards out, he stopped and made eye contact with me. That's when I shot. The buck only ran 80 yards."
Several lessons worth learning stand out from this anecdote. Many Virginia archers, this writer included, have no confidence in hunting from terra firma and refrain from doing so whenever possible. Wood, however, considers ground hunting a viable tactic - one which he has used to killed a number of quality bucks.
The Rockbridge County resident likes to position himself between two mature trees, believing doing so breaks up his silhouette. Another key is that his bow only has a draw weight of 61 pounds. Thus if target panic sets in, Wood has a much better chance to draw back. The lighter weight also results in him being able to hold the bow at full draw longer. The archer adds that ground-bound individuals need to take the first opportunity they have to draw back. For example, if they usually draw when a deer is within 30 yards for a 20-yard shot, then they should now draw back at 40 or 45 yards for that same 20-yard shot.
Although he had neglected to put on face paint on that October day in the Rapidan WMA, Wood emphasizes that doing so is often crucial to an earthbound archer. He admits that he was fortunate to escape not doing so.
Another aspect of trophy hunting that Wood passionately believes in is commitment.
"If you want to harvest a trophy buck, you are going to have to commit to going into the woods a lot," he said. "You are also going to have to make yourself stay all day nearly every time you go out. I try to hunt daylight to dusk just about every day for two months, and those are the months that I take my vacation time.
"Too many guys sleep in, even when they are just hunting one day a week on Saturdays. Or they go out right before dawn, stay a little while, and then go to some convenience store for breakfast. In trophy hunting, a person makes his own luck, and part of that luck is just being out in the woods every possible minute."
Another part of Wood's game plan is his reliance on concentrating on a few specific areas that offer big buck potential, such as the ones mentioned earlier that he discovered during the summer months. But once he has located one of these areas, he refrains from hunting the same specific spot more than a few times per season.
The Buena Vista denizen likes to find four or five stand sites within that general area and rotate among them. Bucks, he explains, often travel the same general way every day during Virginia's pre-rut period in October. Sooner or later, one of those broadbeams will come by one of his stands - because Wood has made the commitment to be afield.
Indeed, the word commitment to deer hunting excellence describes the efforts of Mike Maggio and Daren Wood during the 2002 archery sea
son. They worked hard to put superior bucks on the den wall.
For information on Daren Wood's guide service, contact him at Woody's Virginia Mountain Whitetails, 168 Landfill Road, Buena Vista, VA 24416, or call (540) 261-1287. For more information on the 2004 Western Virginia Sport Show, Inc., contact Hanger Enterprise, P.O. Box 606, Churchville, VA 24421 or call (540) 337-7018.
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