A Jackson County Trophy Bow Kill

A Jackson County Trophy Bow Kill

Bob Matthews' big buck proves that you don't have to go to our bowhunting-only counties to bag a trophy whitetail.

by Bill Blizzard

Bob Matthews and Frank Hess, outdoor buddies for many years, could have been forgiven for yawning as they tossed gear into Bob's bass boat. After all, this was merely another of many shared trips. Instead, Bob's excitement caused him to get a little careless, and he threw his pair of heavy boots in the water. Shortly after that the lights on Bob's sports utility vehicle pierced the early morning darkness as he hurried to retrieve his footwear. A hasty departure was important.

Had they located a huge muskie in an Ohio River tributary, a monster of great local repute? On this fine, warm November morn, would they attempt to boat this toothy trophy?

Not so. They were bowhunters. They intended to haul Matthews' boat about 25 miles to a state-owned launching ramp in Ravenswood, and then motor five miles to Buffington Island. Safely landed, compound bows in hand, they would attempt to track a trophy buck that Hess had grazed with an arrow the day before.

On the previous day, Hess had been on a tree stand on the Ohio River island when the big buck walked beneath him. Such a vertical shot is, at best, difficult for an archer. Probable spooking noises and arrow deflection by the tree stand added to the difficulty.

Hess' arrow went straight down. A blade on his mechanical broadhead touched the animal's rib, and then bounced away. In a flash, the trophy buck bounded out of sight.

Bob Matthews and Frank Hess tried in vain to track the buck, the lack of a blood trail foiling the efforts. The late hour forced a return home. The following morn found the two archers, eager and excited, prepared to resume the search for what they believed to be a certain Pope and Young (P&Y) trophy.

Bob Matthews poses with his wide-racked, long-tined 11-point typical, which scores 163 6/8 Pope and Young points. Photo courtesy of Bob Matthews

Certain, that is, if the buck could be found, a kill could be made, and the deer rack met P&Y standards - and if they could arrive on Buffington Island before other hunters found the buck first.

Arriving on Buffington, Matthews and Hess found no other hunters in the area that had been occupied by Hess' temporary tree stand. Some 40 yards apart, the two men advanced in the direction that their hoped-for trophy had disappeared. Previously, they had agreed that each might shoot as any opportunity arose. Both believed that Hess' arrow had not injured the buck.

"Actually," Matthews' said, "I wanted Frank to get the fatal shot. Although Frank's arrow from the tree stand had not wounded the whitetail, or so we thought, that was not yet proven. I wanted nothing that might cloud a friendship of many years."

The bowhunters were hardly aware of time as they scrutinized every bush and possible hiding place. Fortunately, the morning's fog lifted and visibility became excellent as the sun rose in the sky.

As fortune dictated, Matthews found the big buck, lying down and staring at him from a grove of trees not more than 60 feet away. Matthews had to make a decision almost faster than thought and certainly before his quarry might spring to its feet and disappear.

"My bow sight," Matthews recalls, "was set at about 10 yards. With my compound at 67-pound draw, this was correct within 90 feet. As I had been hoping to come upon the deer at any time, I was ready for action. So was my equipment. I loosed an arrow. I saw it impact the buck's throat before the animal leaped and ran away."

Frank Hess had seen the deer disappear and, full of questions, was quickly beside Bob Matthews to learn of his solid hit. As is customary, the two friends waited nearly two hours before searching for the wounded animal.

A blood trail made the search easy. The massive wound from Matthews' broadhead had severed a major artery and the deer had run no more than 100 yards before a quick death. With a close look, Bob and Frank were amazed at the size of the buck and its massive antlers. Field dressed, it weighed 210 pounds.

Wrestling the dead animal to the boat was a sweaty job. With that task completed, the kill was taken to Dave's Auto in Ripley for checking. There, it was determined that Hess' arrow had caused no noticeable wound. "Fair chase," the checker told Bob, "your buck."

Later, organization official John D. Edman determined the P&Y antler measurements and scores for Matthews' buck. It was, officially, a typical 11-pointer, with five points on the right antler and six on the left; an abnormal 4 1/8-inch point was also noted on the left antler.

To secure a Pope and Young Club trophy-listing, a rack must score a minimum of 125 points. The rack on Bob Matthews' huge whitetail scored a final 163 6/8 points. Little wonder that Matthews, who has taxidermy skills, hopes to mount the entire buck for home display.

"This," Matthews admits, "would be a major undertaking and my wife, Sandy, is not too enthusiastic about the idea. I guess it will be on hold for a while."

It's no secret that white-tailed deer have been abundant of late in all or nearly all of West Virginia's counties. Although Matthews lives in Mason County, only a mile or two from the Jackson County border, his deer hunts have largely been in Jackson and recently, on Buffington Island.

Buffington is a 162-acre Ohio River Island National Wildlife Refuge under the supervision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In West Virginia, it shares that distinction with 16 other Ohio River islands. But only four of these islands exceed 100 acres.

During a given hunting season, some of the 17 may be closed to all hunting, while others are open only to bowhunters seeking deer and still others permit small-game hunting with a shotgun.

Only temporary blinds or tree stands are allowed. You are not allowed to cut tree branches or to drive nails into trees. Leave your ATV at home, build no fires and don't camp.

For a complete, current listing of refuge regulations, phone the Ohio River Islands Wildlife Refuge at (304) 422-0752, or write to the agency at 3004 7th Street, P.O. Box 1811, Parkersburg, WV, 26102-1811. Ask for the free hunting leaflet; you will need it, along with your license, to hunt an Ohio River Wildlife Refuge.

The Fish and Wildlife Service does enforce its laws. Bob Matthews attests to this: "On Buffington in 1998, I was on a tree

stand with my bow when a warden ordered me to come down. Someone had reported that I was hunting with a rifle. I quickly showed I was not guilty and thanked the warden for his diligence."

Matthews says Jackson County has plenty of whitetails, but not so many large-racked or trophy bucks. The DNR Big Game Bulletin of 2001 lists only five West Virginia counties with a deer harvest exceeding that of Jackson, and in one of those counties, Kanawha, the difference was small.

Matthews has done more than his part as a bowhunter to improve the Jackson County big-buck record. Aside from his 2001 11-point trophy, he has taken (from Buffington Island) 12, 8 and 7-pointers. These were all large bucks, field dressing, respectively, at 185 pounds, 175 pounds and 205.

The DNR would like to see more land that is supporting deer being opened to hunting. A controlled deer hunt has for nine years been held on property belonging to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. In 2001, Blennerhassett Island State Park became the first West Virginia state park in 49 years to be open to firearms deer hunting.

However, the DNR reports a decrease in the antlerless deer harvest in 2000 and 2001, a fact, it believes, foreboding a more abundant but less-robust and healthy West Virginia whitetail herd.

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