Jeff Foskey admires the mount of his amazing new state record, a real hat-rack buck that scores 202 3/8 in the Boone and Crockett non-typical category. Photo by Gary Diamond
It was the final day of Delaware's shotgun season, a day that Chester, Maryland, resident Robert Reeves will likely remember the rest of his life. Reeves began hunting whitetails about 15 years ago while stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. The 17-year United States Air Force veteran was recently commissioned as a lieutenant and moved to Kent Island, Maryland, located on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.
"Dover was my first military assignment, and I stayed there the entire time of my enlistment and was working on a C-5 as a mechanic and crew chief. I was at Dover for nearly 15 years, and didn't really begin hunting until I was stationed there. I've been actively hunting white-tailed deer for the past 15 years."
While his trophy whitetail was taken on the final day of Delaware's shotgun season, he is also an avid bowhunter as well. "I'm would rather bowhunt than hunt with a shotgun, but I never pass up an opportunity to go hunting during any season."
On the day he bagged his record-book buck, Reeves was hunting on the Normal G. Wilder Wildlife Management Area (WMA) with Lynn Byler, an uncle-in-law with whom he frequently hunts.
"I thought the deer I bagged last year was going to be my buck of a lifetime, but I didn't have it officially scored. I scored it myself and it's probably a 140-class typical whitetail. Knowing that I was probably not going to beat it as far as finding a deer with better antlers, I kind of changed my hunting a little bit.
"So the following year (2003), I was back out there with my bow, and I wasn't seeing a whole lot of deer. Essentially, I was getting a little frustrated; I wasn't seeing anything that was very impressive. I almost gave up on hunting for that year. I did hunt all three seasons, the archery, muzzleloader and shotgun, but not as actively as in previous years. In fact, I wasn't even going to go out the last day of shotgun season, but Lynn decided to go out and give it a try.
"The place we hunted was a little swampy, but the area I selected had a lot of holly trees and was fairly dense," Reeves said. "I had a small opening in the holly trees that was probably about 50 yards in diameter. There were a few inches of snow on the ground, which is somewhat unusual for Delaware, and we saw several sets of tracks."
Reeves decided to head in one direction, while Byler took another route in the opposite direction. Both hunters were able to keep in contact with each other by using small walkie-talkies, which when hunting a patch of woods this dense can be a great tool.
Reeves uses a climbing tree stand to improve the odds, often climbing as high as 25 feet above the dense underbrush to afford better visibility over a larger area.
"We were not quite sure exactly where we were going to hunt, and we had already checked out several other areas earlier in the day. We eventually went back to a spot where we had hunted a couple other times during the year. As we walked back, there was a lane that divided the patch of woods, and as we got about a half-mile down the lane we saw some tracks in the snow and decided to follow them. We followed them for some distance into the woods, and then they separated. A large set of tracks went off to the left and the other set went off to the right. At that point, we decided to split up. He followed the tracks to the right, and I followed those to the left."
At this point, Reeves entered the clearing, set up his climbing tree stand on the edge of the clearing and inched his way 25 feet above the forest floor. "The hunt itself was very, very short. I shimmied my way up the tree, pulled up the gun and got it loaded and then rested my head against the tree. I slowly turned my head to the right, then to the left, and just as I turned to the left, a buck came busting through the holly trees. All of this took place within five minutes of getting up in the stand.
"I didn't hear the deer coming at all until it busted through the holly trees, and I believe the snow may have softened the sounds of it coming through the woods. At this point it was only 30 yards away. I had just enough time to squeeze off a shot."
Reeves uses a single-shot Harrington and Richardson shotgun with a heavy slug barrel and shotgun scope. "I didn't have much time to react, and I knew the deer was a real monster when I saw it bust through the hollies. I knew right away that I hit the deer, and it was obvious when I saw it lift up its front leg; he only ran about 30 yards before lying down. He didn't move, but his head was up and I could still clearly see him from my stand, so I went ahead and reloaded my single-shot shotgun and squeezed off another round. At this point he went down and didn't move.
"You often hear of a deer getting up and running off after being shot, and I didn't want this one to get away. I was pretty confident that the deer was down for the count, but I still slid down the tree like a fireman would slide down a pole at the firehouse. I was still in communication with Lynn and once I got to the buck I called him on the radio and said, 'You've gotta get over here and see this deer. I hate to ruin your hunt, but I sincerely believe that this is a record-book deer.' At that point I had no idea if it would have been a record-book deer, but it was by far the largest deer I had ever seen. When Lynn came over, he took one look at the buck and agreed that this one may end up in the record book."
Reeves had his deer mounted by taxidermist Bill Edder of Marydel, Maryland. After the required drying time, it has a gross score of 205 2/8 Boone and Crockett (B&C) points and a net score of 197 0/8. Bill Jones of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources scored the deer. Reeves' buck was never weighed, though it was estimated at 175 pounds dressed weight. Since his buck was bagged well after rutting season, there's a good chance that it would have weighed significantly more if taken earlier in the season.
Reeves says there have been a number of friends who have asked the exact location of where the deer was bagged, but at this point he has kept it a well-guarded secret. Ironically, Robert Reeves' buck would have been a new state reco
rd, except for another hunter bagging a bigger deer only a couple of months later in January 2004.
THE JEFF FOSKEY BUCK
Two weeks after Bill Jones scored Reeves' trophy buck, Jeff Foskey contacted him. Foskey is a 36-year-old Millsboro, Delaware, resident who has been hunting for more than 20 years. "I actually began hunting with my dad when I was about 9 years old, and I've been hunting every chance I get since then."
Foskey entered a dense stand of hardwoods adjacent to an Ellendale farm located in the heart of Sussex County on opening day of the state's 2003 shotgun season.
"The area we hunted was cut over by loggers about 10 to 15 years ago, and there were dirt logging roads bulldozed throughout the area. Some friends and I lease the farm for hunting, and in this particular area we planted feed plots to attract wildlife in many of the open areas. Most of the feed consists of oats, which seems to attract deer more than anything else. We're been hunting here for three years now."
Foskey surveyed the area he intended to hunt well before the season opened, and decided early on as to the exact location he would hunt.
"I built a homemade box stand about 15 feet above the ground and it's sitting atop 4x4 posts. I can look over the underbrush, which mainly consists of holly, sassafras and lots of loblolly pines mixed with the holly. It's really pretty thick in there so the deer seem to do well here," Foskey said.
"I hunted the area with a muzzleloader in October and passed up a lot of deer, sometimes as many as 10 to 15 every night, mostly just waiting for something bigger to come along. It was late afternoon when this deer came out into the food plot, and just before he came into view, I had a 6-pointer and a big doe standing out there feeding. I guess I watched them for about five minutes, and then I heard something in the woods that sounded like a bulldozer coming through the brush. All of the sudden the noise stopped, and he poked his head out of the brush. There was a tree between the buck and me. When he stepped behind the tree, I raised my gun. Then when he walked past the tree to the opposite side, I had a clear shot and squeezed the trigger."
At the time, Foskey was shooting a 12 gauge with 1-ounce Winchester rifled slugs, and the buck was approximately 50 yards off when he fired. "I knew I hit him good, but he turned and ran back into the thickest part of the woods just as if he were never touched. He must have run about 80 yards into the brush before stopping, and I waited nearly an hour before coming down out of the stand to begin looking for him."
Foskey says the deer was right in the middle of the 4X scope's cross hairs, which is specifically made for shotguns. The shotgun he uses is a Marlin Slugmaster fitted with a 26-inch slug barrel.
"I was almost afraid to go looking for the deer, mainly because I was afraid that if it wasn't dead, it may spook and I might not be able to pick up its trail. I was pretty sure I had hit it, though, as the buck had scrunched down a bit right after the shot, then took off running like nothing was wrong. You're always afraid that you may have missed the deer of a lifetime. I figured that I had better not mess with him for at least an hour because I didn't want it to jump up and run off again. You always hear stories of guys who have this happen, and you sure don't want it to happen to you."
By the time he climbed down from his stand, the sun had already dipped below the western horizon and it was nearly pitch dark.
"When I went to the location where it was shot, there was blood everywhere and I knew it must have been a clean shot. At that point I just began following the blood trail. A few minutes later, I found it lying in the brush. When I found the deer, I knew that it was big, and in order to drag it out of the woods I got some help from some of the other guys who lease the farm with me," Foskey said.
"I kind of kept quiet about the size of the deer until the other six guys I hunt with got to where I was standing. Then I told them that I think I just shot a new state-record whitetail. Some of them had seen the deer a few times earlier in the year, and when I told them I thought I killed the deer they had seen, at first, before they saw it, they thought I was just kidding around. When I told them I was serious, that's when we all walked back into the woods where the deer was down and at that point, they were convinced."
Foskey's deer tipped the scales at 235 pounds live weight, and has 19 scorable points. His deer was not scored during Delaware's Wildlife Expo held at Delaware State Fair Grounds. Instead, the deer was scored two weeks later, but still in time for the 2003 record books.
"I called Bill Jones, set up an appointment at his office, and then went there and had the deer officially scored." While Foskey's deer officially scores at 202 3/8 B&C points, Foskey said three drop tines had been broken off, likely during the early stages of rutting season when it battled other bucks for dominance in that particular territory.
"The other guys that I hunted with said they had seem the deer a few months earlier and it still had the drop tines. One of the tines in the front was big, probably 6 to 8 inches long, and that would have really increased the score had it been intact," Foskey added.
Delaware wildlife biologist Bill Jones, who scored both the Reed and Foskey bucks, said, "The ending date for the contest was July 30 and Foskey showed up on July 29. Consequently, I didn't have time to rewrite the records yet, but now the Reed buck has been bumped down to the No. 2 deer for Delaware's non-typical whitetail record book."
Jones went on to explain the habitat where both deer were bagged, and talked about some of the reasons behind the incredible size of both bucks. "There is a lot of sweet pepper bush in the understory, as well as viburnum, holly and other dense forage in both locations. There were a lot of white oaks killed off by the gypsy moths in this region of the state about 15 years ago, and what this did was open the forest canopy and allow the growth of dense understory plants.
Interestingly enough, not too far away from where Reeves' buck was killed is an area called Black Swamp. Evidently, there was a monster non-typical buck seen there during the summer of 2003. As the crow files, this would not be far from where Reeves' buck was taken. Whether or not it was the same deer, no one really knows, but the potential is there."
Biologist Jones says deer with antlers of this proportion are usually older bucks, whitetails that range from 4 to 7 years of age. Additionally, the deer are usually found in areas where there is reasonably high hunting pressure, and there is sufficient natural food available to support the herd size. The added ingredient is dense areas
of forest with equally dense understory plants.
"We know there are always some big bucks in these areas, even on state lands. What makes the antlers take on those non-typical spreads is usually a combination of genetics and injuries to the antlers during the early stages of development. Most of all, a majority of bucks bagged are usually much younger, averaging just 3 or less years of age. Both of these deer were significantly older."
What are the odds of bagging two record-book bucks during a single season in Delaware? Jones says in all the years he has been scoring deer, it has never happened before.
"Russell Bowdle bagged his buck in 1960, a deer that scored 190 4/8 Boone and Crockett Points. It's a record that has been intact for nearly a half century. We've had several big bucks killed since his, but only a few were close to being record breakers. Now, in 2003, we have a pair of monster whitetails that beat Bowdle's deer by a significant margin. The odds of being struck by lighting in mid-January are probably a lot better than this ever happening again, but you just never know."
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