A friendly neighbor and some helpful advice from a farmer allowed a veteran hunter and a young hunter to drop two top Tar Heel whitetails last season.
Ashley Honeycutt killed what would turn out to be the 2010 Dixie Deer Classic's best youth and best taken-by-a-female hunter blackpowder buck while hunting with her father, Larry Honeycutt. Photo courtesy of Ashley Honeycutt.
The 2010 Dixie Deer Classic unveiled several outstanding North Carolina bucks taken by Tar Heel hunters during the 2009 season.
Two of the most impressive whitetails fell to a veteran and novice hunter, respectively.
The veteran, David Schnack of Franklinton, admitted he was lucky to find his big whitetail after he arrowed the deer last November. But his trophy became the top-rated non-typical bow whitetail at the 2010 Classic.
The novice, Ashley Honeycutt, a 16-year-old female hunter, downed an Ashe County trophy that captured two of the Classic's outstanding-buck categories. It also became the No. 1 North Carolina trophy whitetail ever taken by a Tar Heel state female hunter.
Honeycutt doesn't remember anything about her first Dixie Deer Classic. That's because she was two weeks old when her father and mother, Larry and Kitty Honeycutt of West Jefferson, made the trip from the N.C. mountains to Raleigh.
When she returned 17 years later during March 2010, it wasn't as a spectator but as owner of one of the Classic's all-time whitetail trophies. And she isn't likely to forget the experience.
Her Ashe County 10-point typical, with antlers measuring a whopping 160 2/8 inches, ranks No. 1 among all bucks taken by N.C. female hunters and also tops the list of all Tar Heel youth-category deer entered during the last 30 years. Not only that, Honeycutt's trophy rates seventh among N.C. typical-rack muzzle-loader bucks ever scored at the Classic.
Using her father's .50-caliber Knight in-line smoke pole to down the huge buck November 14, 2009 changed her life.
Ashley Honeycutt holds the rack of her trophy buck at the Dixie Deer Classic. The buck scored 160 2/8. It was the largest youth buck entered at the event in at least 30 years. Photo by Craig Holt.
A clogging teacher (along with her mother), the Ashe County High School junior has led an active school life as a member of the student council and Beta Club, plus she's involved in activities at West Jefferson First Baptist Church.
"At school I wasn't really one of the girls everyone knew," she said. "But after the news spread about my deer, people knew who I was."
It's not difficult to understand why Honeycutt wasn't well known at school. Honeycutt is immersed in two cultures that rarely cross paths as she helps her family operate a Christmas tree farm. As a farm girl, she likes to be outside and hunts and fishes whenever she gets a chance.
"One side of me is very proper," she said. "I'm very girlie, and my mom sells Mary Kay (cosmetics). But I have another side that likes to be outside."
The day Honeycutt shot her trophy buck was a perfect example of a person who can handle multiple tasks. She participated in a local Christmas parade that morning, then hunted deer during the evening with her dad.
"Hunting always has been an important part of my life," she said. "Actually, the best part of it is spending time with my dad."
A nearby landowner and family friend had given the Honeycutts permission to hunt from a home-made plywood ground blind on his property.
"The blind was on the side of an open field that was grown up mostly in weeds," the teen-ager said. The Honeycutts' neighbor had noticed deer filtering into the edge of the field to graze each evening.
"It wasn't long after 5 p.m. when two does came out of the woods," Honeycutt said. "Then two more does came out of a weed patch, and the buck was behind them."
Honeycutt and her father first spied the big deer standing 75 yards from their hiding place, and the sight unnerved them.
"Dad was gasping for breath," she said. "I knew it was a huge deer, but I didn't know how big the antlers were because the body was so large."
The buck's body weight later totaled 228 pounds.
"The does and the buck kept coming closer, and I kept asking Dad 'Is he a shooter?' but he didn't say much," Honeycutt said.
A small doe then ran toward and past the blind with the buck chasing her. But he stopped about 25 yards in front of the hidden hunters, offering a broadside shot.
"Dad told me to go ahead and shoot whenever I was ready," Honeycutt said.
Steadying her shaking arms, the girl squeezed the trigger.
"I was aiming at his left shoulder blade, and there was a lot of smoke when I shot," she said.
When the air cleared, Honeycutt could see the deer on the ground, struggling to rise.
"He jumped up and tore off," she said. "Then I was jumping up and down (in the blind). When we got out of the blind, dad went one way, and I went the other with a flashlight."
Even with daylight fading quickly, the young girl said she knew she'd find the deer.
Her father headed for the weed patch at the right of the blind while she walked to the left and across a small knob.
"I didn't see any blood, but then my light shined on something," Honeycutt said. "(The buck's) antlers were stuck in the ground with his chin was raised up on one side, like he'd died and skidded in the middle of a jump. I yelled 'Daddy, Daddy!' "
The nearly perfect 10-point rack had one 1 2/8-inch abnormal point deducti
on on its left antler and 4 3/8 inches of total deductions. Its inside spread totaled 21 3/8 inches and although its longest tine was only 9 5/8 inches, its main beams measured 26 4/8 and 26 1/8 inches.
So though Honeycutt remembers nothing about her first trip to the Classic, it's certain she'll never forget her 2010 experience.
Even though her buck tops the all-time N.C. list for whitetails taken by a female hunter, the fame it brought to Honeycutt at Ashe County High is important to her too.
"The football players at school recognize me now," Honeycutt said with a smile. "They give me high-fives in the hallways."
David Schnack's 14-point buck was the Dixe Deer Classic's top non-typical bow buck of 2009. The buck, which scored 161 3/8, is the 6th largest non-typical ever taken by bow in North Carolina. Photo by Craig Holt.
TOP BOW NON-TYPICAL
David Schnack, of Franklinton is a de facto Tar Heel, having lived his first 16 years at upstate New York. But he moved to Franklin County in 1996, where he works in nearby Raleigh for Stock Building Supply. Schnack has hunted area whitetails since he moved south.
"I go back to New York for a week each winter for gun season because I love hunting in the mountains," he said. "But the rest of the time I hunt around here."
Schnack, 46, an archery hunter for 30 years, arrowed a buck with the highest-scoring rack of his career October 5, 2009. The 14-pointer's antlers totaled 161 3/8 inches at the Classic and won the top award in the archery non-typical category.
Before the 2009 season, Schnack had hunted the same farm for several years and killed one small buck. However, a conversation with the farm's landowner before the 2009 season began in September gave Schnack information that led to a good stand site and his lifetime trophy.
"One day (the farmer) drove to the property to check on tobacco barns and saw the buck eating apples under a tree in his mother's front yard," Schnack said. "Usually I hunt across the road because his property joins an 800-acre farm with a lot of soybean fields. But after he told me about this big buck, I figured I might have a better chance setting up a stand (in the woods) behind his mother's house."
It didn't take Schnack long to scout and devise a plan that would offer a chance at the apple-eating buck. The hunter knew about a cluster of oak trees, about 10 acres in size, surrounded by 30 acres of cutover. He figured that might be a good place to scout for deer sign and set up an ambush.
"I found a deer path that crossed a stream that cut through the middle of the cutover," Schnack said. "It was pretty open along the stream bed. Deer were using the cutover as a bedding area, then going to the oaks for acorns. I just had to figure out the best place to put the stand for the wind to be right."
He'd also found a large tree trunk a buck had rubbed vigorously with its antlers.
"There also were several small ground scrapes about 20 yards from where I put up my stand, too, so I thought it might be the right spot," Schnack said.
He eventually chose a pine tree near the stream and cutover's edge where deer were funneling out of the thicket. Schnack used a Northstar climber to go 25 feet up in a pine tree the day of his hunt.
After leaving work at 4 p.m. that Monday, Schnack hurried home, put on a pair of shorts and t-shirt, then donned a mosquito camouflage suit.
"It was a warm, clear day, with the temperature in the high 60s to low 70s," he said.
He put his Mathews Switchback compound bow with Rage three-bladed broadheads in a quiver and drove to the farm, arriving about 5:15 p.m.
"I got in my stand at 5:30 p.m. and sat there until 6 when I heard something walking behind me in the cutover," he said. "I turned to my left and saw part of an antler; I thought it probably was a small buck, but then I got a glance at the other side (of the deer's rack). That's when buck fever took over."
With the cutover to his back, the right-handed shooter said he was lucky the deer approached from his left side. But Schnack's nervousness at seeing how much headgear this deer carried almost spelled disaster.
"Later on, after I shot the deer and he ran into the cutover, two smaller bucks came in behind him, walking the same trail," he said. "This happened before I got down from my stand. They walked right past my tree and started eating acorns, 10 or 12 yards from me. If I'd just waited on this buck, he would have walked out into the open, just like they did, and I would have had an easy shot. But I didn't wait."
At the sight of the buck's antlers in the thick brush, Schnack said all he could think about was "find an opening and take the first good shot."
"I rushed the shot," he said. "At the time I wasn't sure which way he was going; that's my only excuse for shooting too soon."
Schnack said he found a TV tray-size opening in the thicket in front of the deer and drew back his bow.
"He was 23 yards from me," he said. "I've got a pendulum sight and feel comfortable shooting up to 30 yards. (The sight) is good from 7 to 30 yards out. I practice shooting off my back deck at targets behind my house."
However, Schnack forgot his aim point changed as the deer walked, and its body would be in the opening for a only moment. He also didn't consider his arrow might be deflected by a twig.
"I was aiming behind his shoulder, but the arrow hit way back from there," Schnack said. "I don't know if the arrow hit a limb or not, but it was a bad shot. After I took the shot and saw where the arrow hit the deer, I didn't think I'd ever find the deer."
Even though the arrow didn't clip the buck's heart or lungs, it didn't run away at high speed, perhaps because it was more puzzled than frightened by the stinging sensation in its hip.
"He only ran about 15 yards then stood there trembling," Schnack said. "I could see the arrow sticking out (near the deer's rump). I hoped it had hit his femoral artery."
Finally, the buck crashed into the cutover, leaving the hunter in his tree stand, shaking but disappointed. Schnack finally descended i
n his stand after a 15-minute wait and walked to where he thought the buck had been standing.
"I didn't find a drop of blood anywhere," he said. "I knew it was a borderline hit, so I knew enough not to push the deer. I left and went home."
Lisa Schnack said her husband spent a sleepless night.
"He tossed and turned all night, then he got up about 4 a.m., got dressed, ate breakfast and went back to see if he could find the deer," she said.
After reaching his stand, Schnack walked to the edge of the cutover where the high-racked buck had been standing when the arrow impacted its hip.
"I still couldn't find any blood," he said, "so I walked to where I thought I'd heard him go down."
After easing 80 yards into the cutover, Schnack saw what appeared at first to be a piece of abandoned farm equipment. But as the hunter drew closer, he could see a deer on the ground.
"It was my buck," he said. "It looked like he'd bedded down and just bled out."
Finding his trophy was a major relief.
"It was the best part of the entire deal," Schnack said. "I really didn't have much hope because I'd hit him so far back. When I finally walked up on him my exact words were 'Thank you, God'."
Schnack's decision to not force the issue the previous day had paid off, along with the cutting prowess of the broadhead and a lucky impact that indeed hit an artery.
His daughter, Christy, helped Schnack retrieve the deer. A neighborhood celebration began soon after they reached home and made phone calls.
"By the time I got home from work, (the buck) was in our walk-in cooler, and visitation had started," Lisa Schnack said. "Everyone came over to see David's deer."
The buck's seven-tined rack included G2s of 10 7/8 and 10 4/8 inches and G3s of 10 and 8 1/2 inches, plus seven abnormal points, three on the right main beam and four on the left beam. The main beams totaled 25 1/8 and 25 7/8 inches.
"It was my dream buck," Schnack said.
The deer's headgear also rates No. 6 among non-typical bow kills ever taken in North Carolina.