Virginia's Biggest Pope And Young Buck Ever

Virginia's Biggest Pope And Young Buck Ever

This is the story of the biggest Pope and Young buck ever taken in Virginia, a monster that scored 197 3/8. (July 2008)

The author with the mount of his 197 3/8-inch non-typical, the largest Pope and Young bow kill from Virginia ever. The buck has 22 scorable points.
Photo courtesy of Tony Hodges.

Growing up in a country setting in south-central Virginia, I had many opportunities to hunt. There were not many deer or turkeys at that time, but there were some. My family hunted whitetails, but I just wasn't interested back then. The couple of times they talked me into going with them, I either ended up cold, or cold and wet. I guess I just gave up on it too easily and never gave it a fair chance.

Around 1990, when I was in my early 20s, my only brother, Barry, gave me the encouragement I needed to give whitetails another try. That's something he had been doing successfully since we were kids. Instead of just giving it a whirl, I jumped into it with both feet. I was determined to stick with it and give it a valiant effort.

In 1993, I started bowhunting. I never thought I would actually take a deer with a bow, but I figured it would get me into the deer woods earlier and more often. I also thought it might help me become a better deer hunter. Over the next 10 years, I was lucky occasionally and took a doe or small buck with my bow. During that time, my passion for bowhunting and my dream of taking a Pope and Young buck grew to such a high level that I decided to bowhunt the full whitetail season and have ever since.

Fall 2006 would be my fourth straight season with a bow only. Maybe, I thought, this will be my year to get a chance at a Pope and Young buck. While scouting in the late summer of 2006 to familiarize myself with the lay of the land on some hunting ground I hoped to hunt, I found the remains of a mid-150-inch buck. I was so excited about this bruiser that I ran all the way back to my truck. For this area, this was a very large buck. After I calmed down, I realized that this find was bittersweet. He was a great buck, but now no hunter would ever get the chance at him again. Still, I feel very fortunate to have been the one to find his rack.

This was already a great start to the upcoming fall hunting season. I felt like I had already been successful. Little did I know what the year was about to offer this bowhunter. Oct. 30, 2006, was a day I will never forget. That day my hunting goal not only came true, but far surpassed even my wildest dreams.

Oct. 30 actually started in early September for me. I had spent some time scouting then for bow season, which was all but here. I looked for places that might be buck funnel spots when the hormones get bucks moving more in the daylight. I found what I thought were a couple of good buck spots, if I could get in without alerting all deer in the area.

I was determined to stay away from these spots until I thought the bucks might be chasing does. Going on what I had seen and what others had told me of their hunting observations, the last week of October seemed to be the beginning of the chase phase.

Friday, Oct. 27, was my last day of work that week. I was off the next three days. Saturday, I had too much to do to hunt and there is no hunting on Sunday, but because of seeing and hearing about more buck activity, I decided it was time to try one of my buck ambush spots that Monday. I watched the weather forecast and it looked to be a clear day with light winds out of the north and northwest, and fairly warm temperatures in the afternoon.

Since the wind was supposed to be out of north/northwest, I had one spot in mind all through Saturday and Sunday. When I say "spot" in this instance, it was somewhere in a long 75- by 150-yard-wide area depending on wind and the best tree for an ambush. I had scouted the area in early September, but I didn't have a particular tree to climb. I rarely hunt the same tree more than once in a season. I am always on the move and constantly trying to adjust to the current conditions and the changes that are happening throughout the fall season. I may hunt the same spot but from different angles.

Monday, Oct. 30, I got up about 4:30, showered, dressed, grabbed my fanny bag, Hoyt bow and climber, and off I went. While driving to my chosen hunting ground for the day, I was very optimistic (as always) about my chances for a good hunt. Because of not knowing precisely where I wanted to be, I waited until I could see to go into the place where I planned to hunt. On my way in, I watched a lone doe walk 20 yards right by me. Normally, I would not have passed on a doe, but I had planned this hunt for a couple of months and the plan involved a good buck. I watched for a minute or two to see if a buck was following, but no such luck, so I moved on. A little farther, I jumped a lone deer that bolted off without blowing. I didn't get a good enough look at it to tell if it was buck or doe.

When I reached the spot where the deer was, there were new scrapes all over. I could literally smell deer. For a moment, I thought of changing my plan and hunting somewhere near all this new buck sign, but I kept telling myself that I had waited until the time was right. It was a good plan for today, and I had to stick with it. Therefore, I moved on toward my planned spot.

I tiptoed the last 100 yards. It was daylight now and I could see the trees well enough to pick one that best worked with the wind and possible shot direction. I picked a poplar tree, but then noticed it had a small maple beside it and its canopy would block a shot in the direction I had predicted the deer would come from. I looked around and found another tree 30 yards away. It wasn't my first choice, but I thought I would have a better chance of getting a good shot from it.

I climbed about 20 feet, secured my stand and safety belt, and then I pulled up my bow. I put on my facemask and gloves. It was about 7 a.m. when I finally settled in. I was unusually excited about what might happen in this spot that I had waited so long to hunt. I had chosen the spot because it was a narrowing in a long trail route of thick cover from a feeding and socializing area into a relatively small but dense bedding area. Once in the bedding area, the deer were safe from all arrows; you couldn't even see in more than a couple of feet. I was perched about 50 yards short of the edge of the bedding's safety.

I had been in the stand no more than 20 minutes when I caught a small gray movement out of the corner of my eye about 15 yards to my right. I thought it might have been a squirrel since it was small, but I also thought it could be a piece of deer. Seconds later, I heard what sounded like faint deer-like steps. It sounded like it was heading straight at me. The cover was thick and I couldn't see what was making the stepping sounds.

Then I saw it was a deer passing by me from right to left, but I still couldn't tell if it was a buck or doe. I lost sight of it again. Then when I finally saw it again, it stopped broadside at no more than 15 yards. This was a BIG buck!! However, I didn't have a shot because of the cover and many tree limbs. Calmly, the buck looked left, then right, and checked the wind before steadily moving toward the protective fortress of the bedding area. With each step, the distance grew and my chances seemed to shrink. I almost panicked; yeah right, I did panic, because as I scanned ahead for a shot opportunity, it was obvious that it wasn't going to present itself on his current path. I was about to put down my bow and get my camera because I at least wanted people to see a picture of this giant, but the thought of putting my bow down when I had a buck like this in my sight didn't seem logical.

Just when I thought it was all over, the buck turned slightly left uphill and was walking his last few yards toward the safe haven. Looking ahead, I noticed one deer-sized hole in the direction the buck was heading. It was the one and only hole that would allow a shot and that was "only if" he goes through it. I lost sight of the buck about five yards away from the hole. I drew my bow and with both eyes open, I aimed it into the deer-sized opening, hoping he would walk into it. When I saw the buck again, his head was going into the hole.

I told myself I was going to have to stop the buck because of his steady walk. I nervously waited until his entire body was in the hole before I mouth bleated. He instantly stopped slightly quartering away and looked in my direction. I guessed the buck at 35 yards and aimed my bow's 25-yard single-pin sight a little high on the vitals and released. Time seemed to stand still. Unexpectedly, the deer fell where he stood. My first thought was, Oh my gosh, I must have hit him high, probably in the spine.

Because of not being able to see the deer from the tree, I quickly got down and shot one final, well-placed arrow and he quickly expired. I will admit my adrenaline was at a very high level, and I was nervous at the very sight of this monster. After calming down and checking the distance, it was not 35, but 25 yards. I also think my nerves got the best of me and possibly caused an unsteady release because I did, in fact, hit him in the spine. Fortunately, it was over quickly.

When I went over to the buck and picked up his head, I was totally blown away by the size of his rack. I knew when I first saw him he was big, but he was even bigger than I thought. I was a nervous wreck. My feelings at that point were complete bewilderment and amazement. I had actually taken the buck of a lifetime. To say I was overwhelmed and bursting with emotion would be an understatement. These emotions ranged from being thankful to being very humbled at the same time. For some strange unknown reason I didn't feel worthy of an animal of this magnitude.

I grabbed my equipment and headed out. I didn't want to leave the buck, but I needed help or at least my game cart to get him out.

I went straight to my mom and dad's house, hoping my dad, who is retired, but still works harder than most of us, would be home. Luckily, he was, and I told him I just shot a huge buck. While we drove back to where the buck was, I kept telling myself, "I hope no one stumbles upon him and claims him as a find."

When we finally got to where he was, I was relieved to find him still there. My dad said, "I thought it must be a pretty good one by the way you were acting, but I didn't think it would be this big."

We put him on the cart and headed to the truck. I was so excited that I kept talking about the hunt and the buck nonstop. When we loaded him onto the truck, I asked Dad if he wanted me to drive, he looked at me and said, "NO, I'll drive." I guess he could tell I had way over my limit of excitement and adrenaline, and was in no condition to drive.

Our first stop was at my work, to show my fellow co-workers the deer. They were all excited about the deer and genuinely happy for me. There are a few die-hard hunters at my work, including my brother, Barry, and lifelong friend, Warren Whitlow. No one could believe the size of the buck.

After several handshakes and congrats, my dad and I went to the check-in station. While there, people were stopping and looking at the buck, it drew a crowd rather quickly. Johnny Hundley, the owner of Southeastern Outdoors, said it was the largest buck he had ever checked in. I knew then it was a monster buck for Virginia, because he has checked in thousands of deer in the last 40 years.

After that, Dad and I headed back to my home, where he helped me unload my deer. Then we took many pictures of the buck. Later that evening, I took a picture of the buck with my 1-year-old son, Jonathan (aka Johnny Bear). Ten days later, my son, Riley (aka Riley Wolf), was born. Jonathan was 11 pounds, 4 ounces; Riley was 10 pounds, 12 ounces at birth. At those weights, they may qualify for Boone and Crockett.

Throughout the evening and into the night, many people came to see him. I was surprised to see how fast news of a big buck travels.

About a week after I took the buck, I remembered a shed I had found two years earlier close to the spot where I shot my deer. Luckily, it wasn't chewed up and still in good shape when I found it. It had a couple of non-typical points and was a mainframe 5-point. Immediately, I realized the shed shared many characteristics of my buck. When I showed it to the taxidermist, Travis Keith, he was convinced it belonged to my buck. Again, this story was enhanced by my unlikely find. What were the odds I would actually find the buck's shed two years before I took him?

I don't consider myself a "trophy" hunter, but I would much rather take a doe than a small buck. Taking a doe will fill the freezer or help out others. It will also help keep the herd healthier and help farmers out by reducing crop damage. If a buck isn't exactly what you are looking for, and you really want a bigger buck, let him walk. The next time you run into him, he may be exactly what you want, maybe even the buck of a lifetime.

I feel lucky to have even seen a buck of this caliber at close range. I'm even luckier to have somehow made this a successful hunt. I am an average Joe but a serious hunter. If this can happen to me, it can happen to you. To all of my fellow hunters, I'd like to say keep the chase fair and best of luck to all of you. I hope you all get to experience the thrill of taking your dream buck.

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