Big bucks appear in most hunters' dreams more often than in their sights. Here are the stories behind four hunters whose dreams turned into reality. (September 2007)
Sy Gibbs and his young son pose at the Fisherville show with Sy's massive non-typical buck from Franklin County. The rack features 22 points, an inside spread of 19 7/8 inches and a Boone and Crockett score of 201 1/8.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.
Every year in February, the Western Virginia Sports Show serves to give state whitetail enthusiasts a first look at some of the biggest bucks taken from the previous season. Held at the Augusta County Expoland in Fishersville, the event draws sportsmen from across the Old Dominion, as a variety of hunting and fishing outfitters, manufacturers and seminar speakers are present. A major draw, obviously, is the parade of trophy bucks on display.
Dale Wenger, who operates B&W Taxidermy in Elkton, has been the show's official scorer for six years. He offers this overview.
"We had some very nice bucks at the show, and I heard of some other very impressive deer," he told me. "But overall, I would rate the 2006 season in terms of big bucks as average or slightly below average. Two possible reasons were the warm weather for much of the season and an abundant acorn crop.
"On the other hand, those two reasons should lead to 2007 being a very good year for trophy bucks. The weather didn't really turn cold until February, so the deer could concentrate on putting on weight instead of just surviving. And that big acorn crop from 2006 should help antler development for 2007."
Here are four successful trophy hunters I met at the February 2007 show and the stories of how they prevailed.
SY GIBBS AND HIS BACKYARD BROADBEAM
Sy Gibbs is a 33-year-old engineer who lives in Wirtz. He has hunted some 18 to 20 years and has tagged four mountable deer, the biggest one a 140-class 10-pointer. The Franklin County resident dwells on a 5.1-acre plot that consists of some two acres of woods and the remainder in fields and honeysuckle. That fact is very relevant to Gibbs' story, which continues on Friday, Nov. 17, the last day of early muzzleloader season.
"I had gone to a nearby farm and was prepping a stand site for opening day of regular gun season," Gibbs told me. "But the time got the best of me, and I didn't really have time to hunt, because there were just 40 minutes of daylight left, so I headed for home. By the time I got there, I had maybe 30 minutes of shooting light. I wasn't optimistic because of the time and the fact that I had not seen any nice rubs or scrapes on my property all season.
"My property is so small that usually when I step into the woods, which is just 50 yards or so from my house, I send does running out of it in every direction. Sure enough, that's what happened that afternoon; does started running from my left to my right onto a neighbor's place.
"But to my surprise, this huge buck also pops up, and he is in full trot following the does. So, I swing my muzzleloader off my shoulder, put it on him and shoot. Through the smoke I can see the buck run away."
Gibbs walked through the tiny wood lot and was unable to locate any blood or hair along the escape trail that the deer typically use. He then turned around to recheck his trail and, lying just 30 or 40 yards from where the Franklin County resident had shot, was the buck. The whitetail had veered off the trail and expired.
A month before the Fishersville show, Rockbridge County taxidermist John Metzger of South River Taxidermy, who mounted the buck, had called me specifically to marvel about Gibbs' trophy -- and understandably. The backyard buck from Franklin County features 22 points, an inside spread of 19 7/8 inches, and a B&C net score of 201 1/8.
KEITH HYLER AND HIS MONTGOMERY MONSTER
Keith Hyler is a 37-year-old supervisor for Conwed. Hyler has deer hunted since he turned 15 but endured a long drought when he first began going afield and did not tag his first whitetail until he was 25. Since then, he has killed between 15 and 20 whitetails but never a trophy broadbeam. The Botetourt County resident lives in Eagle Rock, but his favorite place to hunt is a 30-acre family-owned tract in Montgomery County.
The southwest Virginian had determined that in 2006 he would become a trophy hunter. This led him to initiate a lengthy period of scouting; in fact, he began some three to four weeks before bow season commenced.
"I was looking for a stand site on our Montgomery County land and found some nice trees that had been horned," Hyler told me. "I also had glimpsed some bucks that had nice racks. The best stand site in the area is a place where two main paths come together on a point that lies on a mountain ridge. The paths were slick from deer travel, and there were acorns everywhere. So, I put up a stand about 15 yards to one side of the path's intersection.
"I'm obviously just a beginning trophy hunter, but on those television shows, the hosts are always telling everyone to pass up the small bucks and does. So, I promised myself to try that. I took off the first week of bow season from work and passed on does, a spike and a 6-pointer but never saw a big buck."
With his vacation over, Hyler headed back to working seven days a week and had to content himself with the occasional few hours afield. Adding to his lack of time outdoors is the fact that he labors on third shift. Right before the early muzzleloader season was to begin east of the Blue Ridge, Keith and his fellow third shifter, Travis Bandy of Salem, made a portentous proclamation.
"On the spur of the moment around 4 a.m., Travis and I decided to drive up to Montgomery and go hunting after work that morning," Hyler continued. "I went to my hotspot and Travis was about 75 to 80 yards away on the other side of a knoll. At daybreak for about 30 minutes, I kept hearing all this grunting and snorting.
"Finally, I saw the source for those sounds and it was two big bucks that were fighting on the same path that I had walked in on. Both bucks were really nice, but one was noticeably bigger. I have been trying to learn not to count points and become too excited; those television guys say that you stay a whole lot calmer that way.
"Anyway, the two bucks kept fighting their way toward me. Finally, the bucks stopped fighting and one of them ran toward me, like he had gotten a whiff of me, and the other one followed. The closer one was 25, 26 yards from me and broadside with the other one behind. I shot the closer one."
The buck ran about 6
5 to 70 yards before it lay down and died. That's when Hyler began, as he said, "whooping and hollering," so much so that Bandy quickly arrived on the scene. The 10-point buck scores 125 5/8 Pope and Young and features a 22-inch inside spread. Interestingly, the buck that Hyler did not have a shot at was noticeably larger than the one he killed and will be his quest for the 2007 season.
JIMMY BROUGHMAN AND HIS BOTETOURT BEHEMOTH
Jimmy Broughman is a 31-year-old metal fabricator from Eagle Rock and upon my meeting him, he quickly reminded me that I had taught him English at Lord Botetourt High School. Jimmy has been a deer hunter since he was 13 and averages killing about five deer annually. The Botetourt County resident has mounted four of his whitetails.
Broughman's story begins three years ago, when he and his brother, Jason, located an impressive rub line in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest of Botetourt. The duo returned to the locale during bow season and observed large numbers of does and small bucks but no shooters. This was very disappointing to them, because the maker or makers of that sign never made an appearance.
The national forest land in question is landlocked on two sides and requires an all-day hike to reach it via a public access road. But the brothers have permission to go afield on a farm that borders the other two sides of the property. That property features a field that abuts the public land.
"The public land doesn't get much hunting pressure, so Jason and I set out to really learn it," Broughman told me. "The first year, we tried to learn the game runs, the bedding and feeding areas, the whole nine yards. The second year, we didn't hunt it much because we were chasing a different buck, and we also didn't realize the land's potential.
"But the third year right before muzzleloader season began, we saw this massive buck with about a 24-inch spread feeding out in the farmer's field in the middle of the day. So we developed a game plan where we could possibly intersect that big buck."
The field borders what Broughman labels "foothills" that in turn abut a mountaintop ridge with the requisite mountain laurel thicket. Three finger ridges feed down from the mountain toward the foothills. Jimmy and Jason decided not to hunt the finger ridges during the few remaining days before the early muzzleloader season, fearing that they might alarm the big buck. They both also felt that they would have a better chance to take him with a smokepole than a compound.
When the opening day of muzzleloader season came, the brothers and friend Tristan Beagles each positioned themselves on a finger ridge. Interestingly, each sportsman constructed a ground blind constituted of tree boughs and limbs.
"I love hunting from homemade ground blinds," Broughman said. "I don't cut anything, just use dead stuff lying around. I position a blind on a vantage point so I can look down and watch a trail. Ground blinds have many advantages over tree stands; they are quicker and easier to construct, safer, and I don't have to worry about someone running off with one.
"On opening day, I was counting on hunting pressure driving the deer up to us. Earlier in the season, I had killed a 9-pointer in Amherst County, so I put Jason and Tristan on what I thought were the hottest trails. That morning, I basically saw nothing; meanwhile, they were covered up with deer. They weren't horn hunting, so my brother shot a 3-pointer and Tristan a 4-pointer. I helped them drag their deer out, and they went on home and I went back to the finger ridges."
Tristan had told Broughman that early that morning a huge contingent of deer had made their way by him and up a finger ridge. So, it was on that ridge that he decided to make his evening ground blind.
"I figured that the deer would come right back down that finger ridge that evening," he continued. "I believe that evening deer almost always go back down the ridge that they ran up in the morning. But the reverse isn't true. A deer that goes down a certain ridge in the evening could go up any number of ridges the following morning, depending on where it found food during the night."
The place where the Eagle Rock sportsman selected for a blind lies in incredibly thick mountain laurel with a pine grove nearby. Indeed, the copse is so dense that Broughman could see only 25 to 30 yards. The sitting was uneventful until about 45 minutes before sunrise. The smokepoler had been blowing on a grunt tube (two shorts and one long) when a big buck metamorphosed in front of him and began pacing back and forth but not presenting a shot.
"I kept putting my scope on him but I couldn't fire," Broughman recalled. "Meanwhile, this doe comes in at the front of my stand and begins to blow and carry on. When does do that, I begin aggressively grunting back at them. That grunting either spooks them or dries them up, and sure enough, she shuts up.
"Then I return to focusing on the deer above me and barreling down the ridge to me is this big buck. I am guessing that either the doe was in heat or he was turned on by my aggressive grunting. That buck crosses a draw, pops up, and the next thing I know he is four yards from me in a matter of seconds. I had just enough time to shoot. He ran, then staggered, then disappeared."
Some 90 yards away, however, the buck expired. The 11-pointer features a 17 1/4-inch inside spread and scored 125 Boone and Crockett.
GARY SUBLETTE AND HIS BEDFORD BRUISER
Gary Sublette is a 44-year-old self-employed pump installer from Goodview. The Bedford County resident has been hunting for some 30 years and has tagged eight mountable whitetails. Sublette's story begins three years ago when he first witnessed a massive Bedford buck.
At the beginning of the bow season last year, Sublette once again viewed the broadbeam, which appeared right at dark and some 60 to 70 yards distant. The location was a field that is 30 yards across and lies between a pine thicket and an oak grove.
"I was relieved that the buck was still alive and decided to go after him every day I could," Sublette told me. "But for the rest of early bow season, I never saw him. On opening day of muzzleloader season, I was on stand in the pine thicket. About 8:30, the big buck crossed from the pines to the oaks at a distance of about 250 yards. At 10:30, he went back the same way he came. And at 12:30, he again crossed in the same spot. I never saw him again that day.
"On Sunday, I decide to move the stand to within 100 yards of his trail and on the oak side of the field. I am using a drill to start my tree stand steps, and I look up on the ridge and the buck is standing there looking down toward me, trying to figure out where the noise is coming from. Then he just lies down, and I have to wait an hour before he decides to get up and leave.
"I was just sick. I couldn't sleep that night. I figured I had blown my chance at him. He had me all torn up."
On Nov. 15, Sublette returned to his origi
nal stand site because he could not arrive at the general location until late in the afternoon.
"About 4 p.m., six does come out into the field. And about 4:30, my buck appears in the pines behind me. I could just see his beams through the pines. Finally, he sticks his neck out about 20 yards from me, and I shoot."
The 10-point typical features an inside spread of 18 7/8 inches and scores 152 B&C.
For information on the Western Virginia Sport Show, call (540) 337-7018, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.westernvasportshow.com.
Find more about Virginia fishing and hunting at: VirginiaGameandFish.com