A Look At 3 Big Bucks From Last Season

A Look At 3 Big Bucks From Last Season

Want to get the scoop on how some of the best Virginia bucks of 2007 were tagged? Here are the stories behind how these hunters scored.

Buena Vista's John Cole poses with his 148 7/8 B&C buck, which was taken in Rockbridge County. Cole shot the buck on the third day of the early muzzleloader season.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.

For those Virginians whose sporting hearts thrill to the challenge of killing a big buck, the annual Western Virginia Sport Show in Fishersville at Expoland fills the bill. Every year in February, this Augusta County extravaganza displays some of the best bow- and gun-killed bucks from around the Old Dominion, plus features a number of hunting and fishing outfitters, vendors and celebrities from Virginia, the United States and Canada.

Taxidermist Dale Wenger, who is the official scorer for the show, described the racks displayed at the 2008 show as "average." Of course, at least from my experience in attending the show this decade, the average rack in recent years seems to be more impressive than the typical rack in years past. That may be because of an increased interest in trophy hunting in the Old Dominion.

Bob Rawley, co-owner of the sport show with Mark Hanger, agrees.

"These days in Virginia, there seems to be a tremendous interest in hunting for big bucks," he told me. "I think a lot more hunters are concentrating on going after a trophy. I also think that a lot more individuals and clubs are putting more emphasis on controlling doe numbers and improving wildlife habitat. Those are certainly two favorable factors for having better quality bucks."

Here, then from the 2008 show, are some of the most intriguing trophy bucks and the individuals who killed them.

Brian Puffenbarger works for Target Corporation and has killed about 50 deer in the 25 years or so he has been hunting. Interestingly, the 41-year-old Staunton resident has hunted exclusively with a recurve for the past two decades and has tagged some 20 whitetails with this primitive weapon, including a fine 9-pointer in 1999. In fact, during the 2007 season, Puffenbarger downed four whitetails with a recurve, but one of them will always stand out well above the rest.

The story of that deer actually begins in 2005. Puffenbarger's regular hunting buddy is Eddie Craig, a fence contractor from Waynesboro, and the two men are part of a five-person club that leases a 200-or-so-acre property in Augusta County. In 2005, Craig was afield with his 14-year-old nephew when they spotted a typical 8-pointer that would have scored approximately 120 Pope and Young. Knowing the potential of that still relatively young buck, Craig himself did not want to arrow a whitetail with so much upside, but he encouraged his nephew to do so. However, the buck never came within range of the young man. Throughout the course of the 2005 season, Craig observed the deer eight more times; one time the animal even bedded near him.

In 2006, on the last weekend in September, club members held a meeting on the Augusta County property and, ironically, the buck made an appearance, along with a nice 8-pointer, about 150 yards from where the men were making their plans for the season. Even more ironically, the two bucks watched the club members watching them. And as fate would have things, Brian didn't see the buck again during the 2006 season.

At the next pre-season club meeting in 2007, the members decided to arrow (only bowhunting is permitted on the property) some 20 to 25 does for the season as part of an overall management strategy. The buck, rapidly growing in legend, was also a major topic of discussion, and the members felt that someone would either have a chance to arrow him the first week of the season or not at all until the rut. Additionally, the men had observed the deer throughout the summer of 2007, so there was no doubt that the buck was still alive and using the property as his core area.

Meanwhile, Puffenbarger had positioned a stand where two rub lines intersect along an old logging road. The stand site is located in a wood lot that borders a field that the big buck was known to frequent. Also, the Staunton sportsman can access the stand from its "off" side, without alarming any deer that might be in the field. On the day he positioned the stand, the time was still a month before opening day of the bow season. And Brian spotted the trophy buck out in the field with 27 other whitetails. The cautious archer wanted his stand to be up such a long time so that any scent reminders of his having positioned it would be long dissipated before Oct. 6.

Club members continued to come to the farm in the evening to observe the buck and his fellow whitetails, and for three weeks the big boy consistently made an appearance along with his "three buddies," a 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer (that itself is roughly a 125-class animal), an old 6-pointer and a yearling spike. But the week before opening day, the big buck ceased coming to the opening. Finally, opening day arrived.

"I came to the farm on opening morning and learned that some folks had seen the big buck in their headlights at 4 a.m. that morning," Puffenbarger recalls. "I then drove to the backside of the property, walked 100 or so yards to the stand, and avoided coming anywhere near the field. Five minutes after I was in the stand, deer walked under me in the dark. Just before daylight, I heard a buck grunt and come around to my right.

"About 7:30, something spooked a doe behind me, and she came around in front of me. Because of our management objectives, I would have shot her if I had had a chance. A 6-pointer then followed another doe behind me, and I got ready to shoot the doe. I next saw the 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer coming from my right, and then, all of a sudden, oh, my gosh, here comes the big buck!

"He stops about 15 to 17 yards away and there is only an 18-inch circle where his vitals are visible. I have a full body safety harness on and I kneel down on my hang-on's platform, raise my recurve, and shoot instinctively with a snap shot as I always do. The arrow disappears and I hear the deer run up a hill and then stop, and I think I hear him fall. I climb down from the stand, see the 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer, and then I see the big buck lying on the ground. He only ran 25 to 30 yards after the shot."

The 4 1/2-year-old buck scored 147 5/8 and had a live weight of 208 pounds. Sometimes jealousy over one member's accomplishments will cause a club's harmony to disappear, but such was not the case here.

"I knew Brian could kill that buck and I wanted him to," Eddie Craig said. "The other club members were just as excited as I was when Brian killed him."


, Brian Puffenbarger's success was no fluke, as he carefully prepares for each bow season. Regarding hunting strategy, the most fascinating thing the Staunton resident told me is that he used to be a "scent freak," assiduously washing all his hunting clothes in scent-free detergent and using a variety of attractants. Although Puffenbarger still carefully washes and stores his hunting garb, he no longer employs any cover scents or attractants believing that "no scent is the best scent."

He also has taken to wearing No Trace Camo, a Virginia-based company, because it is light and absorbs human scent molecules well. And Brian likes to hang his stands a month or so before opening day so that they "can cleanse themselves." He practices so that he and his recurve will be accurate out to 30 yards.

"Brian is such an accurate shooter with a recurve that he could shoot a squirrel through a chain length fence," Craig concluded.

John Cole is a 46-year-old self-employed plumber from Buena Vista. The Rockbridge County resident has killed some 75 to 80 whitetails since he began hunting when he was 9 or 10. Never, though, had he tagged a trophy until Nov. 13, 2007.

Oddly enough, this story begins two weeks before that date when Cole was on his way to participate in a bass tournament at Smith Mountain Lake. A huge buck dashed across the road, leaving George Washington and Jefferson National Forest land and scudding onto private property. On the way home that afternoon, John took pains to mark exactly where the deer had crossed the highway.

Soon afterward, Cole returned to the crossing and then located a national forest access road that was relatively nearby. He then trekked to the area where the buck had crossed the highway and began intensively scouting the parcel. What he found was quite encouraging.

Much of the general area is very steep and features huge rocks and expansive mountain laurel thickets -- a good place for deer to bed and seek sanctuary. But not too far from this huge copse lies a 100-yard-long ridge that is fairly open and sports a number of white oak trees that bore acorns in 2007. Just as importantly, the white oak ridge is the only open section in the entire parcel and the sole spot that would allow him to set up and offer a 50- to 60-yard shot.

Additionally, rubs, a few scrapes and copious amounts of deer droppings littered the oak ridge. Cole reasoned that the deer would be coming from that laurel lair, crossing through the white oak ridge to feed, and then move on to where he saw the broadbeam cross the highway.

Cole couldn't hunt the area on opening day (last year falling on Nov. 10) of the early muzzleloader season west of the Blue Ridge, because his son, who attends Bridgewater College, was playing in a football game. On Monday morning, Nov. 12, the Buena Vista resident returned to this part of the national forest in Rockbridge County.

At 7:15, as the wind howled, Cole looked to his left and saw the same buck from the fortnight before. The broadbeam was moving parallel to the smokepoler at a distance of about 30 yards.

"I raised my muzzleloader, but there was something in my scope -- a blade of grass, dirt, something," remembered Cole. "I tried to pick out the deer, but I just couldn't. Then I took both my thumbs and tried to clean the scope, but I still couldn't get it right. Meanwhile, the buck was moving farther away and eventually headed into the laurel."

Cole pulled out a grunt tube and sounded off, but given the wind's force, the whitetail either did not hear the sound or ignored it. Then the Rockbridge County sportsman emitted as loud a grunt as he could -- and the buck turned and began walking toward the sound.

"The buck stopped about 35 yards away and actually looked toward me," Cole said. "But the laurel was so thick where the buck stopped that I hesitated shooting. Then I saw that I had an open shot at his neck, so I pulled the trigger and fired. The buck never flinched, never moved. In fact, he didn't even seem to know that he had been shot at. I was sick and assumed that my shot had hit a tree.

"I knew I couldn't reload without spooking the buck, so I just sat there for about 20 minutes. And the buck eventually walked up to where he was about 15 yards away before he finally left."

Cole hoped he would see the buck again, so he went back to the same area that afternoon but only viewed a spike and a 4-pointer. The next morning, on what would eventually become a day when the temperature soared into the 70s, the plumber returned to the same area and once again the time was 7:15.

"This time my tree stand was facing toward where I had seen the big buck come the day before," he said. "A doe pops over the ridge about 20 yards in front of me and walks directly under my stand and stops. At that time, I see this rack moving along behind a hill and knew it belonged to a really big buck. He took about four or five steps over the hill, and I shot him and he dropped. It was the same buck coming through at the same time as the day before."

John Cole's national forest 9-pointer scores 148 7/8.

Michael Sensabaugh is the first to admit that he does not chase after super bucks. The 39-year-old carpenter from Fairfield has been hunting since he was 11 and has killed some 30 to 35 whitetails, an average of about one per year. But on opening day of the firearms season last Nov. 17 in Rockbridge County, Michael had high hopes that his 12-year-old son, Cody, would kill a doe. They were afield on a 100-acre farm that his family leases, and the day before the carpenter had observed 10 does in a field. Cody had killed his first deer in 2006, and the youngster badly wanted a second one.

The duo set up in a low spot in a rye field where a fencerow splits that field from another one. From that vantage point, the two could watch a ridge that deer often travel down in the evenings to reach the opening. Two different finger ridges come off that ridge and both of them funnel whitetails into the field. At 5:15 p.m., Mike spotted a set of massive antlers.

"My son said, 'Daddy, where is he, I want to shoot him,' and I said OK," Michael recalled. "I moved Cody around and situated him so that he would be facing the buck. But the buck angled behind a locust tree and turned and walked away and then disappeared."

A hump was between the father and son where the deer had disappeared, so Sensabaugh quickly ran to the top of the hump. When he peeked over the crest, he alarmed two does, which snorted and bolted. The father was crestfallen and stood there bemoaning ill fortune. However, that fortune was about to improve.

"All of a sudden, the buck comes back into view, moving around a pond and stopping broadside about 150 yards away," the elder Sensabaugh said. "I knew there wasn't time to go get Cody and come back. So, I took a rest on a fencepost and shot. The buck buckles, but then he turns and runs toward m

e and stops 50 yards away. I shoot him again, and this time he falls for good.

"My son was so mad at me that it was unreal. But I told him that if I hadn't shot the buck, he would've gotten away."

Michael Sensabaugh's first trophy buck scores 137 B&C.

For more information on the Western Virginia Sport Show, call (540) 337-7018, e-mail hangerent@yahoo.com, or visit www.westernvasportshow.com.

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