Virginia's National Forest Record-Book Bucks

Virginia's National Forest Record-Book Bucks

Killing any trophy buck is a remarkable achievement. But when two family members kill broadbeams within a fortnight -- and on national forest land -- that quality of hunting deserves a close look.

Bobby, Justin, and Scott Shires, of Salem, pose with the 10-pointer that Justin killed on Thanksgiving Day last year. The buck was taken in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. Photo by Bruce Ingram

By Bruce Ingram

I would wager that within the sporting soul of many parents who hunt is the desire that their offspring would love the outdoors and the pastime of hunting as much as they do. I would also bet that many parents that pursue whitetails would harbor dreams of their children one day killing a trophy buck.

Imagine, then, the joy of Salem's Bobby Shires, a 41-year-old truck driver for Fed-Ex. Shires has two sons, 13-year-old Scott and 14-year-old Justin, who truly love being in the woods with their dad, which is definitely something for a father to cherish. But last November during the regular gun season west of the Blue Ridge, both boys accomplished something quite remarkable - they both killed broadbeams that truly are two of the more impressive bucks taken in Virginia last year.

Thirteen-year-old Scott scored first last November 21, a Friday. That fateful morning, Scott and Bobby arose early and trekked deep into the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest for over an hour. Their destination was one that the elder Shires had found in 2001 and one that he knew could harbor bucks with imposing headgear.

The reason why was that this particular postage stamp of public land was classic Virginia mountain buck territory. Every part of the state, of course, contains natural funnels, but the necked-down area that Bobby Shires had located was particularly promising. The funnel extended for approximately 100 yards, and thickets surrounded it.

Both red and white oaks grew in good number within the funnel, but what was really important about their presence was that their limbs dripped acorns - a not inconsequential fact, since large expanses of the Old Dominion endured a hard mast failure last autumn. A favorable scenario was thus in play - an acorn-filled funnel that was isolated from hunting pressure.

Just as appealing about the area was the composition of the copses. One thicket featured mountain laurel - the standard bedding ground for Western Virginia's hinterlands bucks. The opposite brushy area was in the regenerating mode, as a forest fire had leveled the trees there in 2001. So, not only did the deer have hard mast to dine upon, but they also had succulent browse. On that November Friday, Bobby positioned Scott near the midpoint of the funnel and instructed the youth to keep a lookout on all sides.

Scott was afield with his first rifle: a 30.30 single shot sans scope. The middle school student had employed the gun to kill his first deer, a doe that was harvested under the state's special youth license earlier in the regular gun period.

At first light, Scott observed does filtering by his stand, but the young man had already decided to hold out for a nice buck. The peak of the rut had begun, and the elder Shires had tutored Scott about the stand's big buck potential. Scott remained true to his goal of tagging a buck, even though more does continued to meander by as the morning progressed.

At 10:00 a.m., several more does ambled by, but the actions of one of them was decidedly different. The female appeared to be nervous and acted as if another animal were trailing her. The doe's telltale body language was confirmed several minutes later when a buck emerged from a thicket. As the buck walked closer and closer to his position, Scott shouldered his rifle and put the stock tight to his right cheek.

When the broadbeam, still tightly focused on the doe, had strolled to within about 25 yards of the ground stand, Scott fired. A consequence of the double lung shot was that the whitetail traveled only a short distance. The buck's rack has an inside spread of 24 inches and antlers that are thick and sturdy, as well as a field-dressed weight of 150 pounds - poundage not often attained by Virginia mountain deer.

Then the time was right for 14-year-old Justin to enjoy the hunt of a lifetime. Bobby felt that given all the deer sign in the funnel that more mature bucks would be making their way through the focal point. So on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, Bobby and Justin were positioned within the same funnel, not far from where Scott had killed his initial buck.

Justin had never killed a deer of either sex, but the young man and his dad were confident about their chances that day. This confidence was well placed because Bobby had glimpsed another shooter buck the morning before. Also on the outing were Scott and Mark Roberts of Bedford, Bobby's first cousin. Bobby spaced the four family members well apart after the group arrived about 30 minutes before sunup. The story unfolds in Justin's own words.

"Dad had told me that he had seen a deer in the funnel the day before, so I didn't mind getting up so early because of the joy of hunting," he recalled. "But I didn't know how big a deer he had seen. About 15 to 20 minutes after sunrise, I heard some movement over to my left about 20 to 30 yards away and on an embankment near the thicket. Well, I heard something working up toward me and the sounds kept getting louder.

"Then I picked up my rifle (like his brother's, a 30.30 without a scope) and laid it across my knee. I thought the sound was coming from a deer. The animal seemed to be too big to be a squirrel or opossum and too small to be a bear. Then I saw the antlers come up over the embankment, maybe 30 yards diagonally to the left of me. I never bothered to count the points - I was way too excited.

"Then that buck walked toward me and kind of stopped and turned his side toward me. He acted like he knew I was there but that the thing he saw was not a human. The buck stopped again and ate something. All I could see were the bottom of his neck and the top of the shoulder. I thought about what dad had always told me: 'Put the sights right behind a deer's shoulder.' But I couldn't see enough of the buck's shoulder to shoot like dad had taught me. And I didn't want to mess up and waste a shot. I wanted to kill that deer, not have it walk away wounded for a long ways.

"Then the buck moved a little more, and I saw more of his shoulder. I put my sights on the deer, shot, and the buck dropped right in its tracks. Heck of a shot, the buck just dropped - maybe 30 or 35 yards away. I stood up and started to shake really bad. Then I turned on the walkie-talkie. I couldn't reach my dad; the only people I could call were my uncle and brother. 'Oh, man, I've killed a big one,' I said. I didn't want to go see for sure because

I didn't want to scare off any deer that might be coming to anyone else.

"Finally about 45 minutes later I walked up to the deer. I poked it with my rifle. Those horns, man, they were big. It was my first-ever deer."

The buck was a 10-pointer with an inside spread of 19 1/2 inches and an outside spread of 19 3/4 inches. At this writing, a rough score was not available for either Scott's or Justin's trophies.

One of the most impressive things to this writer about the two hunts was the maturity that both boys showed when trophy bucks arrived at their ground stands. Neither boy developed buck fever, and both made sure of their target before they fired - a real testament to the hunting ethics that their dad has instilled in them.

After Justin told me the story of his broadbeam, I asked him if he had experienced any more luck during the regular gun season.

"I saw some more deer during the season, and so did Scott, but we both decided to hold off on shooting any of them," says Justin. "My brother and I wanted dad to kill a big buck, but he didn't get one. Scott and I passed on the does with the hope that a big buck would walk by dad.

"Some people have told me that I'll probably never have another chance at a big buck like the one I killed last Thanksgiving. If that is the way things happen, I don't care. I've still got this one big buck, and I just love going hunting with my dad and brother. That's what hunting is all about, being with my family."

Indeed, those sentiments are what make Virginia - and American - deer hunting such a marvelous pastime. The Shires family experienced a remarkable season last year, two hunts of a lifetime within less than a week. But to this family, spending quality time together outdoors is more important than whether any game is killed.

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