West Virginia's Big Buck Show

West Virginia's Big Buck Show

This annual gathering of hunters and their trophy racks draws up to 15,000 folks to Stonewall Jackson State Park each fall. Here's how to get in on the fun! (July 2010)

We all like seeing the best of the best. Whether it's the Academy Awards, the Super Bowl, or the weigh-in at the BASS Master Classic, people like to see the standard by which greatness is measured.

The Big Buck Display at the West Virginia National Hunting & Fishing Day event brings together 30 of the previous season's best racks.
Photo by Paul Moore.

The annual Big Buck Display during West Virginia's celebration of National Hunting & Fishing Day gives Mountain State hunters a chance to do just that, and sportsmen certainly seize the opportunity.

Every year, the Big Buck Display is one of the strongest draws at the NHFD event co-sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and the West Virginia Wildlife Federation. Thousands of people turn out for the weekend festivities and most all seem to be attracted and mesmerized by the 36 linear feet of wall adorned with some of the most impressive whitetail deer taken by hunters in West Virginia. Often, the deer mounts represent more than 4,500 inches of antler. It's quite impressive indeed.

West Virginia's NHFD celebration takes place on the fourth weekend of September as a two-day event. There are numerous activities there in addition to the Big Buck Display. All activities are held at the Stonewall Resort State Park in Lewis County near Roanoke.

The Big Buck Display features up to 30 mounted whitetails. Each deer must meet a minimum score of 150 according to the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system. The deer may be taken with any legal weapon during the appropriate season. Displaying and participation at the event is open to qualifying deer on a first-come first-serve basis until the quota of 30 is met.

There is a fairly simple, but very strict procedure for having a deer included in the display. Hunters or owners of trophy deer mount must complete a registration form, sign a fair chase and compliance with rules certification document, and provide a copy of an official score sheet for the deer being entered. Scoring must be done by an official Pope and Young Club or B&C scorer. Qualified scorers can be contacted at all DNR district offices.

All paperwork must then be mailed to Keith Krantz, who is a wildlife biologist with the DNR and overseer of the display entries. All entries will be stamped with the date and time of arrival and only the first 30 qualifying entries are eligible. All accepted entries receive an acceptance letter, which provides directions to Stonewall Resort and instructions regarding delivery of the trophy mount.

Along with the Big Buck Display, an award presentation is also part of the weekend events. The highest scoring deer in up to eight categories of the Big Buck Contest will receive plaques. The largest qualifying typical and non-typical deer taken during the year with bow, gun, muzzleloader, and crossbow receive a commemorative plaque. Minimum scores apply for each category, so in most years only four to five are awarded.

The minimum scores eligible for the contest are 140 typical or 165 non-typical with a gun or muzzleloader, and 125 typical or 155 non-typical with a bow or crossbow.

"This event started pretty small, but it has grown significantly over the years." Keith Krantz said.

He added that the Big Buck Display is probably the most viewed booth at the NHFD event.

"This display lets the public learn what a 150-class buck really looks like. Some of these shows on TV are not realistic representations of what the average hunter can expect on free-ranging land, at least on lands that are open to the public. These deer are representative of some of the hunter success and deer population here in our home state."

As an incentive for hunters to participate in the display, everyone with a participating deer entry receives a hat with a logo of the Big Buck Display along with the year of participation, according to Krantz. There are only 30 hats printed per year, so it adds a little bit of prestige.

Furthermore, all those who bring in trophy deer will have their names put in a drawings. Usually, two muzzleloaders and two bows are given away during the weekend.

People attending the show are always rewarded with some true trophies to see up close. Last year, there were two typicals in excess of 200 inches. There was one non-typical scoring 190 2/8 and six other deer scoring more than 170 inches. A total of 32 deer were on display because two hunters brought two trophies each. Fourteen out of the 32 bucks on were taken with archery equipment.

The largest deer on display last year scored 205 6/8 inches. The massive non-typical had 18 points and was taken with a gun by Charles Bailey in Ritchie County. Second on the list was another huge non-typical with 16 points that scored 201 4/8 inches. This bruiser was taken by bowhunter Robert Cooper in Wyoming County. The non-typical mentioned earlier and scoring 190 2/8 was taken with a gun in Webster County by Daniel Miller. This deer also had 16 points. These and the other deer on display certainly left hunters envious, but anxious to get in thee woodlands to find such a West Virginia trophy of their own.

The DNR is not only using the contest and display to recognize hunters for their accomplishments, but they are also compiling much needed and useful information on the deer population and hunting success in the Mountain State. Krantz said data entry personnel have been hard at work keying in results from the recent Big Buck Contest, but also from deer hunting results dating all the way back to the 1930s.

"When this is complete, we will have a good database of information on our deer. When someone wants to look back at the largest bucks taken and which part of the state they came from, we will be able to provide that information."

Once this information is compiled, it will be very helpful to hunters looking to bag a true trophy animal. One of the first steps in successfully bagging a trophy deer is hunting where they actually live. Most trophy seekers will study harvest data and state maps to determine where the largest deer are taken on a consistent basis. Also, a look at areas where few or no trophies animals have been taken will help eliminate unproductive areas.

This method doesn't guarantee a trophy just because one hunts where several other big deer have been taken, but it does up the odds. It tells hunters that good genetics are present in that area.

The NHFD celebration is more than just a showcase for our biggest deer though, and has a much deeper motive than merely something to occupy a weekend.

"National Hunting and Fishing Days are designed to generate excitement about outdoor-related activities and ultimately promote recruitment and retention for young, budding hunters, fishermen and wildlife-watchers, and those older individuals who have temporarily abandoned these sports, explained event coordinator Jerry Westfall.

"With this event, we hope we can help preserve our outdoor heritage in West Virginia," he continued. "We hope to educate the public by providing opportunities to learn the skills, safety, ethics, respect, and stewardship needed for these outdoor activities. And basically, just to encourage folks to get outdoors."

The celebration also provides an outstanding outreach opportunity, allowing the public to learn about the DNR's management activities and wildlife law enforcement. And it provides folks an opportunity to learn how other organizations, agencies, landowners, and businesses are helping to conserve West Virginia's wildlife and preserve our hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching heritage.

The Big Buck Display has been so popular with attendees to the show; it has spawned yet another display that is also getting rave reviews. Another section of wall space has been devoted to display some of the largest fish taken in the Mountain State.

One of most unusual activities at the NHFD event is also one of the most attended. Krantz brings in a freshly killed deer and performs a complete post-harvest demonstration. He firsts talk to the audience about proper shot placement, then proceeds through the steps of field dressing and skinning. Finally, he begins butchering the meat and readying it for the freezer, all the while talking to the audience and explaining the process step by step.

This event has been so popular the DNR has now added a similar squirrel skinning demonstration.

"So many hunters have said they don't like hunting squirrels because they are so hard to skin," Krantz noted. "So, for the past two years, we have been doing a squirrel field dressing and skinning demonstration to show hunters it's not that hard to do and now more people can take advantage of hunting and utilizing squirrels."

Archery trick shooter Byron Ferguson has been a celebrity highlight at the NHFD event. This internationally known archer has appeared around the world and on television showing his skills with a longbow. He has split playing cards in half from the side, shot various objects out of the air, including dimes and aspirin, and can snuff out a candle with an arrow. He even does his own archery version of the Old West gun trick of shooting behind his back while looking in a mirror.

More than a hundred vendors are present and there are dozens of other demonstrations and seminars. Some of the recent popular seminars have included coyote calling and hunting, waterfowl hunting, turkey hunting, and one on taxidermy. Other demonstrations have included tree stand safety, fish filleting, game and fish cooking, bird and squirrel dog events, and a trapping how-to seminar.

There are lots of activities for adults and young people alike. They include 3-D shoots and archery instruction, hunting simulators, .22 rifle shooting, muzzleloader shooting, air rifles, sporting clays, and even a catfish tournament. There is a youth challenge, a National Guard rock climbing wall, kids' wildlife painting, and a special invitation and offer of free admission to all Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Attendees can also see a snake and wildlife exhibit, raptors up close, taxidermy exhibits, and even a display of old fishing lures. There is certainly something for all ages and interests.

This year's events will be held on September 25-26, 2010, at the Stonewall Resort. Hours are tentatively set for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Adults last year paid only $5 and children ages 4 to 15 got in for $1. Children under the age of three attended for free.

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