Rockingham County supplies another giant rack to its growing reputation with a recent possible record buck.
North Carolina hunters know where they have the best chances to find big buck deer â€“ the north-central piedmont counties.
History tells them so. Or you can ask bowhunter Patrick Williams, who has killed two big trophies in the area, including a potential non-typical state record last month.
The latest buck, taken on Oct. 25, had 19 points and initially measured 181 3/8 inches, which puts it in good shape to beat the current non-typical state-record (Brent Mabry, 176 7/8, 2005). Williams also killed a trophy buck two years ago, on Nov. 22, 2015, when he used a .300 Win Mag to drop an 18-point, 6x6 main-frame monster with 195 inches of headgear at a Rockingham farm.
This season, Williams' game cameras had snapped several daylight photos of the deer's shining rack during the last few weeks in October.
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"I'd been watching this  deer [with trail cameras] for several years, but he added a lot of mass to his antlers this year," Williams said.
Southside Virginia whitetails, which live a few miles to the north, are famous for their body sizes and high-scoring antlers.
This strain of deer has almost unfettered migration routes into the Tar Heel State at a region that's the buckle of N.C.'s trophy belt â€“ Rockingham County. Three river drainages funnel pressured Old Dominion whitetails directly into that county.
To paraphrase the venerable value-of-real-estate adage, the three most important things when it comes to having trophy deer are location, location, location.
Rockingham County's 336,720 acres are tri-sected by three rivers â€“ the Dan, Smith and Haw â€“ that form natural deer corridors flowing from Virginia. That means plenty of cover, natural plants and berries, crop fields, wild persimmons, acorn ridges and plentiful water supplies for whitetails.
Just three small towns (Reidsville, Eden, Wentworth) dot the county's 573 square miles of landscape. The majority of Rockingham's 91,393 residents live inside those city limits. Even if the region's human population were spread evenly across the landscape, only one person would occupy, on average, 4 acres of land. And that leaves plenty of room for wildlife, especially deer.
More proof of Rockingham's deer dominance comes from the Dixie Deer Classic. Six of the top-17 firearms bucks in its all-time typical Big Buck Honor Roll list came from Rockingham County while 11 of the top 36 in the Pope&Young (archery) division were taken in Rockingham. The state's No. 1 non-typical belongs to Brent Mabry's 176 7/8 Halifax buck arrowed in 2005.
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Williams, 35, said with a low-pressure weather center headed toward the region, he figured the buck would be on the move, plus the pre-rut "chasing" activity of bucks had begun.
The hunter believes in using food plots and minerals to get deer accustomed to areas where he hangs his stands. He works year-round at improving his places.
"I chose a [stand] between a feeding and bedding area in a big hardwoods with lots of acorns on the ground," he said.
Whitetails will ignore all other food sources if they can find a white oak with falling acorns.
"I believed the deer would likely be in that area to avoid pressure from other hunters," Williams said. "It also was the first time in a while the weather conditions would be good for buck movements."
Williams hadn't pressured the deer, he said, and stayed away from the area except periodically check his trail cameras.
He reached his stand at approximately 4:30 p.m. and began seeing deer almost as soon as he got comfortable. Several does and two young bucks showed up to chase the girls and mock fight each other, creating a lot of noise the hunter figures aroused the older buck's interest.
"A little after 6:30 p.m., he appeared downwind of these deer," he said.
The hunter said he spotted the buck's main beams and white tines coming through the woods.
The deer walked into a shooting lane about 35 yards from Williams' ambush. But he said the deer quickly moved through the opening, too fast for a bow shot. The big guy bee-lined for the rambunctious younger bucks and does but they quickly disappeared into the deep woods. And the hunter's heart sank.
However, as often happens, the does reappeared in a few minutes with the trophy buck in tow.
Williams said the deer stopped in front of his stand at 6:45 p.m. After reaching full draw with his compound bow, he loosed a Rage Hypodermic collapsible broadhead that entered behind the buck's shoulder and sliced through its body.
The buck apparently tried to "jump the string" (in reality it crouched at hearing the bowstring's vibration to begin its first jump). Unfortunately, Williams said, he'd shot low, but the buck's dip put its side in a perfect position for the arrow.
"He took off running out of sight," the hunter said.
After waiting several minutes, Williams followed the buck's trail and found it piled up about 120 yards from the arrow's impact.
Although Williams believes his buck's rack may surpass Mabrey's N.C. record non-typical, it's likely going to be a close call.
Taxidermists who have viewed the rack and photos of Williams' buck note an abnormal point on the 6x7 mainframe, a point attached at the base of the right G3 tine. Since both points legally can't be counted as G3s in the Pope&Young or Boone-and-Crockett scoring systems as far as tine symmetry is concerned, one must be deducted from rack's total score.
Natural processes also may shrink the rack before the mandatory 60-day drying period ends.
As a typical, the rack likely totals 162 inches.
"The rack probably has around 19 inches of abnormal points," a leading N.C. taxidermist said. "Most people don't understand asymmetrical points are deducted, no matter if the rack is scored as typical or non-typical. This rack probably will score around 176 net non-typical."
That score certainly would challenge Mabrey's buck.
If Williams takes the antlers to the Dixie Deer Classic, he must take a lie-detector test, as do all category winners. His 2015 buck isn't recorded in the Wake County Wildlife Club's on-line all-time Honor Roll list.