The 1976 Virginia firearms season was soon to open and, for the first time, Grandpa wasn’t going hunting with us. He was dying of black lung disease. Grandpa had worked in the coal mines for years, but now they were working on him.
Grandpa had been an avid hunter for as long as I could remember. He had taken 39 deer, several of them nice bucks. While most hunters in our area were considered lucky to just see a deer, Grandpa was harvesting them. He passed that how-to knowledge on to my dad and me.
About six weeks before opening day, Dad and I went to scout an area that we had been hunting for about five years. Imagine the shock we felt when we arrived at the farm only to have the landowner say we couldn’t hunt his property any longer. It seems that one of our former hunting buddies had told him of Grandpa’s illness and had also added several untruths (I’m trying to be nice) about how my dad and I were coping with it.
Since we supposedly had started drinking excessively and were not the same reliable people we had been in the past, we were denied our place to hunt. The fact is our “buddy” secured a lease on the property the same day he told his story. Opening day was six weeks away, and we didn’t have a clue where we would be hunting.
We spent the next three weekends going everywhere from the Dismal section of Giles County to three different areas of the Jefferson National Forest in Bland, Wythe and Pulaski counties. The good news is we saw some beautiful country. The bad news is we saw very little sign.
Opening day was now just two weeks away, and our situation wasn’t any better. We decided to go back to the Little Walker section of Bland County and find another farm to hunt.
Prayer No. 1
We said a prayer that morning as we headed out. Our first stop was the Little Creek Country Store. The lady who ran the store told Dad we should talk to Jasper Davis, a local mail carrier who also had a nice farm.
When we pulled into the driveway, Mr. Davis came out to meet us. Dad explained our situation and asked if we could hunt. I will never forget Mr. Davis’ answer. “I usually don’t let anyone hunt on my farm who I don’t know,” he began. Then he paused … and concluded, “But I have a good feeling about you fellas, and I’m going to let you hunt.” Prayer number one was answered; things were looking up.
So on Nov. 14, 1976, we headed to deer camp. Grandpa wasn’t there in person, but we carried his love, his blessings and his knowledge with us. Our hunting party included Joe Senic (my dad), Uncle James Marrs, Tommy Daddysman and me. This was the first time in years that there was snow on the ground on opening day. That definitely favored us since we would be going to a new area with just two days to scout. The 8 inches would give us the best opportunity to find fresh sign. What more could we ask for?
Not much was said the first 20 or 30 minutes we were on the road. I think everyone was doing the same thing that I was. I spent those first few minutes thinking about Grandpa, reliving our previous hunts, and praying for God to watch over him while we were gone. Two and a half hours and some great conversation later, we stopped in front of the gate that led to our campsite. Since I was the designated gate opener (that much hadn’t changed), I jumped out of the truck and with the professionalism that is developed through years of experience, swung the gate open.
Unfortunately, the truck rolled onto a soft spot and sank in the snow and mud clean up to the axle. We did everything we could to get the truck out, but it was not to be. Finally, we heard someone say, “You fellas look like you could use some help.” It was Mr. Davis and his son, Jasper Jr.
“We sure could,” my dad answered. Jasper Jr. used a tractor to pull us out. We were very grateful and offered to pay for their help. Of course, they refused and said that all of the pay they needed was for us to have a safe and successful hunt. Dad thanked them again, and we drove the last 30 yards to our campsite. By the time we set up, the day was pretty much shot for scouting. We fixed supper, ate, played some cards and attempted to put together some strategy for the next day of scouting.
I awoke Sunday morning to the smell of bacon, eggs and coffee. After a hearty breakfast and a short devotional, we were off to the woods. There were tracks, trails, rubs and scrapes no farther than 10 yards inside the woods. There was also a mountain laurel thicket about 15 yards farther in, and since we had never been in this section of woods, we decided to hunt it.
Going through that thicket wasn’t just a job; it was an adventure. The laurel was so thick that we literally had to crawl in places. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were boulders as big as mobile homes. But we continued to see buck sign, and the farther up the mountain we went, the more we saw. After about an hour of climbing, we finally broke out of the laurel and into a beautiful section of hardwoods. We hadn’t gone 20 feet when Dad said, “Danny, come over here.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a scrape as big as the hood of a truck, and right beside it was the imprint of a doe in the snow.
We decided to split up into two groups. Uncle James and Tommy would scout east of the scrape and Dad and I would head west. We would meet back at the scrape in two hours. This became the easiest scouting that we had ever done. Big rubs were everywhere, and a couple of 3-inch pine saplings had been completely mutilated.
Not only were there rubs, but scrapes also were scattered about 30 to 50 yards apart. When Dad and I reached the crest of the ridge, we noticed an old split rail fence that went down the other side of the mountain. It ran between a pine thicket and a nice section of hardwoods thick with ivy. This is where Dad made his stand. Mine was about 100 yards above where we first came out of the thicket.
We met James and Tommy and headed back to camp. They had also found plenty of sign. We knew that there was a big buck using this area. Little did we know just how big, but by this time the next day we would all be standing in awe and amazement of the great deer.
Let Me Get One for Grandpa’
The alarm began ringing at 4 a.m., but I was already awake. We got up and began dressing and packing. Using an old logging road would make the hike into our stands longer, but the walking would be easier and quieter. We had no more than started up the road when I began feeling sick. I told Dad, Tommy and James to go on and that I would be right behind them. After about 15 minutes, I started feeling better and continued on up the mountain.
I jumped deer on my way in but still felt confident that this would be a good morning. It was 6:55 when I got to my stand and daylight was beginning to break. As I stood there catching my breath, Grandpa came to mind. At that moment, I knelt down in the snow and prayed a simple prayer: “God, if I never kill another buck, please let me get one for Grandpa.” Even though I had been deer hunting since I was 14 years old, I had yet to take a buck. I wiped away a tear, sat down and waited.
The wait would not be long. At 7:15, I turned my head to the left and all I could see was antler. The buck was about 100 yards away and closing fast. He stopped to smell the air, put his nose to the ground and continued to walk toward me. When he was about 45 yards away, he turned slightly to the left. I raised my rifle but found myself shaking with excitement. I focused on the buck’s body, raised my rifle again and fired.
The tremendous buck jumped straight up, took off like a jet, stumbled at about 60 yards and then crashed 80 yards from my stand. I began to cry tears of joy because of how big he truly was and also tears of sadness because Grandpa wasn’t there to enjoy this special moment with me. I pulled myself together, knelt down, picked up the massive rack and said, “Thank you, God, for answering my prayer and for letting Dad be here to celebrate with me.”
I was 20 years old with the kind of buck that most people hunt for a lifetime and never see. Since then I have been fortunate to have taken several nice bucks, but it doesn’t matter. None of them will be as special as the buck God gave me for Grandpa Senic. He passed away Feb. 2, 1977, so proud of my accomplishment. I still carry his spirit and memory with me year after year.
I have been blessed with two healthy grandsons. I pray I have the privilege to pass along the hunting tradition to them and that I will do as good for them as Grandpa did for me. Thank you, Grandpa, for everything.
Epilogue: I thought I’d taken the buck of a lifetime. Unfortunately, the Boone and Crockett Club didn’t see it that way. As a non-typical in 1977, the rack failed to make the book because of deductions. In 1979, Boone and Crocket decided it could be scored as a typical, but the results were the same. Again, deductions shut it out of the record book. I was told that if the rack had carried 11 points instead of 18, it would have made the book.
It was almost 30 years later at the 2005 Buckmasters Expo in Greensboro, N.C., that justice finally prevailed.
My buck qualified for “Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records” with an official score of 168 4/8 Semi-irregular. It was both a relief and a breath of fresh air to finally see an organization use a measuring system that credits the buck with every inch of antler God allows it to grow.
– Photo by Danny Senic
This article was published in the October 2006 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.