By Jill J. Easton
So eager to see the buck he’d smoked up close, Tommy Johnson gave no thought to reloading or even grabbing his muzzleloader before descending his ladder and running over to the deer.
When he reached it and saw that the animal was definitely not pushing up daisies, however, he did a quick 180.
“I knew I’d made a good shot, so I left the gun (in the tree) when I went to get a closer look,” said the hunter from Gretna, Va. “I was excited.
“When I saw the buck trying to get up, I had to run back, climb all those steps, get the gun, reload, and then shoot it again,” he continued. “That time, it was definitely dead, and I was close to being done, too, from all the anxiety.”
Just seeing a buck of this caliber — a state record on the hoof —might be enough to test any hunter’s ticker. But Tommy survived the backcountry stress test.
This all happened on Oct. 30, opening day of Virginia’s early blackpowder season in 2010. Tommy had climbed into his ladder around 7 a.m., eager to spend two or three hours in what he calls Deer Central, a ridge studded with white and red oaks on a 43-acre plot he looks after for an absentee landowner.
Tommy’s stand overlooks the ridge and a nearby stream. The acreage also contains pines, an overgrown 25-acre cutover that’s perfect bedding cover, and a food plot of clover and oats, the latter 250 yards from his setup. Adjacent tracts, once farmed for tobacco, were growing corn and soybeans.
He says the property and surrounding lands offer whitetails everything they need and desire. But he had another reason for going to that spot as well.
All summer long, neighbors had seen and retrieved trail camera photographs of at least three great bucks. One of the animals had been killed by a car, but the other two were still out there.
The buck Tommy saw an hour after climbing his ladder wasn’t one of them.
“Around 8:00, a spike appeared in front of my stand,” he said. “I enjoyed watching the little buck since nothing else seemed to be moving in the woods that morning.”
Not one to sit all day, Tommy was contemplating breakfast by the end of his second hour aloft. But he soon forgot all about his grumbling stomach.
“About 9:00, I saw something coming from down the creek,” he said, “but I couldn’t see its headgear. All I could tell was that it was a deer, walking fast.”
When the animal got closer, Tommy saw it was a buck with a rack full of points.
“I watched the thing get closer and closer, but I didn’t have a shot for a long time,” he said. “Then I realized it was about to walk into a small opening between two trees about 55 yards away. That was my chance!”
The buck was moving too fast, however, for Tommy to zero in on it. He had to do something to slow or stop it.
“I made a sound like a deer with my mouth, sort of a maaah,” he said. “When nothing happened, I grunted again, louder, and the buck stopped. I could see just enough to put crosshairs on the big whitetail’s shoulder.”
At the shot, the buck went down like it had been pole-axed. Tommy might not have been able to count points beforehand, but he’d seen enough of the antlers to convince him the buck was special.
After the forward-reverse-forward rides on the treadmill, which ended with the coup de grace, Tommy finally got to look at his deer. It literally stole his breath.
He’d never have wagered that such a buck would be caught dead on its feet as late as 9:00.
“It was almost spooky having it show up like that,” Tommy said. “I’ve been hunting for more than 50 years. I never would’ve expected a deer that big to be up and about in the middle of the day.”
Anxious to share the news, Tommy immediately called his wife and son, but neither believed him. It took a lot of convincing for his son, Kevin, who was hunting nearby, to come and assist in getting the deer out of the woods.
They discovered up front that the buck was too big to fit on the four-wheeler. They wound up holding its antlers and guiding the buck through the trees, while a friend dragged it behind the ATV.
“The odds were enormously against my getting this buck,” Tommy said. “It’s a wonder I hadn’t left before it showed.
“Plus, I had no idea a buck this big was even in my area,” he continued. “Good spirits smiled on me for Halloween (albeit a day early). It was all treat; no tricks.”
Matt Knox, a taxidermist in Forest, Va., aged the buck at only 3 1/2 years old.
“This was an excellent buck for anywhere in the country,” Tommy said. “But for Pittsylvania County, it was especially so ... just outstanding.”
The buck won every contest Tommy entered in 2010. It took first place in the muzzleloader categories at the Dixie Deer Classic in North Carolina, the West Regional Show in Harrisonburg, Va., at the Virginia Deer Classic in Richmond, and at the Virginia Big Game Trophy Show. Tommy’s buck was also awarded the George B. Johnson Award at the Virginia state show.
It’s been nearly four years since Tommy shot this buck, and he hasn’t slowed in his quest to equal or best it, not that he thinks it’s possible to do so.
But hope springs eternal.
“I keep thinking: No one killed that third pretty good buck, and it’s three years older now,” he said. “Who knows what kind of treat I might get next Halloween?”
Hunter: Tommy Johnson
BTR Score: 208 7/8”
– Photo Courtesy of Tommy Johnson
This article was published in the September 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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