West Virginia state-record buck eludes one McKinney, but not the other!
By Mike Handley
Photos courtesy of Dave McKinney
J.D. McKinney can thank his dad, a belligerent squirrel and some bad glue for his first deer by bow.
He was but a green-gilled teenager when the state-record buck picked its way down the laurel-studded hillside back in November 1994.
Although there was plenty of daylight remaining, the lad had pretty much thrown in the towel – not that actually seeing deer was common on that piece of real estate. “Thirty years ago, you were lucky just to see a deer in Wyoming County,” says Dave McKinney, J.D.'s dad. “Nowadays, there still aren't a lot. It's rough country.”
J.D. began the Saturday afternoon hunt topside, but the lack of fresh sign doused his enthusiasm.
Discouraged at the absence of rubs and scrapes ringing the bedding area, the 15-year-old plodded back into the big bowl-shaped hollow to wait for his father to join him. The elder McKinney was in a treestand somewhere atop the opposite ridge.
J.D. was so shocked to see the buck that he forgot to lose his composure. When the heavy antlered whitetail passed within 20 yards of him, he smacked it!
He was not the only one to see the buck at close quarters, however, and he wasn't the only one to draw his bow. When Dave heard his son shout, he might've known that the kid had encountered the same deer that, only a few minutes earlier, had given him an opportunity at a mere 15 feet.
Deer hunters who cut their teeth and hone their skills on small game often wonder why squirrels can be so elusive when you're loaded for bushytail and then downright carefree when you're loaded for whitetail. When one of the rascals boldly stopped within easy bow range, a bored and long-taunted Dave decided to nock an arrow with a field-tip and shoot it.
Or shoot at it, as was the case. The arrow missed the mark.
To add insult to the non-injury, the squirrel began chattering at him. To shut it up, of course, Dave reasoned that he'd have to try again.
Before he could reach for a second field-tipped arrow, however, he spotted a deer walking toward him.
“He was just moving along slowly, swinging his head from side to side,” Dave said. “I knew he was going to come within range. My stand was right next to the logging road. I actually thought, ‘This deer is mine … No doubt!'”
When the buck passed behind a pine, Dave calmly drew. When it stepped into the clear, a perfect broadside target, Dave was helpless. The nock was attached to the bowstring, but the arrow wasn't!
“I just hoped that it would continue on to J.D.,” he said.
Not long afterward, J.D. spotted the deer coming his way.
“Once I saw those antlers, I knew it was the one we'd been hunting for three seasons,” J.D. said. “I mean, how likely was it that there would be two bucks like that living there?”
When it passed within 20 yards, J.D. loosed an arrow and the deer bolted. He watched for about 100 yards before losing sight of the very first deer he'd ever shot with a bow. It was only the second deer he'd seen there in three years.
“I started screaming, almost as soon as I shot,” J.D. said. “I saw the fletching sticking out of the deer as it ran away, and I shouted ‘Dad, I hit the big one!'”
Dave heard his son yell, but he couldn't make out the words at first.
“I yelled back, ‘I saw the big one,' and he said, ‘I SHOT the big one,'” Dave laughed.
A few minutes later, J.D. heard and then saw Dave hurrying his way, practically sliding downhill. They'd only been a couple hundred yards apart. Together, they followed the easy trail through the mountain laurel to the downed buck.
He certainly hasn't lost interest in deer hunting, but shooting a state record has had a sobering effect upon J.D.
“I used to compete with my cousin. It was always a race to get the first or the biggest,” says J.D. “But I don't think about numbers anymore. I got it in me now, you know?”
It was early in the '94 season when J.D. scored and made headlines in the local newspaper. The 15-year-old might not have even hunted that day had Dave and a coworker not woke him to show him the record-book deer that the friend had arrowed.
“That sort of got our blood pumping,” J.D. said. “Our hunting place was public land back then, and it was only about a 10-minute drive away.”
“How could we not return to the woods that evening?” Dave adds. “We were going – if only to scout the place where we'd last spotted this buck. It was still early, but we wondered if he'd started making scrapes.”
This article was published in the July 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.