By Sy Gibbs
An afterthought hunt behind the writer’s house results in a new decoration for the wall.
I began hunting whitetails when I was about 15 in Charles City, Va., where county regulations allow the use of dogs. After graduating from high school, I went to Ferrum College in Franklin County and made friends who lived in the area. I was lucky enough to be allowed to hunt their land, but regulations did not allow dogs. Still-hunting was the method of choice. I had to learn the habits of white-tailed deer instead of just dropping the tailgate and getting ready.
Although hunting with dogs can be exciting, the feeling I got after a successful still-hunt hooked me for life. I now hunt with a compound bow, muzzleloader, rifle and shotgun. I have harvested good 8- and 10-point bucks in the past, but a 140-class was my biggest until Nov. 17, 2006.
I was placing a treestand on a property about 20 minutes from my house in Sydnersville in preparation for the first day of the general firearms season. I had hunted that farm the previous three years and had hoped to close out the muzzleloader season that evening. But with only about 45 minutes of shooting light remaining, I opted to return home to get things in order for the shotgun hunt.
My wife, Lorinda, and I have about five acres in Wirtz, on which we built our house. We have a 2-year-old son, Stone, who always talks about big bucks. We all enjoy watching the does and yearlings in the woods behind our house, and I constantly look for antlers.
The only time I saw a shooter buck behind our house was three years ago while doing some yard work. Something caught my eye across the adjoining pasture. It was four monster bucks! My brother, Paul, saw them as well. The deer were not in a hurry to get to the woods. Their massive racks and almost-gray coats convinced me to never doubt our small area of land again.
I remembered that day and decided I could slip into the woods behind my house for the last half hour of light.
When I stepped into the woods, the does popped up to run. I had been seeing these seven gals almost like clockwork, but never with any bucks. I didn’t even bring my muzzleloader to my shoulder when they got up and ran toward the back of the property. Then, like a mirage, there was a monster buck in full trot, too, following the does.
I jerked my muzzleloader to my shoulder, thumb-cocked the hammer and tried not to count points or look at antlers. I knew only that I had to shoot immediately and accurately. The buck was almost gone.
To this day, I can close my eyes and see my crosshairs as the gun went off, dead on the buck’s shoulder. Thick smoke clouded my vision afterward, but I saw the buck emerge from the smoke. He had not fallen; he was low to the ground in a full-out run.
I listened for a crash, but couldn’t make anything out because of the running does. To my disappointment, the buck ran out of sight. Shaking, I reloaded my weapon, but doubt was already starting to creep in. Too many times, you hear of a missed shot with the hunter watching the buck disappear into a thicket, never to be seen again.
I’ve been hunting long enough to know better. I slipped down to where I thought the deer was when I took the shot. I looked for blood and hair, but found nothing. The sinking feeling in my stomach got worse.
Slowly following the exit trail without finding sign, I had all but given up. I was sick. I started to think about what the rack first looked like. I asked myself, “Was that antler really pointing down? Was it really as big as I thought it was?” I retraced my steps and scanned the woods. And there he was, collapsed at the base of the hill.
He was even bigger than I thought. The bullet penetrated the lungs, but did not exit. I could immediately see a huge antler sticking up. I was about 30 yards away, and ground shrinkage was not an issue. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Really shaking then, I called Lorinda and told her I had taken the biggest buck of my life. She had heard this story before, only to be disappointed. It wasn’t until I told her I counted 24 points that she started to believe it might be the real thing.
I think back to articles I’ve read that mention small pieces of woods holding huge deer. I am now a believer, and will always look out my back door. Like the bucks I saw three years ago, I don’t think this buck was staying there. There was no buck sign. He was just passing through, looking for love.
Like most big deer stories, time and patience were the keys. Being in the right place and time is partially luck, but I made some decisions based on past experience that helped make this hunt a success.
My buck has been scored unofficially under the Virginia Scoring System at 238 14/16 gross and 222 net. The rack has unbelievable mass with nearly 8-inch bases. The taxidermist who extracted the jawbone first thought the deer was ancient because of the way the main beams simply died and drooped. After looking at the teeth, however, he estimated the deer was in its prime: 5 1/2 years old.
-- Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters Magazine