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Salve for a Season Gone Wrong

By Lisa L. Price

Hunter: Tim Gammons
Tim Gammons endured a gutful of tragedy when Virginia's 2004 rifle season rolled around. Mourning a friend's death, he almost didn't go out on Nov. 27, the day he found himself within bullet-spitting distance of this new state record Typical. Photo by: Wes Johnson

Even before the gleaming silver cross was built, the one that now stands high above the scarred mountainside, Tim Gammons could see the place where the plane crashed. The accident had gouged a gaping hole in the forest. Even against the night sky, he could see the change in the landscape, the missing chunk of tree line.

The Oct. 24, 2004, plane crash stunned the NASCAR world. A Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying 10 people crashed en route to the Martinsville Virginia Speedway. Those killed included Rick Hendrick's son, Ricky; his brother, John; and John's twin daughters, Jennifer and Kimberly.

"We were up there scouting the night before the plane crash. The fog was rolling in so bad we could hardly find our four-wheelers," said Gammons, who works, hunts and scouts often with his friend, Tim Greer. "I thought about those people every time we hunted there, and I prayed for them."

Gammons, his brother, Todd, and Tim Greer hunted during Virginia's muzzleloader season, which starts in early November. That period runs for two weeks before giving way to rifle season. The three are members of a lease of mountain land that includes an old homestead and well house, as well as the remnants of a sawmill. Their hunting land is adjacent to the mountain where the Hendrick plane crashed.

"After the first day we hunted, as we came through the gate, Tim said that we should dedicate the season to the Hendrick family," Gammons said. "And we also dedicated it to Tim's mom, who had recently passed away."

Hunter: Tim Gammons
Photo by: Wes Johnson

Sadly, the losses weren't over yet. On Nov. 26, cancer claimed one of their best friends, Gary Sexton.

"I wasn't going to go hunting that next day. None of us were," Gammons said.

"But Tim and Todd said that Gary would've wanted us to go. I'll never forget that morning and all the different feelings I was experiencing.

"As I was walking up an old logging trail, it seemed like I was seeing the biggest and brightest full moon I'd ever seen," he added.

When Gammons heard something coming up the mountain toward the trail, he quickly stepped off the path into some cover.

"It was a big doe, about the biggest one I'd ever seen," he said. "She seemed to see me, but didn't react; just turned and headed down the logging trail, in the same direction I'd been planning to go, toward my stand.

"I chose to play a hunch and see if anything was following her," he added. "I hunkered down, right where I was."

Gammons waited about an hour, well through the sunrise. Then he heard something else.

"I caught a glimpse of the rack and thought: Don't study on that too much," he said. "I decided that I'd better take the shot before I let the buck get to the spot where the doe had seen me.

"At the shot, when the deer turned and took off, is when I really saw the rack and thought: Oh my God," he continued. "I decided to give the deer a really long time."

The minutes passed slowly, and Gammons heard a distant shot. He feared that his big buck might've traveled into another hunter's area for a finishing shot. He would later find out that Todd had shot a big-bodied 5-pointer.

When he heard the shot, Gammons couldn't take the wait any longer and decided to trail his deer. When he found it, he stood a few moments in disbelief before radioing Todd and Tim.

"I just said to Tim, 'Dude, you're not going to believe this,'" Gammons recalled.

"And it was like before I had the words out, I could hear his climbing stand thumping down the tree, fast, and then I could hear the four-wheeler coming, and that also was fast.

"I think that's what tickled me the most, how excited everybody else was," he added. "I can always get to smiling when I remember the sounds of that stand banging down the tree and of the four-wheeler coming."

The 4 1⁄2-year-old deer, which Gammons nicknamed "Ol' Sawdaddy" due to the former sawmill on the mountain, had a distinctive drop tine on its rack. Although hunters in the area scout extensively and hunt hard, no one had ever seen this rascal.

Read More Stories From RACK MagazineBut plenty of people see it now.

The finished mount was a hit at the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh, N.C. That's where Ted Nugent "went nuts" over it, Gammons said.

"He called out across the hall to bring the mount over to him to see closer," Gammons said. "He was just a mess over it."

Today, the mount hangs at Koger Air in Martinsville, where Gammons works as a shipping clerk. Tim, who also works at Koger, rarely misses a chance to admire the buck and jokingly says to his friend, "You know, I still hate you."

"I was going to hang it at home, but then I decided to keep it at work so that more people could enjoy it," Gammons said. "I'll never forget all the things that happened that year, all the things that were sad in so many ways. That deer was like the gift that pulled everything together."

Hunter: Tim Gammons
Official Score: 172"
Composite Score: 188 6/8"
Centerfire Rifle

-- Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine

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