By Dan Kibler
-- Dwayne Webster would have been hunting in the Jefferson National Forest in southwestern Virginia, were it not for "The Hatchet Man."
Instead, Webster spent the 1999 Virginia archery season on a private farm in Roanoke County, near his home in Hardy. The landowner was a farmer who often bought livestock from Webster and his father, Dennis.
So when he should have been hunting in his favorite spot in the national forest, Dwayne Webster wound up killing a buck of a lifetime. On Oct. 29 of that year, Webster, then 29 years old, arrowed a record-book whitetail.
Thanks, "Hatchet Man."
That's the nickname that Webster gave a hunter who had, illegally, chopped out shooting lanes in the part of the national forest where the Websters had planned to hunt. Trails were cleared, shooting lanes were cleared, blazes were chopped into tree trunks and permanent stands had been built in trees - also illegal.
"It wasn't just over five acres - it was all over," Dwayne Webster said. "We never saw the guy - don't have any idea who he was - but we nicknamed him 'Hatchet Man.'"
And the Websters decided that giving up their home turf was a better alternative than crowding the interloper in the national forest. Fortunately, they had a backup spot.
"It was pure luck. We'd hunted it a few times over the last few years. And we used to hunt around home on our farm, and there were some nice deer. We took a few nice ones, but nothing major," Dwayne Webster said.
Well, it may not have exactly been "pure" luck. Webster remembered enough about the piece of land that he knew a couple of areas that were worth a look. One of them was a steep ridge with an apple orchard on one side where he'd seen some deer sign on a previous hunt. He went back, looked around, and was pleased with what he saw.
"It didn't look like there was a megabuck in the area, just a nice, mature buck," he said. "We'd seen some big tracks and some rubbed trees, but nothing huge."
Webster became convinced that the sign belonged to what he considered a "good" 8-point buck that he saw while scouting and, again, early in archery season. That buck alone was enough to make him concentrate on that area.
A tree about 20 yards back from the edge of the orchard drew Webster's attention. "The base of this tree is kind of shaped like a rocking chair, and you can sit in it, so I did," he said.
A couple of feet off the ground isn't exactly a treestand, but it was good enough. On that October morning, Webster was in his tree before daylight. At about 7:30, a deer slipped through the mountain laurel, approaching the orchard.
"When the buck got to about 25 yards, I could tell it was a good deer, but I had no idea his rack was that big," he said. "I really thought it was the 8-poiner I'd seen. If you look at this deer, its G-4s (the fourth point on each antler) kind of lie down, so you can't see them as easy.
"Anyway, I got my bow ready, because he was coming up. He paused about 25 yards distant - he was probably five yards inside the woods - and I let the arrow go."
The shot was obviously a hit - Webster could see his arrow enter the buck, but he was afraid it might be a little too far back. The buck spun around and headed back the way it had come.
Webster waited a few minutes before coming down out of his rocking-chair tree.
"I went over, but I couldn't find the arrow anywhere. However, I did find a few specks of blood, so I started to follow the trail. He just went right down the ridge. After about 80 or 90 yards, I just found him lying there."
Webster's arrow, propelled by a McPherson bow and tipped with a Thunderhead 125 broadhead, had entered through the buck's paunch but angled up through its vitals. He never found his arrow.
When he walked up to the buck, Webster was so amazed at the size of the buck's rack that he really didn't notice how big the deer's body was. He had only a 75-yard drag to the edge of the orchard, so he was back with his pickup quickly. He didn't call for help, figuring that as a strapping former college baseball pitcher, he could load the deer by himself. He did, but his father said that his back hurt for six weeks afterward.
Despite having a set of livestock scales on their farm - the Websters were in the business of raising and selling top-drawer hogs - they never thought to weigh the deer.
"It's just a guess, but we figure the deer weighed between 260 and 275 pounds," Dwayne said. "His body is so huge that you just look at the antlers and say, 'Nice deer,' but you keep looking at him and the antlers really start to grow on you. The taxidermist said he had to use the biggest deer form he could order."
What was the buck doing there? At the end of October, the peak of the rut in Webster's area is still a couple of weeks away, but he felt like the deer might have been around the orchard, checking for does, or he could have chosen some of the heavy patches of rhododendron nearby as its bedding area.
Webster took the buck to Raleigh, N.C., in March 2000 for the Dixie Deer Classic, where his buck won a major award. He showed the buck's skull and jawbones, which he had saved, to a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
The biologist noted a huge difference between the left and right side of the buck's jawbone - as far as tooth wear. One side, he said, would indicate that Webster's buck was 5-1/2 years old. The other had tooth wear more in line with a 6-1/2- or 7-1/2-year-old deer.
"The only thing we could figure was that maybe this buck just chewed his cud on one side of its mouth, and that's why there was so much difference between the two sides of his jaw," Webster said.
-- Dan Kibler
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