Rack Magazine

Mother Lode

Mother Lode

By Ed Waite

This West Virginia coal miner found the mother lode of antler last December.

Brandon Duncan wasn’t overly impressed the first time he laid eyes on the deer that landed him in this magazine.

That was in 2014, when the buck was considerably smaller. The deer he wanted to kill that season was bigger, so he considered this one his second choice among the whitetails his new trail camera had photographed.

“Before the season opened, I purchased a trail camera that links to my cell phone,” he said. “It’s the greatest invention ever.”

Only when his No. 1 buck bit the dust did Brandon switch targets.

“Another hunter took my primary target in mid-October, so I fell back on No. 2,” the coal miner said.

He wanted it badly, too, spending every spare minute in his mountainside stand. On his way home from the mines about midnight one night, his phone chimed to let him know the camera had taken a picture.

“As soon as I could, I took a look and there he was, No. 2, cruising past the camera just downhill from my tree,” he said.

His tree is on the side of a very steep mountain – so steep that logging roads run parallel along the mountainside about 25 yards apart. The first road is 15 yards below his tree; the next is 40 yards away; and a third is 70. There are more, but they’re too far for Brandon to monitor.

“I slept for a couple of hours when I got home, and then I headed for my stand about 4 a.m. I was settled about 20 feet up by 5:00,” he said. “It was quiet for hours, and then five does appeared on the road below me. This buck was behind them. I quickly stood and drew my Mathews.

“I leveled my 20-yard pin on the buck’s chest, but as I was squeezing the release, a doe spooked and caused the buck to jerk its head up and spin. My arrow struck its shoulder, and not very deep,” he added.

The buck and all the does fled in every direction.

Brandon waited for a while, and then he got down to check for blood. There was plenty, at first, but it soon stopped.

The buck showed up on Brandon’s camera that very night, the arrow still protruding from its shoulder. Three days passed before the shaft worked itself free.

After that, Brandon didn’t see the buck again until November 2015.

“I saw it coming through the holler with my binoculars,” he said. “It had added at least 60 inches of antler.

“The buck bedded down about 170 yards away from me. It actually laid its head on the ground for about 90 minutes. And all I could do was watch,” Brandon continued.

After the nap, the buck rose and went back the way it had come.

The next time Brandon saw the distinctive buck was near Thanksgiving. The big one, a small forkhorn and a half-rack 8-pointer were on the third road down from his stand, about 70 yards away.

“They walked all the way across below me,” he said. “There were no does in the vicinity that I knew of, and absolutely no chance for a shot. All I could do was watch and wait.”

Brandon realized he had never seen the buck with any does, neither in person nor in trail cam photos. He thought the deer’s loss of libido might be related to the previous season’s injury.

Hunting time was sparse for Brandon in December, or at least not without some degree of nervousness. His wife, Taylor, was pregnant, and their first child was due any day.

He wanted to get this buck in the worst way, but he also wanted to be close at hand if his wife called.

He was always on edge.

Brandon works second shift deep underground in Mt. Laurel-Arch Coal Mines. His routine was to spend a few hours in bed after work, and then rise early each day to climb into his deer stand.

The same happened on Dec. 23.

His best hunting buddy, Ross Workman, was just around the hill, also sitting high on the mountain, watching and waiting for the sunrise and whatever buck might come his way.

“As usual, I was in my tree by about 5:00, waiting for the 7:40 sunrise. This sidehill lights up early, so I anticipated shooting light shortly after 7:00.

“Soon after daybreak, I saw movement on the upper logging road. I raised my glasses and peered into the shadows long enough to determine it was the big buck. It was traveling from my right to my left, not fast, but not slow either,” he said.

“I didn’t need to range the deer. I know every foot of that track.

“I stood and drew my bow, settled the 20-yard pin just back of the shoulder and released. I didn’t judge his speed correctly, though, so the arrow struck a bit farther back than I wanted. Nevertheless, I was certain it was a fatal shot.

“The buck jumped in the air and tore off down the hill, stopping about 60 yards from me,” Brandon continued. “I could see the lighted nock protruding from the deer’s side, but it wasn’t showing any sign of faltering.

“When I released a second arrow, the buck must have heard the bow and had time to react. My arrow penetrated the right antler. The shaft shattered upon impact, but the broadhead buried into the antler.

“I sat stunned as the buck bounded down into the holler and out of sight,” he continued. “I called my wife. Taylor had to be the first to know. Without her blessing, I wouldn’t get to hunt as much as I do. She was excited for me!

“Then I called Ross and told him I could use his help if he wasn’t busy, and then I told him what I’d done,” Brandon said.

Ross joined him in short order.

The pair waited about an hour before looking for blood, which was easy to follow. They pursued slowly so as not to jump the deer if it wasn’t dead.

After 45 minutes, they spotted the buck lying at the bottom of the holler.

After field-dressing the animal, Ross walked out to get the truck while Brandon dragged the deer farther downhill to a paved road. After they’d loaded it, they drove to the mines where Brandon works.

It was shift change time, so the crews coming on and getting off had a chance to see the monster buck.

Brandon and Taylor’s son, Bo Hunter, was born three days later, a slightly late Christmas gift.

Hunter: Brandon Duncan
Score: 215 5/8
View Scoresheet

This article was published in the August 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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