Bowhunting for whitetails in West Virginia can create memories that never fade.
The bedroom windows were cracked just enough to let the cool, spring-morning air into the room -- and just enough for me to hear the annual springtime alarm clock going off, the distant sounds of gobbling turkeys.
My dad, Rich, steps into a comfortable Shadow Hunter blind at Potts Creek Outfitters. Spectacular views of the West Virginia landscape added to the hunting enjoyment.
As I lay there, half groggy, prioritizing in my mind what I needed to do this day for my job as Bowhunter's Art Director, a half-smile came over my face. At that moment, I thought back months ago to the slogan I'd seen in vinyl lettering adorning the tailgate on Potts Creek Outfitters' old farm-use-only pickup truck -- Did You Get Your Deer? I get such flashbacks often. Shooting a nice whitetail buck does that to a guy.
My dad, rich, my teenage son, Ryan, and I had arrived in Paint Bank, Virginia, home of Potts Creek Outfitters, on No-vember 7, 2007. Dad and Ryan had each killed their first deer with a bow while hunting with me at Potts Creek the year before ("A Family Education," Decem-ber 2007), and by the end of that 2006 hunt, the three of us had taken a total of five does.
When we arrived in 2007, we immediately broke open our bow cases and took some practice shots. Then we threw on our hunting clothes and headed to the woods for our first evening's hunt.
Potts Creek's wildlife manager, Josh Duncan, put Ryan and me into a Shadow Hunter blind. Minutes after we got settled in, we spotted several deer coming out of a thicket to feed in a field a few hundred yards away.
Just before dark, a few does walked directly by the blind. Seconds later, we saw a big-bodied deer about 40 yards to our left, but in the dusky light we could not tell whether it was a buck or doe. As our guide, Bob Beasley, came to pick us up, the headlights from his truck shined on the deer and we saw antlers. Definitely a shooter!
The next morning, we were up at 4:30 a.m. The temperature was 18 degrees when Josh dropped Ryan and me off at one Shadow Hunter blind and Dad at another. Within minutes of daylight, Ryan and I had a buck with 10-inch spikes come by, but we elected to hold off on this guy. He would have been a great first buck for Ryan, but the hunt had barely begun. We saw more deer off in the distance, and some turkeys, but no shooter bucks. Dad had no luck either.
With temperatures climbing into the 60s, we all decided to hunt from ladder stands that evening. Dad saw four does, and Ryan and I saw a 4-point, a spike, and a doe, plus a huge flock of turkeys.
The morning of November 9 was cloudy and cold. Ryan and I saw one deer from our blind. Dad saw a few deer but no bucks.
After a mini-scouting session at lunch-time, I thought we'd try a different approach. With Bob's and fellow guide Travis Shockley's help, we set up my two-person ladder stand in a staging area that had some heavily used trails and lots of rubs. I felt pretty confident we'd see some deer there in the evening.
To try something different, guides Bob Beasley, Travis Shockley, and I set up my two-person ladder stand in a deer staging area. My son Ryan and I hunted together from this stand.
I was right! Two does walked right underneath us at 10 yards. Perfect, I thought. With the deer starting to rut, these two ladies are sure to attract the attention of any nearby bucks.
We tried rattling, grunting, and bleating, all to no avail. As eight more does showed up that evening, I could only wonder, Where are the bucks?
Dad saw no deer that evening because he and Bob had created a little disturbance. From the way I heard it, they had quite the adventure -- along with some good laughs -- as Dad frantically wrestled with his safety harness, and Bob locked his keys in his truck. After hearing their story, I knew what all that honking was about in the distance! We all need something to loosen our spirits up every now and then, and that's just what the doctor had ordered for Dad and Bob. They joked all night about their mishaps.
With only one day left to hunt, we were starting to feel a little pressure. More than anything, I wanted Ryan to shoot his first buck, and I wanted that for Dad, too.
The weather that last day was blustery and cold. With the high winds, Josh thought it would be too dangerous to hunt from a treestand, so he housed us once again in a Shadow Hunter blind by a cornfield. At 8:30 a.m., two does came out of the hardwoods below us and began to feed on the corn 20 yards from our blind, quartering away. Ryan and I quietly discussed shot angles and where he might aim at these deer.
After those deer walked away, a handsome 4-pointer came strutting up out of a thicket and stood where the does had been earlier. Having used my can-style bleat call, I would like to think my calling had something to do with his appearance. I told Ryan that if the opportunity presented itself, he should try to take a shot at this buck. It was our last day, and the deer would be a great first archery buck.
The buck stood at the same angle as the does had been. "Since he's in that position, you now know where..." I whispered, but Ryan was already at full draw, shaking and breathing heavily, and before I could say "...to aim," his arrow was zooming toward the husky buck.
Unfortunately for Ryan, the buck "jumped the string" and then ran out of Ryan's life forever. It was a clean miss. My son would have to wait another day to collect his first buck.
"Did you get your deer?" Josh asked when he picked us up for lunch. Ryan had no choice but to mutter a soft and dejected, "No." Dad hadn't had any luck either.
At lunch, Josh suggested that I hunt a stand called the Hemlock Stand. Situated on top of a hill, the stand was surrounded by hardwoods, with a field several hundred yards below, a valley to my right and behind me, and a flat to my left. Ryan and Dad would try a new area. I agreed, but my heart wasn't fully into it, as I was still thinking about Ryan's earlier misfortune.
The weather was cold and brisk as I climbed into the Hemlock Stand. Around 5 p.m., the magic began to happen. Two does came up the hill from behind me and stood 30 yards away. The wind swirled an
d both suddenly looked up at me. Oh no, I thought. They are going to get a whiff of this Pennsylvania boy and blow out of there.
Even before I could finish whispering instructions, Ryan had drawn his bow and was ready to shoot. Unfortunately, the buck he shot at "jumped the string."
Sure enough, one doe turned and ran. But the other, for unexplainable reasons, stayed. Then she walked out in front of me and began to feed. Suddenly, a buck appeared 60 yards to my right. Moving at a steady gait, the white-antlered 10-point walked right past the feeding doe at 30 yards and then stopped. Quartering away, he looked down the hill in the direction the other doe had run.
For me, personally, he was a really nice buck, and I could hardly believe I was about to get a shot at him.
I don't even remember drawing my bow, but somehow, I did. I do remember the wind causing my bow arm to wobble all over as I tried to calm myself enough to pick a spot, aim, and release.
Ffffffffffwwweth! Off went my feathered shaft, streaking toward the buck. From what I could tell, my arrow hit the buck a little high. The deer whirled and ran across the flat about 100 yards, and then I lost sight of him. Was he down? Did he keep moving? I didn't know. But then, in the fading light, I thought I saw a flicker of white where he had disappeared.
I stared at that spot until complete darkness and then radioed Bob and told him what had happened. Dad was with him, and they were already on their way as I nervously climbed down out of the ladder stand. I went over to where the buck had been standing when
I€ˆshot and found no arrow, and no blood.
"I know I hit that deer," I said aloud. "I know I did!"
When Bob and Dad arrived, we walked toward the spot where I'd last seen the deer. Now maybe, just maybe, we should've waited until morning, but we were all anxious to see what was up. Maybe we would find blood?
When we reached the spot where I had seen the flicker of white, I looked down and immediately saw blood. And less than five feet from the blood, Dad found my arrow.
We followed the blood trail about 40 yards. Then it ended. The cover got thick. We looked around briefly but could find no more blood. "That deer's dead," Dad kept saying. Despite Dad's encouraging words, I thought it best to leave the deer overnight and continue tracking early in the morning.
The next day, Sunday, was supposed to be Bob's day off. Travis or Josh could have helped search, but Bob would not hear of that. "I will be there at first light. I want to see this buck and share in the excitement," Bob said. Now that's dedication. And I appreciated it.
At daybreak, we were standing over the last spot of blood we had marked. We had scarcely started searching when Bob casually called, "Mark, there's your buck."
After taking this hefty, broken-tined West Virginia 10-pointer, I could not stop smiling. The buck weighed 200 pounds. To answer your question, "Yes, I did get my deer!"
I ran over to the deer and yelled for Dad and Ryan. We had been within five yards of the deer the night before, but because he lay in some high grass, we never saw him. Let me tell you, I was the happiest guy on earth at that moment! What an awesome buck, and a perfect ending to this story.
And as I got out of bed that spring morning, remembering my experience, the answer to that question, Did you get your deer? was vivid.
You betcha. I sure did!
Author's Notes: I used a Mathews Drenalin bow, Carbon Express Max-ima Hunter 250 arrows, Rocky Moun-tain Ti-100 broadheads, Nikon Monarch 10x42 binoculars, Nikon Monarch Laser-800 rangefinder, and a ScentBlocker Plus 3-D leafy suit in Mossy Oak camouflage.
Ryan used his Browning Micro Midas 2 bow, Carbon Express Terminator 6075 arrows, and 75-grain Muzzy heads. He wore Realtree Hardwoods camo. Dad used a Par-ker Ultra Lite bow, Carbon Impact Fat Shaft 6000 arrows, Rocky Mountain Ti-100 broadheads, and Outfitters Ridge camo clothing.
We were fortunate enough to have arranged transportation through the Toyota Tundra Loan Program, so we rode in style from Pennsylvania to West Virginia in a Tundra pickup. This spacious, smooth-riding truck had plenty of room for three guys and their gear. It can also tow up to 10,800 pounds, with 401 ft-lbs. of torque, and it comes in 44 models.
I can't say enough about Potts Creek Outfitters -- the country is beautiful, the people are extremely hospitable, and the deer are plentiful. They have always provided us with a wonderful experience. To schedule your own hunt with Potts Creek Outfitters in Paint Bank, Virginia, call (540) 897-5555 or visit www.potts-creekoutfitters.com.