By Jeff Waring, Associate Publisher/Managing Editor
SINCE OUR INTRODUCTION to Stoney Brook Plantation back in 2000, Bowhunter Magazine's Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, staff has made an annual pilgrimage to this whitetail heaven near Gap Mills in Monroe County, West Virginia. (See "Sad Daddy Lives," Bowhunter Whitetail Special '01.) Plantation manager Josh Duncan, who has branded Stoney Brook bucks "sad daddies," now heads up the hunting operation there. And with the help of Bowhunter's Conservation Editor, Dr. Dave Samuel, Josh has implemented a Quality Deer Management (QDM) program on this bowhunting-only property, and results have been fast in coming. Sad daddies now abound at Stoney Brook.
This working farm covers about 6,000 acres of prime whitetail habitat, and an equal amount of acreage has been added to the Stoney Brook operation with the inclusion of a neighboring farm. Add to that good agriculture with plenty for deer to eat, and good whitetail genetics, and you can see the potential exists to grow big healthy deer - and big antlers.
Bowhunter Sales Manager Jeff Millar found his buck at the bottom of a steep ravine. An ATV aided greatly in the recovery.
In the past, the problem was too many deer. But through hunting and depredation reductions, Josh Duncan and company have significantly reduced doe numbers. While plenty of deer still roam the property, the buck-to-doe ratio has improved dramatically.
In addition, Stoney Brook has established nutritious food plots and limited supplemental feeding (hunting deer over bait is legal in West Virginia). Stoney Brook now has a three-deer limit, including one buck and two does. While the goal is to improve trophy quality - a goal that is being met - the folks at Stoney Brook really want hunters to enjoy themselves, so they allow hunters to shoot any buck with at least 3 points to a side, plus any mature doe. And Bowhunter's Pennsylvania boys took advantage of this opportunity.
SOMEHOW IT SEEMED fitting that on Columbus Day, opening week of West Virginia's bow season, we'd be back on stand at Stoney Brook, looking to discover yet another whitetail adventure. This year we came in force, with Sales Manager Jeff Millar, Art Director Mark Olszewski, Assistant Editor Brian Fortenbaugh, and me making the trip.
Our goal was to get a story and some video. Only trouble was that with all the sad daddies at Stoney Brook, everybody wanted to hunt; nobody wanted to man a camera. Thus, trying to do my part, on our first morning of hunting, in the dim light of dawn, I strapped a treepod above my stand and screwed a video camera securely onto the swing arm. With some luck I would video myself shooting a sad daddy!
Come daylight I was settled into a stand above a big rhododendron. Two years before I'd taken a rutting 7-point buck there, so the stand felt both familiar and promising. At sunrise a busy flock of turkeys visited my stand, picking through the white oaks and white pines as they headed up the mountain. A few small does filtered through, and then I caught sight of what appeared to be a very nice 6-point with a spread of about 18 inches. But as I struggled to zoom in with the video camera, a glint of sun-dappled antler was the last I saw of him.
At the end of the blood trail Brian Fortenbaugh had plenty to smile about. His gray-faced 8-pointer proved to be the biggest deer of the week.
The morning was cool and fresh, and in low-lying areas, leaves were just beginning to turn yellow. It was a great morning to be in the woods, but about 10:30 I was beginning to think about eggs and sausage and biscuits back at the lodge. So I got on the radio and called Josh to let him know things were winding down.
"Mark has one down," Josh told me. Oh, really? I thought. Super! I knew somebody would have some action this morning.
As we bounced along on an old logging road headed for Mark's stand, Justin, Stoney Brook's other guide, chimed in on the radio. "Brian hit a buck about 9 o'clock," Justin said. "We're going to give it a little more time. We've marked last blood, and we're going to back off and head up the mountain to see what Jeff Millar has going on."
Then Brian grabbed the radio. "And you're not going to believe what I just saw," he said. "While I was sitting by the road waiting for Justin, a really big 12-pointer walked out with a bunch of does about a 100 yards down the road."
Turns out Mark had shot his nice 8-pointer around 8 a.m. Three bucks had browsed their way up a natural funnel from the fields, crossed an old two-track, and headed right up toward Mark's stand. But then they acted a little tentative. Possibly they were wary of the blackberry curiosity scent Mark had earlier placed on a log. Or maybe it was Mark's teetering around on his stand to get into shooting position. But eventually they came within bow range. To shoot, Mark had to twist into an awkward shooting position, and as he released, his bottom limb bumped a branch. Despite all of that, his arrow found its mark on the biggest of the three bucks, and the deer fell in a trickling mountain run, still within bow range. Mark quickly shot an insurance arrow and, within seconds, the buck lay still.
To plan your own whitetail deer adventure with the good folks at Stoney Brook Plantation, see their ad in our magazine, or contact: Josh Duncan, Stoney Brook Plantation, P.O. Box 176, Rt. 3, East, Gap Mills, WV 24941; 1-877-WVA-HUNT; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian's buck had followed a spike and a few does onto a mountainside bench where the Stoney Brook folks have established a feedin
g site over the years by sprinkling corn there. By the time the season rolls around most of the corn is gone, but enough remains to tempt passing deer. Brian felt sure he had made a good shot on the broadside buck. The buck bolted back up the hill and Brian followed him with binoculars until the buck crested the hill and disappeared. Brian thought his buck was an 8-point, too. And a nice one.
After reliving the hunt with Mark and snapping some photos, we dragged the hefty buck downhill and had no sooner lifted the buck into the bed of Josh's truck when Justin was on the horn again.
"Millar hit a buck, too!" You could tell Justin was talking through a deep grin. "There isn't much blood, so we marked the spot where Jeff saw the buck dive downhill and out of sight."
Mark Olszewski took his best bow buck last Columbus Day, and he's looking forward to making another trip to Stoney Brook this fall.
No way! Three bucks? Why did I even have the camera with me? I should have just videotaped those guys.
Jeff was hunting another traditional bait site on a flat near the top of the mountain, called Elk Knob. Jeff's buck came in slowly, having earned confidence from two button bucks pawing over the corn remnants. When the buck quartered away, Jeff took the shot. That was at 9:30. And, of course, his buck was an 8-point.
WITH MARK'S BUCK in Josh's pickup, we headed up the mountain to join the search for Brian's buck. We followed the blood trail and scuff marks in the forest duff until we spotted a deer moving ahead of us. Thinking it was Brian's buck, up and moving again, we decided to go eat those eggs and sausage and biscuits I'd been dreaming about for hours and to resume the search later.
When we got back up the mountain with our bellies full, we discovered that the deer we'd seen running wasn't Brian's buck at all. We found his gray-faced 8-pointer with a 16-inch spread lying dead 75 yards from where we'd quit our initial search.
Now, I know that a lot of westerners scoff at our mountains in the East, but let me tell you, we do have some steep angles east of the Mississippi, and West Virginia has more than its share. Brian's buck had run a ways, but Jeff Millar's did him one better by plummeting to the very bottom of a deep ravine. Though it was mid-afternoon, it seemed like twilight when we reached the bottom and found Jeff's graceful-looking deer with a tall 8-point rack. Had it not been for a log-busting Ford pickup and a Yamaha ATV, we might have just eaten Jeff's buck on the spot. We even found an old bottle of hooch down there. Perhaps if we'd looked around, we would have found the remains of an old moonshiner.
WITH THREE 8-POINTERS down in about as many hours of stand time, the team was on the fast track to a sad daddy slam. But I was feeling a bit like Sad Sack, because I'd let the team down. I'd hunted a whole day and had not shot a buck!
Over the next couple of days Jeff and Mark tried to bring me some luck by hunting with me. We got some good video, and we saw a bear with a glistening black coat. But I got no shots at deer.
As Jeff and Brian packed on Thursday to head back to the Bowhunter office, rain was falling. Mark and I had hunted from a ground blind that morning to escape the downpour, and Josh suggested that we check out a similar blind on a food plot later in the afternoon.
As we entered the blind, the rain had stopped and the sun was heating up. All was quiet until the sun dipped behind the trees at the end of the field. With a late afternoon glow cast over the field, deer began to graze into the field. A half-dozen small bucks came within range, but the mature does just knew better. One big, ghostly-looking doe seemed especially skittish. I passed up a shot at a 7-pointer, heeding Josh's advice to hold out until last light for a sad daddy.
But as that critical time approached, no bigger bucks had arrived, and the 7-pointer returned to the field and fed in front of the blind with several other deer. Mark zoomed in with the camera.
"I don't know, Jeff. He's a pretty nice buck for your first one on video. And you know how hard it has been to get a deer in position." I didn't know what to do. A group of trouble-making does had stalked the blind along the woods, and they stood off about 15 yards, eyeing us. "Jeff, that buck has some neat acorns on his antler tips, and I think he's got a little sticker on his right antler. You could call him an 8-pointer," Mark said persuasively.
That did it. With all due respect to QDM and my trophy hunting colleagues, I just had to shoot that buck. I wasn't about to stand in the way of a sad daddy slam. And I didn't.