A brand new West Virginia whitetail hotspot provides a great learning experience for this hunting family.
(left image) Three generations of bowhunters -- the Olskewskis -- (left to right) Rich, Ryan, and me. (right image) Here's one of the bucks that eluded us on this hunt, but was caught by the trail camera.
FOR YEARS, I HAD wanted to take my dad, Rich, on a bowhunt for deer -- somewhere other than our home state of Pennsylvania. But life kept getting in
the way, and before I knew it, my son Ryan was of legal hunting age.
So I arranged a trip for 12-year-old Ryan, Dad, and me -- three generations of Olszewskis -- the O's -- with a combined 81 years of hunting experience. Just us guys. Other than having quality male bonding time, I also hoped to watch my son and dad shoot their first deer with a bow. We each had three tags and three days to hunt.
On October 18, 2006, we left Pennsylvania and drove 51⁄2 hours south to Paint Bank, Virginia, a tranquil village nestled in a picturesque valley between Peters and Potts Mountains on the West Virginia border. This off-the-beaten-path area supports mainly an agricultural and timber economy -- a perfect environment for whitetail deer.
When we arrived, we hooked up with Josh Duncan, wildlife manager at Potts Creek Outfitters. We would lodge in Virginia and cross the nearby West Virginia border to hunt. We would be hunting with three men from Florida -- Ron Baugh, Richard Morris, and George Robinson -- and another Pennsylvanian, J.J. Fasnacht.
ON OCTOBER 19, DAY ONE of our hunt, Josh rounded us up early in the morning and took us to some potential hotspots. Dad would hunt from a treestand, while Ryan and I went to a ground blind situated on a saddle. That quiet morning allowed Ryan and me to have some father/son time. Ryan was just ecstatic to be missing school -- for educational reasons, of course. With his backpack bulging with his favorite candy and junk foods, along with his never-leave-home-without-it handheld Gameboy SP, he was quite content. Oh, he had his gloves and release aid, too.
We didn't see much there, so after lunch, Josh put Ryan and me in another ground blind where he guaranteed we would see deer. At about 5:15, two does made their way toward our blind and began to feed. "Where did they come from?" Ryan asked, as he threw down his Gameboy SP and grabbed his bow. For 15 minutes, Ryan sat with an arrow nocked, nervously asking, "Should I shoot now?"
"No, not yet," I whispered. "The shot angles aren't right."
"How about now?" he asked again.
"Not yet," I said.
Then one doe broke away and suddenly stood broadside at 15 yards, looking away. Perfect, I thought. "Use your top pin," I whispered to Ryan.
Between the three of us we'd gone five for five. Five arrows, five deer. On the last night, I collected this doe. It meant more than words could say to have Dad and Ryan there to share this memory.
"I know, Dad" he responded gruffly.
"Go ahead and pull your bow back. You know where to aim," I said quietly. With my video camera focused, I murmured, "Shoot when you're ready!"
Ryan's arrow sped through the Whisker Biscuit rest and right through the doe's lungs. The deer kicked her back legs and took off running but went down just 35 yards away. "You just shot your first deer, Ryan!" I said excitedly. "Great shot!" At that moment, I can't ever remember feeling more overwhelmed with pride and excitement.
Dad was one proud Papa as he savored the moment -- his first deer with a bow.
After we'd both finished hyperventilating, I hugged him and asked, "Do you realize what you just did?" I doubt that he did because, amazingly, he went straight back to playing his Gameboy SP, as if nothing had happened. It was an unbelievable moment that all bowhunting parents want to experience with their children. Not only did I witness it -- I videotaped it!
Now that Ryan had his first deer, I wanted nothing more than to shoot a deer myself. Not wanting to disturb the area, we stayed in the blind and didn't retrieve Ryan's deer right away.
Soon, darkness started to creep in, hurried along by an approaching rainstorm. Just after 7 p.m., a spike, some young does, and a big doe trotted down a trail that would bring them past our blind. I had my sights on the big doe. My dad does some taxidermy work, and I thought, Wouldn't it be neat to have our deer heads mounted together?
With light fading fast, the doe stopped broadside at 25 yards. Quickly, I drew and released. As the arrow flashed through her, she bucked and ran out of sight into the thick laurel.
After the shot, we exited the blind and immediately found both of our arrows. We radioed Josh's guides, Bob Beasley and Matt Aide, and as we waited for them, I had Ryan start tracking his first deer, even though the deer lay only 20 yards away.
"Aw, heck, Ryan, let's just get over there to your deer," I said, too ex-cited to prolong the process. I hug-ged him again and shook his hand until it nearly fell off.
Ryan could not stop grinning. "I did it," he said. "I did it!"
Rich, my dad, gets ready to enter the ground blind in which he shot his first-ever whitetail with a bow.
Later, things got even better for Ryan when we learned that the St. Louis Cardinals had won the National League pennant that same night. The Cardinals are Ryan's team, so what a day for my little guy. He'd shot his first deer, and his team was going to the World Series. I think he was asleep before his head even hit the pillow!
I, however, still didn't have my deer, and rain had begun to fall. Several of us searched for almost two hours in the wind and rain, but the blood trail had all but disappeared, and our
flashlight batteries were dying. We had no choice but to come back at first light in the morning.
When we got up to resume the search, I didn't have the heart to wake Ryan. With all of the excitement the night before, he had been up late and needed the extra rest. Heading out at first light, I remained confident that my hit was good and that we'd find my doe. Bob and Matt dropped J.J. and me off where we had ended our search the night before, and they took off to help George track a deer.
On the second day of the hunt, Ryan made another perfect shot on this second deer. Who says a four-leaf clover isn't good luck?
We had been searching for about half an hour when we saw a coyote run out of a laurel thicket. Oh, no, I thought. Sure enough, we found my doe, half consumed. She had gone maybe 100 yards. Unfortunately, the coyote had beat us to her, but at least I'd still be able to have the head mounted with Ryan's deer.
THAT AFTERNOON, MATT TOOK Ryan and me to the Big Rock
blind, and on the way he found a four-leaf clover and handed it over to Ryan. "Hope this brings you good luck, buddy," he said.
Dad went to Bob's Field blind. Even though Dad is an excellent shot, he'd never shot a whitetail with a bow. However, at 6:15 p.m. he let an arrow fly on a mature doe, and at age 64, he took his first deer. The deer dropped within Dad's sight. He was pretty darn happy, and my only regret was that I had not been there to share the moment with him.
I did get to see Josh take care of that deer, however, and that was pretty amazing in itself. Josh had recently broken his right ankle while playing volleyball and had it in a cast. He was supposed to take it easy. Yet, he insisted on field-dressing my dad's deer and then dragging the deer to a nearby creek to wash it up. That effort pretty well demonstrates Josh's desire to make this hunt a memorable time for us Pennsylvania boys.
At about the same time my dad was shooting his deer, Ryan made another perfect double-lung shot on a doe at 15 yards.
"Watch where she goes," I coached, and as Ryan peered out the back of the blind, he saw her drop in the briars behind us.
"She's down, Dad, I saw her go down!" he exclaimed.
"Are you kidding me?" I said aloud, forgetting we were still hunting. "Wow! Your second deer! That's unbelieveable! Man, I wish I had a four-leaf clover!"
OUR MAIN GOAL had been for us all to bag at least one deer, and we had achieved that goal. But we still had one day left, and we all hungered for a buck. We had seen more deer than we had imagined possible, but the monster bucks recorded on Josh's trail cameras were eluding us. Since it was still early in the season, they were probably still mostly nocturnal. But the trail cameras proved they were there, which fueled me with adrenaline for our last day's hunt and a chance to harvest one of these beasts.
On the last evening of our hunt, Ryan went with my dad to sit in a blind. I was happy Ryan would be spending quality time with his grandpa, who has been my mentor over the years -- and still is. That gave me the opportunity to sit in a treestand situated at the base of a mountain in a staging area that led to a field.
"Hold out as long as you can," Josh had warned me. "You'll see several really good bucks coming down off the mountain just before dark."
The smile says it all.
For several hours, I saw nothing. Then, about 6:45, deer began filing down the mountain. Within five minutes, deer were everywhere. I had several shot opportunities at nice does but held off, as Josh had advised. But my patience was growing thin, and with three beautiful does feeding 20 yards away, and darkness fast approaching, I decided to collect some more venison.
My shot was true, and the doe fell within my sight at the edge of the field. I radioed the guys to tell them of my success, and soon Josh, Matt, Ryan, and Dad came lumbering up the nearby dirt road in the old red Hummer, which supposedly was originally owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger just after the Gulf War. How the Hummer ended up here, I don't know, but it was a perfect vehicle for the deer wars we were engaged in.
Family is everything to me, and what a thrill it was for me to have my son and my dad, three generations of O's, together in the field. That was far more exciting than shooting a big buck. I thanked God for yet another special memory and for letting us share it together. Ryan and Dad had arrowed their first deer, and my does had completed the family slam. I was very proud of what we had accomplished. I plan to get Ryan -- and my dad -- down to Potts Creek again soon. As for Ryan's missing a few days of school? He'll never get this kind of education inside a school classroom.
Author's Notes: 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 Parker Ultra Lite bow, Carbon Impact Fat Shaft 6000 arrows, Rocky Mountain Titanium-100 broadheads, and wore Outfitters Ridge camo. I took my does with a Mathews Outback and Carbon Express Maxima 250 arrows tipped with Rocky Mountain Titanium-100 broadheads. I also used Nikon Monarch 10x42 binoculars, a Nikon Monarch Laser800 rangefinder, and Mossy Oak camouflage in a 3-D leafy pattern.
Potts Creek Outfitters' brochure says it will make a once-in-a-lifetime experience happen for you -- and it did just that for us. Josh Duncan and the staff went beyond the call to make our hunt a pleasant and successful experience. I can't thank Josh enough for setting up this hunt and for making sure we had the best hunt possible -- especially with a broken ankle.
We stayed at the historic Depot Lodge (www.depotlodge.com). The train depot dates back to 1909, when Paint Bank was the final stop of the Potts Valley Branch line of the Norfolk & Western Railway. This expansion was part of the mining boom of the early 1900's. The Depot was renovated and converted into a charming lodge, while maintaining much of the original architecture, including a 1929 caboose that was renovated into a single room!
To schedule your own hunt with Potts Creek Outfitters in Paint Bank, Virginia, call (540) 897-5555 or visit www.potts-creekoutfitters.com.