December 09, 2022
“Almost Heaven, West Virginia” — there really isn’t any other way to describe my home state. I love almost being lost in time here. I live in Monroe County, which is a primarily agricultural county located in the southern part of West Virginia. We do not have a single stoplight in the entire county. The running joke is there’s more head of cattle than people, and personally, I hope that never changes. It has rolling hills and valleys, creeks, but also the mighty Peters Mountain. That’s where I grew up and learned to hunt, trap, and fish.
Peters is steep, rugged, and full of limestone, greenbriers, and mountain laurel. Bowhunting this mountain is very difficult. There aren’t many pinch-points or ridges that bottleneck, the wind is constantly shifting, and there are no easy paths to get to where the deer are. I tend to chase the food when hunting it. Some years, acorns will be high on the mountain, so I hunt high. Some years, there are no acorns, but the grape vines are full, so I’ll hunt the grapes. Some years, an early frost plus a dry summer will leave us with no mast crops at all, so I hunt thick areas with lots of browse.
This is where the story begins. It all started with a picture in early October. One blurry picture of a decent 10-point. My family and I had never seen this buck in person, which isn’t uncommon on the mountain. Each year we get good bucks on camera, and then they disappear. The deer that are there in the summer leave during the rut, but new deer always show up at the same time.
The following year, we got a couple more pictures of the 10-point during the exact same week in October as the year prior, but still none of us encountered him in person. The next year, my cousin saw the buck pushing a doe, but no shot was offered. Last year, my dad, grandfather, uncle, and cousin all encountered the deer, but the only shot on him was in rifle season…and I missed! Every time we spotted the buck, it was within a 1,000-yard radius. This is where he would make his daylight appearance.
My grandparents have a big picture window looking out over one of the only fields on the mountain. They have a spotting scope and watch out the window every day. My Gram was looking out the window one morning and spotted something in the snow. It was one of the buck’s sheds. We never find sheds on the mountain — like ever. We knew he had made it through all the rifle hunting, as our private land borders the Virginia National Forest and many, many people hunt there. The following month, my Uncle Dave found the matching side nearly one mile away! Gram and my uncle decided to share the sheds, and to this day the sheds make the centerpiece on my grandparent’s kitchen table.
I knew the following year the buck would be an absolute giant. In our area, deer don’t tend to make it to full maturity. With heavy rifle season pressure, if a deer makes it to 3½ years old, he’s very lucky. The only thing that allowed this buck to reach maturity was the mountain. This deer would bed high where he could watch everything. He would always be traveling with the wind in his nose. He was a true ghost deer.
He quickly became well-known around the area just like any big buck does. People started talking, and I started to get nervous. This deer is a true once-in-a-lifetime deer for our part of the state. With the history my family had with him, I felt like he belonged to us, and no one else. I also had a gut feeling that I was going to be the one to kill him that year.
Our entire family was almost certain where the buck spent most of his time from late October through December, but I wasn’t convinced. We got him on camera the night before I hunted, and he was doing the same thing he’d done in years past. Based on the most recent photos, and other pictures of him from the past, I made the decision to try something different: I went low on the mountain with my climber on my back, ending up about a half-mile from where the previous night’s picture was taken, and closer to where I knew the buck was most likely bedding.
Just like Del Gue in “Jeremiah Johnson” says, “Well, keep your nose in the wind, and your eyes along the skyline.” That’s exactly how I hunt.
I walked into a very secluded area and immediately found large rubs with the saplings broken off chest high. I went a little farther in this area and found three very large, fresh scrapes. I checked my wind again, found a tree next to one of the scrapes, and got set up.
My chosen ambush offered very limited visibility, as well as small shooting lanes. I checked my yardages around me and made mental notes of them, plus any lanes I could get a shot through.
The first animals to show up were two coyotes. A little later in the day, I heard a noise above me followed by a grunt — not just any grunt, but a growl — and I heard it again and again. It was clear that the buck making said noises was agitated and wanted any and all listeners to know it.
Then I spotted him — the buck I had hoped would walk in front of me, or one of my family members, that fall. He was there, and he was walking right toward me. There was no doubt he was the King of the Mountain.
When the buck reached the first scrape, he pawed the dirt, broke off a small tree, and then he made another grunt-growl. I slowly reached for my bow in preparation for a shot as the buck inched closer to the next scrape, which was just 30 yards above me.
I tried to settle my nerves as I drew my bow, and when the buck checked that scrape, he offered me a broadside shot. I settled my pin, took a deep breath, and released the arrow. It struck home! I centered the buck’s shoulder, but my setup cut through it like butter. The old buck took off, but he only made it 30 yards before nosediving into the dirt.
Now, as every successful hunter knows, the moments that follow experiences like mine usually involve a ridiculous case of the shakes! As a result, I had to wait several minutes before even climbing down out of the tree.
Once I got down, I practically ran to the fallen buck and grabbed the antlers of a true West Virginia giant. I sat there for several minutes, just admiring this beautiful buck while soaking in the experience. Then I called my dad, and I could hear the emotion in his voice. My next two calls were to my fiancé, Maggie, and my Gram.
It was then that I realized I was literally in the middle of nowhere — basically the abyss of Peters Mountain — with a 6½-year-old whitetail, and I needed help to get him back home. My grandfather (aka “Poppy”) was out of town, my dad was at work, as was my cousin, Tyler, and my Uncle Dave. So, I called Gram again, as she was the only one home.
So, without hesitation, my 73-year-old grandmother made the hike to assist me. She was thrilled at my success, and while I labored to drag my buck off the mountain, Gram proceeded to carry my treestand and bow for a half-mile! We finally made it to the house, beyond exhaustion, but still excited. After several phone calls and pictures, reality truly set in for good… I’d finally killed a bona fide West Virginia “Mountain Monarch!”
The author lives in Lindside, WV, where he works as a project manager for Stateson Homes.
My equipment on this hunt included a Mathews V3 bow, Victory RIP arrows, QAD Exodus broadheads, and an X-Stand climbing treestand. There are four bowhunting-only counties in West Virginia, and every year giants are taken there, including the last two state records. Monroe County, WV, isn’t known for big bucks. That said, for the past five years I’ve been blessed to take bucks that scored at least 130 P&Y-style inches off the mountain.
Monroe County has a three-buck limit, and with our property bordering public land in Virginia, it’s hard for a Monroe buck to live past two or three years of age. My family practices quality deer management the best we can, but it can be very difficult. We plant year-round food plots and try to create natural cover to protect fawns during the spring. We pass multiple bucks, but we do shoot does to fill our freezers with meat to feed our families.
I love to see giants come out of West Virginia, because it shows the potential we really have. My story is proof that there are big bucks out there — and, if you do the right things as a steward of the land, you can make it happen.