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Virginia Rifle Opener: Meat in the Freezer Edition

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Virginia Rifle Opener: Meat in the Freezer Edition

Old 12-11-2017, 06:26 PM
Typical Buck
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Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: N. Illinois
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Originally Posted by younggun308
A bit late in posting (Thanksgiving and the crunch time of the semester have gotten in the way).

Went hunting near Newport, VA (not far from the WV state line) for the Virginia rifle opener the Saturday before Thanksgiving with my dad and cousins. Began the morning about half an hour before shooting light maybe 150 yards inside the woods near the base of the mountain in the easternmost holler on the property (it was a WSW wind that day).

Only a quarter hour after daybreak, my cousin and I see a doe and a yearling doe not more than 50 yards away browsing on the leafy floor of the forest. We frankly heard them well before we saw them, since they had crested a ridge to the west of us---a ridge that kept the rustling sound of their movement hushed until right before they appeared. By the time we actually saw them, they had worked their way a good 20 yards down the ridge toward us, in the holler's bottom. They never see us, and I tell my cousin to take a shot. After what feels like several minutes of waiting for the doe to turn and present a shot (seemed she was either broadside/quartering but behind a tree, or facing toward or away while she was in the clear---but never both in the clear and broadside/quartering!), my cousin took a shot. I could tell he'd hit her, but wasn't sure whether he'd hit too low. All I knew was, it was either a heart shot or a flesh wound.

It turned out to be the latter, unfortunately. Bright red blood trail gave out after 70 yards in a high traffic area. We weren't going to find her; just had to pray the small amount of blood and the distance run boded well for her survival.

Having spent a good hour tracking, it was time to make our way up the mountain, following that easternmost ridgeline to a higher point before we'd begin slowly cutting diagonally downhill again...it's not the easiest part of hunting this inclined property, but there's no way around it if you want to see deer during daylight hours. Not long after sunup, they've worked their way uphill, taking the ridgeline highways to a better vantage point. If you want to get them, you have to sneak into their siesta beds.

Unlike last year, I was determined to take time to glass more, in hopes that I would have a chance to see deer directly in front of me before they bolt from 80+ yards out. Working from tree-to-tree, I kept hungrily spying the first bona fide patch of mountain laurel/rhododendron and the surrounding area for any sign of a deer. This is always difficult, because both binoculars and a riflescope seem to have a knack for picking up the branches between said mountain laurel and me, to the point where it feels like the naked eye is better at focusing. Nonetheless, I made sure my eyes gobbled up what little un-branched piece of the patch I was zeroed in on that could be seen through the optics. Each time I took cover behind a tree and brought my scope up again, the area I could see without the intrusion of branches grew bigger and bigger, but at no point was I sure nothing was waiting for us in the shadowy bottom of the rhododendron patch or just beyond. Getting behind the next tree while exposing as little of my movement as possible felt even more paramount the closer I got, so I tried to keep the next tree between me and the mountain laurels as much as possible until I got to the tree and could peek around it.

Having stopped in this street-to-street fighting manner at least 5 times, taking shelter behind tree trunks to duck the unknown gaze of prey like a hail of bullets before pointing my own weapon ready to acquire an elusive target and fire, I had almost nothing else in my mind other than that mountain laurel patch in front of me. Nonetheless, I constantly checked the near (west/upwind) and far (east/downwind) ridgelines on either side of me and my cousin to see if any movement could be seen, there.

As it had been right after dawn, I began hearing steps leisurely dragging leaves, but saw nothing. It was coming from the far ridge, downwind of us. I stood still waiting for something to appear over the ridge, until I realized a spike had already crested the ridge awhile back and was a mere 50-60 yards from me. He had his tail up in the air, suggesting he could smell us (no wonder! Even at our creeping pace, my cousin and I felt like we were huffing it as the grade got steeper), but he was still browsing.
I wanted to get some meat in the freezer, since my wife and I all but finished two deer's worth of venison from last year's hunt, but I wanted something better than a yearling-bodied spike. The day was young, after all.

That's when I noticed a second deer behind him. I could see this one was bigger-bodied, and was at least a 4-point. I watched them, browsing with their tails up, until I realized the second buck was near a point past which it would become harder to take a shot. I took aim in my scope, considering both the shot possibility and whether I wanted to shoot him, in the first place. Having just gone through the mental process of deciding against taking a shot on the first one, there was something of a muscle memory of the mind that
gave me an inclination to do the same with this buck. But within those 4 seconds in which I was watching the buck in my scope, I made myself ask the question, "do I want to shoot this deer?". My answer came as naturally as the gradual-but-not-slow squeeze on the trigger right as the buck's head started to disappear behind a tree trunk, with a clear broadside shot on his vitals.

The answer to my question was as clear and resolute as the sound of the shot. It's amazing how effortless cycling the bolt is right after a shot on a deer...it never feels like it is to that extent at any other time. Through my scope, I saw him walking downhill until he stopped and began to stumble; it was clear there would be no follow up shot, today. Lowering my rifle to see him with the naked eye from no more than 50 yards, I could see from the blood gushing from the exit wound when he turned that I had nailed him in the heart. He collapsed and moved no more.

My cousin could have taken a shot at the spike, but having been behind a tree at the time I'd taken my shot, he didn't see my deer go down and thought that the spike I was pointing him toward was the deer I had shot.

When I field dressed this buck, it was clear I'd made a perfect shot: heart + double lung.
I'm proud of how I improved my trigger pull this year. Last year, I blew several shots by pulling the trigger---even the fatal shot on my 10-point last year hit a hindquarter on a quartering-away shot at 60 yards. Not this time.

Later that morning, my cousin's dad killed a yearling doe, also from an offhand shot. We tracked her somewhat spotty lung blood trail a good 30-some yards before I saw her laying near a log about 60 yards further. In the afternoon after lunch, my dad made a 180-200 yard shot downhill on an older buck that had a rack not much bigger than my buck's (my dad ended up being the only one doing what I thought I'd end up having to do---working my way across the hollers, though he thankfully didn't have to cross over but one before he saw a deer). It was the lone DRT shot of the day, with an incredibly loud death rattle as the dead buck rolled downhill 10 yards before coming to a stop. Bless his heart, my dad must've dragged the thing a good 400 yards.

In each case, I can tell you that having a deer dragging harness is a lifesaver! Compared to the past two years, where we'd grab an antler (or a leg, when there isn't an antler), pulling a deer by the strength of your legs is much easier. We're of course so fortunate to be able to drag downhill on a leafy forest floor. But even so, antlers have a funny way of twisting your wrist in the worst ways and getting away.

Since my cousins aren't venison-eaters and my dad doesn't care to cook with it, my wife and I will have a good bit of venison to fuel our grad school endeavors for the coming year.
It's always great to fill the freezer, and to do so in the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains...well, that's just unfairly sublime. I'll accept it, with thanks.
I am curious as to what your deer weighed? what is the average weight of 2-1/2 to 3-/12 yr old?
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Old 12-11-2017, 08:02 PM
Nontypical Buck
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Location: Tennessee
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I honestly don't think this one is 2 1/2 years old. Probably only 1 1/2 years old, but he was bigger than the spike for some reason.
Never weighed him, but dragging him I'd guess he was 115-130 tops before field-dressing. Maybe just over or under 100 dressed.
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