Deer hunters living below the Mason-Dixon Line know you don't always need to shoot a big-bodied deer to get big antlers.
Virginia's a prime example of that.
Thanks to ample agricultural crops, tough-to-traverse terrain and miles of thick swamps, the Old Dominion State has the perfect trifecta for growing Pope & Young racks — even if only a small percentage of those deer make it into the organization's official listings.
"There are a lot more trophy deer taken in Virginia than are entered into the record books," says Matt Knox, deer project coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "Virginia hunters aren't as concerned as hunters in Midwestern states with getting their deer measured. They're more interested in filling their freezers."
While a trophy buck can hail from just about anywhere in the state, in bow season one locale has historically been head and shoulders above the rest: Fairfax County. There, archers have entered 77 bucks into the P&Y records. Henry ranks a distant second, with Southampton and Bedford third and fourth, respectively.
But it's interesting to note that Southampton has recorded the most entries lately. In fact, a quick look at the data reveals that, overall, southern Virginia counties are creeping up on the traditional northern hotspots in terms of P&Y bucks entered.
Last year about 40,000 bowhunters (excluding those using crossbows) deer hunted in Virginia, harvesting over 15,000 animals. That total included 5,611 antlered bucks. Virginia boasts high annual success rates, with roughly one-third of all bowhunters taking at least one deer in any given year.
Need more proof that this is a bowhunter's paradise? Consider the state's extra-long archery season. In 45 entities (counties, towns, urban areas), archery season lasts seven months. Amazing, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in the North offer eight-month archery seasons.
If you don't like slinging lead, you don't need to put away your bow during the state's 15-day firearm season. The state allows bowhunters to use their equipment throughout all deer seasons.
In summer 2009, resident bowhunter John Feazell made an impulse purchase of a snort-wheeze grunt call that had just become available. This seemingly minor decision would have enormous ramifications in Virginia whitetail history.
On the morning of Nov. 7, while hunting a rugged part of mountainous Botetourt County, John watched a small buck and a huge non-typical vie for the affections of a doe. Unfortunately, no shot at the giant was offered. But as the enormous buck bedded down to stake his claim to the doe, John suddenly remembered the new call he brought along.
When John blew it, the huge buck took notice. He chased the smaller rival away and in short order was standing in front of John, broadside, at 30 yards. The archer's shot missed. Luckily, though, the buck was so preoccupied with demonstrating his dominance that he didn't even notice the arrow zinging past. John hit the call a couple more times, and the giant closed the distance to a mere 18 yards.
This time the shot didn't miss.
At 221 2/8 net inches, the Feazell buck is Virginia's largest non-typical ever taken by bow, and certainly one of the finest ever arrowed in a state bordering the Atlantic Ocean. But he's hardly the only archery trophy to have come from this part of the world. As our map shows, Virginia is for lovers: lovers of big deer!
For more information on deer hunting in the state, visit: dgif.virginia.gov/hunting. To learn more about bowhunting records of North America, go to: pope-young.org.