April 07, 2021
Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Or does it? Chip McCarthy of Essex County, Virginia, might argue that it indeed does. During his 2019 hunting season, Chip found his box blind to be one of the luckiest spots he’d hunted in the past 25 years.
Chip explains this setup with a sense of gratitude and honesty.
“My wife grew up here on this farm, so I walked into this gold mine for hunting,” he says. “My father-in-law has farmed it his entire life; he’s 90 years old now, so we have a family friend who farms all the open land (soybeans and corn). The barley and wheat industry is not as profitable as it used to be, so the farmers punch in a mixture of rye, clover and radishes for me in the open once they’ve cut. So I’ve got the equivalent of some pretty giant food plots."
Because Chip lives on the farm he hunts, he gets to hunt these plots all the time. Not only is he lucky enough to hunt over premium food sources along the Rappahannock River, he’s also still healthy enough to be hunting during the bow, muzzleloader and regular firearms seasons. During one early October bowhunt, Chip was sitting along the edge of his swamp land and facing out over the farm’s fields. Next thing he knows he hears a twig snap behind him.
“Luckily, he stepped on something to get my attention away from the field,” Chip says. “But by the time I got on him, all I could see was gut and hindquarters. I didn’t have a shot."
Not long after this ethical pass, some not-so-nearby neighbors began sending him pictures of the buck on their trail cameras. He was roaming.
“My heart sank,” said Chip.
Without another opportunity to move in on the buck with his crossbow, Chip fell back on some “old-time” knowledge he’d read long ago in North American Whitetail: hunt over does and their feeding areas during the rut. So he began logging all his hunting hours at a food-plot blind he calls “the Hilton.” It’s a cozy 4x8-foot box blind with two chairs, a table and a roof.
On the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 7, Chip was lounging at the Hilton, watching over his plots. The rut was starting to be in evidence.
“I had three bucks come out in the field that were kind of flirting around with the girls,” the hunter says. “A small buck I call Keystone was approaching his woman, so to speak, when from over 200 yards away I heard this terrible roar . . . and the Keystone buck just checkmated."
That’s when Chip laid eyes on a buck he’d never seen. This wasn’t the big typical he’d had slip past him during bow season — this one was definitely different! Something stuck out that looked like a drop tine, but there hadn’t been any drop-tine bucks on trail camera. To the hunter, it looked almost as if the deer had a piece of timber or weeds stuck in his antlers.
Chip ranged the buck to be at about 240 yards — which, for the hunter’s Traditions muzzleloader, wasn’t out of range.
“I’ve got some pretty decent equipment that has long-range capability,” Chip says. “When he turned broadside, I put it on him."
When the smoke cleared, the hunter expected to see the big buck on the ground. Instead he’d run about 10 yards, stopped and was standing there broadside.
“My initial assessment was I’d missed him,” Chip says. “But I noticed he was kind of hunched over."
After scrambling to reload, the hunter then noticed the big buck had lay down, as if bedding — purposefully, and without falling.
With the patience and knowledge of a great hunter, Chip left the Hilton and sneaked out of the field to wait until dark. It began to rain, and Chip was waiting on some trailing help from his daughter’s boyfriend, so he took the time to calm his nervousness.
When the men approached the field, they found the buck hadn’t moved from his “bed.” He was lying dead in it — and his rack was unlike any other Chip had ever taken.
“At that point, I realized what he really had on his head,” the hunter says. “While he’s not this beautiful typical straight-up-tine 8-, 10- or 12-point buck, he’s got more character than I’ve ever seen.” The rack also is extremely wide and massive.
Just three days later, on Nov. 10, Chip’s wife and a few of their friends were out of town to attend the University of Virginia football game. But there was a cold front coming in, so Chip headed to the Hilton again for some quality vacation time.
As the hunter eagerly watched the fields fill with hungry deer, he counted over 20 does and at least seven bucks. But none of the bucks was a shooter in Chip’s eyes. That typical 8-pointer he’d seen during bow season had set a standard higher than almost any other Virginia deer hunter could imagine. It’s amazing how patient you can be with your trigger finger knowing a potential state record could be somewhere nearby.
As time passed, Chip’s patient eyes happened to notice two big does coming to join the party. That’s when his alert eyes also caught something else. It was him,” says Chip. The big typical he’d run into during early bow season was softly bumping the two mature does along the edge of the plot.
“He wasn’t rushing at them or running them; he was just soft-bumping them,” the hunter describes. “They walked broadside to me at about 180-190 yards, but they wouldn’t stop."
Trying hard not to get overly worked up, Chip raised his muzzleloader, took careful aim and pulled the trigger. This time, there was no need to wait to trail.
“He went straight down,” the hunter recalls. “I dropped him like a ton of bricks and turned his heart to mush."
And just like that, lightning had struck again — and from the same box blind as before. The Hilton had proved to be as excellent as any other spot on the farm.
It just goes to show how far the right setup can take you as a whitetail hunter. When the animals have food, water and very little pressure, your hunt will always have a chance to be exciting, simply because of the number of deer you’re likely to encounter. Mix all this with the patience of a trophy hunter, and big bucks will come one day — maybe even two in three days!