April 22, 2016
On Nov. 18, 2014, Chad Scyphers rewrote West Virginia history when he harvested the state's new No. 1 archery typical, a deer now referred to as the "Mountain Monarch." Chad's success story is one steeped in West Virginia heritage, dedicated public-land bowhunting and persistence of faith.
The story takes us to McDowell County, the southernmost county in West Virginia. In the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, McDowell is characterized by its steep terrain and heavily wooded mountainsides. This isn't an agricultural county; most cropland is limited to the family garden.
Chad's passion for the hunting tradition is one that has been with him since his early days. Like so many others who inhabit this region of West Virginia, he can remember back to his school days, when the approach of deer season would have everyone buzzing. Kids would lay out of school to go hunt opening week. Some local coal mines would even shut down operations so miners could spend some time in their tree stands. Deer hunting is a time-honored tradition in the hills of West Virginia, one that has been prevalent for many years.
Chad has especially dedicated himself to deer hunting, and he's consistently hunted the public ground on which he killed the Mountain Monarch, despite the fact that the hunt required a grueling two-hour drive each way. Unabated by the distance, Chad has made the winding 160-mile trek many times for over 20 years, and his dedication finally paid off.
Here follows the intricate story of how Chad's monster typical, despite many a twist and turn, was finally killed.
WILLING TO WORK
Chad claims that the true key to his success in taking the Monarch stems from his willingness to travel out of his way to hunt ground less accessible. Despite having access to an adequate tract of land in his home county of Mercer, he knew neighboring McDowell would offer habitat much more suitable to growing trophy deer, especially since so few hunters were willing to make the hikes he undertakes.
"You cannot take the biggest bucks if you don't go where they live and play," Chad explains. "While Mercer County is abundant with whitetails, it's rare to see a true giant, due to the high concentration of firearms hunters in the area. Some of these hunters don't share the same vision in quality wildlife management practices.
"In this area, whitetails will roam several miles during the rut," Chad explains. "No matter the amount of effort you put into growing trophy deer, there remains a weaker link in the chain. If your neighbors don't have the same dedication in allowing the bucks to mature, very rarely will you see a world-class deer harvested, especially in a county that has a firearms season."
With that said, if you are willing to hunt public land, although much more inaccessible, you might have a better crack at finding a giant.
Chad's long relationship with the Mountain Monarch began two years prior to the November morning when he finally filled his tag. While on a regular preseason scouting trip with family friend and hunting partner Harold Waldron III, Chad set out game cameras in multiple areas of McDowell.
One afternoon, after splitting up to check cameras in several locations that had been productive in the past, Chad and Harold met back at camp to take a look at the photos. It was then that the first picture of a big deer appeared.
"I had been in the woods for about five hours and decided to take another look at an old area where I'd killed a nice buck seven years prior," Chad shares. "It was a tree stand Harold and I shared. He harvested a 144 on Nov. 3, and I took a 140 from the same stand on Nov. 30."
Chad and Harold were thrilled by what they saw on the camera: a buck they judged at that time to be of roughly 150 inches. The bowhunters were excited to find they had a buck of this quality on camera, and they were eager to hunt him that fall.
Chad works as the lead bow technician at Mountain Heritage Outdoors and Taxidermy in Princeton. After spending all season trailing the 150-class trophy he had on trail camera, he had a disturbing realization one day at work. While speaking with his friend Matt Aliff, who works as a taxidermist at Mountain Heritage, Chad noticed a big whitetail that had been brought in looked eerily familiar.
"Matt, this is a nice buck," Chad said. "I've seen one similar to this one on my cameras. Where did the guy take it?"
Chad's heart sank in disbelief when Matt responded: "I know, best one brought in so far this year. The guy said it was McDowell County."
Chad quickly took out his phone and compared his photos with the deer Matt was prepping to be mounted. "It's official," Chad proclaimed. "That's the deer I've been after all season."
Such was the tale for the remainder of Chad's 2013 deer season. He continued hunting, but was convinced that his quest for the elusive buck had come to an early end.
Then, amazingly, Chad's 2014 preseason scouting proved him wrong. The deer he'd caught on camera the year before had reappeared — only now he was much larger!
Chad and Harold were amazed to see the buck was alive, and they were instantly consumed again by his presence. As late summer continued into early fall, the men were successful in capturing consistent trail camera photos of the deer. Their excitement for the upcoming season heightened, particularly as they learned more about the deer's early-fall pattern.
Oct. 27, 2014, is a day that won't soon be forgotten by either Chad or Harold. Early that morning, the duo decided to make the almost two-hour drive to their stands. As it had every other time the men had hunted together, the day started with a coin toss.
"Ok, you call it in the air," Chad whispered.
Chad won the toss and headed to a new stand. The men had hung it only a week prior, based on a recent flurry of trail camera pictures. Chad had a feeling his chances were good. The monster buck had been moving a lot recently, and Chad knew he was in the right spot.
All things were looking positive, except for the weather; it was uncommonly warm for late October. Surprisingly, the mercury was hovering around 60 degrees. The warm front, while comfortable for the hunters, concerned Chad that daytime deer movement would be minimal.
At around 9:30, Chad looked over his left shoulder and saw two does. The pair swiftly carried out along their route and never noticed the archer perched above in a white oak.
Next, another crunching of leaves got Chad's attention. Just to his right, eye level at 23 yards, was the buck he'd been hunting. Chad watched the deer for roughly a half-hour as he worked his way down the trail opposite the does. The bruiser wasn't concerned with females but with getting his belly full.
As the buck continued munching on acorns, Chad tried to gather his composure. He quietly maneuvered himself into position for the shot, making sure to never take his eyes off the deer. Meanwhile, the buck was lackadaisical, still out for a midmorning snack.
Eventually the Monarch had only the large limb of another oak blocking his vitals from Chad's vantage point. The hunter remembers thinking, "I know I can make the shot. I just need to take my time and not let buck fever set in."
Just then the buck stepped forward, clearing his vitals.
"Once he looked away abruptly, and I thought he'd winded me," Chad says. "He made a step up the hill and cleared the way enough for me to take my shot. I put my 20-yard pin on the top of his lung, feeling confident I'd clear the obstructing branch. As I released my arrow, a big thud of impact echoed in response."
"Upon impact the deer buckled and made a movement that resembled that of a spine shot. My heart sank as I realized I had let buck fever get the best of me."
The deer evacuated the area, arrow still lodged high on his side. Chad texted Harold, who was a half-mile away, to let him know what had happened. Harold was quick in trying to settle Chad's nerves with encouragement, and they formalized a game plan.
After five hours had passed, the men made their way back to the stand. But only 50 yards down the trail, the blood trail came to an abrupt stop. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to find any more blood and eventually called off their search.
Chad vividly recalls the ride home: "You hear people say they get sick to their stomach when they lose a buck. I am here to tell you, I got to experience it firsthand, and it's not a feeling I care to ever experience again. The next three days were miserable. I had knots in my stomach."
During the ensuing week, not knowing the buck's fate plagued the hunters. They wondered whether he was still roaming the hills or if he'd instead succumbed to his injury. The men decided to try another day trip at week's end.
The next week, when Chad and Harold returned to the woods, Chad decided to switch positions. Chad offered the stand where he'd arrowed the buck to Harold, who readily agreed to try it. Then the two went their separate ways.
Soon after getting settled, Harold saw something that amazed him. Yes, remarkably, their haunting questions had been answered. The big buck lived!
Just below the crest of a nearby ridgeline, Harold had spotted two does. One must have surely been in heat, as she was being trailed by the bruiser Chad had arrowed. The does were coming in fast, and their aggressor wasn't wasting any time, either. Unlike the previous week, the buck wasn't interested in acorns. This time, he had romance on his mind.
"I couldn't stop thinking about Chad's misfortune," recalls Harold. "I mean, this deer had been shot just a week before, and now he was walking around as if nothing had happened, with the exception of the wound on his back from Chad's arrow."
As Harold watched the deer, he anticipated a shot. But as the buck got closer, he realized things weren't going to be easy. The buck was sticking close to the does, and he circled Harold's position multiple times without offering a shot.
"I never had a clear shooting lane," Harold remembers. "The last thing I wanted to do was rush it and not get a clean vital impact. The buck circled me three times in two hours."
As the time passed, Harold began to wonder if he'd ever get a shot. Finally, on another pass, the deer cleared two large red oaks. Harold was offered the shot he had been waiting on. With the deer at 40 yards, the hunter settled his sights and let an arrow fly.
For the second time in days, a thud rang out across the mountain. Harold, in his excitement, judged the sound to be that of a sure hit — but he wasn't sure.
By the time Harold had reached Chad, the two made the decision to back out for the night and trail the deer the next day.
When the men returned, they quickly found an explanation for the thud Harold had heard: His arrow was wedged firmly in a tree limb beside where the buck had been standing! The Monarch had again escaped, this time without so much as a scratch.
THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM
Chad and Harold returned to the hillside on Nov. 16 and set up camp to hunt for the week. Having taken their vacation week in an attempt to finally connect on the deer that had evaded them twice now, they were seriously ready to seal the deal.
The first two days of the hunt proved a washout, as an approaching front rained the men out of any possible stand time. They took advantage of the hiatus by reviewing trail cam pictures and eating as much food as possible. Over a large breakfast intended to help fuel the men with energy for the remainder of the week, they discovered one camera held a daytime shot of the buck they were after.
"It was just a relief to see he was still in the area," Chad recollects. "As for me, I didn't sleep well that night, anticipating the next day. That night the rain turned into snow and temperatures dropped into the single digits with wind gusts up to 20 mph."
Chad is certain last Nov. 18 remains one of the coldest days he's ever hunted. "It was so cold the stand would crack and pop when I'd shift my weight," he says. "I was thinking to myself, 'This is not good at all.' I decided to stand up as long as possible, facing in the direction I thought the deer would come from, all the while trying not to let those replays creep into my head. A few hours passed. The snow was falling and the wind blowing. The cold was all I could think of." Chad checked the weather on his phone: 3 degrees with the wind chill.
Just as he was receiving a text from Harold, who was explaining how badly he wished for a hot mug of coffee, Chad heard something in the distance. As his heart began to race, he instinctively reached for his bow. Much to his disappointment, however, the rustling of leaves that had accelerated his pulse turned out to be from a small 6-pointer, hot on the lingering trail of some doe that had passed through the night before.
And then, at 12:45 p.m., Chad was confronted by something much larger than the 6-pointer. Coming in from behind him — the last possible direction from which the hunter had thought any deer might approach — was the Monarch! The buck that had totally consumed Chad's life, and the one he'd hit only weeks prior, was coming back for another go-round.
"With one motion I raised up the seat, stood and grabbed my bow," recalls Chad. "The buck was 21 yards away and just slightly above eye level. Yes, eye level. He didn't have a clue I was in the world! As my heart again started pounding, a feeling that this buck had inflicted upon me so many times now, he stopped and put his nose down. That gave me the opportunity to draw."
The huge deer looked directly at Chad — who by then had his bow drawn. It was a fitting last encounter for the record deer and the hunter who'd spent countless hours chasing him.
"All I remember is lining the peep up with my sight picture and putting the 20-yard pin on him and squeezing the trigger," Chad reflects. "I watched and heard the arrow hit its mark. He took off running out of sight. I texted Harold as best I could, but I could barely operate my phone."
Chad and Harold quickly found the blood-soaked arrow, and confirmation of a successful impact made the 100-yard trailing job easy. They found the buck lying against a sapling.
"After coming up on the deer about 80 yards out, we just sat down and waited 20 minutes or so to make sure he was dead," says Chad. "As we walked up on him closer and closer I drew my bow, just to make sure that he wasn't going anywhere. He didn't. Third time's the charm. His luck had run out."
CLAIMING THE CROWN
Once the mandatory 60-day drying period had passed, Chad was able to get his buck officially scored. The measuring coincided with The West Virginia Outdoors Show in Charleston in January. There the Mountain Monarch was officially scored at 195 0/8 gross inches as a typical 5x5, with a net of 188 7/8. Two short non-typical points totaling 3 5/8 inches represent about half of the rack's total deductions.
Among the first to congratulate Chad on his historic endeavor was the reigning West Virginia archery record holder of 16 years: Mark Lester. Mark's deer from Logan County (another bow-only county in southern West Virginia) measured 175 6/8 net. He was taken in 1998 on coal company land.
"I knew one day my record would be beaten," Mark says. "Not only was it beaten, it was shattered by more than 13 inches, thanks to Mr. Scyphers."