Keith Grubbs Buck: 170-Inch Virginia Hoss
August 19, 2014
Like many other Virginia hunters, I like to watch deer shows on TV and read magazine articles about giant whitetails killed in other parts of North America. Could it happen in my state as well? Virginia traditionally hasn't been well known for big deer, but we do have some. Maybe we lack the numbers of them found in parts of the Midwest, but there are some impressive deer here.
Pursuing mature bucks has been a personal challenge for the better part of my bowhunting career, which now spans three decades. Over the years I'd taken some very respectable deer by Virginia standards, but going into the 2013 season, a true giant had always eluded me.
My brother, Kevin, has for many years been a member of a hunting lease in Albemarle County, where there are some nice deer and a lot of diverse habitat. I joined the lease myself in 2008 and began the process of learning the property. Kevin's knowledge of it certainly helped me shorten the learning curve. He even put me in his stand that first year, and I was able to kill my best buck to that point, a 142-inch 10-pointer.
The following year, Kevin had an encounter with a 2 1/2-year-old buck with a split G-2 tine. We captured a few pictures of him that first year and knew that he had potential. The question was, how could we keep tabs on him long enough to see what he might turn into? At the time I didn't rely on game cameras the way I do today.
On the plus side, I have the good fortune of having a good job and the best wife known to man. Ellie never complains when I go hunting four to five days a week. And that's critical, because I do believe you have to put in the time in the field.
My other advantage is that I'm passionate about bowhunting. I find myself focusing on places other hunters often overlook or simply consider too far to walk to. I just want to find places where there's minimal pressure. Of course, that can be hard when you have several good hunters on your lease. Nevertheless, I hunt where they don't.
I began to acquire more cameras, placing them in strategic locations to help me determine where a certain buck's core area might be. Then, by process of elimination, I determine where he is not. Using this approach, in 2009 I was unable to get any pictures of the split G-2 buck, so I figured he had moved on or had been killed on an adjoining property. He didn't show up in 2010, either.
But then, in 2011, I saw him again. On an afternoon hunt in late October, a big buck stood up on the side of a small, brushy ridge. I could see it was the split G-2 buck — and now, at age 4 1/2, he'd exploded. He was locked up with a doe and wouldn't leave her side despite all efforts I made to persuade him to come my way. I was in awe as I watched him tend that doe the rest of the afternoon.
I never saw that buck again that season, but I also never heard of him being killed elsewhere. So as I prepared for the fall of 2012, the hunt was on. This was the buck I wanted to harvest.
A lot of post-season scouting helped me to identify an area that might be holding the buck. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to hunt there at all in 2012, because the wind never was right for it on the days I could go. The whole season came and went without a single sighting of the buck.
So going into the 2013 season, I hadn't seen him in two years. But then I got a few more photos of him. He was now a fully mature 6 1/2 years old and easily the biggest buck I'd ever seen alive here in Virginia.
As the season approached, I began some low-impact scouting on foot, trying to see if the deer was still using his old haunts. And that's when I started finding some really helpful sign. He'd traditionally made rubs on trails he took in the evenings, while going from bed to feed, but I never could figure out from those exactly where he was bedding. Now he'd also begun to rub trees leading from his feeding area back to his bedding spot. And that effectively drew an arrow right to his bedroom.
On Oct. 9 a major storm system was moving up the coast, giving me the wind I needed to hunt near the buck's bedding location. I wasn't sure exactly where he bedded, though, so I was determined to be cautious. I'd hunt the fringe of the bedding zone first; if that didn't pan out, I'd move it in a bit closer.
As I carefully approached the area in which I wanted to hang my stand, a doe jumped up. That caused me to hesitate and rethink my plan; I didn't want to spook her any farther into the buck's bedroom. I decided to hang my portable right there instead of going any farther into the cover. I did so as quietly as I could, knowing the buck could be bedded close.
As I settled in, the anticipation was almost more than I could handle. I was overlooking a pine thicket with a small clearing, and figured the buck would approach from that direction. After I'd waited a while without seeing anything, I texted Kevin and lifelong friend Barry Rathbone at 6:30 with a quick "nothing yet." The rain moving into the area hadn't yet reached me, but I knew it was on the way. If the buck were to appear on this day, it needed to happen soon.
As I focused my attention on the small clearing, as if out of thin air the buck appeared. He just stood up out of his bed — only 50 yards away from me! Then he slowly stretched and began to walk my way. My plan was coming together!
The shaking didn't start until I lost sight of the buck behind the canopy of small pines. I was starting to think that this was going to turn out to be just another frustrating sighting. But then, there he was, headed down the trail that would bring him within bow range.
I immediately went into "kill" mode; the nervousness was gone as I started ranging the distance. Before I knew it, the big deer was just 25 yards away. I drew my Hoyt Trykon XL, and as he made it to 20 yards and turned broadside, I settled my pin on his chest. In a flash, the Carbon Express arrow fitted with a Striker Magnum broadhead was off the bow and on its way to the deer.
The hit was perfect behind the shoulder, and instantly the buck mule-kicked and ran out of sight into a thicket. I thought I heard him crash and expire a short distance away.
As I pondered everything that had just happened, doubt began to creep in. Did I really just hear him fall? Suddenly I realized it had begun to rain. If I waited any longer to take up the trail, there would be no blood to follow.
I got down immediately and retrieved my arrow, which was covered with blood. There also was blood on the ground where he'd been standing, and I started to pick up a blood trail 10 yards farther along. But the blood was washing away quickly, as the rain now was coming down harder.
Panic began setting in. Rather than trying to keep working out the blood, I simply began walking in the direction I thought the deer had gone. And suddenly, there he was. I'd finally joined the ranks of guys who chase specific bucks for years and then take them to complete their stories. I now had the buck of a lifetime, with so many great memories of the quest to enjoy.
My buck turned out to be a basic 9-point typical with three abnormal points. His sweeping typical frame totals a gross Pope & Young score of 162 1/8, with a non-typical gross score of 170 6/8. The main beams, which nearly touch in front, match each other at 26 7/8 inches, and each long G-2 is 12 2/8.
The great deer's three non-typical points total 8 5/8 inches. Of these, the longest is the 5 7/8-inch fork protruding off the back of his right G-2 tine. The antler trait that had made him so identifiable even at age 2 1/2 was still there when I got him, and more prominent than ever. There's zero doubt this was the same buck I'd been after for several frustrating seasons.
If I could offer any helpful advice on how to get the buck of your dreams (regardless of where you live or what he scores), it would be to hunt an area with little human intrusion. Don't put cameras too close to his bedroom, or he might abandon it. And pay attention to what the photos are telling you. Just as it's a huge help to know where a buck is, it also helps to know where he isn't.
Also, consider hunting those places others avoid simply because, in their view, no buck should be there. A lot of times, that's where he's gone to avoid people. The hunt for this deer is a classic case in point.
In closing, I have to thank Kevin for getting me onto that lease and helping me learn the land. I also want to thank my beautiful wife and kids for allowing me to spend so much time pursuing my passion. And most of all, thanks to my dad for passing along the hunting tradition to his boys.