September 22, 2010
Taken in Virginia in 1967, this great buck might have been a state-record non-typical for the next 25 years had it been recognized and officially scored. Here is the story of a great buck that remained obscure for 40 years.
A beaming Lanny Bolen (left) shows off the Medusa Buck with his hunting partner and host Frank Norris. The buck was taken on Thanksgiving Day in 1967. After 40 years of remaining relatively obscure, the rack was scored in March 2009 at the Dixie Deer Classic. It tallied up a whopping 249 7/8 gross B&C inches.
The photograph was taken on a bluebird November day in 1967. It shows a trim, blond, crew-cut-topped Lanny Bolen of Leesburg, West Virginia -- then 26 years old -- smiling brightly at the camera while standing with his friend, Frank Norris of Chester, Virginia.
Between them hangs a whitetail buck with the wildest set of antlers anyone in the Old Dominion had ever seen. Tines, odd points and two massive drop tines explode in every direction.
Lanny and others later dubbed the buck the "Medusa Buck" after the Greek character. In Greek mythology, Medusa was a snake-haired female monster. Gazing upon her would turn onlookers into stone. She was beheaded by Perseus, who later used the head as a weapon. Lanny probably felt like turning to stone on that cold day in 1967 when he encountered this incredible whitetail with tines going everywhere. Unlike Perseus, though, instead of beheading the giant buck Lanny somehow he kept his cool and made the shot.
After downing the buck, he kept the rack at home on a wall for the next 33 years. In 2002 he moved the colossal mount to a bar he owned in Maxwelton, West Virginia.
"People would stop by on their way to ski at Snowshoe and sometimes return with a friend and say, 'See, I told you it was real,'" said Lanny's son, Chuck, a construction manager for Centex.
A STATE RECORD THAT NO ONE KNEW ABOUT
It's somewhat surprising that the story of this great deer remained mostly unknown for 40 years, but Lanny thinks he understands why.
"I think people assumed a buck that big was common knowledge," he said. "After all, a lot of people had seen it at the check-in store the day it was killed."
The rack went unscored during those four decades. Then, in 2008, Chuck was traveling through Chesterfield County and thoughts of his dad's big deer came to mind. I wonder what the old buck really scores? he thought.
Chuck later saw an ad in the paper advertising a big buck contest sponsored by the Virginia Sportsman's Association being held in Franklin in September. He and his dad took the deer head to the contest and had it scored. (There can be little doubt that on a non-typical rack like this one, considerable shrinkage had taken place during those 40 years.) The buck was scored at 276 1/2 by the Virginia scoring system. However, since Virginia has a different scoring system than Boone and Crockett, Chuck later wondered what the actual B&C score would be.
No wonder this great Virginia whitetail became known as the Medusa Buck. With 25 clustered points and three drop tines, it very much resembles the snake-headed mythological figure of Medusa.
After talking to North American Whitetail editor Duncan Dobie, Chuck and Lanny made plans to take the old deer head to the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh, North Carolina, in March 2009. There it was officially scored by well-known B&C measurer Dave Boland of Minnesota. Dave always makes the trip down to the Dixie Deer Classic to score big heads. This time he was in for an unexpected treat. With 25 scorable points, Lanny Bolen's Chesterfield County Medusa Buck tallied up a whopping 236 3/8 net non-typical B&C points (after 40 years of drying). Amazingly, the rack had 152 5/8 inches in abnormal growth.
Unbeknownst to Chuck or Lanny, the Medusa Buck possibly could have been a Virginia state-record non-typical from 1967 to 1992 if it had been scored and accepted by the Boone and Crockett Club as a non-typical entry. (Note: It's possible the rack could be judged as a "freak" and therefore entry in the record book would be denied. The state's current No. 1 non-typical totals 257 4/8 inches. That buck was shot in '92 by James W. Smith in Warren County.)
"It's hard to believe my dad held the Virginia non-typical record for 25 years and the head hung in a bar," Chuck said.
Lanny and Chuck spent three days at the Dixie Deer Classic, where Lanny enjoyed himself tremendously.
"We would walk around the show and then go back to where the Medusa Buck was on display," Lanny said. "More than once someone would say, 'Wow, I'd like to meet the guy who shot that buck,' and I usually ended up sharing my story with them. I bet I told that story a couple of dozen times during those three days!"
LANNY'S UNFORGETTABLE VIRGINIA HUNT
"It was mid-November 1967 and I was living in Hyattsville, Maryland, at the time," Lanny, now 67, said. "My good friend Frank Norris called and told me about all the big bucks he was seeing while riding around in the mornings and evenings on his hunting club property near Chester, Virginia, in Chesterfield County. He invited me down for the opening week of the dog deer hunting season.
"Frank had the rights to hunt on the 800-acre Herbert Wilson farm, as well as on 1,000 acres of Continental Can property near the James River, and I said, 'Why not?'"
It would be a trip that Lanny, then working for C&P Telephone in Washington, D.C., would never forget. Neither would anyone else who participated in that memorable hunt, which took place during Thanksgiving week.
"I got down there on Sunday, Nov. 19, because the season opened on Monday," Lanny continued. "Opening day was also my second anniversary."
Lanny was toting a Remington Model 870 12 gauge along with a box of 00 buckshot shells. The two hunters arose at 2:30 a.m. on Monday, the first day of Thanksgiving week.
"Frank said, 'I'm gonna put you in the best spot I know of,'" Lanny remembered. "He said bucks had been traveling back and forth at this place. At 4:30 a.m., I found myself in a thicket, waiting for first light and waiting to hear the dogs being released. I had never hunted with dogs, as I grew up in West Virginia. At daylight
I began to hear a lot of movement and the baying of the hounds. Most of the movement I heard was behind me, so I moved back as quietly as I could about 300 feet."
BOTH GOOD AND BAD LUCK
"A decent buck came along about 7:30 a.m., and I shot him," Lanny said. "The deer ran off, and by the time we found it two hours later, another guy had found it and claimed it. I couldn't do anything about it."
After lunch, the two friends returned to the farm, where Lanny shot a second buck at about 5:30 p.m.
"Before I could sit down, a nice 4-pointer was coming straight at me! I fired two loads of buckshot into his shoulder. By the time he stopped advancing he was no more than five feet from me! He was a small deer and weighed about 135 pounds, but at least now I had some venison to take home. This type of hunting was different, but extremely exciting compared to anything I'd done before. I had shot myself some meat and now I wanted a trophy."
Having both taken a vacation week from work, Lanny and Frank hunted the next three days without seeing a whitetail with visible antlers. Then Thanksgiving Day arrived.
"It was windy, cold, rainy and snowy -- a very raw day," Lanny said. "I didn't really want to go, but there were about 14 or 15 other guys at the camp, plus Frank and me. I remember a guy there talked me into going hunting."
A THANKSGIVING DAY TO REMEMBER
"That day I was wearing tan corduroy pants, a long corduroy coat, a reddish-brown vest and a brown ball cap with ear flaps," Lanny said with a laugh. "I kinda looked like Johnny Carson's Floyd R. Turbo character. I don't recall seeing much camouflage back then."
Lanny remembers that in 1967 buckshot was the only lawful method for shooting deer in Virginia, except at Fort A.P. Hill, where slug guns were mandatory. So shotguns naturally carried over to "still" or "stand" hunting. Moreover, everybody knew an actual deer "stand" was a place where a hunter stood on the ground or sat on a stump, waiting for the dogs to run a deer past his position.
Lanny had chosen a different spot for a stand that day. It was located about a quarter-mile from the area he'd hunted the previous three days, because he hoped to see a bigger deer.
The area's terrain included open hardwoods and a few scattered pines, with a little underbrush. Lanny said the hardwoods appealed to him because he wanted to have a larger field of view so as to spot approaching deer. But the weather was so raw, he soon forgot about monster bucks and antlers. He just wanted some protection from the elements.
"It was so cold, wet and windy," he said. "I just had to get some shelter. I found a big tree that'd give me some protection, and I got up against it."
Shortly after Lanny had hunkered down underneath a pine tree with low-hanging branches, a movement to his left caught his eye.
"First thing I saw was a deer's body walking through the woods, and then I saw drop tines," Lanny said. "I remember thinking this must be an old rutting buck because of the drop tines, and then I saw more of its antlers and I thought 'Dang, this deer looks like it's got an extra set of horns, and the drop tines look like bicycle handlebars!'"
Luckily, the buck couldn't see Lanny, because the hunter had backed underneath the lowest limbs of the big pine, "the boughs of which nearly touched the ground," he said. "I could see through gaps, and that's how I caught sight of the buck."
The falling rain and snow also kept the hunter undetected because the moisture caught the hunter's scent and probably dropped it to the ground before it could waft over the landscape. Lanny's pine tree was on the side of a hill, he said, and the buck was walking toward a bottom in front of him.
THE SLAYING OF MEDUSA
"He was about 35 yards to my left and headed toward the bottom when I took aim and fired," Lanny said.
The buck was knocked down from the load of buckshot. However, he quickly scrambled to his feet and began to run. Lanny could see that the snake-headed giant was hobbling.
"One back leg was broken," he said.
Lanny couldn't get a second clear shot at the buck through the boughs, and by the time he scrambled into the open, the deer was out of range (but still visible).
"I watched him run into the James River Reserve," Lanny said. "Then I watched him go down."
The Reserve joined the private land where Lanny and Frank were hunting.
"I hollered for Frank, and he came over," Lanny said. "I pointed out where the buck had gone. Frank said a timber road was located below where the buck was, so he went to get his car and he drove down there so that we could load the deer."
The two hunters dragged the big bruiser down the hill a short distance to Frank's Ford coupe and loaded it as best as they could into the trunk. Then the two excited men drove to a nearby country store that also served as a deer check station.
When the Ford pulled into the parking lot with the monster deer's rack protruding from its unclosed trunk lid, the awesome sight immediately drew attention. Someone went inside and made a phone call, and within minutes the crowd of onlookers multiplied exponentially.
"Over the next six or seven hours, there must've been 300 people who came to the store to see my deer," Lanny said. "I gave the head and cape to Frank, who took it to a taxidermist. Four months passed before it was complete. I was naÃ¯ve about the fact that this was such a rare non-typical trophy."
The West Virginian, who has killed only six deer in the 40 years since that unforgettable day, said somebody who saw the buck at the store said the rack looked like Medusa. The name stuck.
"The name kind of fits, don't you think?" Lanny said, smiling.
"Forty years have passed, and I have killed several deer since, but I have killed the Medusa Buck of Chesterfield County a thousand times. Whenever people see the mount and ask about it, I know I get to relive that Thanksgiving week all over again!"