Thursday, October 14, 2004
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Top spots to get a trophy deer
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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Where are the best places to tag a trophy deer in Virginia this hunting season? If you asked that question at the recent State Big Game Show in Harrisonburg you might have gotten 360 different answers. That was the number of deer entered in the annual western and state contest.
When you study trends and details provided by the show, however, a pattern begins to emerge. Here’s how it worked for me.
I took a look at the 100 top-scoring deer in the state contest (actually the number was a few short of 100) and noted what county they were killed in. I came up with nine counties that accounted for five or more trophy deer.
These formed the base of my selection of the best trophy deer counties in the state, but I needed one more to have a top-10 list. So I included Northampton County, which accounted for just one deer in the top 100 bucks, but that one was the highest scoring in the contest.
Bedford County leads my list, followed by Montgomery and Rockingham counties, which were tied for second place. I will give details in this column as to what makes these three counties the very best producers of trophy deer, and in a future column will provide information on the other counties that made my list: Amherst, Augusta, Louisa, Roanoke, Southampton, Surry and Northampton.
This county grabbed the spotlight as Virginia’s prime producer of trophy bucks 30-seasons ago when J.B. Karnes killed a 26-point deer that was coming through his barnyard in the foothills of Onion Mountain. I still remember going to Karnes’ farm to see the buck. It won the 1975 state big game contest, and at the time ranked ninth in the list of Virginia’s all-time trophy deer.
Through the years, there has been no slowdown in big bucks coming from Bedford County. It produced the highest-scoring deer in the state in 1977, 1983, 1994, 1995 and 2003.
The recent state big game show highlighted seven trophy deer killed in Bedford County during the 2003-04 season. While none was the state champion, that number was more than from any other county.
Bedford County contains a rich diversity of habitat for deer, from mountaintops along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the rolling hills of the southern piedmont to the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake. This range provides food, in the form of acorns, apples, corn and browse, and plenty of cover through broken habitat. Some of the deer put on age -- and antlers -- by spending much of their time on National Park property along the parkway, on farms where hunting is controlled and in suburbs where shooting is prohibited.
But there may be an additional factor behind the big racks. “I believe there is a genetic effect at work,” said Jay Jeffreys, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist, who manages wildlife in the country.
The herd in Bedford County was late developing, so stocking took place into the early 1950s. Many of the deer released came from states well north of Virginia, where deer have bigger bodies and antlers, said Jeffreys.
Although Bedford County had more trophy deer registered in the 2004 contest than any other country, most of them were from the mid-to low-rankings of the top 100, meaning that the county either had an off year or is beginning to slip. The biggest Bedford buck in the contest was a muzzleloading kill by Danny Adams. The 13-pount buck, taken mid-December, scored 204 4/16 under Virginia’s measure system.
I have to admit to being surprised that this county produced six trophy deer in the top 100 of the 2004 big game contest, just one fewer than the leader Bedford and a tie with Rockingham County. It did particularly well in the bowhunting category, with four of its six trophies taken by archers. This included the top buck in the 9-to 11-point archery class, a 11-pointer taken by Horace Jimenez in late October. It scored 202 11/16.
Montgomery County has very good deer habitat. What’s more, there are a number of places in the county that rapidly are going from rural to urban. This could be giving bucks protection while they grow big antlers under lightly hunted conditions, said Allen Boynton, DGIF biologist.
New regulations that put greater pressure on does also could be playing a role. “This tends to reduce the hunting pressure somewhat on bucks,” Boynton said, giving them more time to grow wall-hanging antlers.
This county has a long history of producing trophy buck, dating back to 1967 when Dorsey Breeden killed a state-champion 21-pointer that scored 249 8/16. That buck ranks in the top 15 of all-time trophy deer in Virginia. Even higher is a 28-point buck that won the 1991 contest. Taken by Jeffrey Hensley, it scored 265 5/16 and is the fifth best deer ever recorded in the state contest.
The county combines farms with forestland, affording plenty of deer habitat, including a large number of acres on national forest property that has seen reduced hunting pressure. Rockingham County borders the 300-square mile Shenandoah National Park. Because hunting is prohibited, the park acts as a reservoir of protection for deer, giving them an opportunity to mature. When some walk out of the park onto huntable land they are wearing contest-winning antlers.