Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Big buck killed by hunter who’d rather chase rabbits

Bill Cochran Bill Cochran is a Roanoke Times outdoors columnist.

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You know how it is when your hunting partners are late showing up. You think about all the opportunities you are missing.

That’s what happened to Mark Smith last December 9. He was waiting for some buddies to drive up from North Carolina to rabbit hunt with him on his 119-arce farm near Burnt Chimney in Franklin County.

When they didn’t show, Smith, who is a 28-year-old carpenter, decided to climb into a nearby treestand and kill time by watching for a deer.

“I hadn’t planned to hunt deer that day,” he said, explaining that rabbit hunting behind a pack of musical beagles is his outdoor passion.

Smith’s deer stand overlooked a clearcut. He had been in position about 45 minutes when he heard something coming through the undercover. The time was 7:30 a.m.

Smith could tell it was a buck, but he didn’t realize how big it was.

“I heard something and all of a sudden he was there. He just popped out of nowhere.”

At 45 yards, Smith put the rifle on the buck’s broad neck and squeezed the trigger.

It wasn’t until he stood over the animal that he realized how huge it was. That’s when he got nervous.

“You don’t even imagine how nervous I was,” he said. “I was hollering, jumping up and down and shaking. I started counting points. I imagine I counted them probably 10 time.”

The official count was 16.

The buck easily won the recent Western Region of the 66th annual Virginia Big Game Trophy Show in Harrisonburg. Sunday, at Franklin, in competition with bucks from the eastern side of the state, Smith’s trophy was the top in state for the 2004-05 season. Under Virginia’s measuring system, it scored 240 2/16. The buck carried a compact, basket-shaped rack with extremely long tines that pushed up its score.

The buck ranks in the top 25 of Virginia’s all-time trophy deer, a list that is dominated by a massive 31-point Warren County deer killed in 1992 by James Smith of Front Royal. It scored 296.

Mark Smith was so rattled that he called a brother-in-law and some friends to come help him handled the buck, which would weigh 180 pounds after being field dressed and skinned.

Mark Smith with his prize buck
“I was shaking so that they actually had to help me field dress it,” he said.

He said he’d never seen the buck before and had no idea one that big was on his farm.

Smith and his helpers hung the animal in a barn and when Smith’s rabbit-hunting companions arrived they freed the beagles and began chasing rabbits. It was admittedly tough to concentrate on rabbits, Smith said. They killed three.

“That evening after I got back from rabbit hunting, I rode the buck around,” Smith said with a grin. People in his neighborhood encouraged him to enter it in state competition, and Smith went from there to the record book.

Second to Smith in the modern firearm’s division was Thomas Ricks who killed an 18-point Louisa County buck that scored 235 6/16. Third was Frederick Dobson with a 17-point Madison County buckk that scored 227.

Top buck in the black-powder division was entered by Richard Richardson. It was a 12-point Botetourt County trophy that scored 216.

The best bow-killed buck was a 12-pointer killed in Page County by Michael Turner. It scored 207 1/16.

Winner of the turkey category was Darrell Owens whose Page County bird scored 76 8/16.

Gary Foley won the bear competition with a Shenandoah County animal that scored 29 10/16.

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