Date Killed: September 26, 2020
Public or Private: Public Land
P&Y Gross Score: 152 6/8 inches
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Chad Grove of Berkeley County, WV, about his 2020 public land giant. We covered a wide range of topics, not only the details of his history with this particular buck and the work that went into his success, but also what it takes to be a mountain hunter.
Ralph Scherder: When you posted a photo of your buck on Facebook, I looked at it and thought, “There’s a story behind that.” When did you first learn of this deer?
Chad Grove: I definitely had a little bit of history with him, just trying to figure him out the last couple of years. I found out about him in mid-October 2018, when he was only an 8-point. That’s when I first started getting consistent pictures of him.
Last year, I didn’t have him on camera quite as often. Our food situation was different. The acorns didn’t hit the same way, and I had a hard time getting consistent photos of him. Also, up to that point, I only ever had two daytime pictures of him. One was on a scrape in front of my stand and the other was chasing does.
RS: How did you start to figure out where this buck was living and where he was going?
Grove: I had photos of him on three different ridges over maybe a mile and a half span. He had a pretty big range, especially in the rut. One time, I actually had him on two different cameras in one morning. The first was at 4:30am, and then I had him going back into the valley where he lived two hours later, around 6:30am. Those cameras were about half a mile apart.
Over time, I began to figure out where he was coming from. He was living in a valley, but roaming a lot during the rut. I’d always get photos of him on those two cameras, but I felt like I wouldn’t kill him there.
This year, I decided I needed to find him early. A lot of these mature bucks are easier to get on early in the seasons because they’re not moving very far.
In 2018, I killed a 5.5 year old deer up there that was basically doing the same thing as this buck. I ran cameras and found him in the summer, and I ended up killing him on October 12th. And then last year, in 2019, I had another buck I was after – and I’m still after, by the way – that I encountered on October 9th and almost killed, but he caught my wind before I got a shot.
So considering the years of experience in this area, I thought that if I could find this buck early and hunt it early, I had a good shot at getting him.
RS: Can you talk about your trail camera strategy a little bit?
Grove: I left a camera in this area all summer and didn’t check it until first week of September. I had two pictures of this buck. The first was in early May. I’m pretty sure it was him. He was just starting to grow his antlers, but he was already forked and coming out in early May. The second photo was on August 23rd. That’s when I realized how big he was this year.
He went from an 8-point in 2018 to a 9-point in 2019 and to a 10-point in 2020. He also went from 19-20 inches wide to 22 1/8 inches wide.
The nature of the area where this deer lived made it hard to get back in there. I didn’t even bother running a lot of cameras. I did put a camera in an area where I had him in daylight a couple of years ago. I found a lot of acorns on the ridge, and they were starting to fall. I had a hunch, based on where he was bedding in the bottom, that he was going to be on that ridge at some point, and that’s exactly what happened. I caught him on one of the cameras, so I put out two more cameras to try to figure out where he was coming from.
The location is a little hard to describe. Basically, it was like this little chute that went down between a rock bluff that ran north and south, and the other one went easy and west down the side, and a trail dropped down through the middle of it. I put a camera right there, too, and got a picture of him still in velvet on September 15th.
So it was this big rock scene, huge boulders. There was another trail higher up on the mountain, and I put a camera there, too. It looked like a decent funnel area.
RS: How did you start to put it all together and figure out the buck’s pattern?
Grove: Our season opened on September 26th this year. I went back in there to check the cameras on the 24th. That’s when I found daylight pictures of him. They were taken in between the boulder scene going down the mountain around 8am on the 20th. And then I had him once on the 23rd, at 11am, in the same area.
It was only about 200 yards from my camera in that location and the one on the ridge. I had him on the 20th at 4am on the ridge, eating acorns, and then I had him around 8am heading down that same morning. So that kind of told me he was bedding somewhere close.
When he showed up on the camera on the ridge, he usually came from the south. And I also realized that, when I got him on the camera near the boulders, he was always going downhill. So he obviously had to be swinging a different way to get up to the ridge at night to feed. I knew there were only a couple of ways that the buck could get up there each evening.
I figured he was coming underneath and coming up the mountain through a little creek crossing that I found a couple rubs on. It didn’t really even look like much of a spot.
RS: What was your stand setup like?
Grove: I accessed it from the ridge and went down the mountain. I didn’t even have a stand necessarily picked out. I hang and hunt most of the time now, and I carry a mobile setup with climbing sticks and hang-on stand. When I feel like I’m where I need to be, I put it up.
So when I got down, like I said, there's this big boulder scene that runs east-west down the mountain. But it kinda ends there in a little ravine. I was maybe 100-200 yards from the camera where I had daylight photos of the buck. I just looked at the landscape, and I'm like, he potentially could be coming up through this little ravine right here and heading up the mountain. So I picked out a tree about 25 yards from where I thought the deer might come up through.
There wasn’t much wind, so when the sun went down, the thermals pulled my scent downhill. It was perfect because there was no way he was going to smell me if he came the way I thought he’d come.
RS: The moment of truth. How did it all unfold?
Grove: I guess it was about 6:45-6:50, and I heard something down in from of me. I got my binoculars up and saw a small 6-point rubbing a tree. He came up within 15 yards and almost almost blew it for me. He stopped and looked at me a few times, and I just sat as still as possible. I think he smelled where I had walked. I wear rubber boots, and I keep them clean. The buck never got super spooky, but he was definitely smelling around and he kept bobbing his head up and down. I had a little branch sticking out near me and I kept trying to hide my head behind it so he wouldn’t see me.
I was pretty sure it was the same 6-point that I’d had a picture of a few days earlier that was with the big buck. And in the early season, the bucks are still together.
About 30 seconds later, I heard something else coming up through that little ravine and, sure enough, it was him, about 60 yards away. The big buck wasn’t really paying attention to the 6-point. When he finally came up closer and the deer were standing side by side, the big one actually his the 6-point with his antlers, which was perfect because it caused the smaller buck to run back down where they’d come from.
After that, the big one came up and walked exactly where I thought it would. I shot when he was at about 23 yards. I knew the shot was good for height, but it was probably 6 inches back behind the front shoulder. I think I went through the back of his lungs and liver.
He ran only 30 yards and stopped He had no idea what was going on. He just stood there for about 30 seconds, and next thing he started stumbling and his legs gave out. He kicked a little bit and that it, he was dead. That’s when the adrenaline kicked in.
Some people have asked me, “How do you hold it together on a buck that big?” Well, honestly, when you have them on camera, and you know how big they are, you don’t even have to look at their antlers to know it’s them. Most of the shock is in the fact that the buck is actually in front of you.
After three years, that's the first time I'd ever seen him in daylight with my own eyes.
When I got him, I don't think he was living in more than a 30-50-acre area at that time. I don't think he was traveling more than that because of all the acorns up on top, and there was probably some water down below.
RS: What made this buck so hard to hunt previous seasons?
Grove: The acorns played a big role. Last year, there weren’t many acorns, so his movement was very sporadic. But the year before, in 2018, I had him on camera a lot, almost every day or every other day between 3am and 5am. He was also there a lot during a 10-day span from early to mid-November.
But last year, in 2019, there weren’t many acorns. I had a camera up in that same spot and didn’t get any photos of him there all year, and there wasn’t much sign around either.
It’s common for big bucks to not leave a lot of sign, though. A lot of times, they're loners. They might be running with two other deer around their bedding and off the wall places, but they don’t seem to rub trees as often. It’s crazy. They’re entirely different deer once they reach that age.
Two years ago, I had one picture of him rubbing a tree about the same diameter as my wrist. Even where I ended up killing him, I found only three rubs, and I’m pretty sure only two of those were his, and they weren’t real big trees. I feel like since there were no other buck (that I know of, or that I had on camera) in that area that could even rival him in terms of body size, age, or antlers, he was king of the mountains. There just wasn’t a lot of competition.
RS: How old was this buck?
Grove: I'm thinking he's 7.5.
RS: You killed this buck on public land, on the Sleepy Creek WMA, which has a pretty low deer density. What does it take to be successful in the Big Woods or in mountain country like where you hunt?
Grove: There are plenty of plenty of days that I don’t see a deer. If you enjoy hunting the Big Woods, you go into it with the understanding that you’re not going to see a lot of deer anyway. And let’s be honest, most guys want to see a lot of deer, and if they don’t, they get bored. They’re sitting there and all they can think about is the old days when they saw tons of deer. If you’re going to hunt these situations, you have to be mentally tough enough to deal with not seeing anything.
I had some people comment about me putting photos of this buck on social media. They said that everybody’s going to come here and hunt because they think they’re going to kill a buck like this. But they won’t. And I know they won’t because I know what it’s like to hunt here. This country will eat people alive if they want to come here and try to hunt. Most guys just don’t have the mental fortitude to stick it out.
Ralph Scherder is an award-winning writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Bowhunter, Bowhunting.com, Fur-Fish-Game, Sports Afield, and many others. His new book, Hunting Mountain Whitetails, is available from the First Fork Bookstore.