There are a bevy of emotions we as hunters are fortunate to experience throughout the course of a deer season. There is the rush of seeing your arrow bury itself behind your prey’s shoulder. Then there are the uncontrollable shakes that violently rock your body before, during and after the shot at that big buck. And don’t forget, the most humbling of all, the feeling of thankfulness and gratefulness experienced when you kneel over your trophy, be it a buck or doe, be it big or small. Finally, there is the camaraderie experienced between you and your hunting buddies. A couple weeks ago, I got to share an extremely memorable time in the woods with my brother, Damin, as he shot a true giant Virginia whitetail, a buck named Clyde.
One of the first pictures we got of Clyde. This image was taken in early January in our clover food plot.
The story for this buck actually begins in 2007, ironically, the birth year of Clyde. It was that year that my brother, my dad and I really decided to commit to Quality Deer Management (QDM) and try to improve the health of our deer herd and our property’s habitat. We began planting food plots, established mineral stations and decided to take at least 5 does off our 260 acre property every year. The mineral stations attracted deer to our property during the summer, and shooting does increased rut activity immediately. However, I was still unhappy with the amount of food we had on our property during the hunting season. I simply wasn’t content with the small, secluded food plots we had planted in the past. Every year, I urged my dad to consider planting two one acre fields in clover. I was convinced that having a consistent, centralized food source would make a world of difference in holding deer on our property during the hunting season. During the rut, I was exicted about the amount of rubs and scrapes that would appear in the runways and funnels leading from the fields to bedding areas.
Clyde all but disappeared during the spring and summer, except for visiting one of my mineral stations in mid-June, when this photo was taken.
Fast forward to February, 2010, we had finally gained the resources to plant the two large fields, and I can still remember cruising along in my neighbor’s borrowed 40 horsepower tractor and plowing up the field. By the time I had finished, it was well after dark and the headlights of the tractor were synonymous with a bright future on our hunting property, a future I was extremely excited about.
This trail camera photo was captured on a frosty night in late September. The long sweeping right main beam told me who this buck was. It was this photo that earned him the nickname "Clyde."
That spring and summer I sprayed and tilled, sprayed and tilled, to keep the weeds and have a clean seed bed for the 2010 hunting season. In August I planted some Imperial Whitetail Clover and oats into the food plots. We have found that planting clover in the fall and allowing it establish a strong root system in the winter will allow it to explode the following spring. Obviously, both forages would be attractive to the deer during the season, but the oats were more of a cover crop to keep the deer from overbrowsing the clover.
Fast forward to this past January, I was in Huntley, IL preparing for the 2011 ATA Show at the Bowhunting.com office and my brother sent me a couple of trail camera images of a buck feeding in our food plot the night after the season went out. The buck was a 3 year old, had several busted tines, but was clearly a shooter and had the potential to balloon into a true giant the following season. Our winters in Western Virginia don’t pose serious threats to a whitetail’s life, even worn down bucks, so my primary concern keeping him on our property that following year. With two acres of lush clover just waiting to explode with a little sunlight and warm weather, I was confident we would regularly catch him on camera feeding in our food plots during the summer.
By mid-October Clyde was convinced their was an intruder buck in his territory thanks to my mock scrapes.
As is often the case with deer hunting and habitat management, things don’t go as expected. The food plots exploded all right, providing a nutritious, tasty food source to our local whitetails all spring and summer. Unfortunately, however, we only captured the buck on camera just once during the entire summer, and it wasn’t even in our food plots. On June 19th he made a brief stop at one of my Monster Raxx mineral stations. I knew it was the buck from the previous winter, by a cluster of abnormal points on his right main beam. While he didn’t spend as much time in our food plots, I wasn’t overly concerned. I knew where he was bedding and knew that having several does feeding in our food plots during the actual hunting season would greatly benefit us.
As hunting season quickly approached and the temperatures began dropping quickly, I was anxious to see if the buck had began visiting our food plots. The two clover food plots were planted right in the center of our property, so to visit them, either to feed or check for does, he would have to walk right by several of my stand sites. Nevertheless, when I checked my cameras on October 1st I was thrilled to find the buck feeding in our food plot just two nights before. I sent a picture to my brother via cell phone with the text reading, “huge buck in upper field, 140+." A long sweeping right main beam and the abnormal points on the same side made Clyde an easy choice for a nickname (See Clint Eastwood’s famous flick, “Every Which Way but Loose”). Let the chess match begin.
This trail camera photo revealed to us Clyde's bedding area. This photo was taken two nights before Halloween about 30 minutes before sunrise.
I knew it would be unwise to dive right in after this buck after a handful of nighttime trail camera photos. I knew where he was bedding, I knew how he accessing our food plots, I just had to be patient and not over hunt him. I immediately made a series of mock scrapes along his access trails to and from the food plot using Tink’s Power Scrape. The idea was to paint a picture of another big, old buck moving into his territory. He didn’t like the thought of that. He began working over those scrapes within days, and the giant rubs and scrapes that dotted the edge of the food plots could only have been made by him. This was his food plot, the clover belonged to him, the does belonged to him; no other bucks were welcome.
After seeing the massive rubs and watching the scrapes being freshened up nightly, I took extreme measures as to not pressure the buck. The only problem with the location of our two food plots is location. Yes, they were centrally located, but they were also right beside our hunting camp, which sees a lot of human activity. During October, I likely only hunted 3 mornings so I didn’t push him off the food plot on my way to the stand. My dad and brother would have liked to kill me because I was constantly reminding them to be quiet around the camp and to walk on the far side of the camp to hide our existence from deer feeding in the food plot. I probably took it too far in some cases, but there was a giant buck living very close by, and I was determined that one of use was going to kill him.
Throughout October we captured Clyde on trail camera in the food plot, at mock scrapes, and on trails heading back to his bed in the late morning. My brother had two weeks of vacation planned for early November and we were going to exhaust every opportunity we had to close the deal on the giant. Unfortunately we got slammed by two weeks of bad weather. Dumping rains, high winds and warm temperatures made hunting very difficult. At the end of every unsuccessful day of hunting my brother would ask me, “Where in the world Clyde?” My response was always the same, “Not far.”
Multiple rubs of this size began popping up in trails and runways from the food plot to bedding areas. Clyde was becoming more and more vulnerable with each passing day. We were onto him, we just had to play it smart.
Friday November 11th was again a terribly slow day of hunting. A full moon and high winds and warm temperatures had shut down all deer movement, but there was hope in sight. The first clear, cold night in several weeks was forecasted that night. That night I remember my brother asking me yet again, “Where is Clyde?” But this time I responded, “Not far. He’s got to be covering some ground at night, if we can get a good, hard frost tonight, that should keep him on his feet longer into the morning on his way back to bed for the day.” It wasn’t much to go on, but was it was a hopeful thought, and that was all we needed.
I had been bowhunting like a madman the first two weeks of November, so I elected to take my muzzleloader that morning for a change of pace. We had got the hard frost we were hoping for and we had got into our stands over an hour before first light. I had seen a couple does filtering back to bed right at first light, and was hopeful a buck would soon follow suit, but I never got the chance to find out. At 7:14 I heard my brother’s muzzleloader ring out. Since it was my brother’s last day of vacation, we both decided to try and shoot a couple does if the opportunity presented itself, so I just assumed he had shot a doe. However, his “13 pointer down!!!!!” text eliminated that theory. My mind began racing, “Did he really shoot a 13 pointer? Maybe he did shoot a doe and is just joking around. A 13 pointer? Clyde was only a 10 in the trail camera photos.” Anxious to see what he had shot I responded, “Can I come up?” His response, “Clyde!!!!” I gathered my gear, got down out of my stand and all but ran through the woods to see the fallen giant.
My brother and hunting partner, Damin, admiring the legendary buck known as Clyde. Mission complete!
When I finally met up with my brother, he had his coat draped over Clyde’s rack. As he unveiled him, I simply couldn’t believe the massive antlers coming off this buck’s head; a true giant. I must have hugged and high fived Damin a good 20 times in a span of 5 minutes. Damin relived the hunt for me, and I was happy as could be for him. It turns out that cold, hard frost kept Clyde on his feet just long enough this morning, because my brother shot him working one of the mock scrape lines I had built back in early October. My brother stopped him at 50 yards broadside, and made a perfect shot, and Clyde died within sight.
Clyde is by far the biggest buck ever taken off our property. The hard work we all put in over the past 4 years finally paid off with a dandy buck.
I offered to drag Clyde out of the woods for Damin, we met up with my dad and mom at camp and thus began the day of celebration. We took well over 100 photos, put a tape to him, weighed him, caped him out and readied him for the taxidermist. Clyde ended up scoring 148 6/8” as a mainframe 10 with 5 kickers. He had three abnormal points sprouting at the base of his right G3 and had an inch and a half kicker at the base of each antler. He was 220 pounds live weight and dressed 185, which makes for a giant bodied whitetail in Western Virginia.
The fallen giant and the lucky hunter who harvested him overlooking the mountains and food plot the massive buck once called home.
While Clyde scored well, and was the size of a small cow, his statistics do very little for this buck's legacy. When I think of Clyde I will think of the countless hours spent running trail cameras, planting food plots, freshening mineral stations, and scouting since 2007, the year he was born and the year we started QDM. I will think of the discussions I had with my dad and brother about when, and how we should go about trying to harvest this deer. But ultimately, I will remember walking up to the fallen buck with my brother standing over him with a contagious smile and the brotherly emotions we shared in the woods November 12th. That, I think, is what Clyde most represents and what an animal of his caliber should be remembered for.