As reported by the Martinsville Bulletin
Sunday, October 5, 2008
By JOHNNY BUCK - Bulletin Sports Editor
Tony Hodges is a very patient man.
A Patrick County resident, Hodges had been bow hunting for deer for 13 years in the fall of 2006. In that time span, his best kills were two 8-point bucks and one 7-pointer.
“None of them were what I’d call a big buck,” he said. “They were nice bucks, and I killed them all with a bow.
He’d let countless deer walk over the years, either because they weren’t in range or because he wanted to let them grow another season. He considered himself a doe hunter, but like most who enjoy his hobby, he was always dreaming about the day when that trophy buck might walk out in front of him.
Two years ago this fall, the biggest known deer killed by bow and arrow in Virginia did just that.
While scouting during the summer of 2006, Hodges found a natural choke point between an acorn flat and a thick, brushy bedding area in Henry County.
He immediately identified it as a prime spot to hunt for bucks, and he decided not to return until the whitetail’s mating season — known as the rut — set in and made the normally cautious male deer more active.
On the pre-dawn morning of Oct. 30, Hodges, then 38, left his truck and began the long walk with a climbing stand strapped to his back.
He’d seen some young bucks chasing does several days earlier elsewhere, and with a wind direction that was favorable for his ambush spot, Hodges decided this was the day to hunt over his promising choke point.
Hodges snuck into the woods, picked a tree in the morning’s gray haze and climbed about 20 feet above the ground. He then strapped himself in with a safety harness, pulled up his bow and waited.
“Probably about 20 minutes after I’d been there ... I see just a flicker of movement off to my right. It was just a little piece of gray, you know, just a flick of movement,” recalled Hodges. “And I thought, ‘Was that a squirrel?’ I couldn’t see it anymore, and I thought it might have been a deer, so I got my bow clipped up. And I hear steps, so I think it is a deer.”
The understory of this area — the location of which Hodges won’t reveal — was so thick, however, that he couldn’t see the animal, even though it was no more than 15 yards away.
The animal passed his stand in broadside fashion. When it did, Hodges caught a glimpse of the biggest rack he’d ever seen.
“It was a rush of adrenaline, and it was almost a hyperventilating-type of a rush,” Hodges said. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at, this is a monster! This is not a deer you just see. You know? This is a monster!’ I was just pumped. My whole body was probably throbbing, but I didn’t have a shot.”
So Hodges let the deer of his life walk away.
Thinking no one would believe his story, he began to put down his bow and reach for a digital camera he’d brought to the stand.
“I started to lay down my bow and pick up my camera and I (thought), ‘I can’t do it. I ain’t gonna turn loose of (my bow).’”
About this time, the deer, still unaware of Hodges’ presence, made a slight turn. He now was quartering away from the hunter, but he was headed for one of the only shooting lanes available.
“I thought, ‘Buddy, I don’t know if he’s going to go through there or not, but if he does, that’s where I’m going to have to try my shot,” recalled Hodges. “It would be the only shot opportunity I would have.”
Heading toward the opening, Hodges’ deer went out of sight. That’s when the hunter drew back his bow string and guessed the spot to be 35 yards.
Again, he waited.
Suddenly, the animal came into view on a steady walk. With little time to think, Hodges made a soft mouth bleat, and the buck paused in mid-stride.
That’s when Hodges fired, and that’s what led to the harvest of the biggest known Henry County buck.
Hodges’ shot drifted high, however, and hit the deer in the spine. He quickly got down from the stand and dispatched the animal.
That errant shot — one that might have missed its original target by only 5 or 6 inches — is the only source of regret Hodges felt about his trophy kill.
“I didn’t take a bad shot, and I didn’t take a shot that I didn’t think I could make. ... But I must have tweaked just a little bit in my hand or something, and he fell straight down and disappeared from my sight,” he recalled.
“I hate that that’s what happened in the hunt, but it’s what happened. It’s the truth.”
The deer was too big for Hodges to move by himself, however, so he rushed home to his father, Riley Hodges, and asked for help.
According to Riley Hodges, his son was visibly excited. Their exchange went something like this:
Dad: “How many points did it have?”
Son: “I don’t know.”
Dad: “Well what do you mean you don’t know how many points it’s got? Did you actually kill the deer and go up to it? How can you not know how many points it’s got?”
Son: “I don’t know dad. I guess he’s got, well, 15 or 20 points.”
At this point in retelling the story, Riley Hodges smiled.
“And I said, ‘Aww, maybe that deer ain’t as big as you think he is,’ but when I got over there I said, ‘YEAH, he’s as big as you said he was!’”
THE SCORING STORY
Hodges’ Henry County buck was a non-typical, 22-pointer with 11 main-frame points. It was checked that day at Southeastern Outdoor Supplies by shop owner Johnny Hundley, who called it the best bow-taken deer he’s checked in almost 30 years at the store.
“That’s probably the best I’ve checked. We cover three counties and we have a (big buck) contest,” said Hundley. “We do score them on a Virginia system. Every year we usually hit 200 (in the scoring system) ... but some years we don’t.
“I know it was several points over 200, and we don’t get many over 200.”
In fact, Hodges’ deer, which has since been mounted, scored 245 4/16 on the state’s system, which takes into account the volume, shape and diameter of antler on an animal’s head.
Later, it received a Boone & Crockett gross score of 206 6/8 inches. Its Pope and Young net score, a scoring system used exclusively for archery-taken deer, was 197 3/8.
It has since been recognized by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) as the biggest Pope and Young bow kill in the state’s history.
Originally, however, Hodges’ kill was considered the state’s second-biggest Pope and Young buck.
Then Hodges entered his deer in a big-buck contest and beat out the then-state-record buck.
“That’s when some of the judges told me I should start asking some questions,” said Hodges.
That’s just what he did. He began asking state wildlife officials how his buck beat the current state record and yet was not the state record.
Two months ago, Hodges, the son of Riley and Caroline Hodges, finally got a letter from the state recognizing his deer as the state’s biggest bow kill.
Since taking the animal, the father of Jonathan and Riley Hodges has been surprised how some of his fellow hunters reacted. While he said all of his friends have showed support, some strangers have accused Hodges of wrong-doing.
“When I shot that deer, from the get-go, there were a lot of bad things said about it,” said Hodges. “‘Oh, he shot it at night. Oh, he shot it out of season. Oh this, oh that.’ I mean, (some people said) I’d done everything illegal you can imagine. None of it’s true, but it was just jealousy. People would just say things.”
Hundley backed that claim, noting nothing appeared suspicious about the deer when he checked it.
He also said he’s seen other big-buck hunters experience the same attacks.
“It’s jealousy,” said Hundley. “I see it all the time.”
Hodges entered his buck in five big-buck contests across North Carolina and Virginia in 2007, and he won top honors in each, regardless of harvest method (bow, rifle, etc.).
For the last six years, Hodges has hunted exclusively with a bow, even during rifle season.
All those years of waiting in a tree stand for a big deer to walk into shooting range were worth it, he said.
“I’m an average Joe hunter. I love to hunt, and I hunt seriously, but killing that deer does not make me a good hunter. It makes me a lucky hunter.”
At this point Hodges broke into an honest laugh, hand resting easily on the neck of his massive mount.
“So I feel lucky that I got this deer. I really do. I feel fortunate and lucky, but I am a serious hunter, and I am a fair chase hunter, and I think I deserved it as much as anybody.”
Sunday, October 5, 2008
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