This is the latest in a multi-part series of columns about memorable deer that stand out from decades of whitetail hunting.
Thread the Needle Buck
The year was 1983. It was opening day of West Virginia deer firearms season. I was perched in a favorite tree in a remote area of a friend’s property between the town of Paw Paw, and the old railroad community of Magnolia, in the west end of Morgan County.
Several shots rang out on the neighboring property across the hollow from me. A group of about a dozen deer came spilling over the ridge across and slightly up the hollow from me. Just off to the side of the large group of deer, on a parallel trail, slightly lower on the hillside, I spotted two more deer. Checking with my binoculars, I could see that they were both nice bucks.
By that time, most of the deer were far enough down the ridge that they were being obscured by the treetops between them and I. The two bucks were directly behind a lone pine tree that was growing on the ridge primarily covered in oaks.
I had estimated the pine at about 350 yards but did not have a range finder. A few years later, when we got our first range finders, that estimate proved to be spot on. I was shooting my brother’s 788 Remington in 6mm. This rifle was very accurate. I was using handloads that I had carefully concocted and had spent a lot of time practicing out to 500 yards and used for groundhog hunting the previous summer.
The scope was an older model Weaver, with a plain crosshair reticle, with no reference for holding over. We simply practiced “Kentucky Windage.” By sighting in slightly high at 100 yards with this flat-shooting cartridge, we were able to hold dead on a deer’s shoulder, or a standing groundhog, out to about 275 yards. Beyond that distance, we needed to hold progressively higher as the distance increased.
As the bucks paused behind the lone pine tree, I could see the left front shoulder on one of them perfectly framed between two horizontal limbs. I knew the bullet would be impacting slightly low at that distance, so I held as steady as I could right on the higher of the two limbs. The bullet dropped slightly and “threaded the needle” between the two limbs, hitting the buck right in the shoulder and putting him down on the spot. It was a classic case of preparation meeting opportunity. As a young hunter and shooter, I was thrilled with the results.
When I climbed over to recover that buck, I noticed that his left beam was a very typical antler, with five nice, even points. The right beam was three long twisted points that grew out at odd angles. I then discovered the buck had an old injury to his left front leg, which had healed. His knee was a big mass of cartilage. This was the first time I had ever seen the phenomenon of an injury to a deer’s front leg causing abnormal antler growth on the opposite side. I have seen it several times since then.
I was really happy to take such a unique buck and make such a difficult shot under field conditions. I will always think of him as the Thread the Needle Buck.
Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.