This is the latest in a multi-part series of columns about memorable deer that stand out from decades of whitetail hunting.
The Old Warrior
Several years ago, the Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area in Morgan County opened to public hunting. I hunted there on opening day of West Virginia General Firearms Season, but did not see a buck I wanted to shoot. I did manage to find a big female coyote, and happily brought her off the mountain with me.
The second day of the season found me back at one of my favorite spots in some rough ground on nearby private property that a good friend allowed me to hunt. This spot always seems to have more deer later in the morning, or midday, than it does early in the morning. I often would hunt another spot early at dawn, then slip into this area later in the day. It is a steep, rocky area, and doesn’t usually seem to hold a lot of deer until they got pushed by people hunting the surrounding area.
But since this was the second day of season, and there is usually a lot of hunting pressure on the surrounding properties on opening day, I thought I would go ahead and watch this area at first light.
It was a decision that paid off. Shortly after daybreak, I spied movement on a trail low on the ridge across from me. Looking through my binos, I saw a big-bodied old buck heading down along a rock ledge into the laurel thickets below. By the time I managed to get him in my scope and drop him with a clean shot, he was only a few steps from safety.
He didn’t have what most people would consider a pretty rack. His antlers and body were pretty broken up from fighting. But he is one of the most treasured game animals I have ever taken.
By dawn, he was already as far away from most of the hunting pressure in the area as he could possibly get. He only needed a few more steps to be safe for the rest of the day. There is no way to know how many years he had survived by doing this.
I felt honored and grateful to cross paths with such a survivor. I have to admit, even though I was happy to take him, I couldn’t help but feel a little sadness at his death. In the end, a bullet was much more humane than whatever nature likely had in store for him that coming winter.
He was obviously an old fellow and his body had taken a beating. The meat was dark red and tough. We boned out the carcass, ground everything, and seasoned it for sausage, which was excellent. I felt that being too tough for steaks was a fitting end for such a tough old fellow. Not a bit of him was wasted. I have a “European” skull mount of his antlers displayed in my home.
He now lives in my memories as The Old Warrior.
Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.