CLAY, W.Va. — When Rick Friend of St. Albans headed to his hunting camp in Clay County for the 2017 buck season, he was optimistic and yet also realistic.
“I had seen a few bucks on trail cams, but the chances of seeing them was slim to none,” he explained. “They were very evasive and mostly moved after dark. Clay County bucks are usually pretty average in size.”
But Rick had already killed a small buck and a doe during archery season and wanted to just enjoy the opportunity to be in the woods. He was hunting with his late father’s rifle, a .35 Remington Gamemaster, which added to the intrigue of his story, but we’ll come back to that in a little while.
Opening day, Rick sat on his stand and spied two bucks chasing a doe. They were too far away and moving to quickly for a shot. But the encounter proved the rut was still on, so he moved down the hill a little to be closer to the point they crossed. Sure enough, his adjustment was rewarded a few hours later.
“About 1:00 one of the bucks, a ten point, came in and he offered me a 40 yard broadside shot,” Rick explained. “I shot the deer and knew I had gotten a good hit on it I was going for a heart shot.”
But something unexpected happened. The magazine from his dad’s vintage Remington rifle fell out as he went to cycle another shell into to the chamber. The gun had two magazines, and Rick had accidentally picked up the broken one that morning and when it fell onto his foot, he pulled his eyes off the deer.
“When I looked back up I didn’t see the deer,” he said.
Heartbroken, Rick began a desperate search and to his dismay there was no blood to be found. He went to the spot where the deer had stood, followed the steps he could remember it taking and from there spent the better part of the mid-day plodding through the forest vainly hoping to catch a glimpse of his prize. Finally, he sat down, crestfallen and worried he wouldn’t find the buck
“I just happened to look down and the way the sunlight was coming through the trees, I happened to see horns sticking out from under a log,” he said. “He was balled up under a fallen tree. I started counting points and he was a ten point.”
Most hunters might have been satisfied with an opening day prize like that. Coupled with two deer from archery season, Rick had been very blessed. On Tuesday, he decided to move into another area, one where he had never killed a deer. His new spot rewarded him by mid-morning.
“I saw he had a rack, he was a legal deer and he was running at a fast rate, but it wasn’t chasing anything,” he explained. “I couldn’t get lined up on him, but finally he slowed down and stopped at about an 80 yard shot. I dropped him right in his tracks.”
Unlike the first buck, Rick knew exactly where to go to tag in this time, but when he got to the deer he was overwhelmed, it turned out this deer was even bigger than the one the day before.
“I got closer to it and to my amazement, it was a 12 point,” he laughed. “The day before I killed the biggest deer I had ever killed and a day later I killed this one. I knew this had to be the hunt of a lifetime for me, it doesn’t get any better. I just leaned back against a tree, slid down to the ground, and just sat there for a long time staring at the buck in shock.”
Rick had used his late father’s hunting rifle which had never been of much use to his dad.
“He had never killed a deer with it,” Friend explained. “He was a squirrel hunter, and he never used it to kill a deer.”
There was no sentimental attachment to the rifle, Rick had other guns his dad owned, so he sold this one to a lifelong friend a few years ago who used it to kill a big deer. Until 2017, it was the only deer ever killed with the rifle. Rick bought back the gun when his friend was ready to part with it and for an unknown reason decided he would hunt with it in 2017.
“The GameMaster they made those pumps somewhere around 1950 and ’52,” said Rick. “760 GameMaster is stamped on the side. He picked up a 760 pump in .270 caliber. I decided to hunt with the gun this year, and needless to say, he won’t be getting the gun back.”