CHEAT MOUNTAIN, W.Va. — When hunting stories are exchanged in West Virginia it’s no surprise when you hear of a gigantic buck to learn it came from southern West Virginia. The four bow hunting only counties in the south have become legendary for the big boned, trophy sized bucks they produce consistently. What is less common and even more impressive is when one of those massive bucks comes from another location, particularly the high mountains of Randolph County.
There was a time when West Virginians went deer hunting, Cheat Mountain was one of the more popular destinations. The numbers still willing to hunt the rugged high country of the Mountain State have decreased along with the deer population in those locations. However, Bryan Farley is still one of those who loves the National Forest.
“We stay in Pocahontas County at a cabin in Boyer,” Farley explained in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors. “We usually hunt the Monongahela National Forest in Pocahontas County, but in recent years, we hadn’t had much luck there, so we decided to go try an area up on Cheat Mountain.”
Using nothing but past experience, Farley, a retired Navy Corpsman who now works at the Beckley V-A Hospital, headed to a spot where he knew there were deer in the past. He spent the opening morning of the 2017 hunting season on the stand watching the area, but around noon another hunter traipsed by and spoiled the spot. Disappointed, he retreated further into the mountains to a second choice, again hunting only on prior experience.
“I walked another mile or two until I got there,” he explained. “I like to watch sides of hills that aren’t hunted much and they’re thick. The side of the mountain was just a big laurel thicket. I was in an area between a laurel thicket and a big oak flat,”
Farley spent the afternoon watching deer move in and out of the peak-a-boo holes in the thick laurel, but it wasn’t until late in the day one caught his eye that might be worth a second glance.
“I glassed through the laurel and saw this HUGE head, just a nose, I couldn’t see the antlers, but I could tell it was an older buck,” Farley explained.
As time passed, he kept getting glimpses of the big deer–including at least a partial view of the antlers and the massive body. Farley knew this was a buck he wanted to take and picked out an open spot in the laurel thicket which seemed to offer an opportunity for a shot.
“I didn’t actually know the size of the deer until after he was on the ground and I walked up to him, or otherwise I would have been nervous as heck,” said Farley. “He was a good distance away, and I wasn’t trying to count the horns, I was just looking for a good shot. By the time he stepped into that place I was concentrating on a good shot and not his horns.”
Farley squeezed off the shot and felt confident it was a good one. But once the echo or his rifle disappeared, there was no sound of leaves crunching or limbs breaking from a thrashing animal in the throws of dying–there was only silence.
“I looked and looked and didn’t see the deer. I walk up the other side and look for a blood trail and all kinds of things go through your mind. You’re starting to think the worst,” he explained. “I kept looking and found this big hole in the ground where a tree had blown down and the roots pulled up. He was right down in that open swell. I can’t even describe how big he was.”
The deer was a brute. Besides a massive body, Farley counted 16 points on the head of an extremely tall rack. He hurried against the oncoming darkness to field dress the animal, then hiked back to the top of the mountain to reach his buddy on the radio. The two of them finally pulled the massive deer through difficult terrain three miles to the truck, which they finally reached about 11 p.m.
The big buck scored 189 3/8ths non-typical under the Boone and Crockett Scoring System.
“He only had a difference of 7 3/8ths from one side to the other,” said Farley. “Even thought it was non-typical from all the stickers and growth, it was almost matching. It was very tall, but not very wide. The height was amazing.”
Farley admitted it was his biggest deer he had ever taken and acknowledged it was a blessing that may never happen again. But it served as proof, in this age of modern scouting, sometimes historical knowledge, boot leather, and old fashioned good luck can still play a role.
“It’s not like we knew that deer was there,” Farley concluded. “We had good sign and we knew it was a good place to hunt, but we had no idea he was there.”