Tucker County hunter makes history with a doe killed in October


MONTROSE, W.Va. — Steven Shaffer of Tucker County never figured he’d be a trend setter or make history, but that’s exactly what he did on the first day of the West Virginia antlerless hunting season in October.

Shaffer, who lives near Montrose, became the first West Virginia hunter to ever kill a deer with an air rifle.

“I’m retired, I get to hunt ever day. My wife has passed and I live alone so all I do is hunt. I told a buddy of mine, ‘You watch, I’ll be the first in West Virginia to kill a deer with an air rifle.’ Low and behold I was,” Shaffer laughed when asked about the story.

The story of his footnote in hunting history of the Mountain State started during the 2022 Regular Session of the West Virginia Legislature. Lawmakers approved a bill and Governor Jim Justice signed it into law which legalized certain air rifles as hunting implements for big game for the first time in state history.

“I’ve followed air rifle hunting for years and I always wanted to get one, but I didn’t want to have to go out of state to use it. This year, when the regulations came out, I took a look at the first page and they always have the changes. Down there at the bottom it said, ‘air rifle.’ When I read that, I went and bought one specifically for hunting here,” he explained.

The average hunter or shooter in West Virginia has the concept of an air rifle as the Crossman pellet gun most of us used to plink cans as kids. Some may have advanced to one a little more powerful as an adult with the break barrel which packed enough punch to kill a squirrel. However, the modern air rifle allowed for in the new law is a far different piece of equipment.

Shaffer’s rifle holds a 3,000 psi charge. The tank is the rifle’s stock. His projectile is a 350 grain bullet and the shot moves an average of 835 feet per second.

A 350 grain, hollow-point projectile traveling around about 850 feet per second packs a punch.

“That’s not very fast, but they do pack a punch,” Shaffer explained. “They are capable of killing a deer at 100 yards, but I don’t feel comfortable shooting beyond 75.”

Shaffer said the first real challenge is to pump 3,000 pounds of pressure into the cylinder by hand. Electric pumps are available, but he noted they are pricey and he didn’t get one. Some can be filled at a scuba shop, but there aren’t many of those in West Virginia. Unfortunately, the air compressor sitting in most West Virginia garages and barns to pump tires and run impact tools isn’t adequate for the job. To get maximum pressure, he estimated it would take 95 pumps on the manual device.

Shaffer knew he had a good chance of killing a doe on the morning of October 20th, the opening day of the first half of West Virginia’s split antlerless season.

“There’s a lot of deer on that place. It wasn’t even much after daybreak at around 7:00 or 7:30 and one walked through. I didn’t measure, but it was about a 35 yard shot. She ran up over the top of the bank about 30 yards and as soon as I walked up there, she was laying there,” he said.

The bullet was a complete pass through, but there was one key difference Shaffer noticed between this particular kill versus other deer he’s shot with modern rifles, pistols, muzzleloaders, and even a bow.

“Any time I’ve shot a deer in the shoulder, even with a bow, you almost always lose all of the meat in that shoulder because of the blood. This one, I bet I only lost about a cup of meat. I don’t know if that’s normal, since this is the only big game I’ve ever shot with an air rifle, but I didn’t lose much meat at all,” he said.

Shaffer’s deer came soon after first light on October 20th. It’s worth noting, in neighboring Randolph County, hunter Amber Nestor also killed a doe with an air rifle, but hers came later on the same day and made her the second hunter in West Virginia to accomplish the feat.

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