Starting out with a bang
Josh Crowder didn't have time to use his rifle's scope.
The buck of a lifetime was in full flight, sprinting straight away. Instinctively, Crowder swung the rifle up, put the front bead on the center of the buck's back, and pulled the trigger . . .
In the weeks before West Virginia's 2012 buck firearm season, Crowder, then 18, had his eye on one particular buck.
"I had a trail camera out, and it had gotten several pictures of a big, perfect six-pointer. That's the buck I was hoping to get," Crowder said.
Anyone who knows anything about deer hunting in northeastern Kanawha County might think Crowder had set his sights a mite low. After all, the area routinely produces bucks with serious trophy racks.
Big antlers were the furthest thing from Crowder's mind.
"I had never killed a buck before," he said. "I had been hunting since I was 11, and I had killed some antlerless deer, but I'd never gotten a buck."
On Nov. 21, the buck season's opening day, Crowder awoke at 4:30 a.m. and got dressed to try to bag that perfect six-pointer. Dawn hadn't yet broken when he, his brother and his stepfather walked into the woods near their Elkview home.
"My brother started hunting at the first field we came to," Crowder recalled. "I kept going toward the top of the hill. There was a spot near some cliffs where I had seen some humongous buck rubs."
By 7:30 a.m., Crowder had seen a pair of does but no bucks.
"I waited until 8:30 without seeing anything," he said. "I decided to walk around and see if I could jump something. I hunted my way down the hill until I got to the field where my brother was supposed to be hunting. He wasn't there."
As Crowder crept slowly across the field, a sudden flash of movement caught his eye.
"A doe jumped up. And right behind the doe, I could see this big rack of antlers. Apparently the doe and the buck had been bedded down and I spooked them," Crowder said.
"They were only 10 yards away. The buck started running down the hill. I knew I had to shoot fast, so I used the bead sights on the rifle instead of the scope."
The first shot hit the buck in the spine and sent it crashing to the forest floor. A point-blank follow-up shot killed the animal.
"At first I thought it had a 10-point rack," Crowder said. "But then I looked closer and started counting. By the time I stopped counting, that '10-pointer' had turned into a 15-pointer."
Excited by his good fortune, the young hunter pulled out his cellphone and started calling people.
"I got hold of my stepfather and told him I had a buck down. Then I called my mom. She didn't believe me. Up to that time, I had only gotten antlerless deer. She didn't believe I had a buck, let alone a trophy," Crowder said.
Before taking the buck to a game-checking station, Crowder ran it by the Elkview Kmart store to show it to a friend who worked there. The buck drew a crowd.
"People were taking pictures of it like crazy. When I took it to Smith's to get it checked, the same thing happened there," Crowder said.
Through the magic of the Internet, Crowder and his buck became instant celebrities. Bystanders uploaded their photos to outdoors-related forums and chat rooms. Almost immediately, messages that said, "Hey, I know that buck!" started appearing.
"People started uploading trail cam pictures of that buck," Crowder said. "They called it, 'The Elkview Monster.' Some people who lived on the other side of the hill from where I killed the buck said they had found a shed antler that exactly matched one of my buck's antlers."
Double brow tines and a couple of sizable odd points kept the buck's rack from scoring as well as Crowder hoped it might.
"It scored 159 5/8 as a typical, which was pretty disappointing," he said. "As a non-typical, it scored 180. I think I'm going to use the non-typical score."
Crowder knows he's unlikely to ever kill a buck as big as his first one.
Somewhat surprisingly, he's OK with that.
"Now I want to go for a buck that has a perfect six- or eight-point rack,'' he said. "I'll probably end up hunting the rest of my life and not get one, but that's my goal."
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.