All Jeremy Cloonan wanted was to bag a buck that had velvet-covered antlers.
He got his wish — and how.
On Sept. 5, hunting on the opening day of Kentucky’s archery season for white-tailed deer, Cloonan found himself battling a rising case of nerves as the biggest buck of his lifetime came within shooting range.
“The more I looked at those antlers, the more nervous I got,” said Cloonan, a housing contractor who lives near Flat Top.
It was a classic case of getting more than he bargained for.
“I’ve done a lot of bowhunting for deer, but I’d never gotten a buck while it still was in velvet,” he said. “By the time West Virginia’s bow season comes in, bucks have already rubbed the velvet off their antlers. I knew that if I was going to get a velvet buck, I’d have to go to a state with a really early archery season.”
Kentucky had just such a season, and during a trip to the Bluegrass State last year, Cloonan and his uncle had come across an outfitter that had access to a large tract in Bracken County that hadn’t been hunted before. Cloonan decided to be there when this year’s season opened.
His hunt got off to a slow start.
“My first stand was down in a creek bottom, and I only saw two bucks,” he said. “One wasn’t a shooter, and the other one never came within range.”
Cloonan left that stand at 11 a.m., hung another stand on a nearby ridge top, and left the woods for lunch and a rest.
“I went back to hunt for a few hours before dark,” he said. “On the way back to that stand, I jumped a fawn that was hanging right by the stand.”
He climbed up and settled in to see if any other deer might wander by.
“Not 30 minutes later, here came a doe,” he said. “Then a small, basket-racked eight-pointer came in.”
The eight-pointer wasn’t a shooter, either, but Cloonan didn’t have to wait long for one to show up.
“Probably no more than five minutes after the 8-pointer showed up, I looked down into the hollow and here came a real beast,” he said.
The buck sported a wide rack and what appeared to be a forest of antler points. More important, its antlers were still covered in velvet.
“He was about 80 yards away when I saw him,” Cloonan said. “He came in slow, and the closer he came, the more nervous I got. I couldn’t keep my eyes off that rack.”
The larger buck eventually made its way within shooting range.
“I had to get my nerves under control, so I quit focusing on his antlers and concentrated on his kill zone,” Cloonan said. “He was 32 yards out and slightly quartering away when I took the shot.”
The arrow found its mark, and the buck ran down over the hill and out of sight.
“I waited a good hour before I started looking for him,” Cloonan said. “I found my arrow and started following the buck’s trail. About 100 yards away, I jumped a deer up, but I wasn’t sure it was him.”
Concerned that he might spook a wounded deer even farther away, Cloonan waited until the next morning to resume his search.
“I found the buck about 300 yards from where I shot him,” he said. “I was in awe. I just stared at him with my mouth open.”
The buck’s rack sported 14 scorable points.
“Its main beams were both 27 inches long, and it had an outside spread of 261/2,” he said. “It’s been green-scored at 185 inches. By far, it’s the largest buck I’ve ever taken.”
Cloonan brought the deer back to West Virginia and took the cape and antlers straight to a taxidermist. Because the velvet that covered the rack was rich in blood and decay-prone tissue, it will need to be freeze-dried before it can be mounted.
Next on Cloonan’s hunting agenda is the West Virginia archery opener on Sept. 26. He knows he’ll probably never take another buck to compare with the Kentucky monster — and even if he did, its antlers wouldn’t be covered in velvet.
“I want to see what [the Kentucky buck] looks like mounted,” he said. “It’s going to be a special trophy.”