I'd gotten a call from my mate Chip Sayers, an avid airgun hunter that
lives in the Shenandoah Valley region of central Virginia. In his slow
southern drawl he told me about a local farm that was being overrun with
whitetail, and further that the buck:doe ratio was out of whack. He'd been
asked to come in and harvest a few does under a depredation permit and
thought I might like to join him. Heck yes I wanted to join him; I'd heard
about this property, the 500 acres is almost legendary in the area. It's an
organic dairy that for some reason (probably the fact that pesticides have
never been used here) is a magnet that draws deer from every farm for
miles around. But the land is usually only hunted by immediate family, so
getting access was a big deal! OK, I wouldn't get to take a buck (unless
one with inferior genetics showed up and needed to be culled), but I
would get to take a couple of the big does, which was just what my empty
biltong box was calling for.
As soon as I jumped off the call I was doing an online search for a cheap
airline ticket, as the eighteen hour drive was more than I had time for.
Distances are big in the States and even though my preference is to drive
so I can carry a mountain of gear, it's not always practical. The offshoot is
that I have to be a lot more selective on what I can take along as checked
baggage. For this trip I brought my Quackenbush .452 and Evanix .357
rifles, plenty of ammo, a couple sets of camo, my daypack with range
finder, binoculars, and trigger release shooting sticks. What I would really
have liked to take, besides a couple of additional guns for small game
and predators, was my climbing tree stand. Otherwise, both Chip and
Nathan (the land owner) are avid airgunners and had compressors, air
tanks and all the airgun gear that might be required. Nathan already had
many ladder stands and blinds in place as well. In addition the guys could
suggest ambush locations and wildlife funnels I might want to try. I like to
get out and stalk, so the latter was especially to my liking.
A couple weeks later I was on a flight into Roanoke, where I would pick up
a car for the two hour drive to Staunton. I'd been offered a room, but
opted to book a hotel in town, getting up well before daylight for the 25
mile drive to the farm. And the hotel turned out to be a very nice one
indeed! A great fireplace with lounging areas, an excellent restaurant,
exceptionally well appointed rooms, a far cry from the tents, bunkhouses,
shacks, and dilapidated rural motels I often find myself in when off on
hunts. I went to Chips after checking in, to make sure that my guns had
made it through the army of baggage handlers intact and unscathed.
Chip has a very nice property which hunts well in its own right, and is
equipped with a permanent range replete with two compressors and high
pressure airtanks connected in series, providing more air than you could
use in, well, ever!
My Dennis Quackenbush .452 is a compact rifle with a 20" barrel that
Dennis calls a "Texas truck gun" built to my specification a few years ago.
This rifle has served me well in Africa and North America for a variety of
big game species. I was shooting 172 grain hollowpoints casted by Robert
Vogel of Mr. Hollowpoint bullets, which in this gun gave me three shots in
the 300 fpe range. Robert produces a whole line of hollow point bullets in
big bore calibers from .257 to .70 calibers, and I find these very effective
on game. This is not so much for expansion, though they will expand
when used in a powerful gun on heavy bodied game, but more because
the hollow point acts like a paper punch creating a large and stable wound
channel. Big game, regardless of whether it’s shot with an airgun or
firearm, will often travel some distance before dropping and these hollow
points produce better spoor in my experience. The gun had maintained
zero and starting with a 3400 psi charge I was able to shoot a 3 bullet
cloverleaf covering the bullseye at 60 yards. This rifle was ready to hunt!
My Evanix Rainstorm in .357 had not fared quite so well, with the first
couple of shots grouping low and six inches to the right. I made the
required adjustments, and shooting the JSB .357 roundnose Diabolo put 6
shots into a 3/4" group at 65 yards. This gun fills to 3000 psi generating
125 fpe and producing 12 good shots on a fill. I'd used the Rainstorm and
JSB pellet combo in Africa to take duiker and springbuck, and in Arizona
to take javalina (in the Sniper configuration) and felt comfortable with it in
these medium sized quarry, but was less confident on the big whitetails
that can weigh over 200lb. But I figured even if I didn't use it for deer I'd try
to call in some predators or a turkey, for which it is an ideal option.
The first morning I set off before daylight and hiked into a blind that was
set back in the hardwood forest bordering a small clearing. Walking slowly
into the dark woods using the red glow from my head lamp, I pushed a
deer that was feeding. I didn't see her, but heard her blow as she winded
me and took off for safer grounds. I crawled into the popup blind and got
myself comfortable. As the day broke I heard turkeys coming down off
roost and start to scratch, but none ever broke cover to come into view.
After an hour or so, I heard a branch crack and looked out a side window
to see a small buck feeding on the abundant fall of acorns. He wasn't a
shooter, but I enjoyed watching him while hoping a doe would come along.
Then I spotted a patch of brown moving towards me from about 80 yards
out. I brought the gun up while the deer was still shielded behind the
trees, and settled in to wait. The deer came into view a couple minutes
later, inside the 50 yard line, and I laid the crosshairs right behind the
shoulder. Then the animal stopped browsing and lifted its head sharply to
look around, which is when I saw the small button antlers, another no
I finished out the morning with a couple does crossing through the woods
outside of shooting range, but not seeing anything I could pull the trigger
on. About 10:00 I quietly hiked out of the woods and headed back to the
farm house. I cased my gun and stashed it in the trunk of my rented SUV,
then drove about 25 miles back to the small town cafe I'd passed in
darkness a few hours earlier. I always like these communities where I can
walk into a cafe still wearing my camo, and have the waitress say
something like "hello honey, get yourself a deer yet" followed by a "bless
your heart, you'll get one", all without rating a second look from any of the
other patrons. I had breakfast and poured over a map of the farm to tee
up my approach for the afternoon hunt. I'd localized a natural narrowing
between pastures with a creek and trees bordered by large fields of
clover, and decided this was where I should set up.
Getting back to the farm, I took the opportunity to hike down to the river
for a look and get a feel for the landscape. There were squirrels
everywhere, and in a couple hours I'd seen three or four dozen grays and
some very large fox squirrels mostly on the ground though a few were in
the trees. I had to laugh; go deer hunting and you're tripping over
squirrels, but go squirrel hunting and you have to work hard to find them! I
let too much of the day slip by before realizing I needed to get over to my
chosen hunting spot. Moving quickly across the property I got to a hill
overlooking the pastures bordering the pinch point and saw there was
already a herd of deer grazing. The only way down to them without getting
busted was using a resting barn to cover my approach, duck walk across
the manure strewn floor, and slowly raise up and shoot over a low wall on
the other side.
By this time there were eleven doe and a buck feeding at the bottom
about 75 yards from the barn. It was stop and go moving in, I'd take a few
steps and one of the deer would look up and I'd freeze, then they'd start
eating and I'd take a few more steps. Finally I reached a point where I
could drop down and crawl to the fence and slowly raise up to get a rest
for my rifle. Once in this position I scanned the herd looking for a fat doe,
but not really caring about age as this one was going to make biltong. I
picked one out in the middle, but decided to range the fenceline behind
her. As I slowly reached into my pocket and laid my hand on the device, a
couple of the deer snapped their heads up and looked in my direction. I
stopped dead and didn't even want to take a breath, sure I'd been
spotted. The wind was in my favor but the fence provided only partial
coverage. After a long couple of minutes they went back to feeding.
I ranged the distance to the deer at 75 yards, and went back on target
laying the crosshair about two inches high and just behind the shoulder of
the deer I'd earlier decided on. As the doe dropped her head back down
to eat, I took a breath in, let half out, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The
rifle barked and recoiled slightly, but I followed through and kept on target.
With the sun behind me the bullet was backlit in flight, allowing me to track
its progress and strike exactly on target.
At the sound of the gun, pandemonium broke loose with deer exploding in
every direction. My animal had jumped at the hit but then gotten mixed
with the others as they ran off. I knew it was a good hit, after all I'd
watched it, but sometimes game can carry lead a ways, so I stood in place
with my heart pumping at an accelerated pace. You don't want to push a
deer after the shot, they can move quite a distance before succumbing if
driven, and besides being hard to find the adrenaline rush can taint the
meat. After about a quarter hour I slowly moved down to where my deer
had been standing at the shot, and commenced looking for spoor. After a
few minutes I found a few drops of frothy deep red blood, then a few more
ten yards to the right. As I walked along looking for more blood spoor, I
glanced ahead and saw my deer piled up just in front of the creek. She'd
gone about 30 yards and dropped, and if not for the fact that she'd fallen
behind a small mound, I'd have been able to see her from where she was
I called for a ride out, then retrieved a knife from my daypack and set to
field dressing my deer. About a half hour later I finished up just as the
farm truck came rolling across a hilly pasture, and after loading up the
deer we headed back to clean up and get some supper.
I spent another two days hunting, and shot another doe on the third. I had
to let a couple nice bucks walk. On the midday breaks I went out for some
squirrel hunts and had a lot of fun taking both grays and fox squirrels with
a .22 caliber BSA Ultra topped with a Hawke AirMax scope. I'd bought this
rig as a gift for my hosts, as a thank you for this hunt and an investment in
the future. I'm coming back for a black bear and turkey hunt next time, and
hopefully one of these trips I'll get to take one of the big trophy bucks I
saw in these woods.
So after some outstanding field time spent with great friends it was time to
drive back to Roanoke, and an early morning flight home. But that night
before leaving Staunton, I met up with my buddies for a big steak dinner
and to talk airguns, hunting, and future trips. I've been coming out to hunt
with Chip and a couple other guys for about six years now, and one of the
perks of being a traveling hunter is the quality people you meet along the
way. I obtained meat for the larder, spent time in the field which sustains
me, and gathered material for articles and footage for our American
Airgunner TV show. A few days back in the real world, button down and in
my office, then I'm gearing up and off on another hunt, this time out west!
A Doe Cull in Virginia
First Appeared in Airgun Shooter Magazine 2013
|The farmland is a collection of grazing pastures and hardwood forest, that while only 500 acres
hunts much bigger. A hundred miles in any direction are lore farms, with some national and
state forest lands in the mix.
|A couple of whitetail doe feeding along the borders of a pasture.
|Another doe in the woods, I changed strategy based on conditions, sometimes hunting inside
the tree line.
I had to crawl through the mountain of muck you see behind me, to get a 75 yard shot with my
The bullet used was a 173 grain hollow point. There was some expansion seen in the
recovered bullet, the reason I like hollow point is they create a large wound channel that
There were ten deer feeding when I took my shot, and they mixed as all took off on a run. I
picked up a few drops of blood and started tracking.
And then, about 2o yards away hidden behind a small mound, I found my deer piled up.
|I wrote this article about a hunt I did in Virginia on my friend
Nathan Wenger's dairy farm. Beautiful scenery, lots of deer,
great hospitality and airgun friendly hunting regulations are
found in this great state!
My Dennis Quackenbush .452 is a compact rifle with a 20"
barrel that Dennis calls a "Texas truck gun" built to my
specification a few years ago. This rifle is one of a set, the
other is a .308 caliber version.