Late-season archers connect with trophy-size bucks in Pennsylvania

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoor Columnist

One of the biggest challenges in Pennsylvania deer hunting is getting a nice buck in the late statewide archery season that ended Jan. 17.

Since October deer have been pursued off and on by archers, muzzleloader enthusiasts and those carrying rifles.

By the new year, deer have become wary or have been harvested by lucky sportsmen.

Dwayne Kroh of Schuylkill County holds his buck he shot Jan. 7 on state game lands property near his home. He was hunting from the ground with a compound bow.

However, there are days when the stars all align and a hunter gets the buck of a lifetime in January.

Schuylkill County, PA buck

Dwayne Kroh, 45, of Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, connected on a mega-sized buck on Jan. 7 with his compound bow.

New records:One old buck, five elk take new top spots in Pennsylvania Big Game Records

He found the buck while hunting on public state game land property in Wildlife Management Unit 4C. “I always wanted to get one in the late season. It’s been a dream of mine,” he said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

It was a perfect ending to a rough couple of months.

Kroh and family members have had COVID during the fall, and work has been so busy that he didn’t get to hunt much.

He’s taken several other nice bucks over the years, but they pale in comparison to this one.

“He’s a dandy,” he said about the enormous deer. “They don’t come along like this every year.”

Measuring up:Not all deer antlers are the same; here's how they are scored

On top of Kroh finding the deer in the last season of the year, he also was able to take the deer while hunting from the ground. He said he used a large tree, watched the wind and waited for the right moment to draw his string when the buck was less than 20 yards away.

The buck has 12 points and a 16¾-inch inside spread. For trophy standard comparisons, he said it has a rough green gross score of about 174 inches. After the required 60-day drying period for the antlers, he’s going to have it officially scored. For the Pope and Young archery recognition, the minimum rack score is 125 inches for a typical growth set of antlers. 

He remembers going to the woods before daylight that day and feeling that it wouldn’t be a good day.  Kroh explained there was a significant amount of snow falling and believed the deer would be bedded during the storm.

Sport show update:Pittsburgh outdoor show postponed; Harrisburg show still planned

He discovered fresh beds in the snow made by several deer and also enjoyed breaking up a flock of turkey and hearing them gobbling early in the morning.

When he got to his spot, he saw five doe moving through the woods, just milling around. “They felt really comfortable, safe,” he said.

He realized he needed to move closer to their trail to be in archery range, and the move paid off. About 9 a.m. he said he looked up and “all I could see was its rack.”

Kroh then realized he had to remove his mittens and get his string release thawed out while the buck was closing the distance from about 50 yards away. 

The old buck made its way around a blown down tree and was soon where Kroh could make an ethical shot. He said he really had to stay focused and not look at the rack. “I kept thinking don’t mess this up; take your time,” he said.

Fortunately, his arrow found its mark and the buck bounded just a short distance and fell over. “It was really something,” he said about replaying the memory of what happened over and over in his mind.

Kroh said the mature deer appeared to be tired and estimated it was still in a rut phase finding doe to breed. The deer’s body appeared to be thinner from all the breeding and chasing activities that occur in late fall and early winter. “This is my first buck in the late season,” he said about usually being tagged out in the fall.

“I was just due,” he said, after having a rough autumn. “I didn’t get out in rifle season.”

Hunting with a bow is challenging because of having to pull your string when the deer is close and deer are always on alert to movement. He started painting his face to blend into the earth tones and he noticed that he was able to go undetected more often. He also said paying attention to the wind and not making any noise are crucial to ground hunting with a bow.

The buck is now in the good hands of his friend Jason Krause, who is planning to make a pedestal mount of the deer for his home. “It was just a beautiful morning. The snow was flying and the turkey were gobbling,” he said about wanting to preserve the memory of the deer and the overall hunt.

Richard "Stick" Lawson with "The Ghost" buck he harvested Jan. 12 in Indiana County.

Indiana County, PA buck

Another hunter also found a buck this month that he’s been seeking since fall.

Richard “Stick” Lawson, 63, of  Graceton, Indiana County, harvested a trophy class 11-point on Jan. 12 with his crossbow. “It’s a real good 10 with a little kicker on the backside,” he said, describing the antlers that have a rough green score of 152 inches.  He was hunting on a large track of ground that he has hunted about 35 years near his home when he finally met up with the deer he called “The Ghost.”

His family saw the buck before the fall archery season. They had trail camera pictures of him on Nov. 27. “He disappeared until yesterday (Jan. 12),” Lawson explained. “I’ve been after him.”

Trophy rifle bucks:Hunters find monster-size antlers during rifle deer season

He hunts with his son and two grandsons, and they’ve had a good season taking bucks in other states. When he saw this Pennsylvania deer on the land where they hunt, he said he was holding out for this one.

He was sitting in his tree stand one morning when he finally encountered the elusive deer coming in about 40 yards away with another smaller buck. He watched the deer coming in and finally released his crossbow’s bolt when the buck stopped about 18 yards away. It took off running into a thicket area. After waiting about 50 minutes, he found the buck of a lifetime about 100 yards away.

“It was fun, awesome,” he said about walking up to the massive animal.

The one thing he regrets is, that in excitement of seeing the deer, he forgot to turn on the video camera he has mounted to his crossbow.

“You get your knees knocking and shaking,” he said about the excitement of hunting deer and getting a mature buck.

“He’s probably my biggest one so far,” he said about the mass of antlers and that the symmetrical beams are within a 1/4 inch of each other’s length.

More:Primitive flintlock season fuels passion for tradition in Pennsylvania

Persistence was the key. He passed up several other smaller bucks over the fall because he knew this one was in the area. “I made up my mind that’s the one I want to shoot,” he said.

The trophy rack is now headed for a taxidermist. He said he’s not sure which style of mount will work best with the other mounts in their home.

He added that his grandsons had a great deer season and already had “filled the freezer.”

Hunting is about spending time with his family. “It’s just so much fun getting out with them,” he said. 

Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.