All eyes and admiring “ahhhs” were focused on the monster white-tailed deer beautifully mounted on driftwood. The dawning that a small boy dressed in camo owned the trophy took the noise level to an amazed buzz.
And 10-year-old Fisher James Whitlock of Bassett, Va., accepted the Best in Show Award for the 35th annual Dixie Deer Classic held Feb. 27 to March 1 at the State Fairgrounds. His nontypical whitetail scored 180 3/8 to highlight a Big Buck Contest with entries that were big in size but smaller in number this year.
Hunters from North Carolina and nearby states brought 385 deer for scoring, down from 617 in 2014, said Jim Hudson, spokesman for the Wake County Wildlife Club, which conducts the exhibition with hundreds of volunteers.
Volunteer Hal Atkinson scored Fisher’s 15-pointer, which Atkinson said Virginia biologists determined to be 5 1/2 years old.
“That young man’s got a great daddy to let him get that deer, I’m telling you,” Atkinson said, laughing. “…I was pleased the deer scored as well as it did. It almost made the Boone and Crockett (record) book, and it did make the book of the Longhunters Society, the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association.”
Walking toward his stand in 71-degree weather on Dec. 11, Fisher saw the buck in a berry patch. He carefully set up from about 30 yards and fired his Knight muzzleloader, putting to use his years of target practice and previous long hunts with father Johnny.
Fisher said he has learned “that you’ve got to wait, just sitting in the woods so long.”
Disease and weather
Overall, the drop in entries is attributed to winter weather that kept attendance down slightly to about 19,500, a large acorn crop that allowed deer to stay hidden and an insect-borne disease that killed many deer over the summer and fall in areas including District 3, which includes Wake, Johnston, Nash and Franklin among its 11 counties.
“We went through something unusual this year with the EHD, or epizootic hemorrhagic disease,” said former club President Allen Basala. “… If you look at the counties that were particularly hard hit, those are counties where a lot of our deer (entries) come from. That coupled with the massive mast crop made it more difficult for the hunters to encounter the deer.”
An information sheet distributed at the show by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission indicated 237 deer were found dead in Franklin County, 64 in Warren, 42 in Wake, 41 in Vance and 25 in Johnston during a wet summer that allowed the proliferation of the midges that spread EHD variant-6, a new variant of the disease.
Early data shows big decreases in harvest numbers: Franklin County down 54 percent, Vance 65 percent, Wake 42 percent and Halifax down 33 percent.
On a positive note, the sheet showed recovery can come quickly. A 2012 Wilkes County outbreak brought a 46 percent harvest decline from 2011 and a rebound of 59 percent from 2012 to 2013.
Ten of the 15 awarded deer topped 150 points, including two that received President’s Awards: St. David’s School junior John Davis DelPapa of Raleigh with the best typical buck killed by bow, scoring 151 5/8 with a Wake County deer; and Steven Davis of Lexington with a Davidson County deer that scored 173 7/8 to win the crossbow nontypical award and take the state crossbow record. Todd Lowe of Mocksville had a 175 3/8 Davie County deer that is the state’s No. 2 nontypical bow kill.
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