West Virginia's firearm season for buck deer is already half over, but hunters still have six days in which to seek their antlered quarry.
The vast majority of the bucks killed will have run-of-the-mill antlers - spike bucks, forkhorns, basket-racked six-pointers and the like. A minority will sport nice 8- to 10-point racks.
A few - a precious few - will be true trophies. Their racks will have wide inside spreads, remarkably long and heavy main beams, and long, thick tines.
Once in a great while, a record-breaking buck comes along. The last time that happened during a West Virginia gun season was 1995, when the state-record deer with symmetrical, or "typical," antlers was killed; and in 1998, when the non-typical record was taken.
In both instances, the hunters who killed the bucks happened to be in just the right place at exactly the right time.
For Junior Bailes, that place was on a logging clear-cut near Nettie in Nicholas County, and the time was early on a foggy November morning in 1995.
"I heard some deer moving toward me in the fog," Bailes said. "They turned out to be does, so I didn't pay much attention to them. I was just ready to take another step when I hear some brush crack behind the does. I looked up and saw a buck."
Problem was, the buck had also seen Bailes. It whirled and sprinted away.
"He was headed into some real thick undergrowth, and I didn't have a shot. I thought I'd blown my chance," Bailes said. "But then he turned and started loping up the hill, in front of me about 80 yards away. I saw that there was one chance at a shot through a small opening in the brush, so I swung the rifle over and waited for him to move into the clearing."
A single shot dropped the buck in its tracks.
"It went down so quick, I thought I'd missed," Bailes recalled.
Anxiously, the young hunter walked toward the opening to try to search for evidence his bullet had connected.
"Once I got within 40 yards, I could see the buck was down. It looked like his head had come to rest on a bush. But as I got closer, I could see that the buck's antlers were what held its head off the ground.
"All I could say was, 'Oh my gosh,'" Bailes said. "I started shaking so hard I had to sit down."
The buck's heavy main beams branched off into 10 antler points, each located at the tip of a long, graceful tine. Division of Natural Resources biologist Larry Berry scored the rack at 1854/8 inches on the Boone & Crockett Club scoring scale.
The total put Bailes' name at the head of the West Virginia record book for gun-killed typical whitetails, 3 1/8 inches ahead of Dr. Doug Given, who had held the record for 17 years with a 12-pointer killed on his family's Braxton County farm.