Nature Notebook: The Tommy Harris Buck

Tommy Harris Buck Collage

By Dylan Cooper, columnist

It was the biggest buck I had ever seen in my 15 years of running trail cameras on this hunt club in Fauquier County. He looked wide, thick and tall, and was a typical mainframe 10 pointer with a couple unique stickers on his bases. My guess was he would gross 160” when I compared it to other typical deer in that range that were scored. I hadn’t killed anything close to that caliber of buck, and it was especially rare to see on a property and area as pressured as the one we hunt. We have eight members in our club that all put in a lot of days in the field. The way it typically works around there is that most deer I get pictures of end up getting killed by someone else, and I end up killing something that I hadn’t gotten pictures of before. I was determined to break that cycle, but I found out that patterning this buck was going to be a real challenge.

I got my first pictures of this buck in early July 2020 and didn’t tell anyone at first. Then he appeared on three other trail cameras I had around the property so I knew he couldn’t be kept a secret. On the evening of Aug. 8, 2020, while feeding into the same alfalfa field as usual, a series of pictures showed he seemed to catch a glimpse of the infrared camera flash taking his picture and then he bolted. I never got a picture of him on that side of the field again. So I put a black flash camera on the other side of the same field and he reappeared there. Around mid-September I got this giant on video running away from what I assume was the click of the black flash trail camera. That was the last definitive scene I got of him for the rest of the fall season. 

He seemed to hang with the same two 10 pointers, one that was wide with short tines and the other that was high and tight. The two smaller 10 pointers kept coming through together almost daily, even after rubbing their velvet off and then well into bow season. I saw them on opening day of archery, but the monster 10 was not in tow. I had several other sightings of these two, but not their bigger brother. Eventually I talked with some other members of the club and asked if they had seen the monster 10 pointer with stickers. One other member had pictures of him from that season and the season prior and had named him “Clubby” but didn’t have any luck catching him slipping either. And then another, much luckier member of the club named Tommy Harris, who was hunting a neighboring property one Sunday in rifle season, got to tell me the story below:

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“On the morning of Nov. 15, 2020, I was not motivated to go out to the woods to hunt so early in the morning. My wife who was getting ready for work told me, “You are not going to get a buck on the wall if you sleep in and miss your opportunity.” I had a slow start to the season since I missed the first six weeks with being out of town for hurricane disaster relief with the company that I was working for at the time. That was the motivation I needed, so I got ready and went to a property close to home that my best friend Brad Johnson and I started hunting this year. He had had good luck so far this season with getting a few does and a nice buck so I figured why not. 

I got to my spot before the sun came up, so therefore I had time to settle in before the deer started moving. As the sun was coming up, I saw a doe and a small spike grazing close to me. I watched them a little longer to see if anything else would come into the field and out of the corner of my eye I saw my buck. He looked like a decent size as he crested the hill in front of me. My heart stopped and the adrenaline started, and I knew that was the one I wanted. He was about 200 yards away so I let him get closer before I made any movements. As he got closer to me he started to look so much bigger than I was expecting. 

When he was about 75 yards away, I raised my .243 to get him in my sights. He looked up from grazing which gave me the perfect shot and I took it. My heart was pounding out of my chest, but I watched him fall immediately. I instantly called my wife to tell her that I killed the biggest buck of my life and to thank her for motivating me to go out that day. I then called Brad and told him about it. He was hunting in a different county, so I called his dad Randy to come help me. Brad and Randy have been a huge benefit to my hunting career and have helped me learn so much over the last few years. Randy came to help me get him out of the field and into the UTV.

We got him back to the house and started to realize how much of a monster he was. Brad came over later and we started to process him and got him ready to take to Propp’s Taxidermy. Once we got there, more people started to ask me if I realized what I shot that morning. After eight months at Propp’s Taxidermy, I got him back and that’s when I realized exactly how big he was. He looked like he was a little scrappy by his battle scars. Pictures do not do him justice.”

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It seems that by comparing where Tommy finally encountered this buck and where I had encountered it months earlier, this buck had moved off the property, closer to the comfort of unhunted land around the neighboring community. I was very happy for Tommy to have harvested it because he had a string of bad luck when it came to bagging a wallhanger. This time it all went perfectly for him. I was disappointed the buck had broken off a sticker and had busted up his brow tines by the time he was harvested. The deer grossed at 157” — but actually had a final net score of 147 ⅜” once dry. 

Dylan Cooper is a Page County native and graduate of Luray High School and Virginia Tech. He is a stream restoration specialist for a local non-profit and a registered professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Avid outdoorsman and ardent environmentalist, he resides in Luray with his wife and dogs.  

Email: [email protected]

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