Upon our arrival at Sailor’s Creek Outfitters in Rice, Virginia we were greeted by guide/outfitter Chris McClellan. I was immediately impressed by the enthusiasm Chris has in his work and by his desire to give his hunters an opportunity to harvest a mature whitetail buck. When I saw a new Virginia outfitter listed on HuntGuide.com I was quick to give Chris a call. After talking with him on the phone and checking out their website, I booked a 3 day rifle hunt for my son, Jared, and me over the Thanksgiving weekend.
We got the truck unloaded into the cabin and checked out the accommodations. We would be the only hunters in for the holiday weekend and had plenty of space to stretch out and sort out our gear. The cabin has a large eating area, kitchen, family room with a big screen TV and 3 large bedrooms upstairs with 3 or 4 beds in each.
Chris subscribes to Quality Deer Management (QDM) techniques by limiting each hunter to one buck and the spread should be outside the ears with at least 4 points on one side. Hunters are also allowed to harvest does as Chris has DMAP tags; but he stresses to make sure not to take any button bucks and not to shoot a doe early in your time on stand as it can deter a mature buck from coming in to the site. Chris also limits the number of hunters per year to around 32 to prevent overhunting of the deer and to maintain a substantial number of 2-1/2 year old or older bucks. For the past 2 seasons, hunters have been averaging 70% opportunity and 33% kill rates on bucks.
The first morning, Chris was at the cabin at 4:15am getting coffee and a hot breakfast underway. We headed out the door a little after 5am into temps in the low 40’s and a heavy fog that didn’t burn off until late morning. Although the stand locations looked to be in prime habitat, due to the fog we didn’t see any deer on our morning hunt. Chris’s Mom came in to make us a great turkey dinner for Thanksgiving Day and as we were eating, Chris saw a nice 8 pointer come out along the wood line about 200 yards away on their property, across the road from the cabin. Jared and I snuck out the back of the cabin to try to get his rifle out of the truck and sneak across the road to some hay bales. The buck heard the truck door and took off back into the woods. Seeing a nice buck got us excited to get back into the woods for the afternoon hunt.
I settled into a portable groundblind along an old tobacco drying barn overlooking a foodplot of clover and turnips. Around 3:30pm I had a big doe and yearling about 150 yards out into the foodplot for a short time. Then an hour before dark, a yearling doe came into the foodplot and spent the remainder of the afternoon feeding away 10 to 20 yards in front of the blind. Fun to observe; but she didn’t draw any other deer into the foodplot. Jared hunted that afternoon from a treestand overlooking a turnip patch and saw 3 does, a forkhorn and another small buck. Jared got a nice show as the 4 point and the other buck went at it, sparring for several minutes as darkness fell.
That evening we let Chris have a break from cooking and were happy to just warm up some leftovers from the turkey dinner earlier that day. After that we were early to bed and a solid night’s sleep.
Friday morning was a bit cooler and dryer with no fog; however the wind started blowing up to around a steady 25 mph which would hamper the deer movement the whole day. I went back to the groundblind I had hunted from the prior evening and for the 2nd morning in a row, I didn’t see any deer. This was the last hunt of the trip that would happen. Jared was in a tree line with his back against Sailor’s creek and a large alfalfa field in front of him. At daybreak he had a 4-pointer come across the field 150 yards away and went into the woods on the other side of the field. Around 30 minutes later the same 4-pointer came running across the field and went under Jared’s treestand. It looked back across the field and jumped into the swollen creek and continued at a quick pace on the other side. A couple minutes later, 2 dogs came running on the trail across the field and although a lot more hesitant, they also went across the creek to resume their pursuit of the buck. It’s worthwhile to note that in Virginia, hunting deer with dogs is legal and a traditional means of deer hunting with many of the hunting clubs of the south. Sailor’s Creek does not hunt with dogs; however, it does take place in the area and it can be beneficial to the hunter if a nice buck gets run onto the property and takes refuge there.
After a lunch of sandwiches and Brunswick stew, we decided to stay out of treestands in the afternoon for safety reasons as the wind was blowing hard and steady. I was quite happy hunting on the ground at one end of an old powerline clearing bordering woods on one side and alfalfa fields on the other. With 15 minutes of shooting light left for the day, I had a spike buck come out of the woods 40 yards behind me and cross over to the field. Shortly after that, something spooked him and he ran back with a yearling doe that stopped to feed into the dark a short distance behind me. Jared had gone to a platform stand a few hundred yards from the cabin and reported seeing 3 tails in the woods; but didn’t get a chance to see anything else of them.
Our final day to hunt was the best weather of the hunt with the temp around 30 degrees, clear skies and the wind had subsided. Chris took me to a treestand at a point in the woods just off an alfalfa field where 3 ridges and 2 creeks come together. Shortly after sunrise at 7am I caught a doe followed by a nice buck on the end of the ridge across from the stand. His main beam on his right side looked long and I could see a nice G2; but that was all I could see of him through the branches. I tried to stop him with grunts a couple times but he was intent on following the doe up one of the creek beds away from the stand. I did a couple series of grunt calls and about 15 minutes later, the doe came back into the open woods to my right with the buck still trailing her. She eventually headed back out of sight up the creekbed and as the buck circled to follow her I could see he had 4 points on his left side and was easily spread outside his ears. I’m not practiced, nor keen on shooting at moving deer. Since he hadn’t stopped the earlier time I saw him and he wasn’t running I picked out a spot in front of the buck and as he came into the crosshairs I fired. He flinched and ran off up the creekbed favoring his left front leg.
I waited in the stand until 8:30am at which time I gave Chris a call and he was there a short time later. Much to my dismay, we didn’t find blood or hair where he had been when I shot. After following the trail he had taken and not finding anything we were walking back to where I had shot at him when he stood and bolted from a bed a mere 65 yards from where he had been when I shot. As I neared where he had bedded I found a leaf with several drops of blood on it. Chris called me back and we cleared out of the area to let things settle down. Unfortunately, Jared hadn’t seen any deer this morning from a treestand on the 300 acres that is at the north end of Sailor’s Creek’s hunting property.
Over lunch we discussed that after dropping Jared off back at the turnip patch he had hunted the first evening, Chris and I would go back to where the buck had bedded and take up trailing him. Chris called a few of his friends and they were more than happy to come over and take up stand at points the buck would be likely to run if we bumped him again. A couple of things made themselves readily apparent that afternoon. First of all, Chris having grown up there, knows these blocks of woods and where the deer are likely to bed or use as escape routes. Second, he and his buddies are really nice guys to take time from their Saturday afternoon to come out in the hopes of recovering the buck. Whenever I’d thank them they’d just say ‘this was fun for them’ and ‘nowhere else they’d rather be’.
Chris and I went back to where we’d jumped the buck in the morning and unfortunately didn’t find anymore blood, either in the bed or on the trail he used when he exited. Chris knew the buck’s likely escape route in that woodblock and went to a fenceline and found blood. He followed a sparse bloodtrail nearly 1,200 yards from where I had shot the deer. Eventually, after it went through two blocks of woods, crossed a road and then a field into a third set of woods, we decided the buck would likely survive. Based on the blood and the ground the deer was able to cover, I most likely grazed either the front of his shoulder or brisket. It was a depressing conclusion to my hunt, but it’s something that can happen when you hunt.
Jared wasn’t fortunate to see a shooter buck on this trip, but he was able to drop a nice doe just before last light that evening (photo attached). For the 3 days in the field he saw 13 deer and I ended up seeing 11. That was good considering the weather conditions the first morning and second day and the fact we were hunting post rut.
Sailor’s Creek Outfitters offers 3 and 6 day deer hunts during archery, muzzleloader and rifle seasons at very reasonable rates. Included in the price is comfortable housing at the cabin, 3 hot meals a day, transportation to your stand sites, and retrieval and quartering of harvested deer. In addition to deer hunts, Sailor’s Creek Outfitters also guides for spring turkey hunts and dove hunting in the late summer.
My son and I both enjoyed our time at Sailor’s Creek and have decided we will be sure to go back again sometime in the future.
For more detailed information on Sailor’s Creek
Outfitters, visit their website: