CHARLESTON — A single glance was all it took to tell Brandon Toney the deer he’d hunted for six years was about to stroll within range.
The buck, which Toney had dubbed “Methuselah,” sported an unusual and unmistakable feature — a third antler beam that jutted forward out of the right side of its forehead. Toney’s excitement rose as the gigantic whitetail circled toward his tree stand.
When it showed signs of having picked up his scent, Toney knew it was then or never. He let fly his arrow.
Scroll back to the fall of 2015. Toney, a railroad worker from Chapmanville, had just bought into a hunting lease in Mingo County. Like many hunters, he set out game cameras to monitor the area’s whitetail activity.
“The buck was already big and mature the first time I saw him,” Toney recalled. “I estimated him to be 5 years old. He had a big chest, and his back was already beginning to develop a sway.”
Its odd antler hadn’t yet begun to develop. It showed up the following year, barely 2 inches long. By 2018 it had grown to about 8 inches.
“Other guys who had seen it called it ‘The Unicorn Buck,’” Toney said. “By 2018, I was calling it Methuselah because I was sure I’d never kill it and it would live forever.”
He had every reason to feel that way. The big whitetail seemed to live a charmed life, thwarting his and other hunters’ efforts at every turn.
“In 2015, the first year I hunted him, he started showing up on my cameras in late November,” Toney said. “I went there in early December to hunt him, but on Dec. 12 he shed both antlers.”
Toney finally got a shot at Methuselah in 2016. The arrow connected, but didn’t kill the animal.
“I got a 35-yard shot at him, quartering away,” Toney said. “I thought I got a good hit on him. I gave him some time and started tracking him. I found a great blood trail for 300 to 400 yards, but then he seemed to stop bleeding. I tracked him for almost a mile and never found him.”
The next night, however, the buck showed up on one of Toney’s trail cameras, still quite alive.
“About 2 weeks later, I had another encounter with him,” Toney said. “He came in right at the edge of daylight and hit a scrape. There wasn’t enough light to shoot, and by the time it was daylight, he had already wandered off.”
The following year, in 2017, Toney again saw Methuselah approaching his stand.
“The wind was in the wrong direction, so he may have caught my scent,” Toney said. “He just stood there, out of range, for what seemed like an eternity. He never came close enough for a shot.”
In 2018, Toney saw the buck again, but couldn’t shoot it because he didn’t have his bow.
“I was in my stand one morning and some bear hunters with dogs came in close to me,” he said.
“I decided to go check one of my cameras, which was about half a mile away. I spotted him at the edge of an old sludge pond. He was 40 yards away, and had a doe with him. I just hunkered down and let them be.”
Last fall’s encounter was even more tantalizing. Toney was in his stand, well after sunset, when Methuselah made another appearance.
“It was during the rut, and it was right at the edge of dark,” he recalled. “I was getting ready to climb down from my stand and go home. I looked down the hill and saw his white face coming up the hill. It was so dark I couldn’t see his body, so I passed on taking a shot.”
Toney wanted to hunt for Methuselah again this year, but he also had located two other bucks that attracted his interest. On the opening day of the season, he took his son to hunt for one of them.
“He put a perfect 20-yard shot on a 158-inch 14-pointer,” Toney said. “At that point, my season was a success whether I got a buck or not.”
Methuselah remained in the back of his mind, however, and on Oct. 13 his phone pinged a signal that one of his game cameras had taken a photo. “It was Methuselah, and he was moving during the daytime,” Toney said.
The veteran hunter knew from his cameras’ photos that the big buck moved mainly during the evening hours in the days leading up to a full moon. On Oct. 30, just before the moon came full, Toney headed to Mingo County.
“I hunted that morning with no success,” he said. “That afternoon, I checked several trail cameras and went back to my stand. I got there about 3:50. At 4:17, I heard a branch snap about 40 yards behind me. It was him.
“He slipped in and stopped at 28 yards. My bow was on its hanger, and I had to wait to get it until he moved behind a tree and his vision was blocked. At 22 yards, he quartered toward me. I waited to draw the bow until he turned his head away.
“When he turned back, he stuck his nose up into the air. I figured he’d caught wind of me, so I went ahead and took the shot.”
Hit solidly, the buck ran away.
“I thought I was hearing his hoofbeats pounding in my ears, but it turned out to be my heart pounding so hard,” Toney said. “I gave him about 20 minutes and got down out of my stand to start tracking.”
What he found discouraged him. He found a drop of blood more than 30 yards away from where the arrow had struck the deer, but that was about it.
“I called my buddy and told him it didn’t look good,” Toney said. “I walked out to meet him, and we went back to continue tracking. We covered about another 60 yards, and suddenly there was blood everywhere. I was about to melt down.”
Forty yards farther along, they found the dead buck. Its 12-point rack turned out to be larger than he had anticipated.
“I had him pegged at about 155 inches, but it turned out that his huge body made his antlers look smaller than they really were,” Toney said. “The rack ended up green-scoring 174 4/8 inches. Its ‘unicorn’ point measured 13 inches.”
The rack is now at a taxidermist and will be incorporated into a pedestal mount that will also feature the buck’s shed antlers from 2015 as well as one of its jawbones, its teeth worn almost flat by age.
“We think he was 10 1/2 or 11 1/2 years old,” Toney said. “I’m sending off a couple of his front teeth to try to get that confirmed.”
That will have to wait until after the current season ends.
“Right now, I have two more 150-class bucks I want to hunt,” Toney said. “Our season isn’t over yet. I’m feeling a little more laid-back about it now that I’ve gotten Methuselah, but I still plan to do some hunting.”