DAN KIBLER COLUMN: Stanly takes two honors at Dixie Deer Classic

Stokes County is demonstrably one of the counties that’s deeply embedded in what’s known to deer hunters as North Carolina’s “trophy belt.”

Dan Kibler

So it was no surprise on Sunday when the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh crowned the biggest bucks taken in the Tarheel State last season, that a Stokes County deer wound up on the throne.

The surprise? The hunter, Rick Nightengale, is from St. Matthews, South Carolina.

Nightengale has a long-time friend from the Stokes County town of Pinnacle, Jonathan Humphrey, who invites him to hunt on his property regularly — and Nightengale returns the favor.

On one of those hunts, Nov. 7, Nightingale dropped an enormous buck, 202 pounds on the hoof, with a massive, tall, 13-point rack.

Official scorers for the Boone & Crockett Club put a tape measure on the buck at the Dixie Deer Classic and came up with 170 inches – exactly – which happens to be the minimum for entry into the club’s all-time record book, undoubtedly the apex of a deer hunter’s career.

Nightingale’s buck, killed with a CVA Wolf muzzleloader and 295-grain Barnes bullet, was the largest typical buck taken in North Carolina during the 2023 season and is the 38th North Carolina deer in history to qualify for the B&C’s all-time record book. It ties for second among four bucks taken by muzzleloader in North Carolina, and it’s the fourth buck from Stokes County to make the “book.”

Neighboring Rockingham County leads the list with seven, with Guilford County – which shares a border with Stokes and Rockingham, also listed with four.

Humphrey had trail-camera photos of the huge buck in 2022, and he had a few photos early last fall. The buck began to make regular appearances in October, then showing up a few times during daylight hours on a corn pile in front of one of Humprey’s stands. Humphrey planned to hunt only for the big buck, but when he was unable to hunt on Nov. 6 and 7 because of work, he let Nightengale sit in the stand. He left specific instructions that the only deer that could be taken from that stand was the big buck, and Nightengale had better not miss.

Nightengale didn’t see anything the afternoon of Nov. 6, but the morning of Nov. 7, the buck showed up a few minutes after legal hunting hours began and ran a doe off the corn pile. Slowly, he made his way to the bait, and Nightengale sent a 295-grain Barnes bullet through his near shoulder, angling down and back. The shot, from 70 yards, knocked the buck to the ground, but it got up and raced away. A couple of hours later, with Humphrey and two friends, they were able to find the buck about 125 yards away, despite having only a single drop of blood, tracks and some disturbed leaves to go on.

The entire hunt and recovery is on video, because Humphrey has a YouTube page, “Pinnacle Outdoor Traditions.” The video can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czT7j4B3tkE&t=6s.

“(Jonathan) had this buck on camera, and in 2022, he said he was a big deer. In 2023, he first had him on camera late in archery season, and he said he’d really gotten bigger,” Nightingale said. “He didn’t have daylight pix until a couple of days before muzzleloader opened; he was coming out consistently on the same bait pile.”

The buck carried a typical 6×6 rack with one sticker point on the left brow tine, 1⅛ inches long. The buck had a gross score of 177⅞, with very few deductions for a deer of that size. The buck had a 17-inch inside spread, 24-inch main beams, 5-inch bases and five tines longer than 10 inches – 12⅛, 11 6/8, 11⅛, and 10⅛ – and a sixth at 9⅝ inches. The spent bullet was found just under the skin on the opposite side of the buck’s chest.

“This is a one-in-a-million deer,” Nightingale said after being presented the Best in Show plaque at the Dixie Deer Classic.

Of the other bucks that were declared tops in different categories were three from the southern Piedmont – Anson and Stanly counties, and three from Rockingham County. Besides Nightengale’s monster, the biggest typicals taken in North Carolina last year were a 163 ⅞-inch buck from Vance County, taken by Carson Reese, a 163 ⅜-inch buck taken by Jonathan Grayson in Rutherford County, and a 163-inch buck taken with a crossbow by Grayson Clayton in Forsyth County.

Here is a list of North Carolina category winners:

• Best by crossbow (youth): Ransom Summers, Orange County, 140 2/8;

• Best by crossbow (adult male): Grayson Clayton, Forsyth County, 163;

Jadyn Featherstone’s 156 1/8-inch buck, taken in Stanly County, was the biggest buck taken in North Carolina by a female with a crossbow in 2023. (Photo by DAN KIBLER)

• Best by crossbow (female)/President’s Award: Jadyn Featherstone, Stanly County, 156⅛;

• Best typical by bow (female): Chesney Luck, Moore County, 136⅜;

• Best typical by bow (male): Michael Skipper, Cumberland County, 158⅛;

• Best non-typical by bow (female): Patricia Cole, Vance County, 144⅞;

• Best non-typical by muzzleloader (male): David Kiefer, Davidson County, 175;

• Best typical by muzzleloader (female): Ansley Vaughn, Durham County, 123⅛;

• Best typical by muzzleloader (youth): Levi Parker, Stanly County, 150⅝;

Levi Parker’s Stanly County buck was the biggest taken in North Carolina by a youth during muzzleloader season: 150 5/8 inches. Levi is shown with David Keizer, president of Wake County Wildlife Club. (Photo by DAN KIBLER)

• Best typical by gun (female youth): Brianna Turner, Randolph County, 130;

• Best typical by gun (male youth): Gavin Phillips, Rockingham County, 149 6/8;

• Best non-typical by gun (female youth): Ivah Litwin, Anson County, 149 2/8;

• Best non-typical (male): Jonathan Grayson, Rutherford County, 163 ⅜;

• Best typical by gun (female): Lauren Cain, Rockingham County, 145⅝;

• Best typical by gun (male): Carson Reese, Vance County, 163⅞;

• Best typical by muzzleloader (male)/Best in Show: Rick Nightengale, Stokes County, 170.

• President’s Award: Alan Webb, Orange County, 172⅛ (non-typical);

• President’s Award: B.J. Richardson, Rockingham County, 174⅞ (non-typical).

Dan Kibler has covered the outdoors since 1985 as outdoors editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and later as managing editor of Carolina Sportsman until his retirement in 2021.