The hunting sport and lifestyle can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
For some, it may be about putting meat in the freezer. For others, it’s about carrying on traditions and making memories in the woods.
And for some, it’s a bit of everything, with a heavy focus on harvesting mature whitetail bucks.
That’s the prerogative shared by a couple of local hunters who recently harvested two world-class deer right in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Within a 48-hour window, hunting buddies Jeremiah Voithofer and Brian Galica, both from the mountain area, tagged out with monster bucks, harvested on private land in Greene County.
“Anyone who’s dedicated to that sport, to that caliber of older animals, knows there are few to pick from when it comes to harvesting,” said Galica. “The whole time you’re going through it, it changes the level of excitement.”
“We hold out for that,” said Galica, noting that he hadn’t tagged a PA buck in four years; Voithofer also having passed on smaller, less-mature bucks for the last three years.
Voithofer added with a laugh that he “enjoys a good tag sandwich.”
That won’t be the case, though, this year.
Voithofer and Galica were aware of large, mature deer on the property through trail camera footage, though they only showed nocturnal movement.
Last year, the pair sat in wait for a bulk of archery and rifle seasons without so much as a glimpse of the monsters they knew were somewhere deep in the property - until the tail end of the season.
“The visibility wasn’t the best, and it was about 15 minutes before dark. We were frantic,” Galica said. “We saw this giant behind a large tree, but it turned and walked straight away. He never showed himself in the open.”
Hoping the buck was still on the property, they went into this year’s hunting seasons with good faith. They were excited to see trail cam footage showing him over Twisted Oaks deer minerals, though he was very nocturnal with a “horse of a body.”
Their plan was to law low and wait to see what story the trail cameras told.
Fast forward to the first Monday of rifle season, following a long holiday weekend, when they checked the cameras to see not one but three large, mature bucks, one of which had a missing half wrack.
“We wanted to know who’s busting them up,” said Voithofer said. It wasn’t long until they found the culprit — a massive 8-point who’d become a recent regular on trail cameras.
It wasn’t the giant from last year that he’d been intending to hunt, but a trophy deer nonetheless.
Seeing it in person through his Vortex scope that Monday afternoon, Voithofer said he found himself mesmerized. He said it was a hard decision, whether he should take the 8-point or wait for last year’s monster, but it was one he had to make quickly if he was going to take the deer with his long rifle.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” he said after he dropped the deer right then and there at 448 yards. He waited until dark to retrieve the estimated 138-inch buck, not wanting to disturb anything else nearby.
Voithofer said he called Galica, anxious to get him out on the same food plot in hopes that the other buck would appear in the following days.
“If that deer is as big and old as I think it is, surely it wouldn’t go back to the same foo plot,” Galica said.
But the buck did.
“Everything lined up for that scenario. He must not have been disturbed by the harvest the day before. We’re up there at 1:30 the next day just laughing and sharing stories,” Galica said. “About 15 mintues later, I pull up the binoculars on a deer Jeremiah spotted - and I couldn’t believe it.”
Right in the corner of the food plot, at nearly 2 p.m., Galica said he had eyes on the largest deer he’d ever seen.
They duo laid in wait, patient for the opportune moment to pull up and squeeze the trigger. An ill-timed train whistle nearby almost scrapped the hunt as the deer’s ears went up and he started to walk away.
“But the last step he took to the left — I took it,” Galica said. Voithofer added that as he was filming the hunt, he watched as the deer did a perfect tail buckle and a short wag, crashing not far up in the brush. He was confident, while Galica remained reserved until he could get eyes on it once again.
When they anxiously walked up on the estimated 187-inch buck, that’s when the celebration really kicked in.
It was the perfect storm — everything adding up to make for an unforgettable two days of hunting.
“It didn’t matter who the shooter was — it’s a team sport here. I was happy for him. We talk every week about what the deer are doing and where they’re going,” Voithofer said. “This just brings it all full circle. It brings you back to why you love it so much.”
Adding to the novelty of the experience was the land beneath their feet.
“I’ve been hunting here all my life — four generations of hunters on the same track of ground,” said Voithofer as he recalled getting his first buck on that land with his grandfather when he was 12. “That’s the Pennsylvania tradition. Sure, we’ve changed the game and the way we hunt, but the quality of deer has only gotten better.”
Galica also noted that it was his father, John, that built both of their long-range rifles and got them into long-range hunting.
“It’s hard to find spots where you have this scenario, to be able to get back to that spot without disturbing the animals. There’s no way we could’ve taken them at 50 yards because of the pressure and time of year. It’s a unique place for that and the quality of deer here is phenomenal,” Galica said.
The hunting process is special and important to Voithofer, too, as he self-films to create content for his outdoor business venture, Flippin Bucks — a part of MTN Top Outdoors along with Hunt Chef and Smokin Eyes.
Both Voithofer and Galica said they were thrilled with how the season played out this year. It’s a different mentality and approach to hunting season, but one that’s created a lifetime of memories for them both in just a few short days.
“It’s all in the eye of the beholder. If you’re happy with what you’ve harvested, that’s great, too. We just have a different perspective on it, wanting to shoot mature animals — and we have the ability and time to do that here,” Voithofer said. “To each his own — you’re enjoying the same sport I love.”
And for those who have the opportunity or dreams to practice land management for optimal deer maturity, Voithofer said his words of advice are to “stay the course.”
“It’s so up and down, and it’s not going to work out every time. But it’ll happen eventually,” Voithofer said.
“If you have doubts about managing and growing deer; if you have the right neighbors and scenario, it can be done,” Galica said. “It just takes effort and time. You can make the hunt what you want.”
Both hunts were filmed, along with close-ups and post-harvest interviews, and will air on a later date on Outdoor America TV and online with MTN Top Outdoors.