Deer hunting often is about being in the right place at the right time, which is exactly what happened to Lenny Gilbert IV during his trip to southern Delaware in November.
Gilbert was in camp with his father, Lenny III, and younger brother, Brandon, the second week of November for their annual hunt. Gilbert lives in New Jersey and works for a lawn care service, which gives him free time in winter to chase whitetails. They hunt on about 350 or so acres in south-central Delaware, which rarely if ever is considered a hotspot for big bucks.
However, Gilbert knows that’s not true. The records bear it out, too. Delaware may not pump out the numbers of giant bucks like Kansas or Wisconsin, but for the size of the state it has some whoppers. The Delaware wildlife agency’s list of typical bucks scoring between 140 inches and the 185-inch state record dating to November 1978 spans more than six pages.
So while the Diamond State may not be on your deer hunting hit list every year, it’s on Gilbert’s and he loves it.
“Here in New Jersey it’s different, of course, compared to out west,” he said. “You’re hunting suburbia … a neighbor owns three or four acres and has 100 yards or so in there before the next next neighborhood begins. So you just have to hunt differently.
“But down in Delaware it’s different. You can drive north to south in about two hours or so. But if you take Take Route 1 south it’s fields with soybeans and corn. It’s a pretty rural state for the Northeast, a pretty rural area, and we happen to have a 355-acre farm we have permission to hunt on down there. And the hunting down there is 10 times better than it ever will be in New Jersey.”
Delaware’s firearm season opened on Friday so the Gilberts were there to hunt that day. They saw a few deer but nothing hit the ground. That night, with Brandon having arrived to hunt the weekend, they were sitting around “bickering and talking about who was going to hunt which stand and all, just having fun.”
Little Brother wanted to hunt one stand and Big Brother wouldn’t think of it. Back and forth, good natured of course, until the decisions were made. Saturday rolled around and things had changed. Temperatures were in the upper 20s and conditions were prime.
“It was like you flipped a switch with the chasing and grunting and all going on,” Gilbert said. “I saw two does and nine bucks that morning. About a half-hour before I shot my deer, I heard some in the thick bushes near me and they were very vocal. A lot of grunting and chasing but I couldn’t get a shot at anything.
“Another half-hour or so later I heard a fight. These bucks were really going at it, a true knock-down drag out fight, really going after each other hard. I couldn’t see them, though, but they were getting after it. Then everything stopped and I heard two deep grunts.”
Gilbert grabbed his grunt call and responded with a similar deep grunt. A doe walked out of the thick mess, followed by a giant buck. A buck Gilbert said “anywhere in the country you immediately know it’s one you want.”
The buck was quartering away and Gilbert shouldered his Savage 220 slug gun, made the shot and watched the buck kick. It ran and crossed a creek, “where they always seem to go,” and he watched it disappear.
“I shot it a little far back, which I hated of course, but I knew I’d hit him. My father called to ask if I had shot and then said he’d come over to help me look for it.”
By now, Brandon was on the way and the three began blood-trailing. There wasn’t much initially but they found enough, along with disturbed leaves, to pick up the trail. Then, Gilbert said, it forked. One was gnarly and the other was clear.
“I figured I’d take the path of least resistance since we all were looking, and was on my hands and knees crawling along slowly looking for blood. My brother was about 30 yards away and I looked over toward him and saw white on the ground behind him. We all got to it and just were amazed at how big it was, just a giant.”
Gilbert’s buck scored 169 3/8 inches, with 13 measurable points including a couple of stickers. He plans to have it officially scored after Jan. 12 following the minimum 60-day drying period.
“Dad got pretty emotional, heck we all did, and I’ve only seen him cry two other times in my life,” Gilbert said. “People like me, like us, blue-collar guys, stuff like that doesn’t happen to us too often. It was an unbelievable experience. I never will forget that the rest of my life.”
Learn How to Kill Big Bucks
Solidly grounded in Bartylla’s wealth of experience, this buck hunting guide seeks to help real-world hunters take their craft to the next level. Chapters in his super book “Big Buck Secrets” include comprehensive instruction on everything from scouting new hunting areas – including public land, to calling strategies, hunting during the rut, understanding mature buck behavior, aggressive and creative techniques, and more – all aimed to help you bag the biggest buck of your life.