Fond of Funnels

Gary Barrett looks at a draw bordered by pines that leads away from a lake. This type of funnel is a hot spot anywhere.

This trophy hunter turned guide prefers pinch points for big bucks at his Rockingham County hunting operation.

Gary Barrett, a lifelong resident of Rockingham County, has undergone a metamorphosis over the past 40 years, going from trophy deer hunter to hunting tutor, a journey that has seen him kill several hundred deer, 30 of which most hunters would consider trophies.

Nowadays, Barrett manages Oakhaven, a 1,300-acre hunting operation near Pelham that offers guided hunts for whitetail deer.

With Rockingham County being one of North Carolina’s most-productive areas for trophy bucks in recent years, the things Barrett has to share about hunting tactics are worth writing down, and it’s useful to learn how three particular bucks shaped his hunting career and outlook.Click here to read more on Fond of Funnels

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Fond of Funnels

Gary Barrett looks at a draw bordered by pines that leads away from a lake. This type of funnel is a hot spot anywhere.

This trophy hunter turned guide prefers pinch points for big bucks at his Rockingham County hunting operation.

Gary Barrett, a lifelong resident of Rockingham County, has undergone a metamorphosis over the past 40 years, going from trophy deer hunter to hunting tutor, a journey that has seen him kill several hundred deer, 30 of which most hunters would consider trophies.

Nowadays, Barrett manages Oakhaven, a 1,300-acre hunting operation near Pelham that offers guided hunts for whitetail deer.

With Rockingham County being one of North Carolina’s most-productive areas for trophy bucks in recent years, the things Barrett has to share about hunting tactics are worth writing down, and it’s useful to learn how three particular bucks shaped his hunting career and outlook.

“In the early 1960s, when I started deer hunting, there were so few deer in the Piedmont that dad would take my brothers and me to Halifax County and dog-hunt,” Barrett said. “In 1963, on one of those hunts, the older men put me on stand with my Remington 1100 shotgun filled with alternating slugs and 00 buckshot and told me if I saw a buck to keep firing until either a deer fell or I ran out of ammo.

“The dogs chased a 3-pointer by me, and I kept firing until the gun was empty and the buck had disappeared. I cried because I thought I had missed him,” he said. “Later, we found the buck just inside the woods. Dad was so proud, and killing a buck back then was such a big deal, that we drove that deer all over Roanoke Rapids to show everybody we came across.”

That event caused Barrett to become an obsessive, hard-core deer hunter. While other youngsters were participating in sports or playing with their friends, Gary had other thoughts.

“All year I dreamed of those November mornings when the sun rose and hit me in the face as my back was up against some tree,” he said. “For me, there was no joy like waiting for a buck to appear. Daddy taught me how to squirrel and rabbit hunt with that Remington shotgun, but after a few years I wanted a rifle.

“I had to kill the biggest buck of anyone I knew, and I thought a rifle was the way to do it. So I got a job where all the money I would save went for that future rifle.”

By the time 2000 rolled around, Barrett was managing Oakhaven (336-939-9125) and had hunted the property for many years. And it was during this time that he killed some of his biggest bucks.

“In 2006, I had been seeing this huge 8-pointer for several months, and I knew I wanted him,” he said. “When the muzzleloader season began, I decided to spend much of my time where I could overlook two funnels that lead away from a lake.”

Funnels are the major aspect of Gary Barrett’s strategy, regardless of the stage of the rut. At Oakhaven, his favorite funnels lead away from the east side of a lake. The thick vegetation that surrounds that side of the impoundment is regarded as a refuge, and no one is allowed to enter this or any other sanctuary — another part of his hunting philosophy.

Whitetails have to leave the sanctuary through the two funnels. The first is a pine thicket that runs alongside a steep hillside; the second a secluded draw that features two woodlots of different ages. The funnels intersect at the edge of a field, an opening where does like to congregate and feed, especially in the afternoons. And it was there that Barrett was waiting the evening of the last Friday of the 2006 muzzleloader season.

“I got in the stand after lunch,” Barrett said. “The wind was right, and a front was coming in, so conditions were perfect. At 3:00, the big buck came out of one of the funnels and acted like he was following a doe. My best guess is that a doe had visited the buck’s scrape at the intersection of the funnels, for I had been seeing does do that.

“The buck wandered back and forth trying to figure out which direction the doe had gone, then headed straight for me until he was about 50 yards away. I grunted at him trying to make him stop and turn sideways — and then even yelled at him — but he kept coming. Finally, he angled away a little, and I shot.”

The shot appeared to be accurate, and Barrett found copious amounts of blood and a solid trail away from the site of the shot, but searching for three days, he couldn’t find the buck.

On Monday, the first day of gun season, Barrett returned to the woods. Feeling like he couldn’t hunt the east side of the lake again because of all the disruption that had taken place, he ventured to the right side of the impoundment.

Like the east side, the west side features two funnels — both of them having different ages of trees adjoining and both leading to a five-acre food plot.

“On Monday morning, I set up near the food plot ,and nothing much happened all day until around 3:00,” Barrett said. “It was then that I saw the big buck that I had shot on Thursday following a doe. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Barrett let fly with his Winchester Model 70 .30-06 when the buck got broadside, but the buck ran off again. This time, however, the story had a happy ending. A short time later, Barrett located the buck dead down a steep incline. The big 8-pointer, which had a scab partially formed over the wound from the muzzleloader shot, weighed 230 pounds, scored 152 Boone and Crockett points and was estimated at 5 ½ to 6 ½ years old.

“That buck doesn’t even look like he’s from North Carolina,” Barrett said. “He looks like one of those Kansas bucks that you hear about.”

A year later, Barrett returned to the east-side funnel after one of his workers had spotted a mammoth buck there. Sure enough, the buck did not take long to appear during the gun season.

“On one of the first mornings of the season, I spotted the big buck making a scrape about 100 yards away,” Barrett said. “But it wasn’t legal shooting light, so I couldn’t shoot. I stayed on stand until mid-day, then quit for lunch and as usual came back around 3 o’clock. At about 5, three does jumped a fence, and the big buck was chasing them. He stopped and looked around, and that was when I shot him.”

The 9-pointer carried an 18-inch inside spread and scored roughly 145 Boone and Crockett points. The buck was estimated at 5 ½ years old.

Something changed in Barrett’s sporting soul after he killed the 2007 trophy.

“I had always been the type of person who would push himself to kill bigger bucks than anyone else and to personally try to keep killing bigger and bigger bucks,” he said. “Even when I was young, I wanted the does I shot to be bigger than everyone else’s does. When I got married, I told my wife that come fall I was first and foremost a deer hunter, and she said she was okay with that.

“Later, though, she told me that I was ‘insane’ when it came to deer. But after that 2007 big buck, I didn’t feel like hunting by myself anymore, and I haven’t deer hunted since, except to take others.

“Now, I gain my biggest thrills and most satisfaction from tutoring others. I find that much more satisfying and more important to hunting’s future than my killing a deer. You know, right now at Oakhaven, we have a 160-class buck running around, and I have been trying to put our clients on him. I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted to go after him, but I am finding so much more pleasure out of helping others that I have resisted that temptation.”

Barrett said youngster Cole Sealy of Advance is one of his favorite clients, a prime beneficiary of his tutelage. At Oakhaven in 2009, the then 9-year-old Cole killed his first deer — a doe — and the next year tagged an outstanding 10-pointer.

“The first thing I do when kids come here is take them to our shooting range,” Barrett said. “I let them think that a cartridge is in the chamber and see if they flinch when they dry-fire. After they have dry-fired a few times, I slip a cartridge into the chamber without them knowing it and have them shoot. That’s how I decide if they have developed proper shooting technique before coming here.”

Barrett believes that too many parents start their kids hunting with a rifle that is too large and powerful for them. A .243 is about right for a youngster and will put down any whitetail, he said. Additionally, at Oakhaven the general rule is that bucks must be mature, have eight points and a spread outside their ears, but for youngsters, the rules are different.

“It’s not the end of the world if a kid kills a spike buck,” Barrett said. “The most important things for a parent and child to accomplish while deer hunting are to build happy memories and to have time together outdoors, and there’s nothing like building happy memories than kids killing their first deer. Who cares what size it is.

“My father instilled in me a love for the outdoors. If I can bring a parent and child here and do the same for them, then I’ve been successful.”

Barrett has a number of other “misconceptions” to set straight when it comes to deer-hunting tactics.

• Doe-in-heat urine, “buck balms,” and most scents are gimmicks.

“The longer I study deer, the more I’m convinced that the ‘being there without being there’ strategy is the best,” he said. “I’m not saying that a big buck has never come into some scent, I’m just saying that the hunter who is dedicated to scent control, who is willing to put in his time, and who quietly comes to his stand and stays alert all day is most times going to be the one who is most successful.”

• Rattling mostly calls in small bucks.

“Again, I’m not stating that there never has been a trophy buck that was lured in by rattling,” Barrett said. “I’m just saying that bigger bucks are more suspicious about things like rattling — that’s why they are bigger and mostly nocturnal except during the rut.”

• Don’t overhunt a stand site.

“Some people who come here want to go to the same stand every day,” he said. “Someone who stays at a stand for eight hours can leave a lot of scent behind. That stand might not be right to hunt again for quite a few days.”

• Smoking, urinating, and field dressing a deer at a stand site are a definite no.

“Why would anybody do any of those things at a stand site,” Barrett said. “Again, be there without being there.”

• A small buck to do ratio is not necessarily a good thing.

“Of course, you don’t want to have 20 does for every buck,” Barrett said. “But if you have few does around because you have killed too many, you might lose your resident bucks.”

• Televised hunting shows have little to do with actual hunting.

“Real-life hunting is not like a television show where the celebrity always kills a big buck in 30 minutes,” he said. “On a three-day hunt, I can’t guarantee that every client will kill a big buck or even see one.”

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