Fountain of Youth

A.J. Barfield, 15, of Fort Mill had an outstanding 2007 season, taking two fine bucks in a 2-week period.

York County 10th grader scores on two trophies in two weeks.

Sometimes, in hunting as in life, youth will be served.

That was the case during the peak of this year’s whitetail deer rut in populous York County. Increasingly a bedroom community for nearby Charlotte, N.C. — and accordingly an area where it has become ever more difficult to find a place to hunt —York County still has pockets of private land that produce fine deer.

A.J. Barfield, a 15-year-old 10th grader at Fort Mill High School, scored telling shots on not one, but two trophies in a 2-week span.

Barfield started going afield with his father, Alan, when he was only five or six years old, and the pair shared plenty of stand time before the senior Barfield felt he was ready for shoot one on his own.

That came with he was an 11-year-old sixth grader. In the ensuing years, he has accounted for 16 deer and has graduated from sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with his father to hunting alone.

Enthusiasm has obviously been an integral part of the young Barfield’s evolution as a sportsman. During the week, he regularly hunts in the afternoons, rushing home from school to spend the last hours of daylight in a stand. On Thanksgiving Eve, he had barely been out of his stand when he took a phone call from someone asking about his big bucks.

“I didn’t see any deer,” he said, “but I did shoot a coyote.”

Obviously his dedication and boyhood experiences have served him well, because this season has been one any Palmetto State hunter, no matter their level of experience, would envy. On the afternoon of Oct. 26, under clearing skies and falling temperatures after the only decent rain the area had received for two months, Barfield celebrated the conclusion of the school week by heading for the woods.

Using a climbing stand, he positioned himself in a tree overlooking an area where there was plenty of sign. He saw several does and yearlings and was about out of light when a fine buck appeared almost under his stand. One shot from his Browning Youth Model .260 with a 120-grain bullet at 25 yards did the trick.

The buck, drilled cleanly in its pump house, ran about 75 yards and then collapsed. It was a fine deer of a quality which would “make” the season for even the most discriminating of hunters. Featuring a symmetrical 8-point rack that spanned 17 inches, the buck tipped the scales at 205 pounds. A check of its lower jawbone suggested that the buck was at least five years old and likely already on a downward spiral as far as its rack quality was concerned.

For all the sense of accomplishment, young Barfield felt that better things were yet to come.

On Nov. 9 — another Friday afternoon — he eased into a box stand shortly after 4 o’clock. Almost immediately, a young doe appeared in a food plot the stand overlooked, and he spent the next 15 minutes watching her feed. Then, quite suddenly, the doe went on the whitetail equivalent of red alert, staring intently towards a cutover behind the stand.

Barfield had enough experience to realize what the doe’s body language meant, and he eased around to look behind him.

Almost immediately, he picked up a heavily antlered buck jumping over small tree laps, headed to the food plot. He had had a brief glimpse of the same buck a week earlier and knew it carried a nerve-wracking rack.

Tracking the deer through the scope but knowing better than to venture a shot at a moving target, Barfield waited patiently until the deer reached the food plot.

The buck stopped, with the front half of its body in a cleared power-line right-of-way and its hindquarters still in brush, offering an ideal broadside shot. He squeezed off a round from his father’s .270 Browning, and the hefty buck dropped in its tracks.

The buck was of the quality that most South Carolina hunters can only dream about. With impressively long brow tines, G-2s measuring almost a foot in length and a 19½-inch outside spread, the 3½-year-old deer weighed 220 pounds. With 9 points and good symmetry, it has been raw-scored in the high 130s, losing a bit because of a couple of stickers at the base and some palmation on one tine.

Those deductions, however, cannot detract from the fact that Barfield, only in his mid-teens, has accounted for two wall hangers, one of them a truly exceptional deer, in just two weeks.

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