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A big nine-point buck, killed in Kansas, earned Ashford resident Andrew Lowe the $50,000 first prize in the inaugural Bone Collector North American Whitetail Championship. Lowe earned his way into the finals last fall by taking a big West Virginia nine-pointer.

One common joke about deer hunters is that they’re willing to spend thousands of dollars a year to hunt for meat that costs a fraction of that.

Andrew Lowe would beg to differ.

Lowe, a schoolteacher from Ashford, in Boone County, found a way to make hunting pay. Last fall, he killed a Kanawha County buck that earned him a spot in the inaugural Bone Collector North American Whitetail Championship finals. A few weeks ago, he bagged a Kansas buck that earned the $50,000 first prize.

It was a classic case of “spend money to make money.” The contest required participants to plunk down a $300 entry fee, and to record their hunts on Tactacam video equipment.

A lot of hunters balked at the hefty entry fee, but Lowe decided to give it a whirl.

“One spot in the finals was going to be available for hunters in the Virginia-West Virginia region,” he recalled. “I figured that since I was hunting in southern West Virginia, which has the biggest bucks in the region, it was worth taking a chance.”

Lowe already used Tactacam equipment, so the entry fee was his only major expense.

His investment began to pay off last Oct. 14, a Sunday morning when he decided to get in a few hours’ worth of bowhunting before heading off to church.

“I was just getting ready to leave my stand when I saw a buck coming in,” he said. “It was a nice one, and I decided to take it.”

The buck’s nine-point rack totaled 131 inches — not a huge trophy by Southern West Virginia standards, but nice enough. “It was the biggest buck I’d killed up to then,” Lowe said. “It won the Virginia-West Virginia region and got me into the contest finals.”

Those finals took place in mid-September, near the Kansas-Missouri border about an hour south of Kansas City.

“There were 18 of us in the finals,” Lowe said. “We hunted on lands leased by a group called Wicked Outfitters. To make sure everyone had an equal chance, we drew lots to decide where each of us would hunt. We were required to hunt out of stands set up by the tournament organizers.”

Each hunter was accompanied by a cameraman, but the cameraman was not allowed to render any physical assistance.

The weather was hot, and the deer weren’t moving during the day.

“We hunted late in the day, near dusk, when they started to move,” Lowe recalled. “Even so, we weren’t seeing all that many deer.”

The hunters had five days, Sept. 16-20, to make their kills. Lowe didn’t waste any time. On his first evening out, as dusk began to gather, a buck stepped into view.

“When I first saw that deer, I thought he was only an average buck for Kansas,” he said. “But I’d never seen a buck with a 300-pound body before, so my sense of proportion was thrown off.”

But then the big nine-pointer turned away from Lowe.

“I could see how wide the antlers were then,” he said. “My cameraman, Mike Schultz, was from Wisconsin and was used to seeing big-bodied deer. He said it was a stud, so I decided to take a shot.”

Three agonizing minutes passed before the buck turned broadside again. When it did, Lowe centered the crosshairs of his muzzleloader’s scope just behind the animal’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger.

“We trailed it about 150 yards before we found it,” Lowe said. “I was the one who spotted it.”

The heavy-beamed rack, though asymmetrical, sported long tines on one side.

“I didn’t know if it would win, but it was the biggest buck I’d ever taken, for antler size or for body size,” Lowe said. “I was speechless. I’m just a schoolteacher from West Virginia, and there I was hunting trophy deer for free in Kansas.”

It was the first deer taken during the contest finals. The other 17 hunters spent the rest of the week trying to take a bigger one.

“One fellow killed a buck that came close, but in the end my buck won out,” Lowe said.

To maintain suspense — after all, the contest was a made-for-television affair — organizers didn’t measure the racks until the last day.

“They brought in an official [Boone and Crockett Club] scorer,” Lowe said. “I figured my buck would come in either first or second, but I didn’t know it had won until the results were announced.”

The big nine-point rack totaled 154 6/8 inches. And just like that, Lowe became $50,000 richer.

The contest’s day-to-day results had been posted on the tournament’s Facebook page, and the awards banquet was live-streamed on Facebook.

“It seemed as though all of West Virginia was watching,” Lowe said. “After I was announced as the winner, my phone and my Facebook page blew up with people congratulating me via text or personal message.”

One of Lowe’s close friends, Reggie Woodrum, bought an airline ticket to Kansas and attended the awards banquet.

“That was great,” Lowe said. “He got a one-way ticket out and rode home with me.”

Lowe said he plans to use most of the $50,000 to pay off his wife’s student loans. With the rest, he plans to make a down payment on a new side-by-side ATV.

Now that the heady afterglow of the event has passed, Lowe has had time to reflect on his once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment. He said his fondest memories of the experience had little to do with him winning.

“Don’t get me wrong, the money was great,” he said, “but when I think about it, the best part of the contest was being able to share a deer camp with 17 guys that love to hunt as much as I do.”

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.