When Jeff Phillips received photos of a giant buck in his Facebook messages Thursday, he did what he always does. Phillips collected details from the sender and posted four images to Star City Whitetails, the Facebook page where he shares submitted photos of Virginia deer with his 72,000 followers. The photos, which depict a man in camo kneeling beside a huge nontypical whitetail, appeared with this caption: “Prince Edward County killed with 50 cal muzzleloader, shot this morning 713am at 20 yards, my 3rd mounter this year! Biggest buck of my LIFE 🦌💥”

Thirty minutes later, the post blew up. Dozens of people identified the deer as the Hollywood buck, a well-known deer with distinctive antlers that lived in and around the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. The trouble? Hollywood Cemetery lies roughly 70 miles northeast of where the man, Jason Walters, claimed to have shot his buck. People began contacting the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, accusing Walters of poaching it from Richmond city limits. Two additional bucks Walters claimed to have killed have also been identified by locals and wildlife photographers as living in the cemetery.

“​​The Department of Wildlife Resources is aware of the situation and we are conducting an investigation,” says DWR Lieutenant Frank Spuchesi, the Region 1 manager overseeing the officers on the case.

A screenshot of the original Facebook post. (Star City Whitetails)

“We’ve gotten so many [tips] now that I’m not really sure which one was the very first one,” Spuchesi added. “A lot of our cases are high profile, but this one does seem to be getting a little bit more attention due to the fact that some of these deer were seen by a lot of people in the public, and photographed a lot. They were out in the open. They weren’t elusive like a lot of deer are when they get to that age. Urban deer have a tendency to be seen a lot more.”

Although Spuchesi could not identify Jason Walters as a person of interest “at this time” to Outdoor Life, he did confirm the investigation includes multiple bucks. 

The buck photos Phillips posted yesterday were the third batch he says he received from Walters this season. On Nov. 20, Phillips posted photos of Walters with a dark-antlered 8-point, reportedly shot in Richmond. On Dec. 1, Phillips posted photos of another 8-point Walters said he shot in Chesterfield, just outside of Richmond.

“​​And then yesterday, he sent me that [nontypical] buck,” says Phillips, a realtor with Whitetail Properties. “Although when he sent the buck to me yesterday all he said was, ‘Post this up bud.’ And I saw how nice it was, and I was like, ‘Please include some details, this is a beautiful deer. Where’d you kill it?’ Just like anybody who sends me pictures, I always ask the county.”

Antlers of a giant nontypical buck that may have been poached.
One of the photographs Walters sent to Phillips of the buck he claimed to have killed in Prince Edward County. (Star City Whitetails)
The Hollywood Cemetery buck
The Hollywood Cemetery buck, photographed in Richmond on Oct. 13, 2023. (Bill Draper Photography, used with permission)

Walters complied. Although Phillips was aware of a famous nontypical often seen and photographed near the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, its antlers this year didn’t look familiar.

“It was a nationally known deer, but that deer has declined significantly rack-wise, believe it or not,” says Philips. “When he sent the picture in I just thought, ‘damn, that’s a beautiful deer,’ but I did not see or think of any association with that particular deer at the Hollywood Cemetery.”

Richmond-based wildlife photographer Bill Draper made the connection instantly. Draper takes photographs for the Hollywood Cemetery and Maymont Park, and enjoys private access to grounds that the public can’t always visit. For years Draper has photographed deer along the James River in Richmond, including the so-called Hollywood buck which he called a 22- or 24-point, depending on the year.

“I know this deer better than I know my three daughters. I can tell you every little nub on the antlers, I’ve got every different angle — front, back, side, right, left,” says Draper, noting that many photographs of the Hollywood buck that appeared in the Facebook comments were pulled from his pages. “It was starting to look a little haggard and run down. It’s an old deer. It had huge, unbelievable, world-class antlers four years ago. Obviously this is another four years later and it’s still phenomenal.”

Draper took his last photos of the Hollywood buck on Oct. 13 in Richmond. Although he’s always been careful to avoid posting any photos or information that would reveal too much about the deer’s location — for fear someone might poach it — Draper says he could find the animal if he looked hard enough. Especially lately, since the buck has been moving less.

“He’s lived for the last four years in that particular vicinity between Maymont Park, Mount Calvary Cemetery, Riverview Cemetery, Hollywood Cemetery, and James River Park North Bank Trail area,” Draper says. “I have pictures of him at Hollywood, on the North Bank Trail, at the edge of Mount Calvary, outside of the fence at Maymont, and inside the fence. He has not moved very much, he’s stayed pretty close around that neighborhood. The people who live there know that very well.”

While Draper has photographs that clearly show the buck among headstones and at recognizable Richmond locations, he declined to share them for this article, citing his working relationship with the Hollywood Cemetery. He had also encouraged the cemetery to refrain from posting his photos of the deer on their social accounts to avoid hotspotting the buck.

In addition to the big nontypical, Draper says he photographed the dark-antlered 8-point in Richmond that Walters claimed to have shot in Chesterfield on Nov. 20. 

“That 8-pointer used to come through a hole in the fence at Hollywood like clockwork,” Draper says. “When the rut came in he was a little less consistent, obviously chasing does around. But still you’d see him in the cemetery.”

Draper also says that his buddy and fellow photographer Ben King has documented another Richmond deer that Walters claims he killed in Chesterfield, which is roughly 13 miles southwest of Hollywood Cemetery.

Comparison of walters buck and Hollywood 8-pointer.
A photo of the 8-point Walters sent Phillips on Nov. 20 (left) compared with the big 8-point Draper photographed in Hollywood Cemetery on Oct. 12, 2023. (Star City Whitetails, left; Bill Draper Photography (right, used with permission)
A nice dark horned typical 8 point buck.
The big 8-point Draper photographed in Hollywood Cemetery on October 12, 2023. (Bill Draper Photography, used with permission)

While there are carefully regulated urban bow seasons in Richmond, no hunting is allowed in Hollywood Cemetery and certain surrounding properties. Deer in the area are conditioned to humans and tolerate human activity better than most wild whitetails in more rural areas. Still, Draper says the buck was more careless this year.

“[The big Hollywood buck] had been a lot less wary this year. It would be near people’s yard, in Maymont Park it would bed down beside the fence where cars ride by. A week or so ago somebody posted a picture of him on the Virginia Wildlife Facebook page and said exactly where he lived and where you could see him. And there was a big uproar. I don’t know if that was the cause of [the buck’s death].”

Screenshot of a Facebook post of a possibly poached deer.
Photos of an 8-point that Walters sent to Phillips on Dec. 1. It was reportedly photographed in Richmond. (Star City Whitetails)

Based on in-person sightings and photograph history, most sources estimated the Hollywood buck to be about eight years old.

“When I last looked at [the Hollywood buck] I said, ‘It may not last through the winter.’ But I hate to see it go that way,” says Draper. “It’s a shame. I would like people to know that you can’t just go out and shoot a deer like this and think you can post it and no one’s going to know about it. It’s really stupid. Hopefully it will make people think twice before they poach a deer.”

The giant Hollywood buck, by a road in Richmond.
The giant nontypical, photographed in Hollywood Cemetery in 2020. (Bill Draper Photography, used with permission)
The Hollywood Cemetery deer in 2021 with a broken mainbeam.
The buck photographed in Hollywood Cemetery in October 2021, this time with a partially broken main beam. (Bill Draper Photography, used with permission)

Despite the urban location, good cover and forage exists in the area.

“He had plenty to eat, plenty to bed, plenty of water. He didn’t have to go nowhere,” says Brandon Overstreet, a Virginia hunter and one of the first Facebook commenters to make the connection between Walters’ photos and the Hollywood buck. “He would never leave more than a mile away. [The Hollywood buck] was very odd in a sense too when the rut came. There are so many deer in that area, he never really rutted. His neck never swelled up. He always had a thin neck, didn’t have to go chasing and trying to find deer, because he had 30 girlfriends.”

Overstreet says he found one of the Hollywood buck’s sheds two years ago, which scored right at 100 inches and was later auctioned to a prominent collector. Although he lives in Bedford, Overstreet says he travels through Richmond every few weeks and often visits Pumphouse Park and other locations near the James River to watch the buck. Although the deer had many nicknames, most often just “Hollywood” or the “Hollywood buck,” locals sometimes called him “Prince” (“because they called his daddy the King,” says Overstreet). By his best guess, anyone hoping to poach deer in the area would have to do it at night.

“There are workers that work there during the day, they are constantly making rounds,” says Overstreet. “Everyone has expected someone to come poach him.”

Big typical buck walking away from the camera in a grassy field.
One of the last photos Draper captured of the big nontypical in October 2023. (Bill Draper Photography, used with permission)

Next Steps in the Poaching Investigation

When Phillips realized the buck he posted to Star City Whitetails Thursday morning looked the same as the Hollywood Cemetery buck, he messaged Walters on Facebook again.

“I sent him back a text that said ‘somebody just sent me pictures of the Hollywood Cemetery deer, and that’s it.’ I think he said, ‘huh lol.’ I said, ‘What does that mean’? He said, ‘This buck was killed at my hunting club in Prince Edward County.’”

Phillips says he received that final message from Walters at 10:52 a.m. on Dec. 14. Walters’ personal profile disappeared from Facebook shortly after their exchange, and Phillips updated his own post to reflect the new information. Both Walters and Draper have since been contacted by law enforcement. Spuchesi was unable to provide a timeline for when the public might learn further details about the case.

“I would hope [we can resolve this] in the near future,” Spuchesi says. “Some investigations last years, some last hours.”

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