A Six – Year Quest

Posted on December 13, 2011

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“The way of knowledge is like our old way of hunting. You begin with a mere trail – a footprint. If you follow that faithfully it may lead you to a clearer trail – a track – a road. Later on there will be many tracks, crossing and diverging one from the other. Then you must be careful, for success lies in the choice of the right road.”

 – Many Lightenings Eastman, Santee Sioux

There are many firsts in a man’s life; his initial steps, words and a whole host of other perfunctory experiences that are usually big milestones for parents and grandparents, but seldom if ever remembered by the man himself. He will, however, never forget his first kiss or his first crush when he thought that he was in love; that is until the young damsel sets about to break his heart. And he will darn well remember the first deer that falls dead beneath his rifle barrel for all of his days, regardless of how many more get piled up during a deer hunting career.

I can vividly recall my first buck that fell at the report of my gun many years ago. I can also, with fond remembrance, reflect back on the morning when my then young son shot his first buck. As Robert Ruark so aptly penned, “The hunter’s horn sounds early for some, later for others…This is a simple manifestation of ancient ego, almost as simple as the breeding instinct, simpler than the urge for shelter, because man the hunter lives basically in his belly.” For my hunting partner, ‘The Big Daddy’ not having grown up in a hunting family, the hunter’s horn sounded much later.

The Beginning

 

Although Big Daddy and I had been friends for many years, he had never expressed an interest in pursuing whitetails or any other wild game for that matter. And then, at the age of 36 he made a curious request; he asked to purchase two of my books, The Deer Trackers & On The Track. Without much fan fare, I sold him the copies and thought nothing more of it. That is until he approached me one day and told me that he’d like to give this hunting a go.

With a great bit of surprise I inquired, “Why?” His response was profound, “I thought hunting was only what I’d seen on TV, sitting in a tree stand for endless hours and waiting for a deer to appear; that method of hunting holds no appeal to me. However, after digesting your books I realized that the style of hunting you engage in is indeed adventurous and exciting; a manner of hunting that intrigues me enough to make an attempt at it.”

Not to discourage him, I told my pal, “How I hunt and where I pursue big bucks is not for the whimsical of heart, and it’s definitely not nearly as easy as it may seem in the pages of a book.” Not easily deterred, he booked into a mandatory hunter education class amongst mostly youngsters half his age. Once he had that under his belt, I figured he was somewhat serious about giving this a try and we began getting him outfitted with all of the right hunting togs and gear.

The Early Days

 

Big Daddy is fond of saying, “There’s not a tent big enough for my circus act,” and as I was about to learn, no truer words could he have uttered. For example, the very first day of his hunting career started out much different than I could have ever imagined. Once we had parked my rig in the pre-dawn darkness, the opening act entered the middle ring of the circus. It began with the Big Daddy giving himself a verbal beating of the finest kind; even I couldn’t have bettered his outburst of disparaging comments. When I finally had him calmed down enough to find out what the problem was, it appeared that he wasn’t going to be able to hunt after all; he had the trigger lock on his rifle and the key safely tucked away back in our room. Not bad for an opening act, hey? I then asked him what was more important, his gun lock or having a useable weapon for the day? When he replied with the obvious I brought out the universal master key, a hacksaw, and quickly absolved him of this calamity.

Little could I have realized that this would only be the beginning of such bizarre stunts. Only he, the ‘Big Daddy’ could take his rifle apart to thoroughly clean it following a day of fowl weather and lose a part of the gun without ever leaving the room. Seriously, to this day we still have no idea where that part disappeared to. And then there was the time that he returned to the vehicle with himself and his gun completed encased in ice. The look on his face in the nine-degree temps was priceless, and when he told me how he fell into the stream, I just burst out laughing. And when he held up his frozen gun, I laughed even harder. I still laugh about it to this day, it was that funny.

Now you must understand that this guy is no slouch bereft of intelligence, savvy or athleticism; he was once a Naval Officer that navigated ships for a living.

Defining Moments

 

Every man has benchmarks in his life that serve to catapult him to the next plateau. At the conclusion of that first week of Big Daddy’s hunting career, and after I literally walked his hind end off tracking bucks for miles on end, I figured that will cure him of any idealistic illusions that wilderness hunting is simple. (To this day the Big Daddy believes that first week was probably the most physically challenging hunt he has ever experienced.) Off he went back to civilization and his job. The first defining moment that proved he was indeed serious about hunting deer was his surprise return to camp for the last two days of the season.

The next significant event was when we were sitting on a log eating lunch and a spike buck appeared. I whispered to him and said, “That is a legal buck coming towards us, go ahead and shoot him if you want.” The buck actually walked to within five-yards of his muzzle without knowing we were there. The buck continued to feed on up the ridge and out of sight when the Big Daddy said, “I know most guys would have shot that buck, especially if it were their first, but it’s not what I want.” He went home with an unfilled tag.

For the next three years, despite the most valiant of efforts and for reasons still unknown to me, Big Daddy just couldn’t put a buck on the ground. Yet, despite the snickers from fellow workers, a wife wondering why, and a guy who is supposed to know a thing or two about deer completely perplexed as to the reason for this ‘curse’, Big Daddy did not lose heart nor did his resolve to succeed diminish.

Year five brought him face to face with a very nice crotch-horn; so nice that he actually had his sights pinned to the buck’s rib cage, but once again did not shoot. It was only the second day of a two-week hunt and he didn’t feel right about shooting. In my mind I’m thinking, “You’ve got to get your hands bloody and get this first buck behind you,” but refrained from ever verbalizing that to my friend.

Later that season as we were driving up a road at first light, I discovered a huge track crossing in the fresh snow. I told him, “I’m going to start the track; you get up on that ridge to the west, I believe this buck will head that way due to the wind direction and the terrain.” Two hours into the chase, as I began to level out near the top, there was the Big Daddy ready and in position. Unfortunately, the buck had passed through a couple hours prior to our arrival. I was brimming with pride and could not have been prouder of my friend than I was at that moment. In one fallow swoop he had made a huge transformation. He had gone from being a friend who hunted with me, to a legitimate hunting partner that was now thinking and reacting in sync with me.

He went home once again without a buck, faced the same ridicule, but this time his resolve was much different…he went home a different hunter.

The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

 

It is unexplainable why it took six long years, not wasted years as much insight, learning and experience was imbued over that span of time. One thing I quickly learned about my pal; you only have to tell him something once and he gets it. His woodsmanship and navigational skills are second-to-none. His hunting savvy had improved significantly, which left only two questions, will a shootable buck ever present itself, and if and when it does, will he pull the trigger?

Nine days into the hunt, and after a long, cold day of chasing whitetails in a half-inch of snow, everything was about to change. As we were slowly heading out of the bush, with 45-minutes of shooting light remaining, a buck suddenly leapt across the trail in front of us, took four bounds and stopped amidst a tangle of alders. With my eyes completely transfixed on the buck, it seemed like an eternity before I finally, at long last heard what I’d been waiting six long years to hear, the blast made by a 45-70.

I watched the impact and literally saw the ‘fur fly.’ It wasn’t until the buck vanished before I looked at my partner whose first question was, “Did I hit him?” “Oh yeah, you hit him,” He said. “Are you sure?”  “Most definitely,” I exclaimed. The blood trail was unlike any I had ever seen before. The buck painted the white tapestry three-feet wide for 70-yards before collapsing. When we arrived at the buck a flood of emotions spilled out for both of us.

Having lived this scene out multiple times myself, I knew exactly what my friend was now experiencing at long last. After a big congratulatory hug and a few private words, I left him to be alone with his hard won prize.

Old Archibald Rutledge was correct when he wrote, “High hope was in our hearts, and in our hands were weapons supposed to be deadly for deer. But it’s one thing to hunt a stag, and it’s another thing entirely to bring him safely to bag. I do not know a hunting achievement quite equal to out-guessing an old white-tail.”

Regardless of the span of time required for my hunting partner to shoot his first buck, a buck that dressed out at 175-pounds and sported an eight point rack, he now, with that shot, instantly joined the fraternity of ‘red coats’ known as deer hunters.

May many more antlered whitetails fall to the sound of your gun and your hunting prowess…I for one am mighty proud of your accomplishment and look forward to dragging out several more of your vanquished bucks.

All images on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

    © 2011 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer