My Admirable Fantasy

Posted on March 6, 2012

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“Indeed, there have been many changes from the days when deer hunting meant packing off to the woods for a full season’s stay in the old hunter’s shack. The call of the North Woods was once answered only by the hardy souls to whom the ruggedness of camping in the rough was accepted as a necessary part of the hunt. Though the chase of the whitetail continues, many of the sturdy qualities of the erstwhile Nimrod are no longer with us. The practical deer hunters, and especially the newcomers, emerge to hunt the game animal where it is most plentiful, and many a bag is filled without the hunter straying a quarter of a mile from his parked car. The task of dragging in a deer killed even a mile back in from the road is becoming the exception today.” – George Mattis

 

Following the large, single set of deer prints impregnated upon a fresh white tapestry of snow drew me further and further into the primeval forest. Not only were these imprints enticing to a more than curious tracker who wanted desperately to catch up with the maker, but the whole proposition of being completely engaged in the hunting process was alluring. The thought of escaping the comfort and convenience of modern life and traipsing into virgin country far removed from the ting-tong of the cow bell, if only for the day, in utter solitude, was refreshing.

Now some would have us believe this is a dangerous enterprise, a foolish thought that should be quickly dismissed. After all, these are big woods that extend all the way to perhaps the tundra with few roads in between where one could easily get lost. Then there are wolves, yes, big bad wolves, Oh My, that are literally as large as some of the deer they consume, and they could attack. And what if I shoot the buck I’m pursuing way back of beyond in the big bush, what then? How will I ever hope to extract him from the place of his demise?

 

Well folks, I’m a deer tracker, born and bread.  I hunt for the largest male specimens of the whitetail race. And in so doing must apply my craft where those beasts reside; in the beautiful, harsh and demanding wilderness. Each hunt becomes an adventure with no guarantees of what’s around the next mysterious bend in the trail, how far the track will ultimately lead me, or whether I’ll even see the buck before daylight turns to night.

I’m like one of those that George Mattis described as, “The many hunters I have known who considered running down a particular deer as a thoroughly practical method of hunting.” And I’m also one of the men Mattis typified, “who set their minds on taking specific deer (who) were neither supermen nor attention seeking nonconformists. They were merely pursuing an ancient but effective method for taking most wild animals.” And I’m in the company of, as he writes, “The scattered few Nimrods today who prefer to run down their bucks in country favorable for this type of hunting (and) still find the method as practical as ever.”

 

But isn’t that really the charm, the very draw that keeps us coming back for more despite the hardships, physical demands and uncertainty? I know it is for me. In fact, every huntsman that takes up the challenge to place his boots into the unknown, who embarks upon a track into a darkened forest prior to the golden rays of mornings first light, who tramps endlessly in search of a mere vision is the huntsman that thirsts for adventure. Herein lies the still-hunter. His uninhibited spirit soars to meet the next mysterious bend in the trail and he delights in the sweat, toil and struggles that ultimately will lead him to satisfaction. These are the ingredients required for achievement in the face of high climbs and hard terrain. And why Paulina Brandreth zealously extolled, “There is a charm about still-hunting that no method of circumventing the wiles of the whitetail can compete with. It requires patience, skill, forethought, good judgment, and often a sort of subtle intuition that brings into the play the ancestral hunter that is in you. It is an active red-blooded game with the odds greatly in favor of the hunted. Time and again you will suffer disappointment, or be done out a good shot by some infinitesimal slip, or lack of proper foresight. Yet, the difficulties encountered, an ill-chosen gust of wind, a branch cracked underfoot, a trail on freshly fallen snow lost in a maze of other tracks – only serve to increase your energies and add fuel to your enthusiasm. And sooner or later, the desired opportunity will present itself and another ten or twelve-pointer be added to your collection.”

 

It really is the adventure that provides the ultimate experience for each of my hunts; my quest is the big buck, but how I get to that end is paramount in total satisfaction. Outdoor writer, Bryce Towsley rightly states, “…game hunting and its motivation are often called into question in today’s emasculated society, but it remains the ultimate challenge for those true to their genetic calling to be hunters.”

There are deer hunters who enjoy long vigils perched aloft observing a game trail, and others who prefer spending tedious hours watching a pile of bait or listening to the whir of an automated corn feeder. They are sure to see plenty of game. If that is your cup of tea, more power to you. But as for me, each hunt becomes a contest that offers an inner mixture of both joy and anticipation, and to the victor, as Larry Kollor writes, goes the rewards.

“True still-hunting will ever be a solitary effort, one in which the successful hunter can take the greatest pride of accomplishment. He has outwitted our most cautious and instinctively clever species of wildlife at its own game. The satisfaction of taking a whitetail buck by still-hunting methods alone can never be approached by killing a buck under any other circumstance.”

And, “When you have mastered it,” according to T.S. Van Dyke, “you will say it’s the deepest and most enduring of all the charms the land beyond the pavement has to offer.”

 So here I was, like so many times before fully immersed into the chase where each step drew me further from the security of the familiar. The buck had made many twists and turns in his route, encompassing several miles in the process. And then, without warning his trail hooked hard right. My senses immediately became heightened, my pulse quickened as I slowed to a snails pace. “He’s close and probably bedded,” I silently whispered. “Spot him before he spots you,” I cautioned myself.

The imprints led down a small incline, across a shallow brook and up through a labyrinth of head-high fir trees. As I slunk out from the confines of the fir jungle and began to climb, the buck, in one powerful motion burst from his bed not twenty yards away. In the midst of flying snow debris my rifle was leveled, and as the buck stretched out in full flight from his second bound, it reported.

 

The crimson droplets contrasted against a white backdrop made trailing the animal easy. Topping a rise in the terrain I spotted my prize; there he lay in the eight inches of snow, head up, seemingly alert and ready to vault once again. Taking careful aim, I sent the final volley that served to anchor the buck without him ever rising again.

Was this just a fantasy, nothing more than a flight of the imagination; to actually trek into the unknown, pit all I know about capturing this elusive, grand denizen of the forest wilds, and do so victoriously? To some, perhaps, but for me it was a reality born from years of chasing large-bodied, heavy-antlered bucks in vast environments with uninhibited freedom.

 

Crouched in the snow admiring this behemoth of a buck I heard the lone crescendo of a wolf howling in the distance. It was a lonely sound, an echo that served to break my euphoric trance. As I gazed about my immediate surroundings, unfamiliar for sure, I realized that I was miles from my vehicle and according to my GPS, more than a mile from the nearest road. Despite the work that lay ahead of me and the distance I’d have to drag, I was, in that very moment deep in the forest, never more satisfied…or more content.

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 © 2012 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer