The Marathon Buck

Posted on July 21, 2015

1


 

“Despite the transformations and the added mechanization to the sport, as long as man continues to tramp hardwood ridges, river bottoms, hemlock basins and the richly cultivated hedgerows in pursuit of the white-tailed deer, nostalgic memories of their daring feats will linger on: memories of their endless pursuits of mammoth bucks, their victorious conflicts with the hooves and horns of their wounded quarry and the shattering effect of their deer kill statistics. And with that I give you a hunt that transpired more than a quarter century ago…

 

ATDTJuly07-3

Three weeks of relentless pursuit in search of a trophy buck worth bringing to bag had left this tracker tired, frustrated, and somewhat discouraged. Far back in the northern wilderness where the terrain is a mixture of dense spruce and cedar, open hardwood and endless miles of barren clearcuts is where I had traipsed countless miles. From ridge tops overlooking valleys to nearly impenetrable cedar swamps, I had tramped in search of my prize. Tracking was next to impossible due to the lack of snow.

Finally, the snows came, dropping three inches of a fresh white carpet. Tuesday morning of the final week of the deer season dawned dark and damp. In the subdued light I made my way back into a remote area, halfway up an unnamed mountain that primarily consisted of fir trees, good green growth interspersed with occasional birch and maple. It was in this very location that I had spotted several fresh scrapes the day prior, and the chief reason that I was back again.

I was really careful in examining every shred of evidence as I snooped around, all the while trying not to let the pressure of a quickly disappearing season bother me, when I spotted them.

There, cut in the snow was a big, fresh set of staggered tracks that could only belong to one caliber of buck: a big one. I began following the spoor, when after a short distance I was elated to find a fresh scrape he had pawed out just minutes before. This was the buck that I’d waited all season to find, and I was determined to get him. Slowly, I proceeded on the track which led me further up the mountain and to another fresh scrape. Just as I was nearing the top, the track cut south, parallel to the mountain’s spine.

Scan108-3

In dutiful fashion, I followed along his trail encountering a couple more scrapes and a freshly de-limbed stunted balsam that he’d raked with his antlers. By his actions I surmised that this buck seemed to be frustrated, and I knew if he continued with his current preoccupation I’d be able to catch up. The good news was it didn’t appear that he was stopping to check his back trail.

It started drizzling as I followed him down the southern slope. Visibility worsened as I strained my eyes to catch a glimpse of him. The trail directed east around the side of the mountain and then went on a straight course down to the bottom and the edge of a clear-cut. So far, my early stalk and my walk in his track had eclipsed approximately 6 miles and I had yet to spot him. Although I believe this buck was just in front of me, I didn’t dare move any faster for fear of spooking him.

As I moved out into the cut, the rain really started coming down. I had my doubts about seeing him before he spotted me, but I had no choice but to continue the pursuit. He was still raking trees, even out in this mess, and now his trail started to meander, a sign that perhaps he was looking for a place to bed down. Cautiously and continuously I turned my head 180 degrees left and right searching for him. With each carefully placed step I eased through some short spruce. As I paused part way through the green debris, I detected movement to my left. It was a buck, and if it was my buck it would have meant he had circled and was now moving parallel to me, but in the opposite direction. Regardless, this buck had tall tines and a long body and suddenly disappeared, swallowed up by some thick underbrush. Instantly, I hopped up onto a blow-down and braced against a tree hoping he would reemerge. Suddenly, he nonchalantly angled out and away from me. In this type of hunting you have to take the shot when it’s presented. One gets few opportunities in the tracking game.

 

2008 cover 9-3

Most of his lower body was hidden due to the many small saplings. I found brown through the peep site and touched off the shot. Immediately he dropped. With only his neck and antlers still visible, I chambered another round and fired at his neck, felling the fine stag, or so I thought. As I made my way over to where he had fallen, deer hair along with a substantial amount of blood indicated my bullet had reached its mark. Immediately I began carefully following the crimson trail and within a short distance, jumped him up. I fired twice as he erratically moved through the residue tangles of the woodcutters saw. “He won’t go far,” I assured myself, “not with this kind of blood trail.”

His path took me on a wide arc through the cutting and then led back west toward the mountain. I gazed up through the trees and could see flashes of him moving up the side and angling northwest. Right up to the top we went and then north along the spine. “Come on, lay down, so I can finish you,” I mumbled over and over. He must have spotted me coming because straight down the western side he dashed taking 30-foot bounds, with me trotting minutes behind him. He continued down reaching the bottom and fled across a major log road, which I had to pause prior to crossing due to oncoming logging truck traffic.

Scan309-3

Down a ravine and into a swale swamp he proceeded, through thick spruce, along a partially frozen stream and then across the watery divide. As I stood there peering into the icy roaring stream I was wondering if this buck was really wounded. I had never chased one this hard and far. If it weren’t for the constant reminder of blood on the snow, I would have thought differently, especially as to my next step. With boots and pants removed, into the bone-chilling stream I plunged, right up to my thighs as I crossed. After redressing, the chase continued straight towards a high, steep mountain that loomed ahead. The buck would go for a ways straight up, and then level off moving south. We stayed on this type of course for the remainder of the afternoon. Twenty minutes before dark I finally reconnected with my nemesis as he moved up out of a shallow mountain stream. Instantly I dropped to one knee, aimed and squeezed the trigger in one fluid motion. Fire scorched out the end of my carbine as the shot echoed in the stillness. He just kept rambling along seemingly unaffected. Reaching where he was when I shot revealed a patch of dark brown hair, but no further blood. I stayed on him until dark, when I dejectedly had to succumb to the blackness of the night. Marking the spot, I now realized how tired and soaked I was from the rain, stream and perspiration. Grudgingly, I trudged down the mountain and out to an access road in the all-consuming blackness of a lights-out sky.

Pop soon picked me up as I was walking the road. He had been on a scouting mission in search of trophies for future hunting seasons. Three days earlier he had downed his trophy buck. As I relayed my story to him he sensed my despair and told me, “He will lay down and die tonight, we will get him tomorrow.” “I just hope the rain stops so that we have some snow left.” I muttered.

After a long restless night we went back to where I left the track on yet another dark and dreary morning. There was still a 1/2-inch of patchy snow left. Pop followed me back to the trail in order to help with the now difficult trailing job. “Four eyes are better than two,” he exclaimed. I couldn’t believe it, but the trail revealed my buck never laid down, but constantly moved through the night. His path continued to take us deeper and deeper into the wooded abyss.

Three times we nearly lost his trail due to melting snow. His blood loss had dropped off considerably. In places where the trail seemed to disappear, Pop would stand beside the last print, which by now I had well ingrained in my brain, while I made half circles up ahead in order to pick his track back up.

Down the backside of the mountain his trail led bringing us once again to yet another stream. Without hesitation I plunged in for another icy transit. Upon reaching the opposite bank we found a welcomed sight, the buck was now bleeding heavily again. Obviously, this helped both psychologically as well, as we followed him through a spruce grove, up a small incline, and down a V-shaped peninsula. I told Pop, “He’s going to go back across the stream.” And with those words no sooner uttered, off to my right was a buck attempting to come up out of a stream on the far bank. With tall tines and a long body, he was my buck all right, and looked bigger than ever. I dropped to both knees, drew a deep breath, and fired. To my amazement he jumped back into the stream and statuesquely stood there seemingly suspended in time.

 

DOC071415-07142015070028-3

With ribbons of steamy vapors being emitted from his nostrils, encircling the crown atop his head, ears lowered, water rushing past him halfway up his body, he turned and looked at me. I moved to his left in order to finish what I had started more than 24 hours ago. With all the admiration and respect, I softly made my peace with this fine animal saying, “Sorry old boy. You’re a noble king and have given me quite a run.” Slowly he turned his head and antlers, lifted his nose high into the air, and let out 3 long, deep bawls from deep within him, his final call to tell all others, it’s over. The king is dead. It was deathly quiet except for the rippling water, as my rifle sounded, finally putting him to rest. He died just as he lived, a noble, proud and majestic creature.

DOC071415-07142015070133-3

He took this tracker on an estimated 20-mile chase that lasted two days, hence the befitting title of this piece. This worthy antagonist dressed 218 pounds with 8 points, two of which were broken off. Both brow tines were broken from what I assumed to be his many battles defending his position in the hierarchy. Even so, his six remaining points still netted 137 B.C. Despite not making any records, he indeed was one for the book – my book.

DOC071415-07142015070111-3

All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier
© 2015 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

 

Advertisements
Posted in: Whitetail Deer