Day 77

Posted on December 13, 2016

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“We confer the degree of hunter on those individuals who can track a deer

              for a mile and secure it without the aid of snow.” – Ernest Thompson Seton

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Seventy-six hunting days had come and gone since I killed my last buck (even though it was my single best all-around buck: 160 class; 260 pounds dressed). It seemed like a lifetime ago.

What you are about to read is more than just a tale. It’s not just your ordinary hunting story. It is   an epic adventure where the end results are nothing short of incredible.

Snow is as fickle as the breeze it blows in on and more temperamental than a woman’s prerogative. It is certainly as unreliable as the weather-casters who try to forecast a winter storm. There’s a whole lot more days devoid of snow on the landscape than there is with it. That’s why I determined years ago that if I was going to continue to be successful as a tracker, I would need to alter my methods. Yes, I still track, but for the most part that tracking is now accomplished by locating the animal’s spoor, figuring out his route and then going into his domain to hunt him.

As I mentioned above, seventy-six hunting days had come and gone since I killed my last buck; it seemed like a lifetime ago. Of course, there had been opportunities to shoot bucks during this drought but none that I wanted to rob the life from.  Day 76 was as uneventful as any I can remember while being in the deer woods. I hunted a location that had given up one of it heaviest children of the forest a few years back only to now find it completely devoid of any deer sign. Important note: if you’re going to kill a buck you need to hunt where one exists.

 

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Utilizing the remaining three hours of the day, I drove down a logging road to search for tracks. It was about six miles in when I first began seeing tracks on the road, a very welcomed sight. Ten miles in and I discovered what I’d really been searching for, a very large imprint. Now I had to quickly figure out how this buck was using the terrain prior to tomorrow. His print was located between the tops of two ridge lines with roads following the contour along both sides. After driving both roads and not finding his track, it was clear he was only crossing at the one location.

Day 77 started out no different than the preceding 76; I had high hopes of succeeding at something that is not so easy to do, especially in the wilderness. However, the wind was not entirely favorable to the direction I wanted to take. In fact, with much internal deliberation I finally decided that I would stick with my original choice of direction and cross cut the southeast wind direction. I followed the buck’s spoor on a trail that for the first quarter-mile led through a two-year-old cut. Once reaching the standing timber the trail split, one circling the trees and the other leading onto a path on top. I opted to go into the woods and stay to the far side of the ridge to accommodate the wind on my left cheek.

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I rounded a bend in the trail when what to my wondering eyes should appear? A giant rub surrounded by five large scrapes, all measuring three feet by four feet square, all indicative of both a very large whitetail and competition with other bucks in the area. The ‘WOW’ factor was beginning to kick in as the excitement began to build. After photographing this sign, I continued, but not for very long as my progress was interrupted by the sound of thundering hooves.

 

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And here she came at full tilt, tail tucked, nose close to the ground! The doe ran past me broadside at 45-yards distant. Immediately I thought, “What could be chasing her?” And then I began to hear what sounded like a tree creaking back and forth in the wind, but it wasn’t a tree. Coming down the very same path was a spike-horned buck grunting with each step. After a chuckle and once he disappeared I decided to stay put for a bit; after all, if the doe was nearing estrous she may attract other male company, such as the buck whose track I followed in.

Fifteen minutes into my vigil – a long stop for me – a buck appeared on the same trail, only he is traveling in the opposite direction of the spike and doe. Three tines up and a long body. That was all that I needed to assess him as a shooter. Looking through the scope directly into the sun made it a bit difficult, as well as there being a fair amount of forest growth between me and the target. Despite the obstacles, in well-rehearsed fashion my rifle was leveled with the crosshair firmly fixed. At the rifle’s report, the buck immediately flinched, bolted ahead three jumps, did a complete 180 degree turn around a cluster of birch trees, almost falling in the process, and then stumbled as he headed downhill. It’s a lot to take in when all of this transpires in mere seconds. I was initially shocked that the buck did not fall immediately at that range, but had little doubt he’d gone very far.

After 48-years of shooting bucks, everything within me was convinced of a hit deer, yet, I could not find a shred of evidence verifying it; no hair, no blood – not a single drop. I circled, recircled and walked in grid patterns for nearly two hours with the same deflating results. Then the doubt and second-guessing began setting in. I lamented, “Chances are hard to come by as of late and it now appears I have blown a chip shot.” With no evidence to follow, despite what I observed in the buck’s actions directly after the shot, all I could do was stay in the area for the rest of the day and hope above all hope that if indeed he was hit I’d find the proverbial needle in the haystack.

By day’s end and no buck located I purposely walked out onto the road paralleling the east side of the ridge and hiked it back to the truck all the time searching for the buck’s print as that was the direction of his travel. No luck there either. Upon reaching my vehicle I drove the road on the west side of ridgeline looking for his track to no avail, which meant one thing, hit or not, the buck was still in there.

 

Christmas Morning

 

I’d determined the night before that I would be returning to the same area as I was still not completely convinced that I had missed that buck, not that I can’t or have not missed before, but I just did not believe that was the case in this situation.

 

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Surprisingly, I was quite relaxed as I drove into the area, even stopping to photograph an incredible sunrise. The weather forecast was for rain later in the morning with the wind once again blowing from the southeast. Upon reaching the same parking spot from yesterday, I began a 15-minute debate with myself as to where it would be best for me to go in. Finally, convinced this was the exact route I should take, I opted to go in on the very same trail as the day before.

As I hoofed it up the road I noticed fresh wolf tracks over my day-old tire tracks. I saw ravens flying about, but not circling as if something was dead. My intent was to slowly and methodically still-hunt every square inch of this ridge…for what? A hope, a sign, verification and/or my own personal satisfaction. Little could I have anticipated what was about to transpire.

 

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After making my way through the cut and sixty yards into the wood, there, on the very same trail I’d walked in on yesterday, lying dead, facing me, on the trail, was my buck. Of all the places, he could have died, it was here. Immediately a flood of emotions overtook me. This was both unprecedented and completely unexpected. There was no blood trail leading to him, (more on that later) and not a single predator or scavenger had touched a hair on him, which is almost unheard of. The oft used phrase, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”, did not apply here. This result was clearly divine intervention from a Father in heaven that loves to bless His children. And this kid could not have been more humbled, overjoyed and thankful at this moment. It was like a whole lifetime worth of Christmas mornings all rolled into one. It was as surreal a moment as I have ever encountered as a deer hunter. But there was more.

As I approached the fallen monarch and looked beyond his crown of antlers I was yet again blown away. His body was immense! Not being a stranger to heavyweight deer, this one was, well, so much longer and fuller than anything I’d shot prior. Then I asked myself the same question that later every other person who saw him asked: “How am I going to get this beast out of the woods by myself?”

 

The Haul of Happiness

 

One backward step at a time. Understand, this is the big woods, I’m alone and help is not coming. My prayer was, “Lord give me the strength, stamina and help me not to pull anything other than this buck. Oh, and, please let there be a banking on the edge of the road.” Facing the deer with drag-rope in hand and pulling as I went backwards – six inches at a time – it took me 3 ½ hours to hitch the buck 1/4 of a mile.

 

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While resting between pulls I decided to see if I had any cell service. Unbelievably, I did. I phoned up my best gal to deliver the glad tidings, and told her, “I believe I have shot the biggest buck of my life, and I am half-way out with him in tow.” Her remarks, “Take it slow, you have the rest of the season to get him out.” No worries about speed being a factor with this load, I assured her.

Upon reaching the roads edge, where there was indeed the banking I’d prayed for, I left the buck and hiked the road to retrieve the truck. Once back, I lowered the tailgate, backed up to the bank and was able to pull the big boy right into the truck bed that he more than filled. Finally, physically drained, I sat in the driver’s seat contently eating lunch as the rain began to fall.

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Conclusion

 

Once I had the buck hung and weighed (270 pounds, dressed) I could assess what exactly happened with my shot. The bullet deflected, tumbled and entered the buck near his heart sideways. In so doing, the projectile lost most of its energy and did not fully mushroom. Interior fat instantly plugged the hole leaving no blood trail to follow. Fortunately, despite its oblong entry, the bullet hit part of a lung and the top of the buck’s heart. 400-yards may not seem like much, the distance he traveled from shot to death bed, until you are trying to find that needle in the haystack.

 

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Once again I am reminded by what Jim Shockey once wrote, “You can make plans, but man plans and God laughs.” In my opinion, this assertion is absolutely correct. God will orchestrate the outcome, regardless of even our best laid plans or what we may ask or even think possible!

 

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