On the Track of a Small Woods Buck

Posted on March 26, 2019

1


Guest Blogger, Thomas Waters shares with us an incredibly compelling tale of he and a buck, a special stag that led him to the experience you are about to enjoy.

 

 

My hunting season started like numerous years before, a borrowed gun with my fingers crossed for snow. My fiancée (now wife) worked as a service representative at Shaw’s Supermarket and I worked as a bus driver for the School Department. We had one vehicle, my mammoth 1993 F150. She worked nights with a mix of days and obviously, I worked days. I drove her to work every day once I got home.

On Wednesday, November 16th, I returned home from work and fetched my fiancée for our routine 30-minute trek to Shaw’s. In route, a misty rain began to paint the windshield. I remember thinking “I hope this rain turns to snow”. We arrived at Shaw’s and I kissed my fiancée farewell as the mist now turned into torrential down pours. I turned the dry rotted wiper knob to its maximum clearing speed. My visibility was impaired, so much so that I had to pull over at times and wait for a slight break in the storm. Newly painted road lines helped me navigate as I proceeded towards home. The rain was now accompanied by a nasty howling wind. I grasped the wheel like a long-lost friend.

Head lights on the horizon coming towards me caused a bit of concern as standing water had now begun to pool on the black top. Before the car could close the distance, like a shooting star, a buck darted in front of my truck. Slamming the brakes caused me to skid across the puddles like a flat stone, ultimately halting in the road side gravel. The on-coming car obviously saw my swerving and pulled over. I rolled down my window simultaneously with the concerned motorists. “Are you ok?” they shouted. “I’m ok! Thank you!” I replied.
Truth be told, I was a bit shaken. Not because I’d just come within feet of wrecking my only mode of transportation, but because I had just set eyes on a buck larger than any I had ever killed. I told myself, before the deer season was over, that buck was going to ride with me to the tagging station. Once at home I began to study aerial photos of the entire area. “If we get snow, I’m going to get him,” I told my fiancée later that evening.

 

It’s now Tuesday the 22nd. The evening news is on and the unmistakable sound of Storm Center 6 echoes from the living room. I run like a kid on Christmas morning and glue myself to the television. “A Nor’easter is going to blast the state. It’s track is unknown at this time but looks like it should hit late morning into the afternoon,” the meteorologist reported. I was beyond excited. I was up pretty much the entire night, opening the door, waiting for that first flake. I felt like a student hoping for a snow day. By 3 am, the storm began unleashing its wrath on the great state of Maine.

5:30 am the next morning I started the drive to take my fiancée to work. Along the way I realized I hadn’t packed anything to eat. After dropping her off, I bought myself a breakfast sandwich, coffee, a tin of tobacco and a 20 oz. Mountain Dew. Since this was Southern Maine, I didn’t see the hunt lasting too long.

I arrived a couple of hundred yards from where I almost hit the buck one week prior. At my disposal were five hundred acres to try and find his track. I gathered my things: a 20oz Mountain Dew, hunting license, phone, lighter, my grandfather’s Remington Mohawk 48 12 gauge, a tin of chew, knife, pen and a couple of hand warmers. I stuffed my pant pockets with napkins (just in case), threw on my Johnson wool coat topped with orange vest, pulled down on my blaze orange ball cap and set off down the trail with a belly full of optimism.
Yes, my spirit was alive as I had a strong premonition that the buck and I were going to cross paths. But that path would need to be fresh, as in minutes old. You see, the wind and snow almost immediately covered my own tracks behind me. “If I find a track, I’m right on top of them,” I thought to myself. I figured at this point in the storm, the deer should be bedded down.

I trudged through the snow, peering into thickets along a ridge comprised of both hardwood and spruce. The wind and snow whipped into my face, causing my eyes to water. Turning my head to avert the wind caused me to glance up the hill and focus on a beechnut blow down. To my surprise, a large deer materialized as it stood up. Instinctively, my safety clicked over to fire. My heart was now thumping. I rubbed my eyes again and realized the deer was a mature doe. She stood forty-five yards away, locked eye-to-eye with me. Our stare-down felt like forever. The adrenalin sent shock waves through my body, causing me to weave and wobble as if the wind actually was blowing me around.

 

 

The doe stomped her foot. As she did, I noticed another deer that was about eight yards behind her stand up. The snow crusted beech leaves impaired my view. What I could see was the second deer shaking snow off it’s back. As the deer tilted and shook, I saw tines tilting side to side… it was him! I pulled up and shouldered my grandfather’s shotgun. The doe began to blow, then bounded into the thick spruce where the buck immediately followed. My heart sank as continued to stare relentlessly into where the pair had disappeared, hoping they’d return, but to no avail.
I gave it five minutes before walking up to where they had been bedded. It confirmed what I thought, it was definitely him. I kneeled down in his bed to gain a better perspective of the view they had as I approached. “Damn he was right here, and I was right there!” I mumbled to myself. I took a few minutes to calm down and to provide them a few to do the same.

Reflecting on tracking books I’ve read, I actually recalled at this point to let things calm down after jumping a buck before continuing on the track. I checked my phone, the time read 7:30. I got up and slowly started what I had always dreamed of, tracking a trophy buck.
The track led me down the ridge and through some open pine. A disturbance in the snow caught my eye, about fifteen yards to one side of the deer tracks. These slots turned out to be boot tracks “Great, another hunter,” I said. And then, upon closer examination, I realized these imprints were my own. Had I just turned around and gone back on my trail once I’d jumped the bedded duo, it’s likely I would have shot that buck. With a renewed determination, I pushed on.

 

 

In order to prevent overheating, I slowed my pace. The tracks were relatively easy to follow, just him and her. I noticed where they began browsing which boosted my confidence immensely. Thankfully, the snow eased up a little around 9:30. However, the wind continued to blow hard enough to cause the pine boughs to drop their load of heavy wet snow.

I continued on the tracks thinking, “they aren’t far ahead of me now”. I could see in the distance we were going to enter a stand of oaks surrounded by small pines. Once I reached the oaks, it looked as if Santa had landed and let his team of reindeer loose. I tried not to get overwhelmed as I reminded myself, I had plenty of time. Revisiting once again what I had read, I did circles, and circles, and ever widening circles. I must have looked like a hound on his first rabbit. Eventually, I found a track that looked as if it had bounded off in a hurry. It was the does track. Just a few yards up the ridge I saw the buck’s track. I smacked myself, thinking, “maybe if you looked up once you could have shot him, you idiot!”

At this point I was on a geographical saddle. Open hardwoods and thick beechnut sprinkled throughout. His track headed up and hers headed down the ridge line. As I came to a bluff, I saw a doe bounding away. Finally, they made a mistake and not me. They split up! What was I going to do now? I had to decide carefully and quickly. My choice was to pursue her track over his. Every time I’d jumped them, I only saw her. I figured maybe if I follow her, I could see him first.

After about twenty-five minutes on her track, I began to doubt myself. “Did he ditch her? Am I on the wrong doe?” My thoughts raced. I had to stick with it, I just had to. I turned around and back-tracked to see if he was behind and following. I looked up the ridge and saw what appeared to be another deer’s track. “It had to be him,” I thought. I hurried back to continue on her track. “He has to be coming down to meet back up, he has to,” I assured myself.

She continued along another saddle until it met a trickling creek. I paused to gather my thoughts. I glanced right. For a quick second I thought I may have been hallucinating. The buck I had been chasing was standing broadside as cocky as a championship fighter, just forty-yards above me. I froze in place as we traded stares. Just as I clicked the safety, he suddenly let out a screeching snort and leaped. Simultaneously I shouldered Grampa’s Remington and squeezed the trigger sending a shot towards my targeted buck.

 

He was out of sight as quickly as he had appeared. I ran to where he bounded when I shot. Blood! Dark red in color, with a mix of brown and white hair. “Well he’s hit at least, but where?” I questioned. I gave him twenty minutes, which gave me a chance to settle down a bit. At this point in the day it was now 10:30.

With perseverance and due diligence, I continued following the bloody trail. Barely twenty- yards up the ridge, his track revealed he’d stood and observed me coming. Where he stood watching blood had pooled into one track. I knew then it was unlikely I made a fatal shot. Onward I marched along his track, upset with myself for making a poor shot.

Within minutes I was greeted with yet another unexpected revelation, a sign posted on a pine tree that read, NO HUNTING WITH OUT PERMISSION. I could have given up right then, or just trespassed. I didn’t. Instead, I made a big swing left to be sure I stayed off the private property. My intention was to find the owner and ask permission. As I headed toward the road, I hear the scraping of a town trucks plow blade, then a honk. “Ha, I wonder if he’s honking at the buck,” I joked to myself.

 

Once I reached the road, I began looking at houses to see whose property it was that was posted. I prepared myself for the worst as I walked with my head down, practicing my, please grant me permission speech. I came to an unplowed drive way and was pretty certain I found the owner of the posted properties house. Feeling a bit dejected, slumped shoulders and all, I made my way towards the house. Part way down the driveway, something caught my eye, it was a deer track. “I don’t believe it,” I quietly shouted. His track came out and crossed the main road, which put him back onto public land.
His trail now led straight up a steep ridge. Without complaint and with renewed enthusiasm, I ran up the ridge as fast as I could. By this time the storm had dumped over a foot of snow. I reached the top out of breath and down to my last swallow of Mountain Dew. As I rested a moment, taking in the heavenly dusted landscape, I laughed thinking about challenges this deer has put me through. Putting in a dip, I eagerly continued on the track.

Fortunately, he was still bleeding, and he appeared to be slowing a bit. As the top flattened, the terrain opened up with mature pines, scattered by spruce thickets. And then another obstacle, roughly 150-yards away, a house. “Crap! I don’t know where I am, I better pick up the pace,” I thought. Five steps later, there he was! Broadside at 70 yards! I pulled up and quickly back down. I can’t shoot. I don’t know if there’s a house just behind the small firs. He bounded off.

Frustrated, I rushed myself along the track and to my surprise, he went away from the one house I could see. I’m good to go now, or so I thought. We crossed a pole line twice. It seemed as if he knew I wasn’t giving up. It’s now about 1:00 and my wool coat is beginning to soak through. My body heat is melting anything that lands on me. I begin to wonder, “Am I hot or is hypothermia setting in?”

 

 

“I have to continue on,” I tell myself. His trail leads me into the thickest thorn bushes and vines I had ever encountered. At one point I even unloaded and crawled on my belly to get through. If It weren’t for the blood, I would have thought it was the wrong track.
Finally, I can stand up and load my gun. I can see an un-kept trail just ahead. The wind is howling and causing snow drifts. For a few minutes I lose his track. I keep going until I hit the trail. The trail ran up and down the wooded hill side. I decided to walk up the trail and see if he crossed. As I did, about 80- yards distance I see the dreaded yellow square, “POSTED”. Repeatedly I softly said, “Please no, please no, please no.” Then I see a track, and as luck would have it it’s coming OUT of the posted land! IT’S HIM! I couldn’t believe it. He edged the property line until we came to an old Christmas tree farm. He crossed the open hay field into the Christmas trees. “He has to be bedded in here,” I thought.

Weaving through the rows of fir, I kept my eyes peeled. “This is it, any second now,” I thought to myself. I methodically crept through the tree farm like he was a criminal and I was on the S.W.A.T. team. The trees eventually came to an end with the landscape opening back up into the empty hay field.
He was nowhere in sight. I scurried through the field and plowed back into the thick whips. His track indicated he’d watched me cross the field. Onward he led me through more tangles and thick thorn briers. My blue jeans weren’t faring too well nor my legs, which were taking a beating. Cut up, soaked, and border line hypothermic I pushed on. He took me across yet another pole line and now, into a swamp. My boots became filled with murky ice water. I’m seriously considering calling off the hunt at this point.

I keep having to stop, which is costly. I’m beginning to lose feeling on the outside of my legs. Ice has formed on the edges of my saturated jeans. As I follow his track up and out of the swamp, a snow squall starts to rip through the area. A sense of urgency now hurries me to catch up before I lose his track.

And it’s back to the pole line once again. I know what he’s doing. He’s holding up just inside the cover, waiting to see if I’ll follow. What he didn’t plan for was the snow squall. This was it. This was likely my last chance. I knew I could cross undetected. I ran as fast as my energy level would allow. I felt like I was in a war movie and he was the enemy. I made it! Across the pole line and into the woods. I picked up his track and prepared for my shot. Rolling hills accompanied by short pines and tall oaks set the stage. I crept though like an ally cat prepared to catch a mouse.

 

Before long, I came to what appeared to be a plowed road. I was discouraged initially as I looked around, but to my relief it was only a cellphone tower road. However, at this point I’m wiped out; soaked, hungry, thirsty, and have legitimate concern for my safety. I dropped to my knees and began talking to the Lord. I asked for Him and my loved ones in heaven to guide me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a coin. I said out loud “Lord, I’ll let you decide with the flip of this quarter. Heads I go on, tails I leave the track and get warm.” I place the quarter on my right thumb and flip it into the air. I catch it and slam it on my left hand. With one eye open I reluctantly peel away my hand. HEADS! I must go on! “If you say so, Lord,” I said softly.

I stand up and brush off the snow clumped on my jeans. I step off the road, cross the ditch and reload my slugs. I make my way through the thick road side debris using my left arm to guard my face. Just as I make it to an opening on the opposite side, there he was. The buck was standing broad side like a calendar photo, 35 yards away! I’m in almost disbelief. He blows but cannot run as a fallen oak blocks his path. He must jump it to escape. I shoulder the gun, anticipating his leap. His elbow lines up to his heart at the peak of his bound. My bead is on him as I pull the trigger. A muffled shot echoes and I run. I run as fast as I ever have. I get to the blow down he vaulted and there is blood, only this time it’s obviously a fatal hit.

 

 

I follow the red highlighted track in excitement. Fist pumping and shouting “Yes! Oh my Lord, Yes! There he is! He’s down!” My exuberance quickly turned into sadness. The hunt was over. I had just taken the life of a beautiful, majestic beast. As I approached him, he was taking his last breaths on God’s earth. I laid beside him and stroked his pelt. “Thank you. It was an amazing battle and you did great. It’s ok now, you can rest, its ok. I’m sorry.” Tears filled my eyes as I laid on my back beside him thanking the Lord.
I called my oldest brother, Chris and said, “I did it, brother, I finally tracked a big buck!” I could hear him getting choked up as he replied, “I’m so proud of you, brother! I’m so proud!”

 

Once the buck was out and loaded, we went to the tagging station on a spiritual high, to find out my hard-won prize dressed out at 200lbs even.
I have never slept better than the night of November 23rd, 2011.

 

All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier
© 2019 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.