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The Holy Grail

This past Easter Sunday I ventured out alone to retrieve the one last trail camera I had out from December.  The location of this camera, combined with the fact that every weekend seemed to bring a blizzard or frigid temperatures, meant that I was getting four months of visual evidence.  When I scrolled through the pictures, I was blind sighted by what I saw!

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Folks, this is the holy grail! Here, are two combatants are taking a break.

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Notice the different dates on at the bottom.

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Clearly, we have a multitude of bucks in this area.

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And then we have this guy, who is simply waiting for the winner!

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Sometime in the 1960’s

As told to me by my uncle (I cleaned up the grammar and language 😊):

https://www.reddit.com/r/DomGattoPhoto/comments/l75bxp/buck_in_the_snow/

I started out that morning with a fresh five inches of snow on the ground.  I worked my way up the first hill behind the homestead and into the pines.  It was a still morning, nary a wind to be felt.  It was just after first light and the songbirds were warming up their vocal cords.

I quickly came across a set of deer tracks that was better than decent in size.  They had to be made recently, as it had stopped snowing less than an hour before.  Without a game plan that morning, I hopped on the tracks to see where they would take me.

I crested a pair of ridges due south, heading toward a transition line where the pines would meet the hardwoods in a series of valleys that led to the river.  I didn’t get far when I noticed the tracks were slowing down, the stride between footsteps shrinking by the step.  The fresh snow my friend under my feet, I crept slowly.  Just below the ridge to my left, the elderly property owner was pounding away with a hammer.  I could easily see his movements through the trees.

I came to a blowdown.  The tracks seemed to go straight through it.  The fallen tree, an old monarch of the forest, had several thin, ill-fitting branches that sprouted in all directions.  I took the barrel of my rifle and moved a few out of the way.  There, behind the shield of the blowdown, was a five-point buck, his head back, eyes closed, fast asleep.  I pulled up the gun and looked through the scope.  The deer was so blurry I had to back up to shoot.  I touched off.  Bang!  The buck never knew what hit him.  Below, the hammering stopped, and the old man bellowed, “Get up in the woods and hunt!”  I must have scared the dickens out of him.

I scurried out of there, leaving my deer where he lay.  I grabbed an extra set of hands to help get the buck out of the woods before I was confronted by the old guy.  It was one of those hunts where the story that accompanies it never gets old.

Deer Hunting Stories, In Memory of a Great Friend

As a hunter and writer of stories myself, thank you for sharing. The memories we make with our hunting partners last forever. I’m sorry for the loss of yours.

Slow Down Country Pap

Yes, time marches on and while it brings us some great things like grandchildren, it also brings us news such as I received a couple of days ago regarding the passing of a dear friend. When I found out last week that he was failing I asked his wife to tell him to remember some of the deer hunting stories we made together, and in honor of him I would like to do the same. These bring a smile to my face through the tears in my eyes. So, for you Rick.

Photo by Steve on Pexels.com

My wife and I met Rick when he and his wife accepted the call of ministry at our church. Because of this he not only became our pastor, but immediately he, his wife, and mom became great friends. The National Church probably frowns on that now as they frown upon many things, but…

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Nothing More Than A Walk in the Woods

Deer season has ended.  I’m tired and could stand to catch up on some things around the house, say nothing about a few extra hours of sleep.  Technically, I don’t need to be in the woods again until May 1, the spring turkey hunting opener.  Deer season for me doesn’t start again until the middle of November.  However, anyone who knows me understands that staying away will not be possible.

Alas, Dad and I went to the woods this past weekend.  I had a few trail cameras wanted to check, as well as look for places to hang up others.  One can learn an awful lot by getting out there immediately after the season.  For starters, while the hunters have all but disappeared, the deer are still on high alert and are utilizing their well-hidden deer trails and bedding areas.  Finding such areas gives me a leg up on planning for next year.  If the secrets worked well for the deer this year, they’ll fall back on them again next season. 

In addition, the snow has not yet forced the deer to go completely into their yarding mode.  In fact, the ground was bare when I walked into the woods and the snow began to fall about an hour into my adventure.  They will be feeding in normal places like the oaks, fields, and simple browsing sites.  While the tracks they put down will mostly be from nighttime feeding adventures, it will give us an idea of what is out there.

I checked my cameras and did not see anything that knocked my socks off.  A few does have been feeding on a still-active stand of oaks where I have one camera set.  It is nice to see that they feel comfortable enough to head there in the daylight.  If these trees have acorns next year, this would be a nice spot to potentially hang a tree stand.

I didn’t get any pictures of bucks this week, including the big guy that is in the area.  While disappointing, I know they are around.  More importantly, I was able to spend a couple of hours with my dad, doing what we love doing the most.  With the way the world is today, sometimes the little things like a quiet outing in the wilderness is all it takes to refuel the strength it’s going to take to make it through another week.  Never underestimate the significance of a simple walk in the woods.  

The Runt

https://www.shutterstock.com/search/spike+horn+buck

I’ve hunted with my dad since I was old enough to trudge through the woods.  We experienced it all; the highs of harvesting good bucks, the lows of not seeing deer or just missing them, and plenty of laughs along the way.  The rifle season of 2008, however, produced a story that we still speak of consistently today.  This is the story of The Runt.

I was sitting in my trusty ground blind on opening day that year.  It had been a slow morning with zero deer sighting past the lunch hour.  Not long after I consumed the final morsel of my turkey sandwich, I heard a commotion down by the stand of softwoods out in front of me.  Without warning, on a dead run were four deer, followed closely by a grunting one.  As they were moving briskly through the flat 100 yards away, I hastily pulled up and checked through my scope.  The first four were all doe, while the fifth deer had small spikes.  They raced out of sight, with the buck grunting along the way.  I put my gun down and had a chuckle.  That boy thought he was a big man and the ladies wanted nothing o do with him.

The following afternoon, I met Dad at our usual meeting spot at dark.  He had a twinkle in his eye as if he couldn’t wait to tell me a story.  He said he saw a doe approaching at a steady walk that suddenly began galloping through the hardwoods toward him.  Behind her was a small fawn, also on a mission.  When the deer closed to within 15 yards, he heard the grunting and realized the “fawn” was actually a small spike horn.  He then had a front row seat to the doe running in circles with the buck following in lock step, grunting dozens of time, before the two deer disappeared.  Dad said the doe towered over the buck and he wondered how the male deer would ever be able to mount the object of his affection.

I was back in my normal spot on the fourth morning.  At about 9:00 AM, I spotted a deer off to my right, coming my way.  Immediately, I heard grunting.  I thought, “Oh no, here we go again.”  The Runt, as Dad and I now affectionately called him, was closing in.  They walked from my right to left and up a bank, getting to within 20 yards, giving me a great look at them.  The buck couldn’t go more than 80 pounds.  I got on the radio with Dad and we had a chuckle about seeing the big boy again.  This is probably the only time in my deer hunting experience when I couldn’t wait for the deer to get out of there.

That was the last either of us saw of The Runt.  I’m not sure what actually happened to him.  I’m assuming he got to be too big for his britches and got run off by a larger deer.  In all honesty, it wouldn’t take much.  Dad and I talk about him frequently to this day.  Maybe five or six years later, one of us wondered out loud, half-jokingly, if he would be a small four pointer yet.  Long live The Runt.

So This is What the Deer Look Like

December 4, 2021

It was a frosty morning this past Saturday, the opening morning of muzzleloader season.  Dad and I made our way up to familiar territory, a place that had bred us both with much success over the years.  I was in this area the previous weekend and noticed how the ground was tore up by deer on the search for acorns.

I decided to sit in my trusty ground blind, one that has been the setting for many of my previous deer stories.  Dad continued up the walking path until he reached his destination.  He was fortunate to actually see two deer skipping along as he meandered up the mountainside.  This was the first deer sighting of the 2021 season for either of us.

After a more than three hour sit, Dad and I got on the radios.  He told me about his deer sighting and we agreed to meet along the walking path.  The air was bitter, and the wind chilled us to the bone.  The idea was that the walk of about 200 yards would warm us up somewhat.

Along the way, I noticed some well-established deer trails cresting the ridge and heading up towards what we know as a good bedding area.  As it had last snowed on Thursday morning, this much deer sign within a two-day span required my attention.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out the deer were using these trails to get from their bedding to the acorns below.

I met Dad and brought him to the deer trails.  We decided to build a ground blind, centering on three heavily used trails that funneled through this one area, a mixture of hardwoods and pines.  From where I would sit, the furthest trail would be about a 30-yard shot.

Dad went on his way.  His plan was to still hunt in the general direction of the truck, allowing him to not have such a long walk back to the vehicle in the dark.  I settled in and ate my lunch.  I would have approximately three and a half hours of legal shooting light to try out my new stand.

At about 2:30 PM, I heard footsteps on the crunchy snow.  I looked to my immediate right, and at about 60 feet away, stood a decent-sized doe, staring straight at me.  Right behind her were two smaller deer, both antlerless.  This was most likely a mother and two older fawns.  I now had the first deer sightings of my 2021 season.

The deer swung out in front of me along the furthest deer trail, and walked broadside at 30 yards, before disappearing over a small hump to my left.  They had come up from the acorns and appeared to be heading towards the bedding area.  I was simply ecstatic to see a deer.

Settling back in, I thought of my good fortune.  I was happy to not get shut out for the entire season.  Suddenly, I heard more crunching off to my right.  After a few seconds, I saw the back of a deer poking its way up a bank and into view.  For a moment, I was sure this would be the buck following the group of does.  It turned out to be a fourth doe, with a small fawn in tow.  They got onto the same trail and heading in the same direction.

I was now on high alert.  I spent the next two hours expecting a buck to come along.  One never did, but I was okay with it.  As I made my long, lonely trek out of the woods in the dark, I gave a silent thanks for being able to witness such beautiful creatures up close in their home habitat.  I was lucky, indeed.

Last Minute Buck

November 17, 2013

It was a dry, crisp day.  I was hunkered down in my favorite ground blind.  I was sitting on top of a bank, with a great view through the hardwoods in front of me.  Oh, the hours I have spent there, left to only the solitude of my thoughts.  Sure, I have seen plenty of deer in this spot, and pulled the trigger on a few, but when you spend daylight to dark in one location day after day, season after season, there’s a significant amount of time for one to be all alone.

It was a little past noon.  I hadn’t seen a deer all day.  The only excitement to that point was the mouse that insisted we share the blind together.  I heard a few crunches in the leaves and turned around to see my dad heading my way.  He hadn’t seen anything either and had decided he was going to head to another spot that parallels a power line down by where we park.

Dad did give me a handy piece of information, however.  He walked along an active scrape line that began approximately 150 yards from my stand.  Fresh rubs dotted the landscape, rubs that were not there five days prior when Dad was on a late scouting trip.  These rubs had been made since then.  His words to me were, “You need to stay put.”

A shot rang out from the direction of the power lines, some 750 yards below.  Understanding that jumped deer tend to make their way to our piece of the woods, Dad decided to head back to his morning stand.  I settled in for the afternoon.  My mouse friend reappeared, and we shared the peace and serenity that only the deep wilderness can provide.

As the 4 PM hour arrived, I had yet to lay my eyes on anything exciting.  4:30 came and I began to resign myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen on this day.  I began to prepare a mental checklist of where in my backpack my headlamp was, as well as my orange hat.  On days like today when there isn’t a lot of action, it seems that last half hour of shooting light lasts forever.

At about 4:35 PM, I heard the succinct sound of walking in the leaves.  I turned my head to the left and saw him.  A deer with a nice rack was unsuspectingly walking my way, on top of the same bank I was sitting on.  He turned slightly to the right and was now directly over my left shoulder.  The buck closed the gap to about 15 yards and stepped behind a tree.  It was at that moment I knew it was a done deal.  He took two steps and I fired, dropping him where he stood.  After injecting another shell into my 35 Remington and putting the safety on, I walked up to my 7-pointer.

Dad heard the shot and came up to admire the deer.  It was dark by the time he got there.  We had a long, but enjoyable 3-hour drag through the darkness, reaching the truck by 8:25 PM.  An unassuming and quiet day in the woods paid off in the last few minutes of legal shooting light.  Patience and perseverance had won the day.     

Rifle Season 2021 Recap

This may be the easiest and the most difficult column I’ve ever had to write.  Easy, in the fact that I don’t have to sift through a never-ending pile of details and situations.  Difficult, in that the piece should have some substance to it, however, there is little substance to go around.  Mercifully, the rifle season for whitetail deer (are there any?) has ended.

I hunted nine out of 16 days.  I saw zero deer.  None.  Zilch.  Nada.  This is the first time this has happened to me.  To make matters worse, my dad did not see a single deer either.  It’s like they cease to exist.

We hunted hard.  We found good buck sign in the preseason.  I hung cameras over these locations and had some nice bucks cruise by.  The problem is that most of the bucks showed their face under the cover of darkness.  Only once, did I get a picture of a buck during daytime hours, and of course it was a day I went into the woods a little later in the morning.  There’s nobody to blame on that but myself. 

The weather did not cooperate for much of the season.  Opening day ended early in the afternoon due to a downpour.  A snowstorm that night created a squall of melting snow from the stand of pines I was sitting in on the second day and forced me elsewhere.  The third day was interrupted by rain.  Another day in the first week saw temperatures rise to sixty degrees.  This final weekend produced more than a foot of snow, making walking conditions almost impossible even to and from our stands.

The deer did not cooperate either.  It seems they have adapted to going strictly nocturnal.  One good thing about the snow was that it gave us the opportunity to see their travel patterns a little more clearly.  The problem here was that there was no one pattern that they would follow.  There was no smoking hot trail that was evident one of us needed to park ourselves at.  They would cross this wood road in one spot one evening and another spot 200 yards away the next.  They simply go here and there, meandering.  That said, I do not think there are many deer at all.  A couple of deer can make an awful lot of tracks when they travel in this manner. 

All of this has me wondering how we are supposed to get our youth interested in the sport of hunting.  I have a pre-teen.  It is a tough sell to get him to look forward to getting up in the middle of the night, freeze our butt off, and not see any deer.  At least when I took him turkey hunting this spring, we had some action.  He’s fired up about chasing longbeards.  Deer, not so much.

At mid-morning yesterday, I did make a point to head down to my old stand where Dad and I have taken many bucks over the years.  And wouldn’t you know, the place was torn up!  Before the season, there was little sign here and it forced me to make the inevitable decision to hunt elsewhere.  I should have known.  When there is snow and the acorn crop is substantial, the place holds deer.  Want to guess where I’ll be in muzzleloader season?   

Week 1 Recap:

I entered the 2021 deer season with high expectations.  Although work and a late changeover to autumn conditions prevented me from scouting as thoroughly as I would have liked, I felt I was set up in a nice spot for opening day.  An active scrape line emerged from the left of my stand, before rounding the corner to right out in front of me, almost completely circling my position.  After a full week of hunting, however, I simply must ask, “What the hell do I know?”

I have yet to see a deer.  A single deer.  I hunted seven out of nine days since opening day.  I take the first week off from work specifically to deer hunt.  While some foul weather did throw a wrench into things a couple of days, I am shocked beyond belief that I haven’t seen one lousy doe moseying by.

But there is still good news and encouraging news.  I’m not out of the game yet.  Frustration and perhaps a lack of patience sent me exploring and I have found things.  Deer sign.  Lots of it.  And buck sign at that.  It’s in an area where nobody else is hunting, as well.  Rubs that I have found make me think there are three different bucks in the area.

I found out on big thing, however.  One that is a synopsis of my season thus far, although one I will use to fuel my fire.  You see, last Thursday, I set up a couple of cameras in this new location.  After taking Friday off to recuperate, I went on Saturday to check my cameras and to sit in my new stand.  As I had my son with me, he who is not keen on getting up in the middle of the night to hunt, I got to my cameras a little after 8 AM.  Pulling out the SD card, I discovered that at 6:51 AM, in perfect daylight, stood this…….

My trail camera in perfect shooting light on November 20

How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life by Larry Benoit with Peter Miller

How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life by Larry Benoit (with Peter Miller)-Originally Published 1974

Tracking whitetail bucks is a method of deer hunting like no other.  The idea is to locate a track and determine the sex of the deer, the size of the deer, and the age of the track.  Once the track has been deemed appropriate to follow, the hunter must match wits, will, and engage in a battle of endurance against the beast on his home turf.  Vermont’s Larry Benoit, patriarch of the famous Benoit hunting family, is often credited with revolutionizing the art of buck tracking, and his book, How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life, originally published in 1974, is considered the classic read of the genre.

Becoming a successful buck tracker, like anything else, not only requires extreme practice and preparation, but also a keen understanding of the animal itself.  Benoit leads the book off with an extensive tutorial on the trophy buck, his mannerisms, his personality, and how the deer has mastered pure day to day survival.  Furthermore, Benoit provides a convincing reason as to why hunters should pursue these giants and not settle for smaller deer.

Much of the outcome of a hunt or a season is determined well before opening day.  For instance, you most certainly cannot track a buck all day for days on end if you aren’t able to walk across the street without huffing and puffing.  Benoit lectures the reader to not smoke, drink too much, or become overweight.  He explains the importance of being in shape for the woods, able to maneuver stealthily around blowdowns and other obstacles without making a sound.

Benoit dedicates time to outline important equipment, such as proper firearms and ammunition.  While he used a peep sight, he relents to say that hunters can use a scope, provided it is light.  More importantly, Benoit warns against bringing too much stuff into the woods, weighing the hunter down, which acts as a hindrance to the objective of traveling miles for that one specific buck.

Preparation is key, however, there is plenty to know once the hunter sets foot into the woods.  The hunter must be able to read tracks to avoid following a deer that was there three days prior.  He/she must know when to go quickly on a track, as to not lose ground, and when to slow down and sneak, as to not bump the deer.  In addition, there is a skill to shooting at a buck that most likely will see you and bolt before you ever lay eyes on him.  Benoit gives us his expert opinion as well as a taste of his personal experiences that dealt directly with these make-or-break matters.  The most fascinating aspect of the book is how he recaps the hunt that took 13 days to close the deal.

I know a lot of deer hunters.  Most, like myself, are sitters, who may still hunt a little.  Many, like myself, have a fascination with tracking and may not have the courage or the knowledge to take the method up.  How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life, although written nearly 50 years ago, is certainly not outdated, and can give those hunters on the fence the one necessary boost to give it a go.