By Ben Wilcox
The conclusion of hunting season is a time to look back at the successes and failures of the past year. In my computer I list the deer I killed and note any important lessons. While doing so, I saw my PA public land 8 point listed and recalled the crazy story that made this deer so memorable.
November 1, 2017 was a day I’ll never forget. Our first day in Pennsylvania, we parked at the top of a mountain and made a one-mile walk back to an area where my dad and I had encounters with bucks the prior season. I remember feeling quite ill that day and after making a giant scouting loop, concluded that all the sign led to our two spots.
I decided that it was time to head up to an old log landing where I had missed a wide- racked buck the previous year. It was spitting snow and rain, and quite windy. My legs were soaked from scouting and I was sitting on the ground with a few sticks in front of me as some sort of camouflage. Honestly, it was miserable being sick and cold on the top of that mountain. Suddenly, a doe chased by a giant buck and a spike crashed through the woods 15 yards away.
Shortly after, I spotted the doe followed by the big buck coming back towards me ever so slowly through the thick woods. Eventually they were standing 10 yards behind me but it was too thick to get a shot. Finally the doe decided she wanted to come into the landing and as I turned my body to follow the deer, the snap on my pocket scraped a rock and the deer bounded. Minutes later the buck stepped out at 20 yards but saw movement as I lifted the bow. Unfortunately for him it was too late and an arrow was on the way.
The recovery is where things get real interesting and a little bit scary. After the deer took off I called my dad and then found the arrow. As I looked down the blood trail I saw two bears following it back toward me about 40 yards away. I yelled and they took off the way they came. My dad arrived and we followed the trail about 75 yards and found where the buck had stopped but not gone down. At this point we decided it would be best to give the deer some time so we walked the mile back to the truck to drop our bows and lighten our packs. Taking up the blood trail after dark we only went another 30-40 yards and found the deer piled up in a nasty thicket. We immediately noticed that it had been fed upon and was missing part of the hind quarters, guts, tail and half an ear!
Just as I grabbed the big 8 point rack we heard a loud growl. We yelled and the more we yelled the louder the growling got. My dad shined his light into a tree about 5 yards away and we saw two – 2 year old bears. We knew the mother was very close somewhere in the dark and was the one growling. We decided to drag the deer away from the bears and went about 75 yards through a thick mess. We gutted the deer and hoped the bears would feed on the gut pile and leave us alone. Making our way back to the landing, my dad says, “I’m running back to the truck and driving it around the gate.” I decided I would stay with the buck. Periodically shining the light on the drag trail, I had almost forgot about the bears. Sitting in the dark It had been a while since I’d checked on them. I clicked on the flashlight and all I saw were bears and they were close, 19 paces to be exact and there were FOUR of them. I had no weapon. I immediately sprinted at the bears screaming to scare them away. They didn’t run. I was now about 12 paces away and they were slinking back and forth looking at me like ‘give us our deer back, now.” At that point I remember thinking where the *?!* is the truck, when I heard it in the distance. The bears and I continued our stare down as the truck got closer. Soon my dad ripped down into the landing and they slowly backed off into the woods.
I’m not sure what my next move would have been, but thankfully I didn’t have to find out! Lots of people tell me they would have left the deer, but that thought never crossed my mind. I now have a nice head mount that is missing half an ear, and a great story to tell.
Ben Wilcox is owner of Maple Country Anglers, located in Northwest Vermont. He is a current member of the USA Fly Fishing Team. He is a registered Maine Guide and graduate of the University of Maine. He also owns a large Maple Sugaring Business, Amber Ridge Maple. These occupations allow him to be in the woods or water nearly every day of the year. He can be reached at [email protected].
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