By Hal Blood
At 3 o’clock after traveling through the open country, he headed into the green growth. I told Will that we would leave him for the night and pick up the track in the morning.
Another deer season is in the books. Congratulations to all of you that punched your tag. I have seen many pictures of some great bucks from all around the State. For me, this was the season of many lessons. Guiding two hunters was fun and I had forgotten how much I like teaching people how to hunt the Big Woods. I also realized, that as I get older, I need to pace myself a little better. I started off the season in full tilt, putting on at least ten miles a day even before the snow. Last month I wrote about my client shooting his first buck while tracking with me. The second and third week, I hunted for myself and chased some big bucks on the snow. I had a cameraman with me for the first four days and we got some good footage but not of a dead buck. I gave one a haircut as he jumped into a spruce thicket. He was a wide heavy horned old boy. By the third week we had crusty snow making it hard to get near a buck, but I kept at it. I passed up a few smaller bucks, but this year I had decided that I was only going to take the track of the old toe dragging bucks and shoot one of them or nothing. Over those two weeks, I had gone on a lot of missions and had a lot of long walks back to the truck. I guided another client the fourth week and by then the snow was getting deep but helped with the crust. We came close to getting him a buck a couple times, but our timing was off a little. In December, dug out my Woodman Arms BWB Tracker muzzle loader to once again hunt on my own.
I thought by now the bucks would have slowed down and it would be easier to catch up to them. Well, Monday morning proved me wrong as I followed a toe dragger cross country. He even swam a river, that took me an hour to get around. The next two days I couldn’t find a big track to take so I figured that most of the big boys were hunkered down putting the feed bag on and recovering from the rut. Thursday morning, I met up with Will Altman, a cameraman for Donnie Vincent, a famous film producer. Will had shot a big buck down east where he lives after returning from a two-month hunt in Alaska filming Donnie. By now the snow was deep enough with a layer of crust under it, that it was pretty hard going in the woods. We checked where I had picked up the big one on Monday, but couldn’t find a track, so we headed out to check some other spots in hopes of finding the track of one of those toe draggers. I knew it was going to be tough as we had a little snow in the night, blending the age of all the tracks together.
As we turned onto a logging road, I saw the track of a buck walking down the road. When I got out to look, I could see that it had been made since the snow. It was wasn’t the toe dragger that I was looking for, but it was a pretty good buck. I decided to follow it to see if he might take me to something bigger or maybe get a look at his rack. About a mile into it, the buck went between two trees about 16” apart. At that point, I turned around and headed back to the truck. By now it was 9:30 as we were driving to another spot, I spotted another track coming across the road. When I stopped and backed up, there was the track I had been looking for. It was a 4×3 inch squared toed old boy. The best part was that I was less than an hour old. I couldn’t believe that lady luck had finally caught up to me.
We parked the truck and jumped on the track. It soon became apparent that this old buck was only interested in feeding. He stopped at every blowdown and fed on the old man’s beard along the way. He was dragging his feet like a cross country skier as he went. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he would find a place to bed down. In about an hour the track led from the hardwoods toward a dark wall of spruce with several blowdowns in front of it. I slowed to a creep as I could see the track going to the first blowdown. As I was searching every inch of those blowdowns, the buck jumped up twenty-five yards to my right. I couldn’t find an opening until he was out to 75 yards and I touched off the shot knowing that it was a hail Mary. I was kicking myself for not seeing him lying there, but I was just too focused on the blowdowns. When we walked down to where I had shot, I could see that his track had slowed to a walk and disappeared into the green growth. We backed up and sat down for a sandwich and a half hour wait.
When we started again, I couldn’t believe that the buck had laid back down 25 yards from where I had shot at him a we had spooked him again. I knew right then that this buck was worn out and I was sure I could get him if I played my cards right. The buck wandered for about a mile before heading into an old cut over spruce bog where we jumped him again when he was bedded under a cedar blowdown that he had been feeding on. He only went a couple hundred yards before stopping and waiting on us before running off again. All this buck wanted to do is eat and sleep. We bumped him out of his bed one more time before taking a short break to let him settle down.
This time he went a long way, but he was just slogging along slowly, and I realized that I shouldn’t have taken the break. He went through a lot of open country where there was a good chance of seeing him on his feet. The buck was traveling in pretty much a straight line the entire time and we were now a long way from the truck. At 3 O’clock after traveling through the open country, he headed into the green growth. I told Will that we would leave him for the night and pick up the track in the morning. We had a five mile walk back to the truck, but luckily after we had hit the main logging road, it was shortened by two miles when we got a ride. With aching legs and a full belly, I rolled into bed for some much-needed rest.
The next morning shortly after daylight, we were headed back in to pick up the track. 300 hundred yards from where we had left the track, the buck had fed for quite some time and bedded down for a while. His bed had a dusting of snow from the night and the track leaving it was just slogging along slowly. He went about a mile before crossing the road we had driven in on. The track led down a ravine to a brook with a hardwood ridge on the other side. I scan the woods before easing down the steep ridge. Just then I heard Will say: big buck, big buck. I could see where he was looking but there were several spruce trees in front of me. As I eased back up, I spotted the buck bounding up the ridge on the other side of the brook. There was no chance for a shot, but we both could see that he had a good set of antlers. The buck had spent the rest of the night feeding and bedding in that ravine.
`Now that we had caught up to him, it was game on again. I got back on his track and eased along searching the woods ahead. After jumping him two more times, I had his M.O. He would bound a short way and then slow down and drag his feet just before he would lay down. After about another mile he made his way up a steep ridge in an old whip filled cut. By now we were only about a mile from the Canadian border and I was afraid he might cross it. He hustled up a skid road and turn right to the next one and repeated it several times before dragging his feet again. I slowed down, eased ahead and saw him get out of his bed and run off. I could get a shot, but he stopped again at about 75 yards in the whips. I put the bead on him and fired thinking it was another hail Mary and the buck never moved, confirming it. He just waked away as I was loading up again.
To my relief, the buck turned back downhill and ran back down to where he had just been. The woods were much better there for another chance of killing him. He bounded about a half mile and once again slowed to his foot dragging walk. I peeked around every corner thinking that I would catch him walking away. His track led down a skid trail with thick spruce along it. When the track turned hard left, I peeked around a spruce and there he was laying in his bed at 50 yards looking back on his track. I put the bead at the base of his neck at the snow line and touch off the shot. When the smoke cleared, I could see him stretched out in his bed. It had all finally come together. The culmination of a long season with a buck that I had been hoping for. He was a big bodied old boy that had probably dropped 40 pounds over the season as his backbone and hip were sticking out of his hide. He had a beautiful heavy rack with long beams and tall tines. It was an emotional moment and once again I thanked the Good Lord for such a magnificent animal. It was 11 0’clock and we had put on 12 miles over two days and it was worth every minute of it. We spent a half hour taking photos and then built a fire to toast our sandwiches before the drag out. I knew that were not very far from and old logging road, so I got out my OnX app to check. To my surprise the road was only 500 feet away. We grabbed out gear and set out to find the best way to drag. We pushed through a spruce thicket and hit a skidder trail. I told Will that I could get my snowmobile in to there. We walked the mile back to the truck rode my snowmobile in and shortened the drag to 75 yards! When we got him on the scales at the tagging station, he tipped the scales at 208 pounds. He was a heavyweight for December 6th.
Hal is a Master Maine Guide and Author. He lives in Moose River Maine with his wife Deb and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org