On average the Reynolds family freezer winds up with some venison about every other year. The math has been surprisingly consistent over the past 50 years. Having been skunked in 2015, this past fall was to be the year to get out the Food Saver and the meat grinder.
But it didn’t get off to a good start. During the expanded bow season in September, a doe came almost close enough for a shot. Then, during the October bow season, hours and hours of late afternoon ground- blind vigils left me rested, but empty handed.
The November firearms season opened. It was time to get serious. My old hunting haunts found me in position mornings and evenings and even for a few all-day stints. Does, lots of does in the crosshairs, but not a buck in sight. Signs of deer activity, especially scrapes and rubs, suggested an early rut and an improved deer situation. My deer-hunter enthusiasm meter was pinned, but for most of November – including 10 days at deer camp in the North Woods – it was like hunting ghosts.
The last two days of the November season two does showed up on cue late in the afternoon on a beech ridge to forage for some lingering greenery. A buck was expected to show, with its nose to the ground, but it was not to be.
Finally, blackpowder season arrives, the hapless deer hunter’s ace in the hole. You are tired and getting discouraged after nearly three months of climbing over blowdowns and sitting on cold stumps. Sleeping in becomes seductive, but wife wants meat in the freezer. She “encourages” you. So you press on. The smoke pole comes out of the gun safe and you get back in the deer woods.
On a misty, damp morning a buck is rousted from its bed. You get a glimpse through the hardwoods but no shot. With the wind in your favor, you play cat and mouse for an hour or more with this guy. Snort, snort, snort. Exciting stand off, but eventually the buck wins the game and is not seen or heard again.
The 2016 deer hunt is about over. It’s not looking hopeful. Then it snows on the last day of your hunt – not a lot, but enough to find a track. Getting out of bed is easy – even to a worn out deer hunter – when there is a fresh snow.
You change tactics. This day you will do quick probes into all of your hunt spots until tracks are found. At first, it’s all coyote and hare tracks dotting the snow-covered ground. Then, at hunting area number three, bingo! Tracks, lots of tracks. The leaves are frozen under the dusting of snow. It is still too noisy to seriously track. You elect to hunker down hoping for a break. By noon no deer show. Hunger gnaws. Peanut butter crackers don’t cut it. There is steaming homemade soup at home. You call it a day and, with the truck in sight, you mumble a crestfallen concession speech to yourself, always painful for a serious deer hunter: “It’s over. Time to oil the gun and call it quits. Maybe next fall.”
Back at the house the hot soup revives you, and you know that you must go back to that spot where you saw the tracks. Something tugs. At 2 o’clock you grab your .45 caliber muzzleloader, pack and folding chair and start the short walk down a logging road to a big open area for the final afternoon vigil.
You never get there.
Suddenly, crunch, crunch, crunch. Off to your right there is a deer in motion. Safety off. Down on one knee. Bring up the scope. Holy $%#@. It’s a good buck and it’s coming at you head on! It’s fast walking with head down. Nice rack! You pull ahead of the deer to an opening in the hardwoods at about 30 yards. On cue, as if scripted, the buck senses danger and stops precisely at the opening. Kaboom! Smoke and the smell of powder fills the damp, still air. The big-racked 8-pointer takes three leaps and then folds up.
Your jaw drops in disbelief. You are thankful but stunned. Never in all of your years in the deer woods has anything quite like this ever happened. For a discouraged old deer hunter, you could never have dreamed up or choreographed a cooler encounter.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com