A Buck On The Mountain
The woods were dim with very low contrast light. Leaf litter and trees and sky were a touch muddy. I had to squint a bit in order to tighten my vision. I've learned that subtle fuzziness in low light is a minor inconvenience of middle-age life in the deer woods, which can be partially overcome with the "Eastwood Squint."
I wasn't expecting to see any deer movement just yet, anyhow. The leathery oak leaves were quiet underfoot. The humidity was keeping them supple and just right for stalking. The weather man was calling for rain all day, but so far it had remained dry and the temperature was holding in the lower 40s. The time was right for deer to be rustling up some provender, it being about 0745 hours.
I had been quietly still-hunting toward the section of the woods, just above a belt of brush where I expected to potentially find more deer activity. I wasn't quite in full stealth mode yet, I wanted to put another 75 yards behind me before I slowed to a crawl.
I am a dyed-in-the-wool still hunter who will occasionally stand for an hour or so next to a tree or sit on my bucket pack, if I happen to have it with me. I was hunting a mountain on state land in the central Finger Lakes region of New York, not far from my home, and while the local deer herd on this particular mountain is okay, there are many days when I have spent hours in excellent cover, in full stealth mode and not seen a hair.
That is okay with me. I hunt the multiple use area so that I can move freely for long periods of time and seldom, if ever, see another hunter. By the stealthy standards of a colonial American long hunter I am an amateur, a hack, but I get along okay.
This particular morning I had decided to return to the scene of my first harvest on the property, which had occurred the week before and which happened to be the first deer I had ever taken on any public property.
It was currently my second day this season of hunting on the public acreage. I tested the ground with each step before putting my full weight down and looked far ahead now and again in order to pick my path back to the spot where I had shot the antlerless deer.
I had started the season with a buck tag and two antlerless permits. I still had one permit and the buck tag. The weather had been odd this season to say the least. Regular season opened on a Saturday with temps near 70 degrees and within 24 hours we were in a full blown snow emergency. Neither of these conditions are ideal, to say the least.
The day I filled my first permit, my first day this year on the state multiple use area, I had hunted the swamp at the base of the mountain, which is a mix of goldenrod, clumps of willow, thorn apples, grape vines, black berry brambles and multi flora rose. A good little creek runs through it and sometimes the beavers get in and make a mess of the drainage.
The day I had selected to make my annual debut followed that doozy of a two day blizzard that left knee deep snow piled up everywhere and, in places, it had drifted in thigh deep. This was a still-hunter's dream. The deer were sticking to dense cover with good browse and not wasting a lot of energy traveling long distances from bedding cover to food plots.
More often than not I will slip silently through the brushy swamp at the bottom of the mountain. The swamp lies between a state road and the base of the hill and is used heavily during the early rut. I just enjoy the process of still hunting and I have enjoyed hunting bottom lands since I was a youth. I like the biological diversity and mystery of a good swamp or bog. Here in the northeast, more game is concentrated in wetlands than in the uplands.
After four hours of sliding through the swamp under gun metal gray skies I was ready to circle back to the Jeep and pick up my pack and snow shoes. My legs were getting cold from being constantly immersed in the white stuff. Snow shoes had seemed a good idea, but on second thought I concluded the brush was just too thick to use them quietly.
As I exited the swamp I had climbed just a few additional feet of elevation above it and was only perhaps twenty yards into hardwoods from the low belt of brush that runs along the mountain's base, separating it from the swamp. A lone deer on a little bench covered with blow downs and small cover bounced away to the south and headed for the swamp.
I had not seen it come off the bed, but I could see far up the mountain into the hardwoods above and the deer had not come from there. It gave me little warning and was too far for a good shot and was gone before I knew it.
I was right, the deer were staying low, but not in the swamp, which had little fresh sign. Instead, they were staying near the brushy border, browsing and bedding in a strip that was no more than 50 or 75 yards wide. I climbed a few yards higher, turned north and slowly worked along the uphill side of the brush.
One of the best methods for a still hunter is to locate the leeward bedding areas, get above them if possible, and rig for silent running. On level ground I try to get the wind in my nose and come up from behind. If there are blowdowns or brush heaps ahead of me, I hunt them as though I am certain they contain deer.
The footing was unpredictable with logs and vines buried beneath the snow as I side-hilled it. I scanned far out into the swamp, but everything was still and silent.
I took a few more careful steps, peering into the brambles and vines, when suddenly, my eyes locked on two ears and a head sticking up above the snow 20 yards below me, in the middle of a tangle of wild grape vines. The deer was bedded and looking away from me, watching down slope into the swamp. I didn't see any sign of other deer. I put the variable power Redfield, which was dialed down to 2X, on the deer's head to assure myself I was seeing right. The back of the head and six inches of neck were exposed. I brought the rifle back down and carefully took the safety off.
This old school bolt action rifle is built on a WW II Arisaka action that has been re-barreled to .30-06 Springfield. The original Japanese safety is functional, but odd, and it is not easy to take the safe off when it is shouldered. I brought the rifle back up and put the cross hairs on his neck just below the base of the skull and fired. Where was the deer? It had vanished as though it had never existed. I waited a long second or two, expecting to see it scooting through the brush below me, but nothing stirred.
I worked the bolt and, like a novice, I short stroked it and caused a jam. I cleared it quickly, never taking my eyes from the spot where I was certain the deer had been bedded.
I am now heading into my middle fifties, but I am not yet senile. I am forgetful upon occasion, irascible and contrary, but not delusional. There was no deer there. I took a step forward and had to side step around some vines. There was a slender strip of brown that seemed out of place and so I quietly side stepped again and then moved forward until I could see into the bed and, sure enough, the deer lay unmoving deep in the snow. Apparently it had been bedded there long enough to melt the snow nearly down to the leaves beneath, making its bed over a foot deep. The 180 grain Core-Lokt bullet had done its job admirably and that deer never wiggled or kicked. Clearly, as I was rocking back a bit from the recoil, the deer's head, attached to a now broken neck, had simply dropped out of sight.
I know what you are going to say, a 180 grain bullet is a bit of overkill for whitetails. Yes, you are right. Most hunters would be more than satisfied with a 150 grain pill and even a 125 wouldn't be out of the question in open country.
I hunt in the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes region of New York, which both have a black bear season that runs concurrent with the regular deer season. Given the opportunity, I will gladly harvest a bear and I prefer to be prepared for a good sized "bar," rather than find myself with the chance of a lifetime at a four hundred pound bruin and me with 150 grain buck medicine. I am not a bigger is always better kind of guy, actually the opposite, but once I commence to shooting at my supper, I want it to stay down for keeps.
I earned my Expert rifle and pistol qualifications in the military. However, after a lifetime of hunting I know that shooting in the woods is never the same twice, unless you cling to a climbing stand, shoot off of the sill in a tower blind, or use some variety of steady rest in a pop up blind--all of which I eschew. The firing line will not ready you for an offhand shot on a running or partly obscured target, extreme angles, gusting winds, heavy brush and other factors. Big bullets allow for tiny margins of error and unforeseen variables, like a sudden wind gust, or an animal that takes a step just as the trigger breaks. I will accept a few pounds of ruined venison as the price of being ready for all eventualities.
On this, the second day I visited the state land, the snow from the blizzard was gone to the last flake. Most of the runoff had already flowed into far off Lake Ontario and the valley stream was back in its banks. No snow shoes on this day and everything I needed was in my pockets, with the exception of my phone and my lunch, which I intended to return to at some future time.
About a half an hour into my hunt I passed the precise spot where I had been standing when I shot the snow-bedded deer the week before. The ground conditions were perfect for still hunting. The light breeze was over my left shoulder and was carrying what little scent I might be emitting out over the swamp a good ten feet above the ground. As I watched the brush below me I spotted a deer browsing thirty yards out, about five feet below me, almost exactly at my one o'clock. I scanned quickly to see if it was part of a group or a loner. No other deer was evident and I could see the deer wasn't a monster doe.
Last winter and spring we had historically mild weather, which resulted in an abundant crop of fawns and a very low mortality rate. The mild winter became a drought by May and it deepened all summer long with almost zero relief.
This had the nearly universal result of destroying the mast crop before it developed. The forecast for winter this year is a lot of storms and to me this spells disaster, as the deer have already begun to nibble off the reachable browse in lieu of acorns, beech nuts and other starchier food sources. I am moralizing about shooting what later proved to be a button buck.
His nose was into some remnants of black berry leaves when the Core-Lokt hit him at the back of his ribs, cutting through six of them before sending what remained of the bullet up inside his thorax where it exercised maximum effect on his lungs. A short dash into the brush in front of him took him out of sight. I followed up slowly and quietly and found him almost on the far side of a living room sized tangle of rose and black berries. He had not gone more than 50 yards.
When I finished a hundred yards of drag I paused and looked at my watch. The rain was still holding off and, although it was overcast, the wind was fairly light and the temps were holding in the middle 40s.
I didn't want to head home yet. It was only a little after 0900. I was about to begin hemming and hawing when a voice in my head said, "This is the luckiest day of hunting you will ever have. Go to the top of the mountain and you will find a buck."
Over the decades I have had numerous opportunities to shoot two deer in a day, or even at the same time, but I was always content to take just one. Somehow, this day I knew in my heart I was meant to harvest two deer.
Now, I am not a medium. I don't see dead people, as far as I know, and I have never attended a seance or had my fortune told, but that voice was not me. I will flat out admit that I have told myself some bologna over the years and I definitely mutter to myself when I am working on the dryer or changing a spark plug on the chain saw. I am a praying man, but let me be clear: this was not wishful thinking or me giving myself a line of malarkey.
I stashed the button horn next to a granite boulder, put the spent casing in his mouth like a cheroot and put the drag rope back in my cargo pocket. If I was going to listen to this voice I was going to go prepared.
Now, I need to add that dragging that little button buck was okay with me. I have a bad shoulder that hurts like the devil when I paint overhead, haul big deer, or spend too much time washing dishes. My wife accuses me of having a convenient debility when it is time to repaint the living room. She says it is like my hearing aids, which she thinks are just set to a secret selective hearing mode.
I have to admit I can hold a rifle steady, but that comes from years of practice. Funny, but that also seems to be the position my lame shoulder likes best. I think I am too old to practice ceiling painting.
If I did not take that drag rope I am dead certain I might as well have returned to the car and been content with my day. It was an act of faith. The voice told me there was a buck on the mountain and I knew I wasn't going to cart him out on my bum shoulder.
A wise man once said, "Be careful what you wish for." Well, I hadn't exactly wished, but the voice had seemed certain.
Another wise man, this one has a name and it is Jason Barden (he happens to be a storied gunsmith and my cousin), also gives me sound advice now and again. Jason often reminds me, "Never, ever go into the woods unprepared." I am older and have been hunting longer, but for some reason he is a bit twitchy about losing me.
Besides building a few bespoken original A. H. Fox double guns each year from original, unused, in the white barrels and receivers, Jason is also a heck of a deer hunter. (Insert mental picture of rugged man in knee high, gum soled boots, gray wool pants, buffalo plaid jacket and hat, with ruck pack and a pre-1949 Model 94 .30-30 rifle.) The ruck pack carries the tools necessary to quarter up and pack out Mr. Mossy Horn, or a bruin.
When I started up that mountain I had some peanut butter crackers, seven cartridges, the aforementioned drag line, KA-BAR Skinner knife and some other odds and ends in my pockets. My Colt .38 Special was riding on my hip for a coup-de-grace.
We have already established that the canteen, phone and sandwich were still in the Jeep. The phone I would not miss, even a little bit. The egg salad sandwich was another matter. I know if Jason had been there he would have cuffed me for an idiot for climbing up to 1,400 feet without water and more cartridges. The mountain peaks out at a touch over 2,000 feet, making it a knob by western standards and a high peak from gulf coast perspectives.
I have to mention two little side notes here that will come up later and which are an indictment of my own mental powers. I am a south paw and have never owned a left-handed bolt rifle. I also only stoke the .30-06 with four rounds. I know it holds five. We all have our quirks. I may have a couple more than the average nut job.
"Go to the top of the mountain and you will find a buck."
It took me about 40 minutes to climb to the lower portion of the mountain, where it levels out in a broad saddle. The majority of the mountain side and top are forested in red oak, white oak, chestnut oak, ash, hickory, maple and a smattering of hemlock, beech and white pines.
The section I chose to ascend has a few little benches and shelves where deer can bed in the sparse dead falls. I generally do not spend a lot of time hunting this part of the hill. I just get up it like a Sherpa and get on with the hunt.
The angle of the grade varies between 30 and 70 degrees. It is very steep, making shots up or down hill problematic. The woods are mature and so open that, more often than not, deer are seen at quite a distance going like high speed mountain goats. The climb is invigorating, though, and the woods are pretty.
Once at the top, I slowed to a snail's pace and began to soak up the quiet and beauty of my surroundings. I won't bore you with every thought and step I took during the three hours I wiled away up there, but I some time spent just cogitating. It was a late morning hunt and I had the woods to myself. I did reflect on the man who taught me the most about deer hunting, my uncle Bill, who indirectly taught me the essence of still hunting. He never said, "do this" or "don't do that." We talked over coffee and I watched in the woods.
Uncle Bill was also a deer hunter's deer hunter. He was a mentor to both Jason and me. Ironically, his camp was situated on the mountain on the opposite side of the valley from where I was now skulking about like a house cat that wants to be a leopard.
Uncle Bill shot more deer than any man I knew when I was kid. The first time I fired a real gun, a little .22 rolling block rifle, it was with him.
He used to pussyfoot around the woods with his Ithaca Deerslayer shotgun, still hunting much as I now do. He was not a great marksman. Slug guns don't offer much chance for tack driving accuracy. However, he was a canny sportsman who knew how to think like a deer and it was a rare year when he didn't have at least two deer in the freezer.
I remember, before permits became abundant, when he only got his buck and shared a doe on a party permit with two of his good friends, but he was a goer, as they say. He put in the hours and hunted smart.
It was on just such a day as this that he would have come home and told us how he got a buck, "Over on the number one trail, down by the oak top, just below the spring."
He would pussyfoot for a few hundred yards, then stand for a half an hour or an hour with his head ringed in smoke from his Missouri Meerschaum that was glowing with Half and Half. "A blend of burly and bright tobaccos," the pouch declared. I am not sure how he did it, but those bucks never seemed to smell his pipe.
His gun was usually leaning against the tree he had chosen as a stand, or under his arm. Later he would re-enact for us how he got it up to his shoulder and jerked off a shot. He had a notable flinch, which he compensated for, and I can tell you he missed darn few deer.
He once brained a buck I had tickled with a .357 Ruger Blackhawk. He was aiming for the shoulder, over lead and jerked a little harder than usual, as the deer barreled past.
I thought about him, about "the voice" and, of course, I wondered if he was watching me. I knew in my soul that what the voice had told me was true. I was supposed to shoot a buck this day. Just because I am middle-aged doesn't mean I don't have the wonder of a kid.
By the time my watch showed 1300 hours the wind had started to pick up a little. Being on high ground, it was rustling the leaves and rattling the branches. Now and again a groan or creak would escape from one of the bigger trees. The permit deer was still mostly straight downhill from me, but I decided I would continue to still hunt as I returned to pick him up. I headed north, away from the button, along a trail that runs along the summit of the hill for several hundred yards. The trail is more like a goat path and from it you can watch some of the benches and the woods below.
I inched along, alert, silent and ready. Still hunting is the art of stalking and stand hunting combined into standing still while moving. I can't think of any more accurate way of putting it. Others can sit in a waterproof pop-up blind, or perch a couple of dozen feet up in a tree like a squirrel if they want.
I also do not put much faith in magazine articles, online videos or cable TV. "Jeff and Cooter Joe's Outdoor Bonanza" are meant to get you to buy the next new gadget that will ensure you get "The Thug."
To me, deer are not "thugs." They are one of the Almighty's most beautiful creations packed into the body of the consummate athlete. They deserve the respect of being treated as a wild treasure and referred to as such. Hunt 'em hard, eat them, put their antlers on your wall, but hunt them as fair as you possibly can and forget what size rack somebody else tells you is a trophy.
When I was a boy, bucks of ten and eleven points were rarities and twelve pointers were as rare as unicorns. Word of their demise travelled far and wide. I have to add there was ample venison to go around, just not attached to a rocking chair buck.
The deer population has grown exponentially my entire life and was growing for decades before that. Sadly, rack collecting has taken on the unpalatable aroma of a super-sized beauty pageant. If shooting a massive rack is your game, there are high fence operations and vast leases that practice strict quality deer management. I have known many hunters who couldn't cross a parking lot without tripping on their own feet or being out of breath, who shoot bucks in the 150 Boone and Crocket class.
A 150 B&C used to be the Holy Grail of a book quality, brag buck. How do these plus sized models do it? They often sit in a tower, or ride their four wheeler out to their max duty tree stand, sit over a corn or bean field and bore a hole in a buck that is a couple of hundred yards off. Boone and Crockett does not score the fairness of the hunt. As long as it is not a fenced operation and no law is broken, it is considered fair chase.
There may, now and again, be a high fence buck that is taken more fairly than many free range bucks. Consider for a moment a stalked or still hunted buck on a thousand fenced acres, versus a free range animal that returns daily to feed on bean or corn leavings on a field edge. One is, if we are being honest, unintentionally baited, while the other is fighting for his life with his senses.
Fairness is based on the hunter's behavior and methods. Fair chase is not a rack measurement or a locale. In reality, how is a carefully managed food plot different from a bait?
Hunting practices and devices have become very liberal of late and it has dumbed down deer hunting. The quality of the hunt and the hunter should be far more important than the size of the rack.
I have one truly trophy class buck on my wall. He was one of the easiest and least earned. Getting that huge, mahogany rack made for an unforgettable morning, but required no hard acquired skill, other than patience and clear thinking.
All of my other trophies of the hunt, judged by their racks, are mediocre at best with uneven points and broken beams; a rogue's gallery of misfits. However, they represent unforgettable days in the woods. Some recall matchless time spent with kids, some were taken with a primitive weapon, others are just an amazing story of challenge. Some great hunts were even for antlerless deer.
When I wore a younger man's clothes I took a fat doe off of her bed at 22 yards using a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum revolver with iron sights. She was the first deer I ever snuck up on without spooking. To me, this was a brag deer.
Well, that was what I pondered, among a few other aimless thoughts, as I worked my way back toward the button. The breeze was blowing fairly steady as I eased off the trail and slowly descended. I had been off trail for perhaps 15 minutes and was just above the center line of the mountainside when I decided to work my way to my left to avoid the steep edge of a small ravine.
The slope has a scattering of deadfalls and random boulders. This section of the mountain is notched by one very large gully, which was far to my right, and a few small ravines that are more like cuts. Most of them are only twenty or so feet deep, two or three times as wide, and can be climbed in dry weather.
As I picked my path, I noticed a granite boulder in a blow down about 55 yards ahead of me. The rock was similar to the one where I had stashed the button buck. It lay on the uphill side of a tree that had fallen since spring, as it still had dried leaves attached. The big rock was shaded, granite gray-brown, about the length of an average couch. I thought to myself, "That looks like a deer." I put the scope on it and noted it did indeed look suspiciously like the back and rump of a bedded deer.
The scope was set at 3.5x and I brought the rifle down without taking my eyes off of the deer/boulder. My brain was whirring away, trying to puzzle out what would probably be obvious to a man of average intelligence.
It was like performing a word search. My gaze focused on the opposite end of the "outcrop" and pearly antler tips materialized behind a few tiny saplings. Then the ears stood out and there was the back of his neck!
He was facing away from me, watching down the slope as I knew a buck on his midday bed would do. He was screened on the downhill side by the fallen trunk and branches about a foot in front of him that formed a log breastwork. Bedded down, he could see under the trunk, but it effectively masked his position.
The dead fall stretched all the way across his front. Some thumb sized saplings behind his neck and head broke his outline from my perspective and a few smaller trees to his left combined to form a blind that he had walked into from his right. From below he would have gone unseen, but he also couldn't bolt in that direction without a lot of effort and exposing himself for long seconds to danger from above.
I eased the safety off and threw the rifle up to my shoulder, confirmed the rack again and then put the crosshairs on the center of his spine. It was impossible to determine his rack size without inviting him to stand-up and, frankly, I didn't care. Here was the object of my hunt, precisely where I had been told to find it.
The shot crashed out and the buck didn't move, other than to swing his head to try and locate the source of the thunderous noise. His white eye patches made him look wide eyed with fright, as I chambered the second round and again took aim.
Like a true square head, I decided to repeat failure and again put the crosshairs on his back and squeezed. Later, I would realize that I had not sufficiently accounted for the steep grade and in my rush had put both rounds close over his back. (One must remember to hold low when shooting up or down hill.) As a matter of fact, I was shocked by his presence, despite having heard the voice tell me that I would find a buck on the mountain. I haven't been that riled when shooting at a buck in a very long time.
Not surprisingly, the second shot also failed to lay him low. Shock over his presence gave way to incredulous surprise that he hadn't gotten up and high tailed it.
Close examination of the bed later showed that he had lain down in his own cell, which should have been his coffin. As the muzzle came down again, I decided to take the neck shot, which I had to sneak between those pesky saplings.
The third time was the charm. When the shot crashed, his head and neck were slam-twisted forward and dropped out of sight. I could see legs kicking. "Got him!" I thought to myself, perhaps a bit prematurely.
I had short stroked the action again! I quickly cleared the jam, keeping a watchful eye on the dying buck. I pushed the bolt home and put the safety on. Then, out of an over-abundance of ill advised tidiness, I decided to pick up the three empties lying at my feet, thinking my work was done.
My wife complains that I won't pick up my socks, but here I was saving those pristine casings for possible reloading. I dropped them into my right vest pocket and was starting to pick my way down the steep incline. I pondered for a moment if would be wise to pull the Colt and hustle down and make sure he was out of his misery.
He thrashed a bit and seemed to be trying to rise, but was unable to. I concluded this failing effort meant he was expiring, which is how we like things to go when deer hunting.
A look at his bed the following day showed that his rack had become wedged between the saplings. The little trees were freshly nicked and scarred. It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what had occurred, but that knowledge came later.
I quickly decided that it was simply too steep to hustle or safely move in with the handgun. He was mostly obscured by drifted leaves and those little saps, so there was no chance of a decent shot with the rifle, either. It was beginning to dawn on me from his movements that his spine was intact. Mind you, perhaps 20 seconds had passed at this point. I needed to climb down quietly and get closer, then I could decide if he needed a finisher.
He was reading my thoughts. I had taken only maybe a dozen short steps when he managed to extricate his head, got up, turned and stumbled out of his prison. I lost a full second mouthing some words I can't print. The rifle was up as he lurched forward, sort of hunched up with his head hanging, moving like an intoxicated camel on roller skates. I squeezed off my last round as he fell/ran over the edge of the ravine, which was mere feet from his bed. I was unable to determine if I had hit him, or again shot high.
The ravine was like an extremely deep ditch and its steep bank and trees blocked my view as he tumbled in. Despite the incline I was now hustling, with an open action and my right hand in my vest pocket searching for the three rounds I knew were there. With the bolt back and the pistol secure, safety was not the concern it had been.
I imagined he was lying in a heap at the bottom. I skidded down toward the spot where he had gone over.
As I came around the side of the few trees that were blocking my view I could see he had actually labored halfway up the far bank of the ravine and was collapsed 25 yards away. His front legs were splayed out and his back legs were all cattywampus. He was hit very hard in the neck near the junction with the brisket. I was feeling a bit cattywampus myself from the adrenaline rush.
I played hide and go seek with those three rounds in my pocket, coming up first with the empties that I had foolishly dropped into the same pocket. I was frustrated by the search and again considered laying down the rifle and climbing down into the ravine to pistol him. This was an errant thought, although I have finished a couple deer with a handgun.
I discarded that thought of pistoling him, almost as quick as it formed, because I had just come up with the three Core-Lokt rounds. I was feeding the first one into the magazine when, unbelievably, that buck found the strength to lunge up and over the lip of the ravine and shamble out of sight, each step looking like his last.
I stuffed the other two rounds into the magazine and returned the rifle to battery, double checking the safety. Nothing to do now, but start blood trailing. As I made my way out of the ravine I hoped I would see him piled up somewhere below me in the open hardwoods.
This whole episode, from firing the first round until he had clamored over the edge of the ravine, had taken just a frog hair over a minute. As I climbed upward I passed the spot where he had fallen and it added blood evidence to the initial visual observation that it was a fatal hit. I didn't see a sign of him downslope, as I had hoped. This could get tough before it ended.
There was just a touch of fleeting, pale November sunlight shining on the slope as I followed the scuff marks left in the leaves from his ungainly retreat. Blood spatters were evident every few yards.
When I had descended about sixty yards I saw, below me, a tree with a bright red splash the size of a basketball and further down was yet another. As I passed the second, I saw it had hair mixed in. He was crashing into trees, which showed me he was failing. He passed through the belt of thorny brush at the bottom of the mountain, crossed an old farm lane and ducked into a thicket of thorn apple and brambles.
He had left two huge blood splashes as he crossed the trail and, as I entered the thicket, I reminded myself to be calm and methodical, to look for parts of a bedded deer and to be ready for a quick shot.
He was headed for the creek bottom, which is nearly impenetrable at this point. I dreaded the idea of dragging him out of that mess. I had only gone a few yards into the barbed redoubt when I saw him get up and fall down again. He was literally on his last legs and I finished him there, on his final desperate line of retreat.
It was a good thing I had put the drag rope in my pocket, but I have to add that buck had saved me having to bring him all the way down the mountain. He had covered about 225 yards. Now, I only had about a quarter mile of level ground to pull him out. My shoulder was going to ache, with two deer to pull out before sunset, but the work ahead was far more rewarding than painting the ceiling.
I finally got a good look at his rack. He was a young six pointer. No, he is not one for the records. He was however, the fruit of a terrific day of hunting and a memorable experience, which I will recall with wonder and gratitude to the Almighty, for as long as I draw breath. The voice had been right, there was a buck on the mountain.
Copyright 2016 by Leif HerrGesell and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.