Well, 2019 shot by like a scared rabbit. It’s now 2020 — has a nice ring to it doesn’t it, 2020?
In the 1950s this date seemed impossibly far away. Times are changing, technology is progressing at an impossible pace, life changes daily, especially in cyberspace, but at least the Klingons haven’t invaded yet.
Thankfully, many things remain fairly constant and despite the ever increasing knowledge about deer and their habits, hunting is still hunting. Deer hunting is a huge part of our culture in this area and it’s possible to strike up a conversation in the sporting goods section of most any store with a fellow hunter, even if a total stranger.
One of my favorite topics is how very smart big bucks can become. Some of their little tricks are eye-opening and I thought I might share a few of the better ones.
Scott Neely drove his pickup truck down a logging road, turned down a rutted narrow dirt track and parked. He began still hunting a ridgeline, dropped down into a valley and worked his way up the far side.
As he crossed the ridge he suddenly came face-to-face with a big buck walking directly at him. Both saw each other at the same instant, stopped and stared for a second, then the buck turned and bounded away. Scott’s rifle was slung on his shoulder; he never had an opportunity to shoot. But with snow on the ground he could track this wall-hanger that had wide, heavy antlers with lots of points.
The buck angled down the valley, then swung up over the ridge and down the other side, curving to his left. After 30 minutes of tracking Scott came to his own footprints coming up the hill — the deer had performed a cute little circle.
The deer tracks led up to his and vanished. The temperature was in the 20s and the snow like powder, and there was little definition to tracks.
Scott worked up and down his own tracks without success. Then he did a 50-yard circle, still no sign of the buck. He backtracked the deer and it didn’t appear the buck had reversed his field. Well, deer can’t fly or disappear, what had happened?
Determined, Scott did a bigger 100-yard circle and at last discovered what the smart buck had pulled.
Very cleverly, the buck had run up to Scott’s tracks and — with cunning intent — reversed his field, running back and carefully jumping into the exact same tracks he came in on until beside a blown-down tree. Then he turned and with a tremendous leap that carried him some 30 feet jumped over the fallen tree, landing on the far side.
The buck then ran down a draw and up the far side where he waited, having a clear view of his backtrail of more than 200 yards.
When Scott saw how cagey the buck was he whistled and began tracking him again. Next, the buck headed for goldenrod thickets, lost Scott, and headed back up the hill.
Scott was walking back to his truck when he accidently hit the trail again. The buck then headed in a beeline for a series of huge clearcuts. At this point Scott knew he was beat, and being miles from his truck, called me to give him a ride back.
As we talked we marveled at how carefully and intelligently the buck had behaved. He knew his tracks gave him away, pulled his best little trick, then his second and, lastly, headed for a tangle of saplings, brush and treetops no one could follow him through.
Hats off to you, Mr. Buck, you won, hands down.
Steve Colley hit a huge track at dawn while muzzleloader hunting. The deer was so heavy his dew claws touched when he jumped off the bank, his hoof so big a cell phone fit between them. It was the biggest track Steve had ever seen — and he’s shot some big-bodied deer.
He jumped the buck up in some hemlocks and its antlers were absolutely huge. The deer ran, he shot and fully expected to score. When the smoke cleared the buck was standing there looking at the smoke cloud drifting slowly away. Time to reload! He dropped in the powder pellets, a bullet, seated it, opened the breech, put on a primer and shut the gun just as the deer ran.
Why do they always do that? Just stand there 5 seconds more, please.
Then the tracking began again. This buck wasn’t being cute. He ran in a straight line through wide-open timber, stopping occasionally to hook to one side and watch his backtrack. As soon as he smelled or saw a glimpse of motion he took off again.
The buck’s strategy appeared to be based on the knowledge most hunters quit tracking after a mile or so. At noon, Steve’s son-in-law, Matt, joined in the chase. The afternoon passed and it was growing dark when the buck dropped off yet another ridge and circled back. Steve knew exactly where he’d cross, sprinted down the hill to the bottom, but the buck beat him there.
At this point the buck grew tired of playing games and continued down into the bottom and proceeded from one bare patch of ground to another, under thick hemlocks, changing directions often and jumping across snowy patches. He soon lost them. The chase had lasted 13 miles and took the entire day. The buck must have enjoyed the chase up to the point where he decided to lose them for good.
I simply love stories like this and have had bucks pull some remarkable tricks on me as well. Big, old bucks know the game and how to play it, in some cases I believe they actually enjoy toying with hunters, using their time-tested bag of tricks.
So, here’s to big bucks. Next time you’re having a drink, fellow hunter, raise the glass and toast those heavy-horned, wise old sages, God Bless them!