I began the 2015 deer season (gun) with a plan, I wasn’t going sit much. I spent all of bear season and expanded archery sitting 15 feet up in a tree. I needed to feel the ground under my feet. I needed to get on a track, I needed to move slow, pick the terrain apart, guess where the deer would be; I needed to hunt.
When you hunt like that you need a gun that you can mount quick, fire fast, and have a quick follow up. You need a gun you can carry all day on the trail and not fatigue. I had just the gun, my grandfather’s Winchester Model 94, 30-30 carbine, manufactured in 1897.
That’s right, the best research I can find is that the 30-30 that my grandfather gave to me around my 16th birthday came out of the factory in 1897. Make no mistake this is no show piece. It’s banged up, the varnish is worn, the nickel is worn, and it took me several hours of cleaning to get the gunk out of the working parts and the magazine. If it’s one thing, it’s a deer killer. From what I remember Gramps got it at a pawn shop and started killing deer with it. The gun has probably killed more deer than I’ll kill in a lifetime. With Gramps moved onto the happy hunting grounds I can say a majority of those were under the cover of darkness. See Gramps was a poacher, not in the sense that he killed for the kill, he killed for the meat to feed his family and other families that he knew needed the meat, and he could trust them not to tell the law. That’s the way it was. I don’t condone it now but I don’t fault a man for putting food on his table.
When I arrived at camp Thursday night the forecast was calling for potential overnight snow. I went to bed dreaming of waking up to a blanket of snow, cutting a big staggering, toe dragging track, and dogging that buck until he was down. I had two guns with me, my modern Remington Model 700 in 30-06 with a high powered scope. It’s a heavy beast but has put down over 15 deer between Georgia and Maine, and Gramp’s gun. I’ve never hunted with his gun, It was old, unreliable, and had no glass, but for some reason I thought this year I would use it. I had other “bush guns,” or as I call them tracking guns, but it felt right leaving those in the case at home and bringing the 30-30. I had cleaned it the best I could and it held decent groups at 100 yards, it would do.
Friday morning was a let down, 35 degrees and raining. I decided to sit a stand on the edge of the swamp behind camp and wait for dawn. Once I could see if there was snow at the higher elevations then I’d make the plan for the rest of the day, I took my 30-06. About 10 minutes into shooting light a little 4 pointer came wondering by, I gave him a pass. I’m a unabashed antler hunter. I know Maine is a, “we hunt for meat state,” and that’s your choice. I know I can get a lot more meat off a buck that’s pushing 200 lbs than I can from one that’s 100 lbs. Off topic a little, my dad shot that buck later in the week and I was happy for him. If you shoot a buck you’re happy with then you’re alright with me.
About the time I was getting ready to go check out the mountain and see if there was snow, another deer came into view. This was a smaller 6 or 8 pointer that has the potential to be a real masher next year. He was 100 plus yards away and moving, I picked up the 30-06 to get a look at him and nothing, the scope was wet, crap oh well I was going to give him a pass anyway. I was wet and I had seen two deer that I wasn’t looking for. Time to make a change and get out of these wet clothes.
I walked back to camp thinking about my options, I knew I could move quick and quite in the rain and I was nagged by this thought, what if that buck was a shooter? I would have missed the chance. I needed to use the only other option I had, the 30-30. After drying out I headed out again with the 30-30. I moved over to the area I shot last year’s deer and the sign was plentiful. while pussyfooting my way along I caught the flicker of a tail and there they were, two does feeding on mushrooms 30 yards from me. This time of year there’s no better attractant than a doe, never mind two. I thought for sure that I was going to see a mature buck, it never happened. The deer moved away and I silently thanked them for the 30 minutes they let me sit and watch them.
From the spot I was at I was going to make my way around and back to camp. Probably a little less than a mile. It was noon and I planned to take the rest of the day. The snow never came but it sure as hell kept raining. I jumped another deer that saw me before I saw it. When a deer blows when you’re stalking it’s like a punch in the gut. I had just spent the last hour moving 100 yards only to get busted by a deer I never saw or heard, frustrating. You have to shrug it off and vow to do better. At about 3:15 I came to the edge of the swamp directly across from where I started my day. I was admiring the view of the snow on Katahdin, wishing for some snow at my camp when I saw my buck, he was moving around the edge of the swamp 150-200 yards away, a shot I couldn’t take with the ol 30-30.
I knew he was either going to go along the edge of the swamp where I had started my day, or the oak ridge behind my camp. I also knew I was running out of time. I decided to run across the swamp to cut him off. I ran across, plunged into the waist deep water and immediately regretted my decision. I came out the other side wet, frozen, and pissed. I crept up to where I thought I’d see him and nothing. It was getting late and I was miserable. I could take the trail back to camp and be warm, dry, and on my first stiff drink in 10 minutes. For some reason I decided to keep pushing and check the oaks. I slipped up the hill and was picking the oak grove apart piece by piece near to far left to right when out of the corner of my eye he crossed the ridge to my right. In a flash the gun was up, but not quick enough. I could hear him grunting and thrashing around but couldn’t see him. I always carry a grunt tube and a doe bleat can just in case I need to fool a deer into thinking I’m a deer. I turned the can over and he came running. The sound a good buck makes running reminds me of a horse at gallop. He came out on the spine of the ridge I was on and headed right to me. He had his head down and his rack swinging from side to side, he was trying to pick up the scent of the doe he heard. I had a bead on him but did not want to shoot him in the back of the head. At about 15 feet, he picked up his head to see me kneeling in the middle of his path, this is when it ended. The 30-30 barked and he went down. In that moment a lifetime of memories I had of my grandfather sped through my mind like a slideshow on ultra fast forward. It was something I’ll never be able to explain.
There are things that happened during this hunt that I can’t explain and that’s okay. The thrill of hunting is not in the kill it is in the journey, in the hardships, in the perseverance, and in the connection with our hunting ancestors. Gramp’s 30-30 is back in the gun case, I’ve killed a good deer with it on the deer’s terms. I may hunt with it again or I may not. Maybe someday one of my kids or grandkids will lay down a trophy buck with it and they’ll have a slide show of memories that include me, that would be alright.