The 2019 Hunting Season was a different one. We were hunting a different area of Maine at the new camp. The new camp lies in Eastern Maine, half way between Bangor and Calais. All summer long the camp neighbors I encountered would say things like, “there’s no deer here,” or, “coyotes kill all the deer, nobody sees deer anymore.” After weeks of scouting, camera checking, map looking, and generally obsessing over the season we were in it, and we couldn’t find the bucks. We found does, young bucks, bears, more bears, more bears and a few moose. I was starting to believe the neighbors were right.
Week three came and the usual suspects arrived at camp. My dad, my uncle, two of my brothers, and three great friends of mine. We always hunt week three and we almost always manage at least one good buck. During week three I’d estimate I walked over 100 miles on limited snow and frozen leaves. I managed to see over two dozen does, six in one day, and two bucks. One crotch horn and what I think was one mature buck but he was faster than me. Only one other buck was spotted. Maybe the neighbors were right? What I did see was an ungodly amount of buck sign. Rubs, scrapes, and big tracks of bucks roaming huge distances. I was still optimistic.
Towards the end of week three we were all sitting around the table having our nightly game of poker; five dollar buy in winner take all. The conversation came to what song do we listen to in our head while we’re in the woods. There were some great ones. Guns and Roses Paradise City, Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried, David Allan Coe with Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile. I sat quietly at the end of the table. Someone finally asked me. I was a bit embarrassed to say the song I sing in my head is, “Fancy” by the great Reba McEntire. They gave me the business as would be expected when a group of dudes are multiple cocktails deep and no women are around to be the voice of reason.
I had to go on and explain why. I try to be nothing but a tracker. I track on dry frozen leaves, wet leaves, crunchy snow, day old snow, and of course fresh powder. So when I cut what I think is a fresh big buck track I think to myself, here’s your once chance. Which turns into here’s your one chance Fancy, and away we go. I went even further to explain that it is my belief that during a Maine deer season you only get one chance to have everything line up, fresh good snow ending in the morning, fresh legs on the hunter, and a big track made after the snow ended. Everyone had a big laugh. I had the last laugh, I took all their money and sent them to bed with empty pockets.
Week four came and I was alone on Wednesday, the leaves were frozen and I was frustrated. I was cruising a hardwood funnel between two ridges. When I do this I carry a stick. I use the stick as a walking stick and move along at about five steps using a normal pace and then I stop. Like a deer moving through the woods. The walking stick breaks up the sound of the two step human predator. I don’t try to sneak along I move at a normal pace. When I stop I use my boot to imitate pawing at the ground, like a deer feeding. Then I stand and listen. You can get really close to deer doing this on loud days. During one of my stops I heard a deer come down one of the ridges. It was another smaller buck, a crotch horn. I almost filled my tag with him but snow was forecasted for overnight and I let him walk.
My brother Billy and his family arrived Wednesday night. Billy is my best hunting partner. I’ve written about it before. We understand what the other is doing and work well together. We also have no fear of the woods and getting a deer out from way back. First thing out of his mouth was, “we saw a monster crossing the road not far from here.” First thing I said was, “we’ll get him tomorrow on snow.”
Thanksgiving morning arrived. I woke to my 4:00AM alarm excited to see snow. I stepped outside only to see driving rain. I went back to bed pissed off at the whole entire world. At 5:00AM my brother woke me up saying it was snowing like a bastard. Now we’re in business. A quick breakfast, and out we went in our wool pants and jackets. When the snow is driving like it was and the wind is howling I’ve learned that things aren’t moving. You can walk yourself into the ground and never cut a track. What we do is drive. We drive a big loop of about 20 miles. We analyze every track we see, make sure we step on it and continue. If after the first loop we cut a track we didn’t step on before we know it’s fresh. It works awesome and has led to many deer ending up on the game pole. Not this day. We drove until 11AM and no tracks were worth following. Billy had to go put the turkey on the smoker. The weather App had the snow ending in an hour. I decided to make a large swing around where the buck was spotted last night and see if he was moving after the storm let up.
After a two mile walk in I turned south and went 100 yards and there they were. Beautiful tracks, 10+ inches spread between the left foot and right foot indicating a wide chest, and not a flake of snow in them! The snow ended 30 minutes before. This deer was only twenty minutes in front of me. Here’s Your One Chance Fancy.
I took a quick compass reading and off I went. The buck was in the hardwoods with winter beech. The entire forest was laden with snow. The only opening was where he went and knocked the snow off. I was covered with snow within 100 feet. I struggled to keep my sights clear, I didn’t bother with my scope. After about 200 yards he stopped to eat some beechnuts and I saw his points in the snow confirming I was on a buck. After another 30 feet he stopped to eat some old mans beard off a fallen tree. Old mans beard is a lichen, I read somewhere it helps them digest, this is where I screwed up. When they eat old mans beard they tend to lay down and sleep/chew their cud. I should have really slowed down and tried to find him bedded. I stayed on his tracks only to see him looking at me from about 15 feet away. He had just walked and layed down, no circle up hill, no back track. He just plopped down in his travels. I came up quick with the carbine but everything was covered in snow, and he was gone. I swore enough to fill three swear jars and sat down on a stump. This is key. When you miss an opportunity analyze what you did wrong and what you learned. I missed the old mans beard, I didn’t keep my scope or underneath irons clean. What did I learn from him. He wasn’t ranging like the other bucks I’d followed. He was tired because he didn’t circle up to watch his back track. I predicted he’d only take those 20 foot bounds for a 200 yards and then walk. If he did that I’d catch him. I ate some brownies, had some water and waited 20 minutes. I always wait at least 20 minutes after I jump one. They tend to forget you’re there and go on about their business. Just as I’d hoped he ran 150 yards, trotted another 100 and then walked. In a fairly straight line. After about a mile he stopped again and pawed for acorns. Not this time buddy.
I went into stealth mode. One step, squat down. Look. Listen. I did this for another 100 yards. He went to another down tree and ate old mans beard. He has to be here. I peaked over a bush to see more ground pawed for acorns and just beyond that there he was laying flat out on the ground twenty feet away. In less than a second I had these thoughts, he’s dead, he’s asleep, can I shoot a sleeping buck? Where am I in the woods? Is this the right deer? Just then he picked his head up, I saw his rack, he sprang from his bed and I shot him all at the same time. He went down in a heap from a neck shot.
I fell to my knees and thanked the hunting gods for the opportunity. Pressed the stop button on the radio in my head, and put away my Reba collection until next year.
To me there is no other way to hunt. It’s hard, it’s challenging, and it is taxing to your mind, body, and spirit. But when you do it, when it all comes together you are then transformed into a hunter, in the purest form, and you will never be the same.
Don’t know where to start, hire a guide and get outside.