It was a beautiful sunny day during late muzzle loader season and I thought I’d get a little quiet time in and hunt in the warm sun. I’d been hunting the same patch of public ground for several years and knew the spots the other hunters avoided as “too far” from the parking areas. These are the places I enjoy hunting because for a little while even in the crowded eastern states I can wander about with little chance of seeing another hunter. On this particular day I’d elected to hunt the edge of the oak woods and harvested corn fields. I could see deep into the woods as I scanned ahead hoping to catch a deer sneaking out to get a few morsels before the cold evening. I’d been out about 3 hours and had seen some small does as they sky lined themselves but I was beginning to wonder if I’d opted for the correct hunting technique. The edge of the woods was quite irregular with frequent corners and switchbacks forcing me to carefully watch to the front and rear. As I came to the familiar ancient stone marker long ago set in place to mark the county line I stopped and watched ever so carefully for many minutes. This little marker not only seemed to draw history buffs intent on their charcoal rubbings but also deer seeking a quick escape route to a nearby sanctuary. Surprised at the lack of moving deer I proceeded to follow the edge of the field, slowly crept thought the fallen leaves at the wooded fence line and turned the ninety degree corner to once again follow the new field edge. A small wooded finger jutted into the field just ahead of me on the right and it always presented a difficult stalk. The “finger” protruded into the field just at the edge of a small depression. I’d seen many deer stand in this finger and watch for danger as anything approaching from the upper side was sky lined and those approaching from the bottom were easily visible from the elevated vantage point. There were many downed trees, only the trunks remained as the limbs had long ago rotten or broke off. Slowly I approached the finger from the upper edge, careful steps, “walk one - listen ten” as my father had taught me many years ago. A tedious stalk as any deer in that finger had a great advantage but I needed to get past this area to continue the hunt and I didn’t want to spook deer from here into the other areas ahead. Walk one listen ten, over and over I’d take a step and scan ahead. I was very near half way down the near side of the finger when it happened, a loud crash to my left rear. I turned, swinging the 50 caliber Hawken from the carry to the ready, my ears trying to pinpoint the sound of the deer breaking cover from behind. There he was, no more then 50 yards into the woods leaping high to clear the fallen logs, majestic, dreamlike slow motion leaps. For a short while I was completely mesmerized by the sight of his huge polished antlers and shining reddish coat as he slowly leapt the logs quartering away from me. I thought to myself “you can’t miss this one, he’s not a deer to let get away!” The Hawken swung to follow as I took careful aim and fired. It was done, the shot was over and all I recall a feeling of dread as I scanned the scene through the clearing smoke, “where’s the buck, I can’t see the buck”. I drew my Old Army 44 black powder revolver and headed into the woods hoping that I could somehow recover and get the deer. Torn between the urge to run and the need to slowly proceed and not spook it further I clambered over the logs toward the spot I’d seen him last. Revolver at the ready in case I needed another shot if he was wounded and trying to get away. I listened and watched ahead but saw nothing, no buck, no sounds, on I went, over a log, looking, listening… In the span of what seemed like a few seconds I’d crossed the yardage not bothering to reload the Hawken. There just ahead I could see an antler on the far side of a log, relief swept over me. With great excitement I circled the log to get my buck but as I got a good look at him I thought something looked amiss as his head lay in an awkward position. Sure enough, his fall had broken his left antler loose from its pedicle, selfishly I felt cheated. I sat down on the last log he ever jumped and talked to him, first asking why he had cheated me out of the magnificent antlers he carried and later asking what had caused him to drop his antlers so early. I began to think clearer and recalled previous bucks I’d seen that had shed their antlers early and knew they had all been in poor physical condition. To check this supposition I went to the now dead buck and firmly pulled on his remaining attached antler, it came off easily. The question now was the cause of this early shedding and I felt compelled to discover the mystery. I rolled him onto his back, his left rear leg was badly swollen, there was an open badly infected wound high on the inner leg. He also had previously been shot two other times, once in the neck and another across the front of his brisket. My shot had entered his left side at the rear of the ribs angling into the chest, a coup-de-grace.
Perhaps the only reason I ever saw him was that he was in such poor shape he noisily bolted to safety, the jumps I saw as graceful, slow motion leaps were but weary jumps over logs he probably wished had been much smaller. I feel a different sort of kinship with this buck, much different that the many others I’ve killed, we talked and I ended his apparent misery, I’d like to believe he’d be grateful. His antlers roughly score 138 with a conservative inside spread of 16 inches.
[ 02-16-2004: Message edited by: Dave King ]