After 15 years of deer hunting, I finally killed my first buck. Well, let's just say that it was the first buck that I knew was a buck when I shot it ("Yep, son, I've killed plenty of monster button bucks in my time. There was one that was practically the size of a Chessie..."). Ok, so I'm not much of a deer hunter, but this guy initiated me to the fraternity of eagle eyed nimrods who, when asked if they got a buck, answer: "yup."
It all happened on the first monday after Thanksgiving, which is opening day here in PA. Out of a sense of duty, more than anything else, I joined "tell me why I would want to work here" Rich on an annual tradition. Meet at my place at 5:00. Raise, then dash, the expectations of Abbey and Cody who only associate Rich with good things. And stroll down the lane to my neighbors’ over-hunted, un-posted woodlot.
Our plan was to settle into our respective hides long before the anticipated arrival of the opening day jamokes. The mercury was forecast to head into the 60s, so we were both dressed too lightly for the early morning temperatures. I imagine it was a bit like opening day in the south. Needless to say, expectations were at a minimum. Between last year’s uneaten venison (my freezer) and this year’s road kill (Rich’s), neither of us felt the need for meat. We agreed to shoot one doe between the two of us if the opportunity arose.
Around 7:30 I heard something crashing through the hemlocks to my right and a moment later a large doe hurtled by. I was just raising the 0.243 (Johny on the spot) when Moby raced by. Through the hurriedly raised scope he was a complete blur. Even so, I caught a glimpse of his eight points and, so low were my expectations, that just seeing him left me with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
The arguments against today’s deer management program have been so aggravating to listen to, yet so “clearly” borne out by last year’s dismal season, that my thoughts went immediately to the vindication of poor Gary Alt. This one buck had to be evidence of the success of Alt’s management program.
Twenty minutes later two tails flagged through the red pines to my left. Could they be the same deer? Within minutes my thoughts were answered by jamoke #1, who came crashing through the ravine below me and, upon seeing me, waved and marched over to chat. A pleasant, funny, little fellow with a fading orange ball cap perched on top of an insulated cap. “Seen that spike?” he inquired. “Nope, but I saw I nice buck” I unwittingly offered. And off he went, with roughly 0% chance of ever seeing a live deer.
Oy, this story is dragging on and it’s getting late.
Shortly after the encounter with jamoke #1, Rich came strolling by. He was cold and had seen nothing. I was cold and happy, having seen a very nice buck and a funny looking jamoke. Rich suggested I warm up by putting on a small drive while he manned my hide, which, he felt, had clearly become the better place to be on opening day.
I walked briskly over a rise and then down the back side of the 70 acre ridge that we were hunting. My thoughts were on driving deer, not on seeing any. As I approached the “valley of death,” with its memories of past kills of deer and turkey, I was startled by the clatter of hooves on hard earth. I sat and stared through a narrow corridor of white pine boughs into the meadow below.
Suddenly, Moby materialized, and I could feel the excitement douse any illusion of self control. Fighting instinct, I tried to slowly raise the rifle as Moby tried equally hard to discern what had interrupted him from his pursuit of doe. When the gun had only traveled half the requisite distance in what seemed like an eternity I lost control and yanked it to my eye. Amazingly, there stood Moby. Amazingly, the scope was dialed to the perfect setting (5x) for the 75 yard shot. I aimed at his chest and squeezed the trigger.
Moby turned and trotted off. Within seconds I was groping for one of Rich’s new walkie talkies (I left one of mine at Black Lake this year). With some coaxing (ok, cajoling), Rich persuaded me to stay put. And, within ten minutes of his arrival, we had tracked Moby to the flood plain, bordering Joe Fye's little trout stream that has been the place of so many memories over the past few years. It was the spot where I killed a turkey over Abbey when we first moved to Pennsylvania Furnace. It was the spot where Rich had killed a doe last year. And, it was the spot where I had killed a doe last year following a series of very bad judgements.
Moby's antlers were extended to the heavens. I was overtaken with gratitude. Rich beamed at me like a proud dad. It was perfect.
It’s also 5:15 and I need to get home to the wife and kids… More later.
Back on the blog (at least for now)...