Have you ever shot a deer and wondered where it came from or what it was doing before it showed up at your stand? I know I have. Maybe it’s the never ending drive to understand these creatures and what makes them tick. The way I see it, the more I can learn about the game I’m after, the better my odds of success on future hunts. In the case of my dad’s Vermont Rifle buck, I had the unique experience of knowing exactly what his deer was up to during the last hour and a half of his existence. Why? Because I was following him, that’s why!
The final chapter in this buck’s life ended just after 7 a.m., but we pieced together the history when I grabbed the SD card out of a camera and took a look at the pictures. You see, I had cut a decent sized and fresh track about thirty minutes before light and studied it by the light of my flashlight. The powdery snow was still fluffy where he’d dragged his feet so I knew it was recent, or at least made within the last 12 hours. I don’t know, I’m not the world’s best tracker. For all I knew, it was a doe, but I convinced myself it was a buck.
Before embarking on the tracking job, I decided to hike around for twenty minutes to see if I could find any other tracks in the area by the light of the moon. I couldn’t. Not a single other deer had been passed through since it had quit snowing over twelve hours earlier. It was a bit depressing.
I picked the track back up and followed it right passed one of my trail cameras. Knowing I would have the opportunity to not only see what I was following but also learn exactly what time the deer had made the tracks was exciting! Talk about a great learning opportunity for a guy like me who knows very little about tracking except for what I’ve read in books.
Not long after I began my pursuit, I came across where he’d been feeding in the leaves. It was obvious that he was not in a rush, so I slowed my pace. The tracks certainly looked fresh enough, and the last thing I wanted to do was bump him out because I was being careless.
Here is a video I took as I backtracked my steps on my hike out after Dad shot. You'll need to turn up the volume.
The buck fed along casually with his nose into the wind and from time to time crossed paths with fresh bear tracks. A bear, possibly two, had absolutely torn up the hillside but had done so hours before the buck came through, which was obvious because there was a light dusting of snow on all the leaves that had been disturbed. Eventually, Mr. Big’s tracks became intertwined with those of a few other deer. Because of the powdery snow, it was a little difficult for me to sort out which ones were his, and I was momentarily side tracked (that’s a little pun I threw in there, get it?).
Once locating his track again, I decided to step on and break a large branch that was hidden under the snow. The brilliance of my misstep would only be realized later that morning, but at the time it about summed up my hunting season. At the crack of the branch I saw a dark body flash in the hemlocks. The flash of movement was the only “deer” I have seen during rifle season after more days of hunting than I’d like to admit.
There were a few other tracks in the area, so I found a tree to lean against and waited for a new track maker to amble by. I was barely into my fifth cup of coffee when I heard the sweet music of gunfire ring out in dad’s direction. Concern grew when I didn’t hear a second, third, or fourth shot. That wasn’t like him (Love you, Dad 🙂 ). Maybe it wasn’t him? It had to be him.
After an agonizing hour (more like thirty seconds), he let me know it was him. My morning was made. The buck had dropped in its tracks.
On my way out of the woods, I hiked back to the camera near where the chase had begun. Could I have been following the same buck he’d shot? Perhaps, but it seemed unlikely. When dad texted me a picture of the buck I recognized him as one we’d captured on camera during the summer, but never at the location of this camera. I grabbed the SD card and started on my way to dad.
When I reached him, I handed him the SD card. He has a card reader for his phone and we couldn't help but stare at the picture and chuckle. There before us was a picture of the open-mouthed fool walking in the snow just before light.
“I’ll be danged. Check the one just before that picture of me,” I said. “That will be the buck.”
Sure enough, when he scrolled back one picture there was his buck – the very buck I’d been following! How cool is that?! He hadn’t been walking in Dad’s direction, but when I accidentally (I mean purposefully) stepped on the branch, he’d changed course and ended up walking right past Dad. (The year is wrong on the picture, but the rest is correct.)
Some have suggested that I get credited with the assist on this hunt. I suppose it could go down in the record books that way, but I liken it more to a basketball player dribbling off his foot resulting in the ball unintentionally bouncing right to a teammate who then scores. It counts but wasn't exactly the way the play had been drawn up.
Other than my Dad scoring on a nice Vermont buck, the cool part for me was learning how fresh the track was in the powdery snow. I’d interpreted it correctly and had only been minutes behind him. Also, I wasn’t following a doe – something else I could see myself doing.
It was another great memory made in the woods with Dad. Now he’s back in New Hampshire, and I’m left to stare at trees by myself in Vermont. One of these days I’ll see a deer, right?
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