I’ve had the pleasure of knowing many bucks over the years. Their pictures take up space on my phone and cover the walls in my office. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting a few them. Every detail of our relationship is easily recalled in my mind at a moment’s notice. I know I’m not alone here. Why is that? Remembering the items my wife told me to pick up at the grocery store only minutes before is next to impossible. But that big buck I saw three days after the season ended back in 2001 has stayed with me to this date.
I think it’s the emotional pain that comes with defeat that permanently sears these relationships into my memory. The bucks I’m writing are the ones that got away. They are the ones I saw during the season but didn’t have a chance to tag, or trail camera regulars that taunted me for months on end forever lurking in the shadows and never showing themselves in daylight.
On a moonlight evening last December 15th, I was driving home from my last hunt of the year in New Hampshire. Barely an hour earlier the sunset had signaled the end of deer season. My toes were still frozen as I rounded the corner into view of some small fields. The moon was so bright it was easy to see the deer standing in the wide open of the field against the snowy backdrop. It was immediately evident that it was a buck just by his body shape and the posture. I pulled over and took a look through my binoculars with the aid of the moonlight. I watched him, a basket racked six-pointer, walk and feed slowly along not seventy yards from me. Then he stopped and looked straight ahead. I took his cue and panned to the right. Another deer was feeding, his head down and obscured by a small rise in the field. I’ll never forget the image I saw through my binoculars next. He lifted his head and revealed a heavy, tall, and wide rack glimmering in the moonlight as he munched away on something. Over the next five minutes he gave me every view of his rack I could have asked for. I couldn’t stay forever and eventually put my truck in drive and rolled away, smiling at the timing of it all. “I’ll see you next year,” I thought to myself as drove home knowing full well the odds were stacked against me.
Truthfully, I rarely see any of them the next year. They are too elusive, and I make too many mistakes. Several years ago I was hunting with my muzzleloader in Vermont when I met another buck I’ll never forget. It was a cold morning in December. Everything was frozen and the ground barren of snow. I had worked my way up high on a ridge with the hopes that I could drop down over the backside and ambush a buck working his way to bed just after daybreak. The wind was perfect as I started my decent, which consisted of slowly moving fifty yards at a time and blowing a few grunts at each stop. My hope was that I could entice a buck to come to me before I got too close and scared him away. The leaves were really crunchy, but if Mr. Big couldn’t see me he’d only have his curiosity piqued by the crunchy leaves and buck grunt combo. I’ve had it work before, and it worked again on this morning.
I descended my way into a hemlock grove that opened into a mixture of hardwood trees below. I blew my grunt call and immediately heard the sound of a deer trotting up the hill below me, but as soon as the deer came into view he bolted and ran through the slash to my right. My only image was his head in my crosshairs as I desperately tried to identify him before I could shoot, but it wasn’t meant to be. The dark tan colored right main beam extending around his ear and toward his nose will forever stay with me. It’s funny how everything can happen so quickly, yet that split-second view of his head through my scope has stayed with me forever.
I was devastated. I’d put together a game plan and worked hard to make it happen, but as I sat there in disbelief I felt the soft breeze on the back of my neck and I knew. Right up until that point the wind had been perfect. As that big buck came into view he caught my scent immediately and the gig was up.
Trail camera bucks I’ve known are some of the worst, especially the regulars. The bucks that show up once or twice a year are fun to look at and dream about, but the bucks that regularly visit are the most frustrating. I think that’s because I feel they are huntable, and that if I had enough time to dedicate to hunting them I’d eventually emerge victoriously. But that’s not reality for me and most people I know. I hunt when I can and hope that our paths cross at the same time. They rarely do.
Many moons ago I captured a really nice nine pointer on camera. He was a real regular. Each time my dad or I checked the cameras he was on at least one of them. One night we even captured him courting a doe and getting in a fight with another buck! (SEE PICS HERE). He was a real doozy, but he disappeared in the middle of November never to be seen again. I often wonder what happened to him. Did he end up on someone’s wall, or did he move to a new area?
Two years ago, I stumbled across a scrape line that was over 700 yards long. You read that right – 700 yards! It was so impressive that I had to measure it on Google Earth. It was the most impressive scrape line I’ve ever seen. I finally stuck a camera on it and was pleasantly surprised to get a video of a non-typical buck.
He carried five clean points on his left side, but the antler on his right side swooped down below his jaw and curled back upward. You can imagine my excitement when I saw that video! I instantly recalled a trail camera photo of a young buck from three years prior with the same characteristics. There was no doubt in my mind that it was the same deer. I hadn’t captured a picture of this buck in three years, yet I could remember a random photo of one that looked just like him three years prior?
The buck I’ve known the longest is arguably the reason I have such an affinity for the ones I have never killed. I was just a young boy at the time, but I remember the event as if it happened yesterday. My dad and I were driving to our hunting spot when he bounded off the embankment and stood in the road, straddling the yellow line. Our eyes were wide with amazement, rifles resting on our flannel hunting jackets on the seat between us. He had a rack like the deer I’d only read about in magazines – chocolate colored antlers with what seemed like points extending everywhere. All we could do was watch as he walked off the road and onto posted property. He lingered near the road for a while, almost as if he was making sure the image of him would burn so deep into our memories that we’d never forget. It worked.
Reminiscing just now about a few of the bucks I’ve known has made it clear why I have trouble remembering what my wife sent me to the grocery store for. The hard drive in my brain obviously doesn’t have room for trivial stuff like bananas and avocados when images of bucks are permanently stored there. One can’t look at a bunch of bananas and not see a set of antlers or hang some veggies on a produce scale without thinking what that buck would weigh at the check station. What was I here for?
As the new season kicks into gear, I’ve got another old adversary already taking up residence in my mind. I’m certain it’s a buck I had on camera last year and had an encounter with, but with another year of age, he’s really developed into the kind of buck hunters dream about. Will I ever see him in the daylight? If history is any indicator, the odds are slim. That’s ok with me. If shooting big bucks was easy it’d take all the fun out of daydreaming about them. I’m happy just to have known a few of them.
That’s a few stories of bucks I’ve known. It’d be fun to hear some of yours. Leave a comment below or head on over to Facebook and leave a comment there.
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