Vermont Muzzleloader : Hunt 1 – So Close
If Rifle season had taught me anything it was that the deer were not sticking around our normal hunting grounds during the day. The fresh snow over the last week of rifle revealed that the deer had virtually disappeared from higher elevations and were heading north during the day to bed down at the lower elevations. The area I assumed them to be bedding in was an area I had never hunted for a couple reasons. For one, it is difficult to access given the terrain, and two, I had never really had a reason to hunt there. So, on Friday I dug out a topographical map and studied a couple new areas with hopes of discovering something that would give away where the deer going during the day. To my surprise I found an obscure “Plateau” that was surrounded by steep hills on 3 sides and a gentle drainage on the remaining side. It was positioned about half a mile further than I had ever been but it looked so intriguing I decided I’d give it a try. My idea was to reach the plateau early and watch for a while and then eventually work my way back to Josh who was in position about 7/8 of a mile to the south but on the same side of the ridge I was hunting.
The plan was simple. Josh would drop me off high and deep into the woods on the four-wheeler and then head back to the other end of the ridge and still hunt his way around to the same side as me. That way, if I bumped anything it would likely head in his direction and he might get a chance to look it over. Josh dropped me off at an elevation of 1800’. The previous week I’d only seen once set of fresh tracks this high up but starting off this high gave me the advantage to hunt from above the deer as I made my way down to the area I thought they were. I worked my way to my starting spot in the dark and waiting for daylight before moving any further.
When daylight starting filtering through the hemlocks I began my move to the plateau I’d discovered on the map. It was still pretty dark in the hemlocks when I came across my first set of tracks. It had just finished snowing about a half inch so I knew the tracks were about as fresh as they could be. A little bit of investigation revealed that the deer (no doubt a monster buck) had been walking around the edge of the hill in my direction as I had slipped down the same hill in the dark. He either heard me or saw me somehow and trotted down the hill in the opposite direction he’d been walking. I was both encouraged and discouraged by the discovery of the tracks. As I mentioned above, there had been very few tracks up here the week previous, but 5 minutes after daylight I’d already seen my first set and it had been a very close encounter. I’d like to think that if I had been 60 seconds earlier I would have been in position ahead of that deer and there would have been a different ending to the day. That’s hunting though.
After shedding a few tears I continued to work my way down the spine of a small slope that fell off to the north towards the plateau. The land to my right opened up to a drainage that offered 100 plus yard views thanks in part to the fresh snow. I stopped at a big maple tree and gave a few grunts before moving on again but nothing responded. After another couple hundred yards, and a few more sets of tracks, I reached the hill above the plateau. I sat overlooking the plateau for a while and enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate while observing the new area.
Josh was almost in position at the other end around 8:30 so I packed up my gear and began the hunt around the ridge towards him. Just about the time I reached the south end of the plateau I saw movement below me. “Deer!” my brain yelled. I was in a decent position having purposely stayed at a slightly higher elevation than I expected them to be. It was tense for a moment but I finally identified her to be a doe. Then I heard it – the sound of another deer walking somewhere. It took me a few moments to find him but instinct told me it was a buck when I first spotted him through my binoculars standing 100 yards away in the immature hardwoods. I had to reposition to get a better look at him as he stood there but he turned out to be just a spike.
After seeing the buck and doe I continued to hunt my way around the hill towards Josh. The wind had changed from the direction it was blowing at dawn and it was now right at my back blowing towards Josh. It was too late to turn around so I continued on towards Josh hoping my scent would chase a few deer towards Josh. It worked. Josh saw a nice doe that came from my direction but that’s all.
The remainder of the day was uneventful. Dad was perched in his blind again all day but an area that was littered with tracks the week previous was now devoid of any sign of life. Even a check of the trail cameras in the area revealed that very few deer had been through the area in the past week. It was a bizarre turn of events that only added to the mystery of this place. Last week the deer, except for a select few, were all hanging out at lower elevations. This week they were back to high elevations, as well as low, but were in a totally different area.
This was my seventh time in the woods since the start of Vermont Rifle and I have a feeling that the moment I had with the spike was the one opportunity at a Vermont buck that I usually get per year. It just happened that he was only a spike. In this area he could just as easily have been a wall hanger and that’s why I like to hunt here. One of these days our paths will cross. The longer I hunt here the more I’m convinced that the biggest factor involved in successfully taking a deer is time. If I’m fortunate enough to have another chance to hunt before the season ends perhaps it will be that one time when our paths cross, but I better throw a little luck in there too…