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Thursday, April 9, 2009

HOM: The Buck Stopped There

The mill always closed for the first week of hunting season, an unpaid holiday for the labor but the source of a lot of overtime for the millwrights & electricians. While we hunted, they did the annual rebuilding and maintenance that couldn't be done during the normal work shifts. Uncle Paul was gone, living in Oregon, but Gordon & I hunted a lot together. I cherished the times with Gordon. He had been diagnosed with leukemia a few years before and we both had a sense of time passing too quickly. In the fall of '78, I got the big buck I had been dreaming of ever since I started hunting , but I was alone. I think the whole episode was all luck -- bad luck for the buck and good for me. I took my shotgun back to the creek behind the farm the evening before deer season started, looking for a duck or pheasant, and when I walked out of the field into the scrub along the bank an enormous buck jumped up right under my feet and ran, piling into the creek and swimming across. I was stunned! Since Gordon would not hunt on a Sunday, I went back to the creek alone that Opening Day afternoon, hoping for the buck. I drove back along the south fence line and then scouted the creek bank. Nothing. I gave up, got back in the truck, drove along the back of the field and up Vic's lane, then headed home. When I went by the folk's house I got the shock of my life -- that huge buck was running east along that south fence line and was going to cross the road ahead of me. Apparently he'd hidden till he thought he was safe and then decided to move out. I stopped, jumped out with the rifle and ran out into Vic's field. The buck was flying down his fence line toward the river when something ahead spooked it and it turned and headed north across the field at almost a right angle, running broadside to me. It was a LONG shot, but I was using my old Ruger 77 .30-06. I held a little high, led him like he was a pheasant, fired, heard the bullet hit just as he made a bound, was jacking in another shell when he hit the ground and rolled to a stop. He never moved. I ran down to him, ready to finish him, but he never twitched. I'd made a perfect heart shot. I took my friend Tim Hill down there the next day with a tape and we did some measuring. It was 280 yards from my empty shell to where he fell, the longest shot of my life. He must have been bounding at top speed, as the distance between his sets of tracks was 18'. Oddly enough, we found a fresh set of deer tracks over my footprints, and they were noticeably larger than those of the buck I'd killed. I'd love to see the monster buck that left them! F&G aged him at 8.5 years old, too old to breed, so he was rolling fat. The meat was tender and there was a lot of it. Field dressed, with head & lower legs removed, he weighed 210# on the botcher's scales. I took his rack in to the F&G and they score it at 158-5/8. Not enough for the record book then but still above average. The F&G also said he was going downhill, his rack would have been bigger the previous year, and if the following winter was hard he probably wouldn't have survived it, going by the condition of his teeth.. Oddly enough, I really didn't realize at first how big his antlers were. His body was so big it made them look average. I used a whole lifetime of hunting luck with that one shot. Did I feel bad about stumbling into him like that? No, I'd put in 15 years of hard hunting looking for a trophy like that, so I felt like I had earned him. There were two dark spots on the day. When I was dressing him out a neighbor who had been hunting along the river came up and mentioned that HE was the reason the buck spooked north & I shouldn't have shot at it. Next, I'd driven the little Datsun pickup out by him and was busy working on him when Vic's daughter showed up, steaming mad. She reamed me out thoroughly for driving in her dad's field, and pretty well took the rest of the joy out of the day. Once I got the buck loaded, I went over and talked to Vic & apologized, but Vic told me to ignore his daughter. He said that driving out there the way I did was fine and he would have done the same thing himself. I was going to get the head mounted, but Gordon talked me out of that. I just mounted the rack. To combine a few memories, the walnut plaque I mounted them on was one I had been given on the Crockett for a ship's emblem to be mounted on. I'd saved it just in case I ever shot one of the big bucks I'd always looked for. If I were redoing things, I'd go for a European mount, which is the skull and horns on a plaque. Maybe next time! The photo of that rack graced the pages of Gun Digest a few years later, and the rack itself still draws comments here in the store. TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)


Jean&Vic said...

That was a good hunting story, thank you for sharing it. I particularly enjoyed hearing the distance on the moving shot. That was a pretty dang good shot. I have trouble hitting things that small with consistency at that range, especially with iron sights. Please make a point of showing me that rack the next time I am in your shop as it is an interesting piece of history.
I have to say, I still have yet to find the monster size deer I track during hunting season. Though I have found 2 dead here (winter kills and predators), they are nothing near record in size of the rack, but always seem to be big in body.