Hunting with a friend on my woodlot in November, I found myself stopping often to tell him a story about something that happened at that spot. Thinking about it later, I decided that would be a good way to share my hunting stories with you. Here is Chapter Two of “Walk my woodlot with me.” My 150 acre woodlot is located between Hopkins Stream and Route 41, while my house is a quarter mile away on Blake Hill Road. The woodlot is dedicated to my Dad. Up on Route 41 is a sign: The Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area. I access my lot from Route 41, by canoing down the stream, or by crossing the road from my house and hunting through the woodlots of two of my neighbors until I get to my woodlot.
We’re sitting behind a small ledge, and just over there to the left you can see a large grouping of boulders. Porcupines reside in the crevices under the boulders, and one year I found a dead coyote there. The coyote hadn’t been dead long, and I have no idea what killed it. You see so many amazing things while you’re hunting.
Straight ahead you can see a bench, next to a vernal pool. All kinds of critters come to that pool, so this is a great place to sit. My woodlot starts right at the vernal pool. And if you look to the left, deer exit the bog right there. I used to sit over there, closer to the bog, and I did get a nice doe there one year. I’d been napping, and woke up just in time to see four deer exit the bog. I shot the biggest, a 120 pound doe.
Between that group of boulders on the left and the stream one day, hunting back towards my house, I jumped a deer. Luckily there was enough snow so I could follow it, and it headed upstream, getting almost to where you could see the house. Then it turned left and headed toward Route 41. I assumed it would cross the road and be gone. But amazingly, just before it got to Route 41, it turned left again and headed south, running now between the bog and the road.
“This is great,” I thought. Dad was sitting about a quarter mile away on a ridge overlooking the bog. And the deer was headed right for him. I took just a few steps in the new direction when I heard Dad fire two shots. Turns out the buck had burst out of the bushes and gotten all the way past him before he was able to get his gun up and fire. The buck dropped right there. The six-pointer weighed 155 pounds. And this is where it gets really interesting.
Two days later, I was sitting high up in a Hemlock tree, up ahead of us a ways, when a small buck came up from the stream and walked right up to me. I took a shot and missed, but the buck, not knowing where the shot came from, backed up and stood behind another Hemlock. Then he stepped out again and I dropped him right there. He weighed 155 pounds and had a six point rack – identical to Dad’s buck! No bragging rights that year!
The half-hour buck
Let’s walk down the ridge here and up onto that ridge over there where we can see the stream. While we walk, I’ll tell you a story. I once wrote a chapter of hunting tips for a book that my friend Harry Vanderweide wrote, and one thing I emphasized is that no matter how much time you had, you should get out into the woods as often as you could.
On this particular afternoon, I got home from a funeral at 4 pm with only one hour left in the hunting day, which at that time ended at sunset. Later, I successfully submitted two bills that extended the hunting day to 15 minutes after sunset and then to 30 minutes after sunset.
Anyway, I jumped into my hunting clothes, grabbed my rifle, and ran a half mile through the woods to get up to this ridge we’re now approaching. It’s always been a good spot for me, and I once had a couch mounted up in that tree over there.
Huffing and puffing to catch my breath, I stood hidden in a clump of small firs and checked my watch. Thirty minutes to go. And fifteen minutes later, I heard a snap and turned right just in time to see a huge buck pass by me. It was the buck I’d seen several times the past two seasons, without ever getting a shot at it. And it looked like that was going to happen again, because the buck moved down the ridge toward the stream, without giving me another look at him.
But ten minutes later, here he comes! As he walked toward me in a group of small firs, he’d lift his head up and I got a glimpse of his antlers. Then he’d drop his head and disappear. With just a couple of minutes left, he emerged from behind a huge boulder ten yards in front of me. I dropped him right there and let out a yell. He was a big 8 pointer, weighing 208 pounds.
By the time I’d cleaned him out, pulled him down to the stream and loaded him into the canoe that I kept there on the shore, it was pitch black. When I got to the bridge over Hopkins Stream, Linda and our son Josh, 5 years-old at the time, were there, wondering what happened to me.
When Linda aimed her flashlight into the canoe and lighted up that buck, Josh shouted, “Dad, great fishing!” Indeed, it was.
The Thanksgiving Buck
Ok, let’s move on. Up here on the right is a small hill where I once had a favorite ground blind where I was sitting one Thanksgiving morning when I heard a crunch, crunch, crunch. It was a deer plodding along in the frozen ground through a stand of spruce out in front of me, coming from the stream and moving to my left. But I couldn’t see him. To make that much noise with each step, I thought he must be big.
Excited by a good covering of snow that Thanksgiving morning, I’d gotten out early, driven the short distance to the landing on my neighbor’s property, canoed downstream, and hustled the 250 yards to this ground blind I’d constructed on the top of this small ridge that your and I are now standing on, which overlooks a well-worn deer trail right over there.
About 7 am, I heard the deer coming, but he was not on the trail that would pass by me. I stood up, still hidden by small firs, and strained to find a spot in his path where I might get a look and a shot. But he was just too far away, and moving right along. Yet I could hear every step he took. Frustrating!
Then he turned and started into that stand of small pines and spruce to our left, many of the trees about 10 feet or so tall at that time and crowded so closely together that I would have no chance at him as he proceeded past me. As I gazed up into the firs, there was one open spot. If he moved through it, I might get a quick shot. So I raised my gun, rested it on a small spruce beside me, and focused the scope on that open spot.
When the buck stepped into that spot, I gasped. He was huge! And not only was he centered in my scope, but he stopped right in that spot and stood broadside, offering a perfect shot. I fired once and looked up. He was gone. Had I missed? How could I have missed? And then I saw the firs moving wildly, as he thrashed on the ground.
Snapping on the safety of my rifle, I moved off the ridge and into the firs, so thick that I actually had trouble finding him. And when I did, I thanked God for blessing me that morning with a very very big buck.
Even though we were at the end of the season, and he’d lost a lot of weight during the rut, he still weighed 188 pounds, with a magnificent wrack. He’s the buck featured in the cover shot for my outdoor news blog. The snowy scene made for very nice photos.
I hustled to clean him out because I was supposed to meet Dad back at the landing at 8 am so he could join me in the morning’s hunt. But when I pushed off in the canoe into the stream, I saw him standing on the opposite bank. He turned out to be on the track of my buck, which had come down the hill on the other side of the stream, walked right past my vehicle, come up the stream, swam across the stream, and then walked up to me.
“You could have stayed in your vehicle and got him,” laughed Dad. But that is not the whole story of this memorable hunt. We drove back to the house to get my teenaged son Josh, because I knew I’d need help getting this buck to the stream, into the canoe, back to the landing, and into the vehicle.
It was no longer snowing but the snow clung to the firs and covered the ground, offering a beautiful scene as the three of us sat near the buck, enjoying cups of coffee as I related my hunting story.
Dad had an any-deer permit that year but hadn’t used it, so he carried his rifle until we got to the buck, then leaned it up against a tree. We were chatting away when I looked over Dad’s shoulder and spotted two does walking right up to us, no more than 30 feet away! All I could do was choke out, “Dad, look!”
He did, and then he bolted the 15 feet to his rifle, as we watched the does take off. Of course, they were long gone by the time he got to his gun.
It took the better part of the morning to get the big buck to the tagging station, but we did get back to the house in time to clean up and enjoy the fantastic dinner that Linda and other family members had prepared. Boy, that turkey never tasted better!
Ok, now let’s move back toward the stream. You see my tree stand over there in that stand of oaks? Well, wait ‘til you hear the stories of the deer I’ve seen from that stand!