I’ve had some memorable hunts on Thanksgiving mornings, before gathering with family for the annual feast. Here are two of my most memorable Thanksgiving encounters with big bucks. Both of these stories are in my new book, A Lifetime of Hunting and Fishing, published by North Country Press.
An Icy Morning Heats Up
Crunch, crunch, crunch. I could hear him 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 a ground blind I’d constructed on the top of a small ridge overlooking a well-worn deer trail.
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 a stand of small pines and spruce to my left, many of the trees about 10 feet or so tall 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,” said 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 dinner never tasted better!
A Big Disappointment on Thanksgiving Morning
This Thanksgiving morning found Dad and me hunting out behind the farm where he grew up. It was clear and cold, and I sat on an overturned pail watching a deer trail, while Dad hunted his way from the farm, through the woods, across the brook, and up the ridge to me. We’d planned a two hour hunt.
We hunted these woods every year, to the point that I became as knowledgeable about them as Dad. I could tell him to go stand by the boulder where he shot the big doe that time, and he’d know right where I was talking about.
This was a forest of about 500 acres, giving us plenty of chance to roam. We especially loved hunting along the high ridge that followed the small meandering brook all the way through the property. Our favorite ground blind was a seat in an old abandoned car overlooking a line of apple trees still producing a crop despite being in the deep woods.
I doubted Dad would have much of a chance this particular morning, because the ground was frozen and walking was very noisy. He did plan to stop for a while on the ridge overlooking the brook, so that would be his best chance.
I don’t really like to sit, so I would occasionally get up and wander off to my left, making a small swing around until I got warmed up and back to my seat.
About 90 minutes had gone by when, having just sat down again, I heard the deer coming up the hill. Each step in the frozen ground sounded like a canon going off. The deer was headed right for me on the trail I was watching and would pass by about 50 yards away. I had picked an opening in the small firs for my shot, so I got the rifle up to my shoulder, getting ready for the shot while I gazed to the left to see if I could get a glimpse.
That might have been my mistake, because when I saw the huge wrack, I started shaking. And when the big buck got to my opening, I shot and missed. He didn’t seem all that concerned, as his steady, clomp, clomp, clomp proceeded through the firs and across the woods road behind me. I raced after him, to no avail.
Linda still remembers how morose I was at the Thanksgiving table. That was a huge buck. And I’d somehow, at just 50 yards, missed him completely. Didn’t even get a bit of hair. Nothing. Nada. But like so many of our deer hunting experiences, that was not the end of the story.
The next morning, another bright and sunny day, but still very cold with a hard-frozen ground, Dad and I decided to try the same strategy. He would start at the farm, but this time, he was going to hunt steadily along and get to my stand in about an hour.
I dropped him off and drove around to my spot, parking off the woods road by an old cemetery. I’d left my bucket there, but moved it about 10 yards toward the deer trail. And I sat still, not moving, for the entire hour, praying for another chance at that big buck, but knowing that prayers are not always answered, especially when they are as selfish as mine!
About the time I expected to see Dad, I heard the deer coming. Each step toward me ratcheted my heart beat up another notch and I raised my rifle, aiming at the same spot where I’d missed the day before – but now I was only about 40 yards away.
I nearly missed my chance when the buck stepped into that opening. I was stunned. It was the same deer! The one I’d missed! He was back! This time I hit him solidly and he jumped forward, giving me a second shot. And then something happened that I’d never seen before.
The buck raced about 20 yards up hill, ran headfirst into a tree, and flipped completely upside down before crashing to the ground. Dad was still a couple of hundred yards away but said he could hear me yelling. Yep. I was some old excited!
This buck was a nine pointer, 196 pounds! My prayers had been answered!