A big and memorable Thanksgiving buck

I’ve had some memorable hunts on Thanksgiving mornings, before gathering with family for the annual feast. Here’s a story about one of my most memorable Thanksgiving encounters with big bucks.

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 and muffins 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!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.