Well, 45 years ago, that’s where this story starts. 6 years before my birth, when my Dad was 19 years old, his father passed away. He was a big farmer and hunter. As with most cases, the tools of the trade went to the oldest son. My dad was the youngest of 4 boys, and they all had sons, so to get to my Dad, well, he wasn’t holding his breath. But, as luck would have it, just before last hunting season, my Dad received a call, and shortly thereafter, he was in possession of his father’s gun. It’s a Winchester Model 71, in .348. To say dad was happy would be an understatement.
So, last year (2010), my dad was hunting the land we have hunted the last 15 years or so. He had his standard place he liked to hunt, along an old overgrown orchard just off a pasture. The spot is ideal for deer. Like many northeast set-ups, he can only shoot out to 50 yards or so, and lots of brush. For this, the .348 was the ideal gun. It has iron sites, and plenty of knockdown power. During the season, my dad had seen a scrape line appear through the orchard, and always had seen lots of does, and would get a buck every other year or so.
However, the bucks were always the “resident” bucks, the yearling bucks that hadn’t yet been pushed out by the dominant buck. You know, the 4 or 6 pointers. Even the 8 point he got the last time I went home, in 2008, was 163 lbs but aged at a year and a half. My dad had never shot the “dominant buck” in an area before. I remember getting the call about 7-8 years ago, during muzzleloading season, where he actually had his encounter with the biggest buck he’d ever seen. He swears it was a 10-12 point, massive racked deer. The deer came into the orchard, my dad bleated, and the deer stopped……..one step short of his shooting window. That deer took off, and was never seen again except for tracks. He was the kind of deer you might get one shot at in it’s lifespan, then it will die in the woods an old patriarch of the deer world. That deer slipped up his one and only time, but my dad was unable to take advantage of it.
Fast forward to this season (2011). I usually go back every other year to hunt, and this was one of them. I actually missed last year due to having a new baby. I have been looking forward to this season with great anticipation, as I do anytime I get to hunt with my Dad. I usually keep in touch with him almost daily throughout the fall, as he goes out archery hunting, or moving our stands, or checking trail cams. He had started slow this year, but during the last week of archery, he started seeing more deer. He didn’t connect with a bow, but a few days after archery closed, he again found that the scrapes had appeared. There were 5 or 6 good ones under the apple trees, with a couple having branches nibbled or broken off at head height. That’s a good sized deer, and probably the ‘dominant buck”. This was a week and a half prior to the start of rifle, and my arrival back there. The appearance of the scrapes, along with some articles I had read, stating that November 12th was the prime day of the fall for the rut, it looked like the opening could be a memorable one.
I flew in on Friday morning, and even though other people may be worried about scenting up the area, dad wanted to show me quickly where he hung a stand for me, and had gotten a small but legal buck on camera. Anyone familiar with Vermont, or northeast hunting, you know that there are not many places to get away from farms, or roads, or people. Because of that, I don’t think the deer are all too concerned with human scent. So, we went in, and he showed me the scrapes. They had not been freshened in a couple of days. That could mean that either the buck had moved on, as the does had all been “serviced” in this area, or that possibly he was making his rounds, and would be back soon. We were hoping for the latter. So we went to bed that night, and awoke early the next morning. Quickly back to the gun. Dad had always wanted to shoot a deer with this gun, so having already made sure it was sighted in, he grabbed it out of the gun safe and off we went.
As we walked into the orchard, we jumped 2 deer, one of which was 10 feet away. Good, and bad sign. The deer were moving, but would they, or any others, come back? Well, dad peeled off to his stand, and we discussed what time we’d leave. I planned on leaving for a quick breakfast after about 3 hours, but then I was going to hit the woods again for a good 6-7 hour sit. That was the plan, anyway. I went another 150 yards to my stand, where I also jumped a deer right under my stand. Good. Well, we settled in, as the light began to filter through the Vermont woods on opening morning. There was the traditional “first shot”, that you seem to hear every year right at the legal shooting time. This one was at 6:15 AM, and more than likely is someone watching a buck in a field, looking back and forth at his watch, waiting for the dial to hit the right number. Then, about 20 minutes later, I hear a closer shot. I am never good at guessing, so I turned on my radio to see if Dad tried to call me. That’s what we did if the other guy shot, to see if they needed help. Well, dead silence, so I turned it off.
Then, at about 7:10 AM, I was almost blown off the tree by the sound of a cannon going off near my Dad’s stand. Geez, who knew a gun could make that much noise? As I turned around (and checked my hearing) I heard the sound of a large object crashing through branches and leaves, and then dead silence. I had no doubt it was my Dad who had fired, and I laughed. I turned on the radio, and a minute later, I got “Sean, are you there?”. He relayed that he had shot a buck, a big one. He later told me that a doe had come up into the orchard under a tree. She took off, and 3 minutes later my Dad saw movement. Then, all he saw was the right side of a rack as the buck stepped up directly over one of his scrapes where the doe had been. 30 yards, broadside, clear shot. My dad says he actually laughed to himself, silently saying “You have got to be kidding me”. One touch of the trigger, the .348 bucked, and so did the deer. He spun around, running back towards my stand. We both heard him crash.
I made my way over, and as with 2008, I actually found the deer. He’s only gone 70 yards or so, but with a high lung shot, the blood mostly stayed inside the chest cavity until the very end. As I approached the deer, I can say it was a truly wonderful sight to see a nice rack sticking up. I yelled to Dad, and he came over. Now, my Dad is a church going, Christian man, who rarely, if ever swears. He walked up next to me, and let’s out with a “Well, Holy s—t”, and just stood and stared. We saw that this deer had freshened a scrape or two just before getting shot. He was old in the face, and it appeared that my dad finally had his “dominant buck”. We hugged, I said my congratulations, and then I told him to get to cleaning while I went back to my stand for an hour. But, I couldn’t wait that long due to the excitement, so I left the woods in time to help him drag. He actually apologized to me, because he only got to hunt an hour of the season with me, like in 2008. I laughed, and told him I couldn’t have thought of a better thing to happen, and not to apologize. I will take that result any time, even if I am kept deer-less, which I ended up being on this hunt. It’s still one of the most memorable trips ever!
The deer ended up “only” weighing 165 pounds, 4 shy of the largest my Dad has shot. However, most Vermont deer will have an inch or so of fat all over the hind quarters and back this time of year. And this deer was very big bodied, huge chest, long legs. Most of the people checking in deer at the station all said the same thing, that their deer were dripping with fat. Well, when we butchered Dad’s buck a couple days later, other than a small patch of ¼ inch fat around the tail and backstrap, this deer had ZERO fat. He had burned it all off. They say that a big buck can lose 15-20% of his body weight during the rut, and this guy was no exception. So, this deer, figuring in reverse, was probably a 180-185 pound class deer, at least, if he had been shot 2 weeks earlier. His antlers were caked with bark from rubbing hard, and he was checking his scrapes, following a doe. He had worked off all his weight.
So, as we left later in the day, my dad talked about the gun. He said he had done what he wanted to do, and that the gun was now mine. I smiled, knowing what it had meant to him. I actually hunted that evening with the gun, and had 4 deer come in right in front of my stand, just no legal bucks. Dad has never had a buck mounted until now. He’s already turned it in to the taxidermist, so we’ll see how it turns out. Even though I ended the trip with no deer, I left with the memories of another great trip.