Antler Lake is a small wilderness lake located in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York. I was lucky enough to have lived on this lake for the past twelve years. My name is Art, however my friend Colonel Jack has nicknamed me Dakota, after the fine rifle I hunt with. Jack is a retired Colonel from the New Jersey State Police. He has hunted from Alaska to most of the western states in search of big game. We share a common bond in our love of chasing big whitetails. Some of the other fellows I’ll speak of are Tom, Big Mike and the Old Trapper Ken. Tom, who lives in New Jersey, also has a home on the lake. We are good friends, and spend many hours together in persuit of those big elusive bucks. Big Mike and Trapper are from the Albany, New York area, and Jack now resides in Fort Myers Fl. He and Tom come north each year for the entire season to chase them whitetails and bask in the hunting stories.
The 2002 deer season in northern New York was warmer then most. I started scouting in mid September and by mid October had found what I thought were a couple of nice Adirondack Bucks. Since I was the one who lived there full time I had more time to spend afield. Each year I would locate a few good rub lines and we would all get together to place ladder stands in a spot we thought would get the job done. We had set out one early October day, about three weeks before the season opened, to move a stand that was located on the edge of a feeding area.
On years when the Acorns were good, this was a hot spot. We had taken three nice bucks in this area in recent years. Arriving this day to move the stand, we found a rub line to the rear, about forty yards from the stand. By the look of some of the young Poplar trees he was hitting, I could see the buck had long tines. He would rub in one area of the tree and his tines were hitting branches to the left and right on other areas of the tree. We all agreed this stand should stay, and the Colonel wanted to hunt here for the season.
This was a beautiful spot where the hardwoods were in full color. The kind of spot where sitting was easy, no need to see deer to enjoy. In all we had five stands placed through out the area. Some in swamps, on hardwood ridges, and in thick pine bedding areas. By the time the season opened we had all picked a stand and were eager to start hunting. Colonel Jack and Tom had each taken an early retirement and had much more time to devote to their sport. The first two weeks we sighted a few doe and several small bucks, but not what we were looking for. The early part of the season is just a tune up anyway. Makes you feel good to be out, but the leaves are still up, and the brush is thick, makes it tough to see much.
The deer season in the Adirondacks is longer then most, about six weeks for rifle. By the third week, we had some snow and the pre-rut had started. The Colonel was seeing doe just about every day, and we all knew he would score before long. Tom was hunting in a thick bedding area and had seen deer, but too thick to make out horns. However some of the tracks he had showed me belonged to a two hundred pound plus buck. I was hunting an area new to me and had to locate the doe, and the runs they used most often. I found an intersection where two log roads came together and placed a stand where I could watch the intersection.
Mike and the Old Trapper would hunt the swamp from different ends. Willard and John, (called Red Dog), and Carl (Zeek) Brock would also come up from New Jersey to hunt for the week. All were seeing deer, but the bucks still moved at night. This was Willard’s third season hunting the Adirondacks, we all felt he was due to score. He, Red Dog, and Zeek were always fun to have in camp, as all are good woodsmen.
Just as if someone threw a switch, we woke up one morning to scrapes all over the place. The intersection I placed my stand at had several good scrapes to watch. When hunting in the Adirondacks you need to be patient, as the bucks are not found behind every tree. However when you do connect, its most often worth the wait. What could be better then sitting in the complete solitude the big woods has to offer.
We awoke one morning to fresh snow and perfect conditions. I went into my stand in the dark and the dawn broke around me. With the new snow, the visibility was excellent. It was a little after seven when three doe came out of the cedars and crossed the intersection about eighty yards out. They were feeding and taking their time, a beautiful sight. After a few minutes they disapeared into the hardwoods.
It was about ten minutes later I caught some movement to my right and could see a deer heading for the intersection on the trail of the doe. Easing my scope up to take a better look, I could see horns and a large front shoulder. The next few minutes seemed like hours until he reached a small opening in the hardwoods where I took my shot. That fine Dakota rifle had done its job again. I waited a few minutes, until I could stand it no longer, climbed down and headed for my deer.
Wow, fresh snow, a fine accurate rifle, and an animal as masterful and majestic as the whitetail to hunt. If there is anything better than this, I have not found it yet. Climbing over some blow downs, I reached my deer to find a good- looking six pointer that would dress out around one hundred sixty pounds. I off loaded my rifle and started dressing out my buck. That done I quickly headed to the house, many coyotes in this area, to pick up a sleigh to bring him out on. Nearing the house, I ran into Colonel Jack and Tom who had heard the shot. They both congratulated me and would accompany me back to help with the drag. The first buck of the year will always bring an evening full of stories and friendly banter that can only be found in deer camp.
The next few days passed with the boys seeing doe, but no bucks. The Colonel, who had done everything right, keeping as scent free as possible, wearing rubber boots to keep his scent out of the woods, was now starting to feel it might not be his year. Then we had another fresh snowfall overnight and things changed. To hear the Colonel tell it, and he often does, it was about eight A.M. and three doe came from the rear, out and around his stand.
With the doe was a buck, a tremendus buck with a heavy ten point rack that gave Colonel Jack all the excitement he would need that day. One well placed shot from his Beligum Browning BAR and the deer fell forty yards out from the stand. That Browning of his has a reputation of its own. Hearing the shot brought the other fellows in to help with the dressing and bringing the buck back to camp. What an impressive ten pointer Colonel Jack had taken. The buck would dress out around one hundred eighty five pounds The Colonel had many hours in that stand but never gave up. The other fellows would have to wait another year for their chance at glory. It wasn’t the best season we ever had, but made lots of memories to keep us going until next season. Isn’t that what a whitetail hunter lives for?