The 45 Year Buck

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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…… 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.


Great story!

Thanks for sharing.  I've always wanted a model 71.  To have one that means so much......well, your a lucky guy!

Tndeerhunter's picture

Great Story

That was a great story Sean. Somehow I managed to miss it until today. Congratulations again to your Dad and I can only imagine how excited you are about that fine old rifle!! (By the way, did you latch onto that rifle right away? It's another rifle your Dad is carrying in the picture of him dragging the deer...LOL!!)

Thanks for sharing it all with us.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

Ha, never noticed that!  It's

Ha, never noticed that!  It's my Marlin 30-30 lever action.  Don't know why he was carrying it, other than the fact it had a strap, and his does not.  But, it should have been slung over his shoulder.

I am leaving the rifle there.  Vermont has the most liberal gun laws in the country, California some of the most restrictive.  I don't want to chance bringing it out here.


hunter25's picture

Thanks for sharing the whole

Thanks for sharing the whole story Sean. You can live the whole thing while reading what you wrote. That's a great buck and being able to take it with that rifle makes it a very memorable experience. Hopefully you will be able to us ethe same rifle and take one with it as well. I have taken 2 does with my granfathers old 30WCF and really enjoyed it. I only rarely take it out now when the weather is perfect and if I'm lucky enough to get a doe tag. My dad has taken a nice buck with it though. I need to get my sin familiar with it also as he has never even fired it yet. A great time with your father but hopefully next time you will both be dragging a deer out of the woods.

GooseHunter Jr's picture

Wow thatis a great story and

Wow thatis a great story and thanks for sharing it with us.  It always amazes me how things just always work out in the end.  I have a gun like that that was passed to me(shotgun) while I have shot some doves with it I do not take it oput much as it is old and in perfect condition and from my Grandpa.  I still shoot a gun that my Dad, my wife and I have all taken out first big game animal with.  I hope that ia few years I can pass it to my son and he will do the same.

jaybe's picture

Wow - what a story! That's a

Wow - what a story! That's a really nice buck, and a great way for a hunt to go.

My own dad, who went deer hunting for many years, also never got a big buck. He would get those spikes, forkies and a 6-pointer once in a while, but the big boys never seemed to cross his path.

Your dad was truly blessed to get that rifle, and now you are, too. That is a great rifle - and one that you should definitely keep in the family. I had a buddy who had one just like it, and he pawned it off one time to buy something silly for a girl he was trying to impress. He never got it back. I had hoped to get my dad's pre-'64 Winchester Model 94 in .32 Special, but he sold it to the first looker when he was getting ready to retire to Florida. He didn't realize that it had sentimental value to me as well as being somewhat of a collector's item.

Thanks for telling your story. I look forward to hearing more tales about your hunting trips and this great gun.


Retired2hunt's picture

  Sean that is an outstanding


Sean that is an outstanding story of your Dad, his gun, his harvest of THE dominant buck, and the passing on of the gun.  That is sooo cool.  I imagine the plane ride there was filled with thoughts of getting out into the woods with your Dad.  And then the plane ride back home was filled with all of the thoughts of the time spent there with your Dad, his gun, THE harvest, and the passing on of the gun. 

I completely know what you are talking about on the traditional first shot.  I unfortunately have never been that guy shooting a deer at the first legal minute... but always the one listening to the shot to try and determine if it came from someone on Dad's farm or outside of it.  I also laughed at the recount of the cannon going off.  All too often my Dad was the one blasting the quiet air within the woods while me or one of my brothers closest to Dad was the one to help find and drag the deer back to the pole barn.  Ohio gun season started yesterday and I just got off the phone with Dad and my brother to review the day's hunting adventures.

Great story recounted by you and excellent pictures that put me right there with you.  Thanks for sharing it with us.  Enjoy the memories created and imagine the time when you pass on that rifle to your child.