After four weeks of scouting the 2003 season looked to be a poor one. Mike and I set up the camper on the first weekend of September and began scouting for buck sign. We would again hunt the Cedar River Flow in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York, many square miles of wilderness that over the years has yielded some big whitetails for us.
The winter before had been brutal, but we had no idea how bad until we started scouting. Sign was poorer than at anytime I could remember. The first few weekends we had a hard time finding a buck to hunt. By the end of the third weekend, I had found two, but none I wanted to hunt. The last weekend in September, I found a big buck on one of my favorite ridges. He had put a rub line along the ridge top hitting three to four inch trees. I hauled in the ladder stand, set up, and left the area alone for a few weeks.
Black Powder opened in mid October and I decided not to hunt as the leaves were still up. Opening morning of the rifle season I climbed the stand at first light and saw two doe and a 4-point buck. After three hours of sitting, I needed to walk some and climbed down to look around. The big deer had ripped many trees around the stand. It would just be a matter of time before I caught up with him.
Mike was hunting a rub-line about three miles from me on another ridge. He had seen nothing on opening morning, but had good sign. We hunted hard the first weekend with no luck. The next weekend we woke to light snow on Friday morning and cold temperatures. I was excited to get to the stand for another try. Climbing the ridge I was very surprised to see scrapes in the hardwoods. It was only 25 October and I could not remember ever seeing scrapes this early.
As I neared the stand, there were five scrapes out front of the stand. The pre-rut had started for sure. That morning I saw two doe with a spike trailing behind, no big guy. Mike said his area was inundated with new scrapes. The bucks were marking out their territory with scrapes. The added buck movement brought excitement and surprise to most hunters we talked with. By the end of the weekend, we had seen deer, but not the big one we were looking for.
The next weekend I was again surprised as the scraping had stopped. We could not find a fresh scrape anywhere. For lack of the proper terminology, I called it a false rut. Thinking back, I remembered it happening one time before, years ago. For whatever reason the bucks were triggered into starting early. It only lasted a few days and stopped. We left the camper after lunch and headed back to the stands.
Arriving at the stand, I found two trucks parked alongside the road where I hunt. This was such a large piece of ground, over 50,000 acres, it was rare to see another hunter. Entering the woods I heard two shots ring out. It sounded as though it was on the other side of the ridge. No matter what kind of spin I put on it, it was bad for me.
As I neared my stand, I met another hunter who informed me he had three friends with him and he thought one had just shot. I had seven weekends invested in this buck, and it had just gone up in smoke. In the next thirty minutes they had all come together and realized none of them had shot. What had happened is the four of them had started walking the ridge and pushed the big buck off the other side where some lucky hunter, one who had no idea the buck was even alive, had killed it. It was a huge 8-point, dressed over two hundred pounds.
This was one of the worst hunting experiences I can remember. When you hunt on public ground, I guess there is always this possibility. Some hunters must see this type of thing often, but not in the big woods. With 4 weeks left in our season, and the best part yet to come, I’ll just find another buck to hunt. Walking back down I realized I had just discovered a new name for one of my favorite ridges, Heartbreak Ridge.