Three-Legged Bruiser in Harry's Pines
When I heard R.C.’s voice on the phone, I sort of had an idea what he was going to say, but I had no idea it would turn out the way it did. “Hey, the wind is right for a small drive through Harry’s pines. Why don’t you and Cynthia meet me there, and I’ll be the dog”, he said. Thirty minutes later we were standing by the van in Harry’s back yard, loading our rifles.
“Harry’s pines” was a narrow strip of white pines that had probably been planted 30 to 40 years before along the North edge of the property owned by Harry and Retta Waller, some folks in our church. They lived in the house on the front of 80 acres that had just about everything that deer liked. Much of the land was hardwood, with Maple, Beech and Oak being predominant, along with the usual under story trees. A nice trout stream meandered across the back corner, offering a good year around source of water. Much of the neighboring property was farmland used to raise corn, wheat and asparagus. But the best thing about it - (drum roll) - Harry had given my family and my guests exclusive hunting and fishing rights to the property!
Next to the pines was about a 4-acre Christmas tree planting that extended from the road on the front of the property back to the hardwoods – probably a distance of about 250 yards or so. The pines provided a perfect travel corridor from the neighboring crop fields to the shelter of the woods. We had always figured that it also might be a good place for deer to loiter and perhaps bed down when conditions were right.
R.C. was a good hunting and fishing buddy who had been allowed by some of the asparagus farmers in the area to kill many deer on crop damage permits over the years. He had fed his family so much venison as his kids were growing up that he had been asked to please not bring any more home. So when we went hunting together, he usually tried to help us connect.
He laid out his plan for us. We would take up positions at the end and side of the pines while R.C. slowly walked through them with the wind at his back. The hope was that any deer in there would move through them into the hardwoods and not go out the North side onto the neighbor’s property.
I walked with my wife, Cynthia, back to the hardwoods and had her stand with her back to a clump of trees. From there she would have a good view of where I expected the deer to exit the pines and have a shot with the deer quartering toward her. I walked about a third of the way back through the Christmas trees (only about two feet tall at that time) where I would be able to have a clear view of anything that came out the side of the pines, which I really didn't expect. R.C. waited until he saw me in position before walking down the road where his scent would begin drifting into the stand of pines. He then began to walk through them, zigzagging back and forth through their 75-yard width.
About 10 minutes had passed when I heard the sound of a stick snap. “He’s probably making a little noise as well as making a ‘stink’ for the deer”, I thought. Just then, I heard more snapping and cracking of sticks and saw a flash of movement just inside the trees. At first I thought R.C. had come very close to the side, but suddenly a deer emerged from the pines and was coming straight at me, angling through the small Christmas trees – and it had a very noticeable set of antlers on it’s head! But there was something odd about the way the deer was running that made me stare at it longer than I normally would have. It appeared to be working hard, but wasn’t covering the ground as fast as a Whitetail normally does after being pushed out of its bed. Coming to my senses, I raised my Ruger bolt-action .308, picked up the chest of the animal in the scope and pressed the trigger. The deer dropped out of sight as the recoil took my sight picture upwards.
I fed another bullet into the chamber and put the safety back on to wait and see if anything else would come out. A minute later R.C. stepped out, saw the deer and gave me a wave, and then stepped back into the pines. After another 15 minutes or so, I saw him and Cynthia start walking my way, so I could finally go see my prize.
Approaching the deer, the first thing I saw was a well-formed antler sticking up, and next was the size of the animal’s body. This was definitely the oldest deer I had ever taken – at least 5 years old, very heavy and somewhat gray. It had a heavy, 7-point rack that carried its mass out to the ends. Not a record by any means, but a very good buck for this area, where most don’t live beyond their second year. When I grabbed a leg to begin the field dressing process a few minutes later I also discovered the reason for its unusual way of running. One of the hind legs was broken at the knee, and the entire lower half of the leg was hanging only by the skin. Not only had the deer been running on only one hind leg, but that broken leg had been flopping at every step – so much that the hoof had worn the hide and some flesh off a spot high up on the inside of the thigh. This would be the first of three deer in a row that I would harvest with a broken leg – but that’s another story!
I have mounted a few of the antlers of deer that I have taken over the years, and I like to put a small brass plate on them engraved with something that will always remind me of the story behind the harvest. The plate on this set of antlers says, “Harry’s Pines November 17, 1989”.