Hard Times just keep on getting harder …my last chance buck!
There had been some long, cold years, since I had shot a deer, and I go every year. Last season I had seen only a single eligible deer for my tags.
A small doe that my brother had pushed out of the bush for me during a hunting trip near Rocky Mountain House. To this day I am unsure if I cleanly missed the shot or if my .243 Winchester had been slowed down and stopped by the long thick grass in between. All I know is that that little doe haunted me, I hate failure, especially when it related to firearms or hunting. This season I was a little more prepared. I had my new binoculars and a new scope on my gun, if I missed this year I knew it would be my fault. So far I had gone out every chance I got. Including driving an hour and a half each way in the afternoons after my classes at university. Keep in mind I was done school at noon and it was dark out by 4:30pm. I managed to see a whole lot of nothing at all, until the long dark drives home. In my head lights I would see deer crossing the dark snowy roads in herds.
It was finally coming down to the wire. I had just one weekend left! On the Friday morning I drove out to my mother’s place, where I met up with my brother and a-hunting we went, and I did not see a thing. He however, managed to shoot a running coyote; I guess he wouldn’t starve if it ever came down to it.
Throughout the next two days I put in a lot of miles walking, and got some pretty cold appendages sitting on bales and waiting at the edge of various fields, again, to no avail. I did however manage to spot several coyotes, take and miss a shot at one, not the best for a person’s confidence I must say.
On Saturday afternoon I went to Troy’s house where I had shot my bear and my last deer. His land is said to be littered with deer and I had no reason to doubt his word. He dropped me off on a nice wide cut-line and told me to walk to the end and guaranteed I would see something, I saw a whole lot of snow. That evening, after legal light of course, we saw quite a few deer, not that that gained us a whole lot but, sometimes it’s just nice to know they still exist. That evening I drove back to my mother’s house to be ready for another hunt in the morning, I may have been rattled but I wasn’t giving up.
Sunday morning came and I was that special kind of tired that you only get from sleeping in someone else’s spare room. Still, I had some breakfast, suited up, and headed out. I walked along a large familiar loop around the property, at the farthest point from the house,the north end, I went a little further north across a frozen swamp and up a bank to a plateau where my brother and I had spotted deer tracks on Friday. I slowly crept up the bank and across the small plateau at the top. Suddenly a coyote about 50 yards away took off trotting away from me at an angle, I took aim, squeezed the trigger and missed, it slightly changed directions, I ran the bolt on instinct and muscle memory, I lined up another shot and was able to miss again. This clearly wasn’t my weekend… or the coyotes here are special.
It was at this point I decided to walk back to the house and double check that my rifle was sighted in. As I wandered into the yard with what I’m sure was a disheartened look on my face that resembled a pouting toddler. I ran into my step-dad who was in his garage doing… I’m not sure what he does in there most of the time. Naturally I regaled him with my tale of the day and ended on the note of “maybe this hunting just isn’t my thing.” To which he replied “no, I miss those coyotes all the time too and I have no idea why. You’re not doing anything wrong that’s just how hunting is sometimes.” The more I think about it the more he had a point, that’s the point of hunting, no guarantees just luck that can be swayed with a bit of skill and hard work. That being said I still opted to fire a few rounds at our 100 yard target just to be sure. Sure enough it was bang on, I’m still not sure how I feel about that. It’s nice to know your equipment works but it hurts to learn that you don’t.
I then walked off into the fields my ambitions now set a touch lower. I just wanted to see a deer, some validation that they exist and move during the day. I walked far across a field east of the house hugging the tree line and trudging through snow the whole way and curved back north and followed a path someone had plowed with a tractor. The weather had been chilly with wind but it died down once I exited the field and entered a beautiful wooded pathway. The snow was falling now, nice heavy flakes, it was picturesque which reminded me… I didn’t bring my camera. As I wandered back along the path I heard a commotion in the trees and saw a familiar flash headed away, a white tail deer and it was gone, but I did see it so mission accomplished… I guess.
Visibility was poor but the weather was warm so the walk didn’t seem so bad. Suddenly off in the distance just beyond clear vision I saw something. It was low, sleek and black. I could barely make it out but it was big, about the size of a Rottweiler with a long bushy tail and walked like a cat crouched and stalking. Having a cougar tag in my pack I immediately thought that’s what I saw. My heart pounded as I watched this creature walk three quarters of the way across the trail then half way back it looked like a house cat sniffing around then it disappeared. This sighting lasted maybe a few seconds, not even time enough to get my binoculars up. The safety of my rifle immediately and instinctively turned off. I walked slowly with the rifle shouldered and all my senses in overdrive. I slowly walked towards where it crossed with my eyes firmly fixed on the trees where it had disappeared. As I got to where it crossed I could not find any tracks in the snow. To this day I do not know what I saw, it was too big to be a marten or a fisher, too dark to be a cougar, and it was too cold out to be a small bear, plus it had a tail, and since I did not find tracks I cannot discount the possibility of me going insane!
But I suppose some things are just mysteries. I continued travelling west and passed north of the farm house. As I walked from one field to the next I froze in the gate way, there it was, a beautiful buck but he was far away. I guessed he was close to 400 yards out, not a shot I’m willing to take, especially with my shooting lately. I pull up my binoculars and watch him, he looked big, but they all do when you’re excited. He looked away and I start walking towards him hoping to move in closer, he turned back looked at me and casually strolled, as though he did not have a care in the world, into the nearby trees at the edge of a swamp. I anxiously walked over to his tracks and followed where he went into the bushes, it’s a maze of deer tracks in there and I quickly lost his trail, he was long gone in who knows what direction. I slowly walked the rest of the way to the house watching in case he doubled back. I get to the house and grab a quick snack and quickly devise a plan for the remaining daylight. I grabbed an old blanket, for insulation, and walked back out to the field where I had seen that buck. I sat atop the blanket leaning against a lone tree in the field along a hillside that overlooks the trees and the pond the deer had run into only a few hours earlier, my hope was he would return.
I sat under the tree staring at the steep hillside on the opposite side of the pond hoping for excitement and waiting for sunset. When suddenly I saw movement along the hillside. I could barely make it out with all the brown brush growing on the hill but through my binoculars I could see it was a buck! That’s it, this is the one, he’s coming home with me the catch is he’s pretty far away my guess was between 300 and 400 yards away. I get up and move toward him, my hope is to get through the trees and make the shot from on the frozen pond. I barely made it to the edge of the field and realized I would not make it in time, I have got to try from here. I sat flat on my behind and propped my elbows on my knees for stability, I can still feel the cold wet snow working its way into the back of my hunting clothes. I take aim, just behind the shoulder, I’m sure he’s 300 yards out so I aim just slightly high off centre. I take a deep breath to steady myself and squeeze the trigger. With a loud bang the buck breaks into a full sprint, I’m sure that I missed but I keep watching him through my scope, to the day I die I will never forget this sight. He ran to the top of the hill behind a patch of trees and out the other side I thought he was gone but then he collapsed, got back up just as fast, only to fall again, to get back up, and fall again, this time down the hill with three perfect cart wheels and landing into a fence.
I immediately called and ask Darrell to come out with his truck and help me get the deer to the house. I then walked around the pond, despite being frozen I was not about to trust walking on it. I get to the deer to find it had fallen into the fence post antlers first and it had a broken tine, I assume these two incidents are related but I searched and failed to find the broken tine anywhere. The truck arrived and we dragged that big bodied buck about 30 yards up a steep hill and into the box of the truck and back to the house to be skinned.
I was later told, by Darrell who had previously ranged all the fields that my shot was around 220 yards. While skinning I discovered that my shot, possibly more luck than skill, but I’ll never admit that, had passed through the top two ventricles of the heart, about as good of a shot as I could hope for. I now refer to this deer as the "last chance buck” because not only did I get it on the last day of my last weekend for hunting that year, but before I had got it, it was a hard couple of years as far as deer hunting goes and I was starting to doubt if I could or should continue to hunt. This buck appeared exactly when I needed it to preserve my love of hunting, and lucky for me my hunting addiction is probably now stronger than ever.