Outdoor Articles

10 Years After: My First Big Bucks with my “Brothers”

by Pursue The Outdoors on January 3rd, 2006 in Big Game Hunting

10 Years After: My first big bucks with my “brothers”

It was 1995, only five years after first entering Penn’s woods, that I shot my first big buck with my maternal cousin Greg on my great aunt’s family property just outside Watsontown, in Central Pennsylvania. Though I had learned most everything I needed through a comprehensive Game Commission hunter’s safety course, Greg was my mentor, my best friend, and the older brother I had never known. He was also my acutely trained personal hunting instructor who took under his wing and carefully explained what I need to do and when as it related to bagging Pennsylvania white tailed deer. When given the chance to shine on a fateful early December morning, in 30-degree weather with sleet and rain coming furiously at me in diagonals in the chilling early dawn, I cautiously re-ran all the instruction that Greg had given me. When the ole’ buck arrived at the precise moment, I took aim, and shot and for the first time killed a white tailed buck. He was an average sized 9-point, maybe 150-160 pounds dressed out. He was what I still refer to as a “inside basket nine”, since all points though nice and legal, curved inwards like a basket, instead of out which is what most hunter’s hope for…a broad outer point spread, a Boone and Crockett big boy!

Thinking back now in time to the fateful moment, for a brief second I felt both power and remorse, for having snuffed life from one of God’s most perfect woodland animals. In doing so though, I immediately entered the halls of adult manhood, gained Greg’s acceptance that I so craved along with his beaming admiration on that day. For the first time I saw the love I knew he had for me in its own awkward but still pure way. The high feelings that swept both of us that day I’ll never ever forget and I had longed for that same feeling again for many years in hunting seasons since. It wasn’t so much about the hunt or the kill but the training, the preparation and process, the strong camaraderie and strengthening of male family bonds through skill, sport, respect and mutual admiration. Unfortunately as things in life sometimes happen, Greg and I had fallen apart since the passing of my grandmother some years ago.

Fast forward to 10 years later, 2005, the year I felt a different hunting season might unfold for me but this time with my paternal cousin ironically, my “brother” Bill. Bill was my first cousin on Dad’s side, the Irish “I”-talians. Bill and I had grown extremely close in the last 8 years since my wife and I moved back to central Pennsylvania. Suffice it to say that in the years prior to returning to the country, my life had been extremely difficult, tumultuous and dark. But with much of his steadfast help, love and support, and not so much science, medicine or drugs I have again become whole. Life I’ve learned has a funny way of giving you what you need, when you most need it.

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Yes this year I thought, “No small buck or average doe, or two” this year it could happen again… I could sense it and in my own quirky, cosmic “its my time” way. I felt strongly that I could for some reason now again will that same type of magic hunting moment to happen. I needed in some strange way to prove to myself as a man that I could in fact make such a moment again occur, that 10 years ago it wasn’t some crazy fluke…that I could do it again and I would. First, thinking intently I envisioned how it might occur, the details of the deer’s size, direction of its approach, the time it might occur even the anticipated location of the shot and how to be calm, cool and collected when aiming and firing. “Take em’ high, preferably in the neck Seb” replayed Cousin Bill’s words in my brain over, and over and over again and its what I’d “shoot” for… pun intended.

Most of the deer I had successfully shot in the last few years were on Cous Bill’s land. He and his wonderful wife have done exceedingly well in life and so I have always had special family hunting privileges on their expansive farm property. I’m most proud to always be included. My annual hunting “hot spot” is a great little densely wooded knoll tucked deep in the remote northeast corner of their rolling property…the killing fields as I affectionately refer to them now. Much blood has since been spilled. I again would hunt from a great tree stand of Bill’s, well camoed, precisely placed high and very roomy. A comfortable chair with arm rests to boot! Rough it we don’t, not my Cous, no sir!

Bill is a man’s man, straight up, let there be no mistakin’ it. He’s strong and capable, yet compassionate and giving to a fault. He possesses qualities some men work their entire lives to master, it’s just an innate ability that he possesses. He has always had a certain indefinable spark and an unmatched zest for life. He’s charming, painfully good looking for a short guy, and always the consummate host, cook, and bar tender. He’s a fashion plate of sorts, and his smile and natural borne charisma is magnetic. People are drawn to him wherever we are, whatever we are doing. It may sound corny or somewhat unmanly, but when we’re together he makes me too feel strong, anchored, invincible, safe and confident. But like the elusive bucks we seek out each and every year together he is also sly, cunning and calculated and has survived much via his own wits and intelligence being like an old wise stag, always one step ahead the game when necessary.

Calling him one of the best all around game hunters is no exaggeration and not only falls short but is quite appropriate in his case. His house is adorned from wall to wall, floor to ceiling with most wild game native and otherwise, large and small. Well over a decade ago in Utah he stalked and shot what later was alleged to be the possible new world record mountain lion that he took after tracking it in the bush for weeks, with a hand gun no less. This big cat coincidentally also became the new Utah state record that had been held by former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt! No small feat for any big game hunter, but whenever the story is recounted which I always enjoy, he does not brag or boast. He’s got it mounted in his home, crouching and ready to pounce just like the Penn State Nittany Lion. Humble again is a word that falls very, very short of an apt description of this personal characteristic.

So here I was, on the great hunter’s land hoping for the right opportunity. Was I nervous, you betcha! The opportunity to connect with a big deer and to again show one of my family mentors that I had been paying attention to their shooting and hunting instructions, that when the opportunity would present itself I would not fail, I could not fail.
Self imposed pressure I guess, but Cous’ is a guy that holds a possible world and state hunting record! He himself has killed so many huge white tailed deer, that recently I almost think he’s partly lost his “eye of the tiger”, his will to continue to hunt deer. By takin’ a big buck, not only could I boost my own often lagging hunting self-confidence, and join Bill and the other master Edwards clan hunters (his in-laws) and have braggin’ rights but I could in a strange way express my love for him. Just like I had shown cousin Greg so long ago.

So Monday, day one, no luck…one big 6 point had surfaced at about 8 o’clock but I shot and missed. Day two, driving rain that relegated us later that morn to some butcherin’ chores and early beer drinkin’! I stayed more intently focused on the third day into the mixed male/female deer season though. On day three, Wednesday, I stayed fixated at my watch primarily to my right in the direction of about 3 on the clock most of the morning, the direction where most of my previous kills had usually occurred. Yes Wednesday, November 30th was the day I thought hopefully, my moment in the sun, my time to shine.

As usual I had entered the edge of their lower cornfield down by neighbor Jones’ house on the way to my wooded patch and parked my truck near what my wife and I affectionately call Bill’s pet cemetery, the skull garden. The “garden” is a place where Cous’s animal trapping trophies used to hang in plain view, blanched and bleached alabaster white from the deadening sun. Skulls skewered on sticks and tree branches like some Lord of the Flies, South Pacific nightmare gone horribly wrong. The boy loves to trap, and I love, that he loves to trap…and it’s easier that way!

All was quiet as day three began to awake, a dense chill wore off early, dew glistened and thawed and nature began to roam and forage about. After donning my usual Real Tree hunting coveralls, blaze orange and accessories from the back of the truck, I carefully loaded the ole’ 300 Savage, an oldie but a goody as I headed cautiously towards my stand. The stand sits about 200 yards inside the woods due east. As always I entered the field and woods, carefully placing each footstep to be as quiet as humanly possible. A smell of decaying cornstalks and deep black earth permeated the air. My stomach was upset. I was nervous and anxious all at the same time. Would this day be my day? If an opportunity presented itself, could I prevail when necessary?

Quietly I stalked through the deciduous trees, quite cautious as I stepped on huge pin oak leaves that had blanketed the ground. I immediately glanced to the north down over the small, vertebral ridge to the cornfield that lay below. Nothing, nada!. Scanning my 360 degree area quickly I still heard and saw zip, so I continued to creep forward, getting eventually to my climbin’spot. I swung the Savage over my right shoulder as I arrived at my tree and began the slow ascent up the ancient pine to my loft. Going through my usual routine, I spun my frame up and over the cold, steel stand and relaxed momentarily. Being winded, I caught my breath and lowered both arms of the chair, firmly cinched my safety harness about my waist, and slowly set myself down. Man was I outta shape I thought, still huffin’ and a puffin’ to catch my breath…this will be a miracle if I pull it off in this condition!

Once seated I looked at my wrist watch 7:05 am, just getting light. It was about 30-32 degrees that morn, with a very slight intermittent breeze enough to easily sway me and the stand to and fro. Almost in freeze frame mode, I lay the cold old Savage over my lap, drew four rounds outta my chest pouch, slipped them quietly in place kissing the last for good luck and put my safety on. I scanned back and forth for about for two to two and half hours, each time spinning frantically from side to side thinking I heard something approachin’ though nothing ever materialized. I went though this ritual of second-guessing, ten or twenty times that morning. Then it happened… as it almost always did, in each previous year.

Though I’m fast approaching 40, my hearing is fairly acute and over my right shoulder I heard the old pitter-patter, stop, pitter patter, pitter patter and a slight rustling then a slow deliberate trot now creepin’ faster forward. It wasn’t no squirrel man, this I knew! As my adrenaline surged and the endorphins in my brain switched to “on”, I became almost intoxicated with the thought of the kill…are they does, might there be a good ole’ boy amongst the herd?! “Do it for the three Bills” the slight voice in my head whispered to me oh so faintly. My Cous, his brother and father-in-law are all “Bills” ironically and an unmatched hunting/killing trio tested the world over. These dudes can hunt man! A big herd it wasn’t, but when they got closer I spied a big 6 and an even bigger 8-point now trotting boldly together, one lookin’ in each direction as they methodically crept forward at a slight cautious angle, almost aware of my presence perched high above. Noses wet, nostrils turned out boldly, necks bloated with rage, the deer themselves were amped, fueled by their own testosterone and adrenaline. They were only now slightly separated with the 6 leading their slow methodical charge.

As I raised the 300 Sav at what I would estimate to be 150 yards, I cautiously glassed both in my scope. “The 6 would work,” I thought to myself, “Hey he’s a nice buck…but slow down man, the 8 is bigger, larger rack, nice bottom beam thickness,” besides the body appeared much larger. My heart was pounding furiously now, and then a faint ringing in my ears came on me. I tried desperately to overcome it, as I needed to focus and concentrate, and not make and sudden movements or noises especially. As I found my sweet spot of execution through the saplings where I was bettin’ they’d move to next, I adjusted the scope from 7 to 9 power, slowly eased the safety off, and set my index finger in its rightful place to firmly and deliberately squeeze at the opportune moment.

Sure enough, the 6, then the 8 came into the cross hairs and CRACK, BOOM…one deafening shot in the morning air, the abrupt smell of gunpowder and noxious sulpher, an instant horrific rustling of leaves. The 8 hopped straight in the air…a possible heart shot…but I saw no point of impact of the bullet through my scope as I watched and he certainly didn’t react like he was mortally wounded after I let em’ have it! In fact he and his 6 pointed pal, briefly looked back at me like “Missed you idiot!” then beat it outta there as fast as they both could bolt down over the knoll, through some hawthorns, and across the lower corn field. I watched all of this frantically unfold through my now clouding scope.

Damn it, I must have missed! First Monday, now today! I dreaded having to recount another missed opportunity to the boys. For a brief few seconds though which seemed to me like eternity, I watched them flee, scurry across the cornfield and pop into a dense riparian thread of a stream that bisects two sides of the cornfield. Now, I could only slightly see one of them. I saw only one white tail flickering in the scrub underbrush I thought, but no, there are two! The damn things seemed almost to be mocking me, givin’ me the butt end view and conspiring as to how they’d both make a last desperate dash to get out of harm’s way and off to safety. For a second I thought of just lettin’ a few shots fly in their direction, but abruptly came soberly to my senses. Then I thought I heard a dash, and actually saw one buck split one way and thought I saw the other continue to creep up the creek bed and out of my line of sight. Was my mind playin’ tricks on me, on sensory overload?! Did I really just watch this nightmare unfold before my eyes? I glassed everything twice, from point of impact, to leaves on the ground, down the hill, the field, the crick…no blood, hair or other tell tale convincing signs of success anywhere around. No more movements, only bleak and barren stillness as mid morning crept in.

I blew it! OK, but take it like a man and worry about what might present itself next, leave the detailed on-site reconnaissance till later. I was pissed and had failed myself and my bro…the gang would break my stones…once again, UGH! thought Charlie Brown! Sebby choked…again! So I chilled out for a few minutes, took one last “Where the hell did they go,” view and tried to collect myself as best I could. I had to gain composure and figure out what to do next. So then I decided to release the safety harness, fold up the tree stand arms and slowly, quietly swing my torso down and around the ancient pine to creep down out of the stand for a looksey about. When I touched down I was amazed to find that directly behind me glaring frozen in place were a small herd of does! They all stood motionless at about 100 yards, and must have been following the big boys along. Despite the single shot earlier I guess they had either been a little farther back or just decided to mill around, turning leaves looking optimistically for acorns. So I thought, “What the hell I got a doe tag,” picked out the nicest, largest one that I could get a clear shot off at and let her have it! KABANG! All my previous moment’s frustrations taken out on some unsuspecting gal! Just like a man! It was a textbook neck shot; she dropped immediately where she stood, lights out, game over. The other does got out of there as quickly as they seemed to be able to carry themselves.

When I approached her to make sure she was dead, my mind was still on “the buck.” So after fillin’ out the tag, pinnin’ and draggin’ her to the wood’s edge, and again being winded to the point of needin’ to briefly rest I found myself wonderin’ about the 8-point. With the doe secured, I immediately decided that until I personally had checked every square inch from where the two bucks were standin’ and I shot that I would not be satisfied.

I sauntered over now to the spot where I thought both bucks had briefly stood during the frey. I could only see leaves kicked up in some furor but no blood or hair anywhere around. Then I scoured every inch of that spot. The top of the hill, the hillside, down the hill through the hawthorn bushes fanning out in a 30-40 foot radius from the scene…nothing, no hint of success. Of course it figured that a nice long hawthorn spike right in the thigh pierced me as I cruised down through the bank. Now continuing through the scrub, ego bruised and leg throbbin’, I again found myself getting’ madder by the moment, but somehow held it together still hopeful of a possible reward. When I was done wrestlin’ my way through the prickly jaggers, I found a partial deer chute they both obviously had run down to get safely to the cornfield. It too was void of any sign and appeared normal with no hard evidence in view. No signs were still apparent as I searched frantically now in vain; not wanting to believe this had gone horribly wrong. “The Sav was dead on, had I bumped it on something?!” “Am I tryin’ to whack a deer with a faulty rifle?!” In the field now I walked north, looking right, then left, and then turned south also to no avail. For a few brief moments I stopped and looked at the stand now behind me at 12 o’clock and guessed at the shot’s trajectory, the probabilities and direction of travel of both deer. I saw fresh hoof scores in the ground down the hill to the cornfield, but it didn’t add that I had blown this one, it just didn’t. Coming back into focus now was the cornfield at hand, which I scoured now even more intently. Then it happened, a moment burnt forever now in my mind.

As I got closer to the small, meandering creek which was pumpin’ with the past evening’s deluge of water, through the maddening roar I saw a hint, just a small slight speck of pink on a bent over cornstalk mast. Then a dollop of red… jackpot man! Death and success were now both around me. The blood got instantly more intense and pronounced as I got closer to the near edge of the creek’s bank down under some briars. As I eased closer to the scene it now looked like a homicide had taken place under the boughs of the scrub brush. Where was this ole’ goat hidin’ out…ah, hah!

The far creek bank and broken flag stone rocks were tinged helter skelter with the print of death, deep red blood. Part of the rustlin’ creek water partially flowed like a Biblical red sea. I sawn faltering hoof prints now clearly obvious, cloven toes embedded in a muddy quag, the steps were deeper and also coming to a fast, and deliberate end. And there he was. Nature’s momentary nemesis, my rival, his hulking brown back towards me now, but no movement, not a twitch. I’m not gonna fib, when I first saw this hulk, I raised the 300 Savage with the safety off on approach. Now with a slight full body tremble I carefully crossed to the far side of the creek thinkin’ I might have to end the deed in full on 3-D if he wasn’t yet cooked. Givin’ him a barrel jab in the side I could see he was gone.

Stoically but certainly deliberate and beaming now, I entered his final resting place where he had slumped on his rear haunches, head and rack pointed towards the morning sky…to me it was hallowed ground. He was in fact as big, if not bigger than I had initially thought. Certainly bigger than I first had guessed. The nice thick bottom beam I had seen was instantly obvious, as I rudely now gripped the rack. 8 good healthy points with two 5-6 inch unusually long brow tines prominently displayed in plain view. The smell of lingering death, earth and water was overwhelming and yet ethereal and haunting at the same time. He was mine and hadn’t gotten away. The creek’s bubbles and gurgles were also an ominous and eerie backdrop when I approached him for the first time. I crouched down, now at ease, grabbing both lower beams and suddenly realized for the umpteenth time in my hunting career both the good and bad of what I had wrought upon such a majestic creature. Momentarily I sought out God’s forgiveness and at the same time I thanked him for my beautiful bounty. It is said that this was the old practice of many an early Indian, those indigenous who settled this land and might have even performed a similar ritual of thanks maybe even in this same area for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the white man.

Again gripping his rack firmly, I now scanned his long snout, which was worn and partially graying. He had big, long whiskers and elflike long pointy ears another sign of some age beyond a year or two. His neck was swollen and thick the size of one of my thighs, body musculature was sharp, cut and defined and he had a hint of blood dripping gently from his mouth as I lifted his head to further survey him. I guessed he was at least 170-180 pounds or more as he lay and was glad he was no small fry with an average rack. The spread from point to outer point might have been 12-14 inches I guessed, but now cared little about a point spread…the brown was down! And another large doe lay just up and over the ridge, another doubleheader just like 2004, and two years in a row and these two in less than a few scant minutes! I must be getting’ better at this!

Yes I felt sadness and power, glee beyond words, but could only think of Bill. It was my special moment with the animal, a moment with the spirit as it passed on. My thoughts were on my buddy though admittedly and how he might react on first view. This would be my trophy, a verbal or non-verbal acceptance on some higher level. I will also honestly admit thinking back on that fateful first encounter with the buck, that I shed a few tears of joy anticipating Bill’s words and thoughts. It would be a moment I would and will now always deeply cherish.

The way Bill walked so proud towards me with his 30’s style red and black watch plaid Woolrich coat, stompin’ in the mud with another good friend of ours Capt. Dave from Florida, laughin’ and smilin’ as if it were his own trophy. Our laughter, my antics with the poor deer carcass, his signature rosy cheeks and angelic smile and finally as we posed for the ceremonial pics, the way he firmly put his arm around me, pulled me close and said good job. Yes, even hunters long for acceptance, acknowledgement of a job well done “in field”.

Maybe this sweet stuff ruins a story of men, of the quest for deer and prey like days of old, but this was a pure thing. Skilled sport, part religious and male bonding experience, and part inward reflection for me. It was a further coming of age, of family, and of a deepening love. It was a very, very special moment. I thought to myself, relish this time; it might never again be replicated in our relationship and time on earth here together. Just like the unsuspecting deer that lay in front of us, one never knows what lurks just around the corner. Yes, this was my trophy, my reward for my efforts, the true and undying love and admiration of my brother together with nature.

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