Outdoor Articles

The Mighty Buck

by Pursue The Outdoors on August 8th, 2006 in Big Game Hunting

I have been an avid hunter of small game from the time I first went hunting with my Dad and three older brother at the ripe age of six. However, my first encounter with a bunny wasn’t until I had reached the age of eight. Since then, no one could hold me back from hunting with the “Weber Gang”.

The “gang” included: Dad, Lee, Glenn and Howie. Although it wasn’t always possible for all of us to be a field at the same time, each season saw the “Gang” together for at least several wonderful days, in pursuit of the thrill and excitement of the hunt.

Back home in Garfield Heights, Ohio, we hunted the surrounding territory for bunnies and squirrel figuring we were fortunate to get a crack at a ring-neck or two during the season.

A lot of years past and in July 1961, I moved to a little farm located south of Albion, Pa with my wife June and our two sons, Lloyd and Russ. Lloyd was ten and Russ was three years old at that time. I found a virtual hunter’s paradise in our new home area. Grouse, ring-neck, and squirrel were everywhere.

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That first small game season was fantastic. On the heels of the small-game season, Pa has the opening of Big-game season. Now I was faced with a totally new type of hunting: the white-tailed deer. Lloyd wasn’t old enough to carry a gun in Pa at that time, so he just tagged along with me that first day of Antlered Deer season. We saw white tails and more white tails, but unfortunately that is all we did see. It seemed as though every deer was a ghost in the thickets and slashing that surrounded our farm.

Dad had passed away in 1956, but two of my brothers came out for some of the best hunting any of us could have imagined when we were kids. Glenn’s wife, Grace, hunting with us as one of the “Gang” and I might add, she could and still can keep up with the best of field-hunters. In the fall of 1967, following the small-game season, Howie insisted on leaving his 20 gauge J.C. Higgins bold action for me to use in the big game season. After a little target practice with the rifle slugs, I was convinced it was a lot better than my 16 gauge single. I could place a slug into the center of a two gallon oil can at 75 yards. Ironically, Howie would only hunt with the “Weber Gang” the following two seasons, as he was stricken with an incurable disease in 1968 that would prevent him from going into the fields after the 1969 season.

It wasn’t until the big game season of 1967, that I finally got my first shot at an antlered deer. Lloyd and I teamed up and I got myself a respectable four point with a running shot at 60 yards in a red maple thicket from Howie’s gun.

Deer hunting for me had been a lot of work without much luck, but I found myself chomping at the bit for that first day of each deer season, always imagining a trophy rack hanging on a wall of our house, but only finding consolation in looking at that four point rack I mounted on a board back in 1967. Lloyd had collected two deer since I had gotten mine, one was a beautiful six point that he and the latest member of the “Weber Gang”, Russ, teamed up on. Russ did the tracking and Lloyd collected the trophy.

The fall of 1975, saw the closing of small game season approaching and big game season coming on but after going scoreless in chasing those “wily devils” through another cold and what now seemed inevitably, fruitless deer season. Lloyd and Russ kept trying to get me excited again by every trick they could think of. I heard stories of our past hunts that even I had forgotten. I finally agreed, although I did so reluctantly, to go with them for a few hours on opening day. Glen had brought out a .257 Roberts for me to use, and Russ was going to use the 20 ga., that Howie gave to me after he could no longer hunt with us and Lloyd would be hunting with his 35 cal. carbine. Glenn and Grace would be using a 35 cal carbine and a .308 pump, respectfully.

June, as usual, had a house full of people for the weekend. There was Lloyd and his wife, Lyn, daughter Michelle, Russ, Glenn, Grace, and of course June and me. The “Weber Gang” was together and the tales of yore were spinning from everyone. June recalled those days when we’d have the farm house filled with relatives and friends for some of the happiest days of our lives. And of course, the thoughts of those who are no longer with us, still remains vividly in our memory and hearts. Glenn as usual was masterminding the game-plan for Monday morning, but it seemed as though none of us quite agreed with where we should hunt. For one thing, the weather was fair, and with no snow for tracking we might do better just taking stands. We finally agreed to hunt at each ones own little “hot spot” for the first half of the day, then possibly putting on a silent drive for the latter part of the day. Sunday saw the Webers in church thanking our God for everything we can behold, and worshipping him in spirit and in truth. That afternoon, I recounted many of the blessings our family has received and what a wonderful heritage we have in this great country of ours. Each one of us agreed that we are grateful and proud to be Americans.

Getting together the paraphanalia for the hunt generally takes place late Sunday evening. Last minute instructions on safety and proper sportsmanship became the topic over coffee and a variety of “goodies” that June had bake the day before. Somehow, I still couldn’t get myself fully involved with the preparations as I normally would have and I recall telling Lloyd and Russ to call their buddies in Springboro so they could combine themselves into a bigger hunting party. I tried to convince them that I had finally lost all interest in deer hunting, but to no avail, I recanted and said I’d go with them, but that if they met their buddies in the field, they could still go on without me.

Monday morning finally came with the sound of the alarm clock at 5:30am. I got up but I felt like sleeping in. Russ was up and raring to go. Breakfast was coffee, eggs, and bacon for Russ and Glenn, Grace, and I had bacon, pancakes and coffee. June stayed in bed, worn out from listening to all the planning and instructions that were hashed and rehashed by all the nimrods the night before. Lloyd, Lyn and Michelle had gone to their own home Sunday night. Russ and I would pick Lloyd up at 6:15am, then drive a short distance and walk into a square where some pretty fair “racks” had been spotted. Well, at 6:15am, I was still sipping coffee. I then went upstairs to tell June where we would be and as usual, June reminded me to watch out for the boys and to be sure I had my compass and whistle. With a parting kiss, she said “get a big buck honey!” Glenn and Grace had already taken off for the “hot spot” in Jumbo woods. Russ and I had a 10 minute drive to Lloyd’s house and it was already 6:30am. We picked up Lloyd before 6:40am and reached our destination at 6:45am. Lloyd and Russ kept reminding me as we walked into the square, that we should have been on our stands before 6:30. I know they were right, but you can’t wish time back, so I told them to start concentrating on walking softer and stop talking so that we wouldn’t spook a big buck. About a quarter mile into the square, Lloyd broke off from us and took his stand. Russ and I continued on to the stands that we had chosen. Just before getting there, I asked Russ if he’d rather have the .257. Russ had broken his elbow while playing football and still had his left arm in a cast, so I thought he might have a better chance with the .257 as his stand was in an open field, and he could take more time in steadying himself for a long shot. He agreed and I took the 20 gauge. Somehow, I felt a quiet confidence as my fingers surveyed the action and grip of “Howie’s gun”.

The stand I took was on the edge of a long narrow meadow with scrub trees to the south, woods to the east, a red maple thicket that ran into a valley with large trees to the north. To the west was a narrow strip of saplings, grapevines, and a few hemlock. A beaten path leading from where I stood to the maple thicket and then into the valley was convincing proof that we were in buck territory. Russ went about 300 yards farther to the west into a mowed meadow where he had spotted a trophy rack the year before. Any buck crossing that field would give Russ a clear shot in any direction. Now it was a matter of watch and wait.

The weather was still fair, but I could feel the temperature starting to skid downward. The heavy clouds indicated that we would be in for some snow or possibly a cold rain. I looked at my watch and found it was just 7:30am. “Oh brother”, I hoped the boys would soon get cold enough to want to start walking, as I’m no one to stay in one place for any length of time, especially when I start getting chilled. To make matters worse, the north west wind was gusty. I kept looking in the direction of that maple thicket, envisioning a buck coming up out of the valley and straight at me. I also thought of how good it would be to have a hot cup of coffee, but I knew I’d have to wait for that, as Russ and Lloyd were carrying the thermoses.

Along about 8:00am, I saw a hunter at the east end of the field about 500 yards from me, crossing through the thicket and apparently continuing on into the valley. “Good”, if some of the hunters begin to move, also the deer would soon be moving. I looked at my right and saw Larry and Bruce, Lloyd and Russ’s buddies, walking toward me from the south. The cold wind made them decide to start walking. They saw me and came to my stand. They hadn’t seen a deer either but Larry said he had seen a lot of beds and “buck rubs” over in the maple thicket the Saturday before when he was grouse hunting. Apparently they were heading there till they saw me, but then decided to head back into the scrub tree area to the south and possibly get something moving toward Lloyd. They had barely faded into the brush when Russ came stomping up toward me. I could tell by his beat-red face that the open field stand was more than he wanted to take, even for a chance of bagging a trophy. His first words were “Did you see anything?’ I replied “no”, but then I told him what Larry had said about seeing those “buck rubs” in the maple thicket. Russ told me he had three deer in range on his stand but all were bare headed as usual.

I had just started to say we should locate Lloyd and possible organize a silent drive when Lloyd came into view. After exchanging questions of what was seen, we decided to have a cup of hot coffee and talk over our next move, as Lloyd had nothing to say that would cause us to get excited over any drive. Perhaps we should go into another square or locate Glenn and Grace over in “Jumbo”. I told Lloyd that Larry and Bruce had headed toward his first stand but their report to me had been just as negative as ours, except, no one has pushed that little maple thicket over next to the Big Valley and Larry had seen a lot of good “buck signs”. Lloyds eyes lit up, “we’ll have that coffee later, Dad, you wait right here, Russ you go to the edge of the valley, and I’ll walk down the meadow, and cut into the thicket at the east end, and push toward you and Russ”, he quickly ordered. “Hold on there”, I said, “I’ve got the shotgun and if any buck is bounced in that thicket, neither one of you would have as much advantage as I for a quick short shot”. I told Lloyd to walk to the edge of the valley and step back into the cover of a big old hemlock. From that point, he could cover the hillside and the thicket with his 35 carbine. Russ would stay right where I had stood and cover the entire length of the mowed meadow. Suddenly, I felt a warm surge of excitement as I started down the meadow, conjuring in my mind the thoughts of jumping a “Big Old Buck”.

As I started into the edge of the thicket, I held my gun at the ready position. I felt certain there would be a buck in there. Each step was more carefully placed than the last. I thought of how Glenn had taught me as a boy to walk softly. He used to tell me to feel for the twigs with my feet. Somehow, I could hear him telling me not to snap a twig. I know it doesn’t seem possible when you’re wearing hunting boots, but I sure did “feel” for those twigs that are one of nature’s early warning systems for her creatures. I started down the thicket in a zigzag pattern, going right to the edge of the valley and then back to the edge of the meadow. Each time I probably covered a length of 50 yards.

As I neared the middle of the thicket, I saw a “buck rub” on a small maple tree. The tender bark had been shredded from the four inch base, and up into its branches. “Wow, must be a big one”, I thought. As I covered each section of the thicket I saw “buck rubs” and beds on each pass. A feeling of expectancy welled up within me. I kept looking and actually thinking I’d jump a buck at any second. On the last pass that would take me to the very edge of the thicket, I suddenly realized that all my expectations were nothing more than a wild imagination. I’d be glad to complete the “drive” and get that overdue hot cup of coffee. I cradled “Howies Gun”, and as I stepped to within five feet of the north end south deer trail, a ray of the sun broke through the thicket cloud cover. The ray seemed to be more brilliant than normal as it beamed down just to the right of me. I looked over toward the stand I had told Lloyd to take, but he was in the back of a big hemlock and I couldn’t see him. I then looked to my left and I could see Russ had already started walking in my direction. I could tell he was just as anxious for that coffee as I was. I turned again to my right and just as I was opening my mouth to call Lloyd to join us, my eyes fastened onto a sight I’ll live with the rest of my days. Not more than 25 yards from me was the biggest buck I’d ever seen, alive or dead. He was absolutely magnificent. The sun beam was focused on him as though he were an actor on center stage. Just as suddenly, as I saw him, he also saw me. That mighty buck literally hunched down on his back side and with a fantastic burst of power, he was in mid air sailing through the upper branches of the maple saplings and heading away from me to my right.
I couldn’t figure why Lloyd didn’t shoot as I knew Lloyd must have seen him. I instinctively pulled the shot gun from my left arm and swung on him, but I found myself pushing at the safety. My 20 gauge pump that I used for small game hunting, has a push type safety. In less than a split second, I realized that I had to pull the safety back. By this time, the buck was into his second jump. The sun beams exposed his great figure, and as he seemed to glide in midair, I followed through pulling up toward his front shoulder and squeezed the trigger. I caught a quick glimpse of white and then, nothing!! I peered in literal amazement and almost stunned shock through the dense saplings. I thought I could hear a slight rustling of leaves, but that sound faded quickly. Russ came running up just as I ejected the spent shell. “What did you shoot at” he yelled. “The biggest deer I’d ever seen Russ”. I answered quietly, as my eyes kept searching through those saplings for a glimpse of that buck. I felt a chill come over me as I suddenly realized, there would be no chance of tracking him unless he let out a blood trail. I also remembered that other hunter was in the valley just ahead of where I’d last seen that “mighty buck”. I expected to hear a shot at any moment that would tell me how close I had come to getting a trophy of a lifetime. Although a mere thirty seconds or so had passed since I had fired, an eternity of time passed in my mind’s eye. Suddenly, Lloyd came running toward us. “Who shot?” he literally screamed. “I did Lloyd”, I said. “That is the largest rack I’d ever seen.” “Did you hit him?”, Lloyd cried out. “I think so, but I’m not sure. I had the gun right on him but I can’t be sure if I hit him.” Perhaps, I was in too much shock, but later the boys told me I was calm and quiet while all of this was going on. As I bent down to retrieve that empty shell, Lloyd said, “Aren’t you even going to see if you got him?” I responded quickly, “Yeah, let’s see if there’s blood or hair where I had shot”.

Before I even moved Lloyd cut through the saplings like a hound on a bunny trail, with Russ right on his heels. “You got him!! There he is. Wow, what a rack,” yelled Lloyd. “He’s got eleven points, twelve counting the stub where a brow point is busted off”, yelled Russ. I finally managed to reach the scene. There he was, his body had done a half somersault over the edge of the hill and landed on a short terrace that had hidden him from my view through the saplings. He was paralyzed from a broken spine, as the slug had ripped out a vertebrae just back of the shoulder area. I placed another shot into the base of his neck to finish him. In a matter of less than a minute, hunters from every direction converged on us. As I filled out my big game tag, Lloyd proceeded with the field dressing, while Russ held conversation with everyone present. I recall one hunter telling Russ about spotting an even bigger rack than I had gotten. I think he was trying to convince himself that another trophy was still available so as to salt his imagination for the remaining days of the deer season. Lloyd related to us his view of the deer just prior to my seeing him. That buck wasn’t jumped from the thicket. Instead he had walked nonchalantly up the hill from the valley floor and into the north west corner of the thicket, nipping as he went, at a sapling bug within twenty yards of Lloyd. Lloyd waited for a clear shot, because the buck was coming from Lloyd’s left and would give him a broadside view. He felt no need for a chance shot through the thick saplings. As the buck took that one last step into plain view, Lloyd placed his bead on the lower neck and was just about to squeeze the trigger, when the buck whirled and literally sailed out of view. In retrospect, I know Lloyd wished he’d have shot sooner, as a .35 Remington is a fine brush cartridge and undoubtedly would have found the mark. But that’s the way it was and there’s usually no second chance when it comes to a trophy white tail buck.

Pandemonium broke out when I got him home. The “Weber Gang” went over all the details of the hunt. Glenn called him a real “Buster”.

June told me as soon as she saw him, that I had to have his head mounted. Neighbors, friends, and a lot of people we didn’t know, came to see that “mighty buck”. Everyone seemed to have that look of astonishment, sprinkled with a little touch of envy as they viewed him. Now I know that bigger racks have been taken, and I’m sure that somewhere out in the Pennsylvania hills there’s an even bigger rack waiting for some fortunate hunter, but there certainly is no other buck quite the same as mine. Every time I look at the mount, the greatest thrill of my life is stirred up fresh in my memory. Lloyd and Russ can be sure that if the Lord wills it, their dad won’t have to be coaxed to go hunting for deer this coming fall. It feels good to hunt with those you love. I hope parents all over this country will take a tip from me, “Never give up that part of your American Heritage that gives us the right to bear arms. Teach your sons and daughters by example, the code of good sportsmanship that includes good morals, high character, honor, and respect for others and a love for God and for Country.”

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