Two Monsters, Two Mountains
By BWB Team Member Logan Rackliff
The day after Thanksgiving, I left my house in mid-coast Maine at 2:30 in the morning and headed north to the Big Woods. There had been snow on the ground all week. The weather report was calling for snow for most of the day as well. I arrived at the area I wanted to start looking for tracks at daylight. It was discouraging to see that other hunters had already driven the roads checking for tracks. There were also hunters parked at the blocked off roads that I wanted to walk. I decided to head for a place where there aren’t as many deer but that I love to hunt. This road was also dug out so it couldn’t be driven. It has a few fingers off from it that are 2 or 3 miles long. The one I was planning on walking goes through a huge valley in between two steep mountain peaks, a natural place for deer to walk through. It’s a decent chance to find a track there or somewhere nearby.
A couple miles before I got to the spot I was going to park I found a good set of tracks crossing the road that were made in the night. The tracks were made very early in the night, and I was trying to decide whether or not it was a buck that I wanted to follow. While I was deciding, I heard a hissing sound coming from my truck. I soon found that it was my right rear tire from a slice in the side wall. I decided to just go to the spot I had planned on so I could park on a nice flat spot making it easier to deal with my tire later. Deer hunting season is short, good tracking days are few, and beautiful days like this on are rare at best.
When I got to my spot, I parked the truck, and headed out the blocked road. At this point it was about 8am and I felt like I was late to the party because I didn’t even know how long it was going to take to find a track that I wanted to follow. As luck would have it, I found a nice track crossing the road before I got in between the two mountain tops. It was a real nice buck that would have easily been over 200 pounds. I figured the track had been made an hour or two before daylight. With 2 inches of snow for a base and an inch of fresh snow on the top of it and the temperature right at the freezing point, I was excited to see what the day would bring.
I set a good pace on this track as the buck headed up through a nice piece of woods. He eventually crossed a spur road that went off to the right of the road I originally started on and headed up a hardwood ridge. I knew this ridge ran about three quarters of mile before it flattens out for about 100 yards and continues up a ridge that was so steep you almost need to get on your hands and knees to get up it and runs like that almost all the way to the top. This big old boy zig zagged his way up through the hardwoods looking for some does before eventually finding them about 400 yards from the steep ridge in some thick whips. There were at least six beds in the area where he had laid down with the doe’s. After leaving their beds, the deer milled around slowly working their way up the ridge. The buck followed the doe’s for a while before leaving them and going his own way to look for more doe’s. Soon the buck crossed paths with another big buck track. This was the track of a massive legendary buck, a track larger than the huge track I was already on. This track was older than the one that I was following so I decided to stay on the one I had started on. At this point I was a couple of hundred yards from the super steep ridge and I could see the bottom of it. I was beginning to think that the buck might be bedded up on the ridge. As I got closer to the steep ridge I could see his tracks angling left/northeast up the mountain. I checked with my binoculars to confirm that his track was heading up. I thought my best bet was to leave the track and circle above him in case he was watching his backtrack. I circled downwind of where I thought he might be bedded scanning the woods ahead.
It was spitting snow and very quiet with little wind. The part of the steep ridge the buck went up was covered with tall soft woods with blow downs and small green growth underneath. This patch of softwoods runs about a mile and is scattered about the ridge. I started working my way up the edge of the softwoods very slowly. I didn’t have to get on my hands and knees but it was steep enough that I had to side hill while holding onto trees so I didn’t slide down. I was concentrated to the left of me in the softwoods where I thought the buck might be laying down.
I went from around 1400’ in elevation to 1900’ in a very short distance. On the ridge in the softwood area where I thought the buck might be, it didn’t level out much until almost to the top. Within the steep ridge there were two very subtle ridges that ran their way through the softwood, one was about 150 feet above the other one and you almost couldn’t tell they were there. In the softwood it was so steep you had to walk side-hill unless you were on these areas about twenty feet wide. I was thinking if he had laid down he would be on the first subtle ridge looking down into the hardwoods where we had just come from, keeping an eye on his back track. I decided my best chance to get a look at him was by taking the second subtle ridge and to work my way across it paralleling the whole ridge. I soon was in the softwoods looking down on the lower area and working my way through all the blowdowns. About 150 yards into it I came to some fresh moose tracks, I heard a snap below me. I’ve heard enough snaps in the big woods to know that was one of a big buck.
I froze where I was and scanned the woods below me. I blew my grunt tube and keeping my gaze in the area of the snap. Where I was standing, it was so steep that when I looked straight out horizontally I was looking into the tops of trees that were 50’ to 70’ tall and we’re about the same distance below me. With the steep bank, blowdowns, small growth, and mature trees I could only see about 80 or 90 yards below me, but I couldn’t see anything below four feet high. I knew this was a perfect hiding place for a buck. I waited a few minutes before working my way at an angle down the steep slope. I had only gone about fifteen yards before hearing a crash below me and saw the big back end of a deer disappear out of sight about 70 yards below me.
I usually wait a half an hour after jumping a buck, like I learned from reading Hal’s books, but knowing it would take a while to get through the blowdowns, I decided to just ease downhill slowly. Just before I found the buck’s tracks, I noticed that there was a lot of tracks for just one buck to make. The bigger buck tracks that I had seen earlier were also here. As I worked my way down the bank I could see that both big bucks jumped all the way down this super steep hillside that I almost had to crawl down. Finally, I could start to see out in the hardwoods where I had left the track to circle and the tracks of both big bucks running together down the hill I’d come from earlier.
I set off after the two monster bucks hoping to get a shot at one. Both bucks only slowed down when they were in the thicker woods. They continued all the way down the hill, and back across the road that I had crossed earlier and were now heading back towards my truck. Every half mile or so they would stop jumping and trot for a while but the wind was at my back so I would see where they’d catch my scent when I would get close and then start jumping again. The bucks went down a brook before crossing to the other side. Then they went into another larger brook and went back and forth a couple times before the smaller of the two bucks crossed to opposite side. The monster track was nowhere to be found. I stayed close to the middle of the brook so I could see both sides of it, looking for where he came out. I went about a hundred yards and found where the big one finally came out of the brook on the same side as the other buck. Now, I realized that he was running right towards my truck. After a while, I popped out into the edge of a chopping and could see my truck. Both deer immediately stopped and jumped back into the woods. Then they went another hundred yards around the corner before crossing the road just out of sight of my truck!
Once across the road the bucks ran a straight line for a while until they started zig zagging the brook again for a couple hundred yards before the smaller of the two headed into the thick alders on the side of it. The bigger buck ran the brook for another 200 yards before jumping out into some larger softwood trees. I thought I’d lost his track several times but managed to find it every time. At this point I was over 2 miles from where I jumped the bucks off the ridge and he finally slowed to a walk. When he headed into some thick firs, I began to think that he might lay down but I knew there’s no way that I was going to see him in there. I put my head down and pushed into these trees until I found his bed. It was a massive oval bed with another melted spot a foot and a half above of it where he must have laid his head down for a minute. I then followed his running tracks through this thicket for ten minutes or so until I popped out on to another one of the finger roads off from the road I started on. He then turned and headed in the direction of the road I started on in the morning. The buck bounded down the road before stopping and waiting to see if he was being followed. I couldn’t believe this big old boy had stood right out in the middle of this wide-open road waiting for whatever was behind him to reveal itself. I don’t know if he heard me, smelled me or I wasn’t paying attention but I never saw him. Then in one leap he was into an old chopping loaded with raspberry whips with thick woods behind it. I knew if he kept angling the way he was, he would bust out into a long finger road where I would be able see almost 400 yards. The road ran up the hill heading for the northern mountain peak I spoke of at the beginning of the story. I sprinted around the corner and up this finger road for about 100 yards with my eyes peeled. I stood there on the edge of the road in a little cover for about 5 minutes, which seemed like an eternity at the time. I finally decided that he wasn’t heading this way and got back on his track.
The buck ended up going the opposite way through the raspberry whips and out through a path that ran through some more thick softwoods. Soon the woods started to open up a little and I could smell this “rutted up” buck and knew he must be close. I then saw some tracks off to the side where he had made a loop just outside of the thicker softwoods. I continued on and as I made my way out into the hardwoods. I came to where he had stopped to urinate causing the source of the smell. I soon found out that he had stood and watched me looking at his tracks where he’d made that loop. Now the buck was running again and was heading up the hill towards the top of the northern mountain peak. He took me through some beautiful hardwoods where I could see for 150 yards. By now it was almost 1pm and I was exhausted, thirsty and hungry. I tried to think of a plan to get a look at this monster. I kept my eyes peeled around me while thinking about the last little stunt he pulled with his offset circle. This wasn’t the first time that he had indicated he wanted to do something to try and get a look at me. I decided the next time I jumped him I would sit down and have some lunch before trying to sneak and catch him looking back at me.
The open hardwoods turned into a thick six or seven year old chopping that had a lot of skidder trails running through it. There were shoulder high raspberry and maples whips in the trails. I felt that there was still a decent chance to get a look at the buck. After working through this chopping for ten minutes the buck began jumping again. I decided to follow through with my plan to sit down and have some lunch. After a rest and some replenishment for ten minutes I was too cold to sit any more. At this point the wind had kicked up, and it began spitting sleet and snow. I was soaked with sweat so I had to keep moving to stay warm. I got my gear back together and set off again. After about ten steps, I realized that this was about the same distance and type of area he had been doing his off-set circles to get a look at me and I had better slow down.
The skid road I was on made a corner and then headed in a fairly straight line angling up the mountain. I started rounding the corner just creeping one slow step at a time and keeping my eyes peeled as far as I could, looking for something out of place. I was on the very edge of the corner looking up the skid road when I saw a patch of brown. There’s a lot of patches of brown around but this one was different. It was too high and just in a funny spot for an old log, stump, or rock. It looked like a rock but looking at the lay of the land I thought, there’s no way there’s a rock that big right there. I almost had made my mind up that it’s just a stump or something like everything else I ever see, when I thought, “no this is what I’m here for, this is part of the plan, this is what he did last time and I’ve got to at least check out whatever that thing is with my binoculars.”
When I looked through my binoculars and found the brown patch, I could see it was not a rock or a stump, it is definitely deer fur. I could only see a small patch so I followed the fur up to where it stops. I could just see the top of the deer’s back. I followed the top of its back until it disappeared into a thick clump of maple whips. I knew this was a big animal but I couldn’t see its head right away. As I panned above the maple whips all I could see was the white patch under his throat, nose, eyes and rack protruding out from above the whips. It was an unbelievable sight and one that I will never forget. He had real dark, thick beams that curled at least two inches out past both ears. His tines had decent height, with eight or ten points. I knew he was a monster of all monsters and now I just needed to make my next move.
The only clear shot I had without moving was that brown patch of his backend. I felt like I might have enough cover to move and get another view but I had already been there a couple of minutes and he was looking right at me with the wind swirling. Being a rookie tracker, I had little experience with these situations. I’ve missed deer jumping or running but I’ve certainly never had the monster buck of a life time standing there looking back at me and giving me time to think about it. I thought a good option would be to get down on one knee to shoot. When I did, I could see less than half of what I could standing. I took my binoculars back out and tried to figure out where his front shoulder was. I was hoping to get a Remington 180gr core- lokt through an opening. The patch still hadn’t moved so I fired, then again, and again. After the third shot it looked like the patch was still there so I knew I was not getting a bullet through. I angled towards his back end a little more and touched my last shot off. At this shot the buck turned and took a big leap out of site. I didn’t have a fifth shell in my gun because like an idiot I never thought I’d need 5 shots. The last chance, when the buck was jumping in the open would have been the best shot. The whole shooting session could not have lasted more than fifteen seconds.
After what had just happened, I felt that I had probably missed him. After reloading my gun with frozen hands, I went to check for any sign of a hit. I had shot at him only 50 yards from where I had just eaten my lunch! As I got closer, I could see where he had done another one of those offset circles before he looked back. I went up to where he was standing and I could see no sign of a hit. I thought the buck was about sixty yards away in a few raspberry bushes when I shot, but as it turned out he was more like 80 yards away with the whole skid road being loaded with raspberry and maple whips. My bullets never had a chance to get anywhere near him.
I followed him hard for another 2 miles across this ridge, over the edge of the mountain and down into the valley between the 2 peaks, beautiful woods the whole way. We crossed the road I began on and went up the backside of this mountain which was as steep as the front. I thought he might lay down again but he went all the way to the top and made no such indication. When I hit the top, it was 4pm so I decided I might be able to get back to the truck and fix my tire before dark. I beat myself up a little for my mistakes that afternoon but I decided just to be thankful, positive and learn from it. Seeing a monarch like that is everything to me and it gave me great confidence for my future in tracking.
After working on my tire I headed back for camp replaying what had happened over and over again. I’d go from furious with myself to just happy and excited. The next morning while dealing with my tire and sore knee the only thing I could think about is the buck I saw the day before. It was the last day and the thought of packing up, taking it easy or hunting another way never even crossed my mind. That day I went out into the big woods with a huge confidence and focus I’d never had before. Just before my tire went flat I found a track, got on it and ended up shooting my first big buck ever by tracking which you can read about on this site as well. He field dressed at 239 pounds on the last day of the season.
I had the two of the biggest thrills of my hunting lifetime in two days and I learned an incredible amount. My commitment is to share all of these stories with readers so they can learn and grow in tracking along with me. I, like many of you reading this am fairly new to tracking (7 years) and I have little time every season to perfect my tracking skills. Even though reading from the legends is awesome and very helpful, I hope it’s encouraging to hear from the perspective of someone who is in a similar tracking stage of his life as I know many of you are. I am a student of the Big Woods Bucks “System” and if you follow the system you to can will realize success as well.