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On The Track with Hal Blood by BWB Team Member Jason Delpalazzo
Ever wonder what its like to be on the track of a big whitetail buck with the man himself? Well I also wondered that for many years. As luck would have it, that would eventually become a reality for me, as I have been filming him for the last 3 seasons when time allows. I will assure any time you get behind Hal in the woods you are sure to have some type of wild adventure! You see I am a big woods tracker at heart, but the fact that I live in southern NJ, greatly limits the time I can spend up north in Maine. While I have spent up to 150 days a year tree stand hunting and filming, I am an average tracker at best. I want to share last weekends tracking story with you along with a few things I feel the average tracker may find helpful on their journeys.
Opening day of New York's 2016 rifle season just passed and there happened to be 3-5’’ of fresh snow dumped the night before. If there's an open hunting season in the Northeast with snow on the ground you can bet Hal will be there in search of a big buck track. Well shortly after hearing about the snow Hal called me and informed me it was time. I packed up my gear and headed north. We would hunt out of Hal’s friends camp nestled somewhere deep into the Adirondack Mountains. After I arrived that night we studied topo maps of the area and planned our attack for the morning. Hal never hunted this area before so this would be his maiden voyage into this piece of woods.
We drove into the woods as far as we could and got out of the truck. Conditions were perfect with a fresh snow and high winds to cover our noise. He picked an old logging road and off we went in search of tracks. You see Hal doesn't like to pick up a track from the road. Don’t get me wrong, if he sees a big track on the ride in and it hasn't come out of that block of woods, he's going in after it. But his preferred method is to cut a track back in the woods and see where it leads him.
About 1/2 mile in we came across a few doe tracks and then what Hal thought was a pretty decent buck. Not being super familiar with NY size deer tracks, there was no denying this was buck as we noticed it had rubbed a series of trees within eyesight of the logging road. After further inspection Hal said it really didn't have the width or stride between the tracks he was looking for. So off we went in search of something bigger. We would eventually leave the old logging road and head up towards a long ridge. We then came across a single track which looked much better as far as width and stride. We also knew this track was fresh as it had stopped snowing sometime during the night. So off on the track we went.
The first thing you will notice when Hal picks up a track is the high rate speed that he walks at. Now I'm not sure how many of you have followed Hal around the woods, but the man is like 6’3 with long legs and he moves fast. We took off on a pace that is borderline running to me. He doesn't waste any time creeping along a track until he feels its time to slow down. 10 minutes later the deer brought us out across a bog with a peninsula covered in green growth pushing into the middle. Upon entering the peninsula we slowed down and started creeping up this hill covered in small spruce. At that point I remember thinking to myself that this is probably where that deer is bedded. Well about 10 seconds later up jumps a slammer buck sporting a wide 10 point rack at 20 yards! Hal swings the gun on him and doesn't shoot because I haven't given him the signal to fire yet! The deer bounds down the hill and gave Hal a 2nd opportunity as he circled us and exposed himself below. At just about that time the camera starts recording and it was too late! You see these high performance cameras take a little time to start recording and we learned a hard lesson. At that point I realized in the future I am just going to have to leave the camera recording when we feel were getting close as it takes too long to start recording in a quick situation like that. If you've read Hal’s books you know what we did next, sandwich break!
After the sandwiches we headed off in search of the buck. I came up with a new game plan for the filming part where I would leave the camera recording at all times when we felt close to the deer. The snow was starting to melt now and it was falling into the tracks which was making them hard to locate at times. It was also melting away in certain areas down near the bogs. There was many times when I thought to myself “how the hell is he gonna figure this out!?” Well let me tell you, every time that happened somehow he managed to find it again! What he does is quite simple. He combines his common sense of where the deer is going and starts making circles. The circles will get bigger until he finds it. He knows the track is out there somewhere and he will do what it takes to find it.
We continued to follow the buck through the mountains at a high rate of speed only slowing down when we came into areas where Hal suspected he could be bedded. This brings up another interesting thing that Hal does. When following the track he isn't always on top of it. In fact he strays from it quite often. There are 2 reasons that he does this. He explained to me in areas of thick brush and obstacles he will just simply walk around instead of blasting through them. No need to make a bunch of noise crawling through certain areas. He just uses his common sense of where the deer is going and picks up the track on the backside. These aren't large areas, but smaller ones maybe 5-30 yards. The other reason he will stray is simply that he is paying more attention looking for the deer than the track. So even in the open woods he will stray sometimes and we may have to go back and spend a few seconds looking for the track sometimes. His eyes are always up scanning for the deer.
We continued on for the rest of the day figuring the buck would surely be bedding down again soon. Well let me tell you about 6 miles later up and down every ridge in the area he never did. The deer continued further away from the truck. At around 3:30 Hal called off the mission and said it was time to head back to the truck. We had about a 5-6 mile walk out and it gets dark around 6. Now you want to talk about a long walk back to the truck? On a normal year I exercise quite often and am usually in good shape. Well this year would be different as I hadn't ran even a 1/4 mile since springtime. Every step I took at this point felt like someone was stabbing me in my upper thighs. Combine that with following part man / part machine out of the woods and you can imagine how I felt at the end of that day! I'm sure even he was feeling it too as this was his first real tracking mission of the year. But let me assure you nothing will slow this man down in the woods. Pain, doubt, or even frustration won't deter Hal on a tracking mission and that is the same attitude you need to have when in the woods. This attitude I believe is one of the main reasons he has been so successful on his tracking journeys.
We then headed into camp and shared the days stories with the boys. We awoke the next morning to warmer temperatures and melted snow. I figured it would be best for me to head home and come back when conditions were ideal. I arrived home to find ideal temperatures for some good pre-rut action during our bow season. I tried my first sit in a new spot i had setup earlier in the year. As luck would have it I ended up harvesting a great NJ buck that night! What a perfect way to end a exciting deer hunting filled weekend!