The good Lord decided he wanted to bless me with an early season buck this past year. This gift was a real encouragement to me in many ways, producing the buck and story of a lifetime. Though I’m extremely thankful and blessed with this honor there was only one problem; I was done hunting big bucks and done tracking early. It also turned out to be a blessing because I was greatly needed at home and even though I was happy there, I still craved to be back up in the woods that time of year. It ended up that God decided on giving me couple more opportunities to get back up north for a few days during the Thanksgiving and muzzleloader weeks to spend time with the crew and scout for next year.
A few years ago came a great addition to our hunting crew, my friend Matt. Matt has always spent a lot of time hunting and fishing and had showed some desire to come up and try out the Big Woods. Soon Matt started coming up and it wasn’t long before the Big Woods bug got a hold of him and he now spends almost the whole season up there. Matt, like most of us, has hunted around home (mid-coast Maine) and other places like Pennsylvania where the main method of hunting is sitting. He’s killed a lot of nice deer that way, but he also likes to still hunt. He has really gotten into still hunting and scouting the Big Woods and quickly started following tracks whenever he had the chance. He’d come back to camp and tell us stories he had of tracking, of course I was fully on board to talk about every little detail of it! Though I really didn’t know much about how to track down a mature Big Woods Buck, I would talk like I did. Matt and I started throwing around the idea of tracking together, but it never materialized.
After I started getting a few close encounters with big bucks while tracking we would talk about it more and more and then in 2016 God decided it was time to let me get my first Big Woods Buck tracking. I had miss a huge buck the day before that first buck tracking and then where this year’s buck I got on the first day out; this made three days in a row God allowed me to get a good look at a mature Big Woods Buck by tracking. I am thankful he’s allowed me the opportunity to put the effort in over the years where I could train, learn, hunt and now finally be able to string a few things together on a semi-consistent basis. With my buck down and lots of season left, now was the prime time for Matt and me to track together. I asked Matt if he’d let me go with him hunting for day or two and he obliged. This was a great opportunity for Matt and me to encourage each other, have fun and learn from one another. We would try and get Matt his first Big Woods Bucks by tracking and I could tag along and do some scouting for next year.
Muzzleloader season came around after a long season of hard tracking conditions. I was fortunate to make it up Thanksgiving week and get out in the woods with Matt for a day or two, but the snow was tough. There was one afternoon we had fun chasing around a smaller buck and Matt got a decent look at him, but that was it for action that week. I arrived at camp early in the morning for muzzleloader week. The forecast the night before was for 2-4” of snow, it turned out to be half an inch to a dusting in the lower ground and around an inch in the higher elevations. We set out looking for tracks by driving around the roads looking for something made in the night and did not have much luck. We finally found a decent track from the road but wasn’t super excited about it. We got out and followed it and before we even got out of sight of the truck decided the deer wasn’t big enough and there was not enough snow.
We decided to go to so some nearby higher ground to see what there was for snow there. Where we parked the trucks, there was already a little more snow and as we climbed it got a little better to where there was just about enough to track. There was not much wind and the snow was fairly soft, melting a little, but was not super quiet walking so it was a decent tracking day. It only took about 10 minutes to find what we were looking for, a big track. This was the track of a mature buck and one of ones Hal calls an either/or buck, he’d probably go 215lbs in the beginning of the season but who knows now towards the end of muzzleloader season. He was heading up the mountain and into some bigger woods just the way we wanted him to go, into some bigger woods. The track looked to be about an hour old but no more than two. He took us from one green knob to another, climbing up and up while zig zagging from spot to spot. The buck was searching for does, he wasn’t on a hard and fast mission but there was no question what he was up to. As we crested one of the green knobs, we could look out and see that the land drops down and then goes back up onto a flat that is fairly open hardwoods filled with small whips. Not being far behind the buck, we took our time looking this pretty spot over. We finally made our way down and then up onto this flat area which was the beginning of a nice, hardwood ridge that runs along the side of the mountain. This higher, flat area we were on ran straight into a steep ridge. The part of the ridge we were at had a big, sweeping bend in it (like a corner.) The flat ground then ran left along the base of the ridge where it dropped down into a skinny valley and turned the corner. Then to our right was the start of an open hardwood ridge that ran a long way straight down the side of the mountain. As we were making our way onto this flat through the whips we run smack into a monster track, bigger than the one we were on. As we went along on this track suddenly there was tracks everywhere, going every way. As we followed the sign we noticed a set of doe tracks and as we circled to figure out what was on going it was soon clear that these two bucks were chasing a doe and she is in heat.
This area was completely destroyed by these deer chasing. We could not tell and did not take the time to figure out if the larger buck, the doe, or the first buck had gotten their first, all we knew was there was smoking fresh sign everywhere. I had an eerie feeling the deer had seen us from the on top of sharp ridge above already. I was blown away we hadn’t seen any of these deer, if we hadn’t messed around with the track on the road earlier we probably would have come up on them while all of that was happening. There were tracks going along the ridge, up the steep bank and back down it, and down in the valley to the left heading around the corner. These three deer had covered this whole area of about 200 yards square and most of it was done by the larger buck trying to mount the big doe in heat. We finally found the spot that appeared to be where he bred her. After he bred her he went over to small fir tree and tore it all up while his adrenaline was raging; ripping off branches, making knarly gouges and thick shavings, and had even leaned the small tree over a little. The thought of that monster chasing a doe around while chasing off another mature buck, then breeding her and going over and destroying a tree (all right before we got there) had us fired up to max!
After many circles and about 20 minutes it looked like the monster buck’s last tracks went left down the valley after he had torn that tree all up, though I wasn’t 100% convinced because there were so many tracks going up and down the embankment. The tracks going up and down looked fresh, all going in and out of a green thicket that made up a nice peak right on the corner of this ridge. We followed the big boy’s tracks knowing we had to go slow because he had to be close. I was surprised that the old boy left the doe’s track at all, but I expected he’d make a swing back to her before long. We weren’t long going down the valley, rounding the corner when he swung straight up the bank along the edge of the thick green knob. The ridge went straight up about 200 yards where it flattened out into a wet spot that was about 80 yards wide. This flat, wet gulley had yet another steep ridge on its left that went up much higher and then to the right was the high green thicket that we had seen many of the deer’s tracks heading into from the lower ground. Just as we crested the ridge we heard branches breaking a hundred yards or so to the right coming from the high green thicket. After blowing the rubber band call we waited. After 10 minutes of not hearing anything we slowly crept our way into the wet gulley.
The gulley was nice walking and not super wet, with many brown ash trees. While we kept our eyes peeled for the buck that was laying down these huge tracks we also checked the brown ash for signpost rubs. It wasn’t long before we came across another set of fresh tracks and where all these tracks crossed there was a nice signpost rub that had been shined up earlier that year. It was an awesome hideaway area for a signpost rub and one you wouldn’t find unless you’re tracking most likely. A few yards further there were more fresh tracks and there now appeared to be a doe and lamb, the monster buck, and the first big buck we were on! Many of these tracks went up the high ridge on our left, some came down and some went further ahead up the gulley. Everything was so fresh it was hard to tell who went where. As we slowly, quietly circled a few times we couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was a little frustrated about losing time, so I told Matt to stay low and see what he could figure out while I did a big circle high. I started tromping up the ridge, studded with blowdowns, making plenty of noise out of frustration (not smart, need to be patient) and didn’t make it 50 yards before a noise came from the green thicket across the gulley again. We both froze, I looked back at Matt who was facing towards the sound and l could tell he was looking at something. He made the signal to me that he had and we both just stayed frozen. A minute or two later we heard more crashing coming from further up the gulley around the corner a little. After 10 minutes or so I made my way up to Matt and told me he saw a huge bodied deer come out of the green and head up the gulley, but he didn’t get a look at his horns. I wonder how that happens so often? Those old mature bucks are master sneakers I think!
We made our way over to where Matt saw the deer and sure enough it was the monster track. At some point he had made his way into that thicket and I’m not sure if he was with that doe he’d bred or looking for the doe with the lamb. The 4 or 5 deer that were around had covered too much area that morning to tell quickly. Regardless we went on the track slow because there was so much activity happening and we just saw him go. The track met up with some others as the gulley turned into open hardwoods as we slowly climbed. Most of the tracks converged onto what seemed like a natural path and funnel for the deer down the center. At the top/end of this gulley, where the two ridges on either side met, it opened up to the long hardwood ridge that ran side of the mountain mentioned earlier. The peak of this ridge was to our left and was covered with thick softwood. Many tracks met up at this intersection, where deer had come and gone that morning and I again was very surprised we couldn’t get our eyes on a deer knowing we were so close and where could see so much.
It was tough to figure out where each buck went so we decided to take the set of tracks that ran the softwood line along the top of the ridge. I decided to take that route because we could see that’s where the doe and lamb went, and I figured the dominate buck would stay with them. This would also give us decent cover while we would be able to look down into the open hardwood ridge. After a few hundred yards the snow was tough and there was a lot of low growth making tracking very difficult, it appeared the dominate buck was not with the doe and lamb, so we decided to go back to the busy intersection. We then did another large circle and found a set of big buck tracks coming out and heading down over the beautiful hardwood ridge to the right, perfect! Since we had lost a little time we took off at a decent pace. We were excited about maybe catching this buck on his feet out in these beautiful woods. It was soon evident to us that we were now on the first buck we started on and not the monster. This was still a mature buck and we were happy and excited to be on him. After angling and dropping down for 600 yards or so we came to a small, slightly raised, spot in the ridge with a little softwood on it where we found a bed with jumping tracks. He had never given any indication he was going to lay down and it was relatively open there. This is not a typical place for a buck of this caliber to bed down, which meant to me that this buck was tired.
With the open woods and late time, we rushed on the track looking out as far as we could see. As we sank lower we almost ran out of snow and it was difficult to follow, especially as he took us into a wet area. After a huge circle we found his track coming out and going right back up the mountain. We ended up crossing the tracks at the intersection where found his track with all the others just a little while ago. He then headed into the thick softwoods on top of the ridge working up the mountain where he wove his way through old, tight paths in a quiet softwood wonderland as he slowed down. We tried to move slow on him this time thinking he’d lay down again, but the wind was at our back and we soon came to another bed with running tracks. We continued through this softwood until we came into some mixed forest that had been cut some and we were now getting close to the top of the mountain. As we worked our way along we crossed another big buck track, I think the one that the monster had laid down earlier in the day before finding the does. It was getting close to dark and this buck had slowed down again, you could tell he was real tired from chasing all season. We went along this flatter open area, down an old skid road filled with yellow grass, keeping our eyes peeled the best we could. Soon I could see way up ahead of us the beginning of valley that his tracks were headed for. I stopped and told Matt to ease on ahead himself, to go real slow and to peak down over the bank and as far out into the valley as he could see. I quickly mentioned this was probably our best and last chance of the day especially where dark was closing in soon.
Matt crept along keeping his eyes down in valley where you could see 100 yards or so as got closer to the edge of it. I was watching him when suddenly he raised his gun up and was looking down the sights. After a what seemed like forever but was probably 5 seconds he said, “I saw him but couldn’t see his horns until after he took off.” I said, “Let’s go after him!” We flew down into valley hoping to get Matt another look at him before he disappeared. We did see a couple flashes of him but not enough for Matt to get a shot and couple hundred yards later he was gone into some thicker softwoods heading straight up the mountain. It was almost dark at this point and we decide to call it a day. I told Matt the buck didn’t appear to have a huge rack, maybe a high and tight one. That made sense with the narrow spots he had been going through that day, not out of the norm up there.
The next day we worked our way back up and found where we lost the monster buck track with the doe. We took the track and it ended up only taking us a couple hours to jump him and the doe. They had not gone far, in fact we did a circle around them the afternoon before chasing the not-as-big buck around. The woods were super quiet that day with zero wind and crunchy snow that sounded like glass breaking every step you took, getting close to any animal was almost impossible. We jumped the deer 200 yards away and it sounded like they were 40 yards. The big boy took us down over the mountain into the lower ground where we ran out of snow.
It was a great day or two with my buddy Matt where he had two good chances at big bucks and we were close to them the whole time. I am beyond blessed to have such great friends and to be able to do those types of things. I hope to share God’s word and the gospel with all my friends and other people I get to know hunting and otherwise through the years. It says in the bible that all of us have some knowledge that there is a God and those of us that believe in him and know the good news of Jesus Christ as our savior have the privilege, opportunity and obligation to share these things with all. This is one of many things I struggle with in my daily life where I want to “do-my-own-thing” and it’s easy for me to believe I’m a “self-made-man” and don’t need anything, but life has proven to me over and over again that I need God. I am thankful to him for all my blessings and I’m hopeful I can continue to share these things. Maybe he’ll let me get another glimpse at a nice buck next year. I have an idea where I may start.
The larger buck that had torn up that tree had a big stagger, good stride, wide track and he’s one of the only deer I’ve ever seen go around narrow spots. I know I’ve read and heard other guys talk about it, but I’ve never really noticed it much. I think this buck is 5 ½ or 6 ½ years old looking at his track and still in his prime. I have been picturing this buck in my mind ever since that day and I’m sure you can guess where I’m going to go looking for a track next year, Lord willing!