At BWB, we appreciate fellow hunters sharing their hunting adventures. Brendan Moore shared a classic Big Woods Hunt which resulted in him killing an absolute giant according to The New England Standard of how much a buck weighed after it is fully field dressed. Some key points to look for is how the hunt materialize over a series of days. Brendan used grit, perseverance and woodsman skills to kill this buck. Oh yes and it is worth noting he never saw the buck until the moment he killed it. He definitely read the sign and the woods he was hunting but the element of surprise at the end of the track drove him to push himself through some serious challenges. Hope you enjoy reading the hunt as much as we did. Imagine yourself on the track of a monster!
The Brendan Moore Buck
By Brendan Moore
The hunt started with a light rain falling on the roof of the camp. The woodstove was heated to a point well beyond the need for simply heating the small cabin. When visiting the cooler, set out on the porch, the door was purposefully left open in hopes of some heat escaping. Over the night, the rain turned to snow and by the time I woke there was 2” of heavy wet stuff coating everything. I set off very early, knowing I had many miles to drive before reaching the place I wanted to hunt. I had been working as a forester in the area the year before and had seen some really large tracks on the shoulders of the shale roads. Miles ticked off and I didn’t see any good tracks crossing the road until I turned down my final road. There, just as I had hoped, was a huge buck track in the fresh snow. That was eleven years ago. I never did shoot that buck, but it gave me a heck of a chase and left an imprint on my memory that I have not been able to shake. I have tracked down some good bucks over the years and had some great adventures. The deer I have followed were, in my mind, compared to that big footed animal I followed so many years ago.
I continued searching for the four-fingered buck track, the type the deer hunting legends see but once every ten years. The tracks so big that a grown man can fit his palm down in the width of the track. Sitting around deer camp, many of my stories would inevitably end up back at the big one that got away. After hunting other locations, this year I finally found myself able to return to the north woods and get back to the place where the big one gave me the slip. My hunting partner and I both had a week off work, plans were made, and the truck was packed. After a full day of travel on very snowy roads, we made it to camp.
Early the next morning, we set out on three-day old snow in search of tracks crossing the roads. The road leading in was blocked in several spots as there had just been a very strong wind storm and many fir trees were tipped over. We cut our way in with a chainsaw, as most of the roads had not seen any recent vehicle traffic. Just like the hunt that took place so many years ago, we drove miles and miles and saw no deer tracks. Cresting a hill, in a place not more than one mile from where my last hunt took place up here, we spotted a good track. We knew the track was old, but large, and we were eager. Not having much else to go on, both myself and my hunting partner, Chris, set off on the track. It leads us down off the hardwood ridge into the edge of a big swamp, showing us his stomping grounds. Pretty soon we start getting into a mess of deer tracks, some old, some smoking fresh. It quickly became apparent he had been out checking groups of does, traveling in a very straight line between the seemingly chaotic interactions with deer. We saw a few deer and jumped up some others. Most of the deer were feeding in the cedar tops and old man’s beard clinging to the fir tops that were strewn across the ground courtesy of the recent wind storm.
The second day had a forecast of snow, and boy did it snow. Between dawn and noon, it snowed very heavy. Not able to find any tracks crossing the road, we split up and hiked the woods, hoping to come across a fresh track. Chris ended up tracking a decent buck and had trouble keeping the track fresh given how hard it was snowing. The snow ceased around noon and we regrouped. As we hiked out a rough spur road back to the truck, we came across a very large but old track going up the road. Even though the track was filled in with snow we could tell it was made by one large buck. Shortly thereafter, we spotted some very fresh tracks crossing the road just a little way beyond, and although the big buck was not with them, we decided to follow anyways. After 2 hours of slogging through doghair cedar and fir, crossing a wet bog stream four times, we gave up the fresh deer tracks, convinced they were not going to lead us to anything worth following. We climbed in the truck and drove all the roads late that afternoon to verify if the big buck had crossed any. We spotted no tracks other than those made by us and the group of small deer. The snow had stopped, and we were tired.
The third day of our hunt started early, “2:45 AM”. Chris made coffee and lunch and I made a breakfast of eggs, sausage and toast. No snow had fallen since yesterday around noon. Duct tape was applied liberally to the wool pant cuffs. We hit the roads early and drove the nearly two hours to our hunting spot. Playing out much like Monday’s hunt, we found a big buck track crossing the road at the top of the hill. He crossed in the exact same spot and was travelling the in the same direction as Monday’s track, except now we knew the snow was fresh and the track was, at most, 12 hours old. We surmised he was up to the same old activity of checking on groups of does. It was daylight now and we decided I would take the track and Chris would circle around to the west, where we had ended up in a mess of deer on Monday. I parked the truck at the height of land, loaded the gun and set off on the track.
The track was very easy to follow in the fresh powder snow. He was all alone and travelling fast through hardwoods and skid trails. The north wind was biting when I crossed the open cuttings, with a temperature around 10 degrees. After a short while he had cut around to the south and headed across an old chopping. Still not sure how far ahead of me he was, I proceeded cautiously. At that point he crossed an old winter road and b-lined it down a skid trail leading to a cedar swamp. The walking was surprisingly easy. He picked out the best path possible and clearly had some destination in mind. He then led me to a small spruce bluff, and into a mess of tracks. Clearly evident in the fresh snow was a buck track leading up a small hill. Also, very clear was a buck track running downhill, as was yet another buck track running back uphill. So, either I had three bucks right there or a single buck that was just feeling frisky and kicking up his heels. I tried my best to sort out the tracks but ended up doing a half-hour detour on the oldest of his tracks, only to find myself back where it all started. Sorting it out, I continued on the track which lead me out to some more spruce knobs and old beaver ponds. I radioed to Chris when crossing one opening to let him know I was headed the “wrong” way but would surely come out somewhere, on some road, by the end of the day. I heard crackling static back, but I knew the backup plan was he would start driving the roads at the end of the day to pick me up.
After crossing a wide but inactive beaver pond combined with a stream, the buck track leads me to yet another spruce knoll. This one is mixed in with some nice poplar and birch trees and walking is good. The buck lays down several small scrapes and continues his fast pace. I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever catch up to him or, like Monday, I will stay too far behind all day long. The cold powder snow doesn’t reveal too many clues to the age of the track, but I know it can’t be more than a few hours old. As I continue on the track, the buck is leading a big circle to the left. Although I never hear or see the deer, I come across a point where his track is running and looks very fresh. I must have spooked him. As I follow it along, I see that he ran a complete circle and stepped in my own boot prints made not more than an hour ago. Finally, some solid undisputable proof to the age of the track, I clearly am not far behind at this point. I end up spooking the buck again without seeing him and he takes off in great leaps. This time he brings me through a thick cedar swamp with plenty of young growth. He is walking at this point, and I am just about on my hands and knees to get through. I try to move quietly but based on the number of broken twigs and branches he left in his wake, I feel he didn’t have the same concern.
Thinking he might be there, looking back, waiting for me to crash through I moved slowly, with scrapes and rubs along the spruce ridge lines. Sorting it out once again, I ended up on a big fresh track leading away from the swamps. After less than an hour he leads me into more blowdown and more fresh deer tracks. It is clear several deer have been feeding here today. A yearling materializes in front of me. I look around for as long a time as I have patience for, hoping to spot the big buck. After a few minutes my patience wears, and I sneak around the yearling in the quiet powder snow, not disturbing her from feeding. How cute they are on a cold winter day, with the face hair sticking out straight, giving a teddy bear like quality to their coat. The buck track from this point is easy to follow. While the snow is deep and cold, the size of the holes he is making, combined with the width and stride of his steps makes following simple. None of the other deer are leaving holes in the snow like his.
Finally circling back around, he leads me down towards the direction of the river we ended at on Monday. As he nears the river, his track begins to wander. Although I never noticed him feeding, the track cuts back on itself a few times as he zigs and zags a little through a black spruce stand. The snow was knee deep and very quiet with soft ground underneath, so I kept my pace up. He has laid the only track through these woods, in the deep fresh snow, so following is simple. As I cut through the spruce, I catch a glimpse of an antler sticking up. My initial reaction being that I have just walked upon yet another bedded moose. Both Chris and I had seen multiple moose per day up here, and they are always mixed in with deer. I pull my gun up and realize that I am seeing just the top of the deer’s rack, the main beam and three points. He is laying about 30 yards away. I can tell which direction he is facing by the rack, and I consider trying to guess the location of his body through the spruce. His neck and chest must be a foot or two down and to the left of the rack. Seconds pass and I can’t see clear enough to get a shot. How foolish would it be to shoot at something I can’t clearly see?
I decide the best tactic is to move a bit closer. The deer still didn’t know I was here, so I take a couple slow quite steps out around to the side, keeping the rifle up on my shoulder. I had been in a similar situation before and had some luck with a slow, careful approach. I figure he is going to bust me soon and I will need to shoot quick. A few steps out and around closer to the bedded buck presents me with a clear neck shot which I take, killing the buck. My watch reads 11:15 am. I turn on my GPS unit and am pleased to learn that after tracking across hills, ponds, and swamps all morning, I ended up only 1-mile straight line distance from the road. After taking some pictures and dressing the deer out, I try pulling him a short way. Within 20 feet I decide the best approach is to leave the buck and get help. I covered the deer with what spare stinky undergarments I could afford in order to ward off any coyotes during my absence, and head back towards the road in hopes of finding a good way out, and Chris to help drag.
I knew the general direction Chris had headed that day, so I worked my way out, trying to lay down a route in the best deer dragging spots. I radioed and received a reply. A signal shot was fired in the dense windy woods. Around that point, my radio battery died, and I was anxious to get back to the truck and move it closer to the deer. A few more signal shots were fired into the cold windy woods, but I never found Chris and he never found me. Since I had left a good portion of my clothing tied to the buck back in the woods, and the wind chill seemed worse than ever, I decided to make a break for the truck which was parked a mile further up the road. Surely, I figured I could run up, grab the truck, and come back to first locate Chris and then drag the buck out. A very brisk walk up the now familiar road led me the truck.
It started right up and I took off some of my hunting clothes and had a snack as the heater worked. The problems started when I went to put the truck in drive. Apparently, all the deep snow over on top of warm mud puddles combined with the recent single degree air temps had resulted in a front rim sticking itself to the brake. I had three wheels spinning and one lamely skidding along, pushing up a ridge of snow and mud. I knew that was not good enough for the 35 or so miles back to camp. I was able to maneuver the truck out to a sunny flat spot and proceeded to shovel and chisel a way for the jack to get underneath the ice/mud encrusted truck frame. I ended up taking the wheel off and smashing a bunch of ice and mud out from the inside of the rim using the tire iron as a chisel. After reinstalling it all, I was able to get freed up and turned around to drive back down the road and find Chris and eventually, my buck.
At this point I am thinking the most sensible thing is to leave the buck overnight and come back first thing tomorrow to drag him out. We had seen very few coyote tracks and I did a pretty good job of decorating him with human scented clothing. Shortly after making it to the end of the road in my icicle truck, Chris shows up. We discuss the options and after a brief heater session, some half-frozen water, and a couple devil dogs we put on dry gloves grab some flashlights and head back to the woods. I had paid close attention while walking out of the woods and we did the same going back in to the buck, figuring out the best way around the many obstacles. We reached the deer around 3pm, cut a drag stick, attached the rope and started dragging. At first, we both tried pulling together but found the thick woods and uneven ground had us fighting each other more than pulling the deer. In more open woods, dragging together works well, but here we found the best strategy was to pull the deer alone for a short distance, then hand the stick off and get a short rest while the other person pulled. When we encountered big logs we would pause, then team up to get him up and over. The tricky spot was a stream crossing that meandered in and out of beaver ponds. Luckily, we found a submerged log that allowed us to get across without getting totally soaked. Chris went across, then I went and pulled the deer into the stream and anchored while he swung across to our side. It took both of us to get him up out of the stream and through the spruce blowdown on the bank.
From there on out the drag was methodical as we took turns and worked over or around each successive blowdown. Some we went around, some we went over, some we went under. We finally hit an old winter road about ¼ mile from the truck. As we got out in the open of that road, the wind was starting to subside. The moon was up and the stars where super bright on the fresh snow. We pulled along and remarked how grateful we were, to be pulling a big buck out on the snow under the majestic light of the moon. Loading him in the truck was the final fiasco, but with the help of a come-along and Chris’s never-ending determination, we succeeded. We made it back to camp around 9pm that night and had a simple dinner of re-heated leftovers and turned in for the night. We slept well, grateful for the experience we had that day, for having come so far and worked so hard to bag such a great animal in such a wild location.
I took the deer the next morning up to the North Maine Woods checkpoint, but the guy had closed up shop for the season and was packing his truck to get out before the next round of snow. So, we went down the road to the logging company office and the lady there did all the official reporting station paperwork. The woman who owns the camp we were staying in lived right around the corner, so we took the deer over there for a visit. She had a digital hanging scale and we hung the buck up. The weight jumped up and down a bit, most likely due to the drastic change in temperature from inside her warm basement to out in the cold air, but gave us readings anywhere from 295-308 lbs. We didn’t know of any other scales up there, so we figured we would stop on the way back to Vermont. We left camp that Sunday and headed back home. Coming out through Ashland and heading to I-95, the nearest official check station that was open was Lennie’s Superette in Medway. A gentleman came out and weighed the fully dressed buck on the official scales, coming in at 300lbs even, four days after killing
him. The buck turned out to be the largest entered into the Biggest Bucks in Maine club for 2018. The memories of the hunt will continue to outweigh the massive size of the deer.