The 200 pound standard for a New England buck is one that many trackers chase, including me. In a couple of states, crossing that line will earn you a patch, hence the phrase "Patch Buck". But sometimes life tosses you some twists and turns, and you end up following a different set of standards.

The Hunt

Dad and I split up in the morning, parked in different areas within a mile or two of each other. My uncle and a friend, Trev, were with us, hunting down low. The snow was fluffy, with a good amount that came Tuesday and a puff overnight. The temperature was a chilly 4*F when I left the truck. I cut one snowed in track and followed it. Eventually the buck went into a cut and through where Dad was parked. There were three rigs parked there and someone else took that track.

I split away and went down low again. I saw a bunch of deer sign and started to angle across it. There was a decent track in the mix underneath other deer sign, then I cut a fresher buck track. The foot wasn't huge, but ok, and a long stride, 22-24". I think of this size buck a 'Chapstick buck' because it isn't an -06 shell wide, but it is bigger than my chapstick (2.5"). This buck was cruising along, checking does. He laid down a few scrapes and kept meandering along the softwood below some cuts. His trail began to turn up hill. His track was fresh and distinct, so it was easy to keep separated. He went more than a mile and then headed for a snowmobile trail that I knew was in there- I was hoping no one else had walked in and taken his track. Thankfully there wasn't a footprint on it. He crossed and headed up near some cuts on the high side of that trail.

He slabbed up the hill side for a while, feeding periodically on old man's beard in blow downs and dug for ferns once.

 

 

He got near the top and checked another doe in a thick, mountain top swamp, chased her around a bit. I spotted a deer to my left- it was the fawn. Staying on the tracks, the buck and doe were twisting around so I swung wide to get out of the mess, knowing he didn't have a great big rack at that point by the way he was busting through the tight stuff. I jumped the doe and kept my eyes peeled looking for him, but he wasn't there.

 

 


I kept circling and cut his track leaving the area, walking, so he wasn't there when I jumped her. He then started wandering on top, twisting around some small knobs; back and forth, up, down, around- looking for a place to bed out of the wind I suspected. Knowing he was likely bedded I slowed way down. The snow was hanging everywhere and there was a gusty breeze up high, so I was sneaky-quiet. I peeked around every tree and terrain wrinkle. Sliding through along his track, I came over a small hump and looked down to my right along his track. Something seemed out of place. 30 yards away there was a broken off old stump, but more. Making out the shape of a deer, I pulled up and saw antlers up over the stump and his mouth moving on the left side of it, chewing his cud. I searched a bit, found his body to the right side and decided to tuck one in there.

POW!

The snow blew off the trees all around me, and the sound of my rifle was deafening and muffled at the same time. I lost sight of the buck for an instant, then saw him bounce to the left, not doing well, and he was gone.

I crept down to his bed and saw where he went out the back side, then lunged to the left, plowing in the snow. I crested a little wrinkle and spotted him, pulled the rifle up, but he was done. Three and a half hours engrossed on the track with nothing else on my mind. The sweat I worked up began to cool.

 

 

 

I got him cleaned him out quickly, trying to keep my hands warm. Finished, I got things oriented for the drag out- it was 1.1 miles from where Dad had been parked in a straight line, but through that swamp would be really crappy going and there was one steep pull. I decided to go across to the snowmobile trail and then to his truck. A little longer, but flatter.
 

 

Three hours later, I got Dad on the radio- he had been parked near my truck, so he drove back to where I would be coming out. I mentioned I was dragging a buck, but, oddly, he didn't come in to help. I figured he was tired and cold. When I got there, he had a nice buck in the back of the truck! He'd been in the woods less than an hour that morning, still hunting along the edge of a cut and bumped up a buck. He had seen antlers on the run and when the buck stopped in some brush at 75 yards, he let him have it. He got him dragged out, just a quarter of a mile, and had reported it in town and was back near the trucks by noon. He managed to join the boys for lunch and was waiting for me, figuring something was up when they thought they had heard a shot and I didn't come back at the prearranged time.
 


Pretty awesome to both shoot bucks on the same day!

Dad's buck was 7 pts, 171#, mine was 4 pts (you could make a case for 6) and 173#. At the check in, the biologist aged mine at 3.5 years old- quite surprising! Dad's was aged at 4.5.

A good day to sneak up on one. A good story written in the snow.

The Patch

My friend Ben (also my boss) was an awesome deer tracker- we spent ridiculous amounts of time at work talking about deer hunting in between patients. He killed himself in June of 2018 and I'll never understand it or likely get over it fully.
I've come to realize that is often how life goes- a series of ups and downs, achievements and tragedies, wounds and healing. I've also found that it is what you do with all those internal and external scars that matters.

A friend had a patch made up for those of us who knew and hunted with him, as a reminder and a little extra boost when it gets hard out there.
I thought of Ben a lot on this hunt and the drag. He would have loved the story. Maybe a piece of him out there knows it.

Carrying that patch, with his initials on it, on a great day of tracking was the standard for that day. Rest easy my brother...