Dad and I arrived in Jackman on Sunday of the 4th week ahead of a snowstorm. We got our grocery shopping done and settled in early. We spent some time doing some map staring- I last hunted in Jackman 2 years ago, so wasn't sure what had changed and whre we should head. We picked a few spots for the next couple days. Monday after the storm we didn't see much for tracks, but drove into a general area I had encountered (and missed- ugh!) some bucks near over the last few trips. I made a big swing around and Dad checked out another direction for the day. Very little deer sign until the end of the day. Dad saw a doe and fawn.
Picture of a place I named 'The Cathedral'. Pretty inspiring to spend a few minutes here soaking up the beauty of the Maine woods
Tuesday, we were back at it in a different spot. Dad and I decided to walk in on an old winter road before we split up- I had some signposts I wanted to check and he was going to head in the other direction to explore. As the day begins to wake up on our walk in, just a quarter mile up the road, we cut a decent buck track made in the night. After a short discussion, we decide to double team track this buck. We haven't done that in a while, so I was pumped by the idea. Off we go. This buck is on a hike, checking groups of does. He heads east, then north toward a sizeable mountain, then veers west and crosses the plowed woods road we had driven in on. He crosses paths with another, similar-sized buck and we almost switched, thinking it was the buck we were following coming back around, but it just didn't look right- it was a different buck by the time I worked it out. He took us down through some thick stuff. At this point it's obvious he doesn't have a wide rack and I know he isn't 200 pounds, maybe more around 170- but I really wanted Dad to get a crack at him and we were already having a great day together, so we decide to stay on him. Back on the track, he's moseying along, alone again, and he feeds on some moss on a stump and then on old man's beard in the top of a blow down and starts to head up into some knobby country. We back the pace off, thinking we might catch him bedded down. Conditions are a bit crunchy under the fresher snow- not ideal sneaking. We poke and poke- he acts funny a couple of times, but never beds. He finally comes down out of the knobs to check some does and starts cruising again.
Dad sneaking ahead on the track
We find ourselves down in some swampy country when the buck links up with a doe and they really start hanging together. At this point, we still really haven't gained much time on him. They led us across a river and then into a series of beaver ponds, one of which the buck and doe go straight across on the scary-thin ice. With no real way around, we do the same, one at a time- thankfully it holds up! He finally leaves that doe and strikes off again, headed for higher ground. This is around 1030, so we take a little break. It is starting to be warm day, so the snow is finally starting to soften and things are dripping. If we catch up now, I like our odds. We start moving along again and follow him across another old winter road we've hunted near in the past- we're still not far from the main road we drove in on- he's paralleling it more or less. He heads into some older cuts and starts making some loops, crossing his own tracks at times, I think still looking for does. Having almost screwed this up earlier in the day, I just stayed on the one track and followed all those loops. I'd have Dad stand where we thought he circled himself a couple times- a good break for Dad as we were starting to get a few miles on our legs.
The buck finally breaks away again, and strikes out on his own, up hill. Into more gnarly country, he gets on the backside of a nice knob, circles around, then back-tracks himself and cuts in, headed for the top. We finally get up there and the tracks are suddenly FRESH. We start poking and realize we've jumped the buck and a doe off the top. I circled the knob to make sure we accounted for everybody and we now have a fresh set of tracks. We drop down and have a sandwich, 1 p.m.. Dad was excited to have some fresh tracks, mentioned that he didn't think we'd ever catch up, but that he's also getting tired. A look at the GPS shows we're about a half-mile from the road, but 3 miles from the truck, straight line. I easily talk him into staying with it, he agrees to give it another hour. Off we go again.
These deer start to head away from everything. Then the buck and doe veer back toward those last loops the buck had made, so headed into country we've covered. His track keeps looping off, circling to head back toward us, then crossing his own track with the doe and then lines out again with her. It looks like we bump them more than once, but they never run far before settling back into that long-strided lope, with these weird whirl backs he does a few times. We're not waiting. We've jumped them more than once and we're on the short side of the day. After a few of these whirls, it seems like we should be able to see this happening- it's right in front of us. As I track one of these whirl-offs of the buck, Dad stays on the paired tracks. I can see a little ridge ahead, so rather than follow Dad after I make sure the buck track is back in the pile of tracks, I make a little loop and get up on this finger. I immediately spot a deer about 70 yds away.
Scope up- it's a doe and she's staring at me. I tried to look around, manage to take a step and look, then another and she has finally had enough. Off she goes. As she bounds away, I watch a second deer that I couldn't see behind some brush seemingly get up out of a bed and see that it was the buck, but there is no shot. Dad ends up popping out right then and we go down to check on things. Sure enough, the buck had bedded near the doe. We debate taking some time and I think that the time to go is now. Dad has had it- shoulders are sore (trackers neck, we call it) and he doesn't think we can catch them after jumping them like that- I disagree, but can see that he is pretty whipped- it's 2 p.m. and we've probably done 8 miles at this point. He heads for the truck and tells me to stay on them- wants me to shoot that buck. We make plans to meet at the end of the day at an intersection of some roads we know.
After investing the day on it and having had a great chase, I agree with him. If I can finish this tracking story, I will. I take off along their tracks and see where they split again. I finally think that those whirls in the tracks happen when the buck gets ahead while they're running; he loses her, then peels off and swings back to find her.
I decide to stick to the doe track, on the high side of the slope we're all traversing. The woods are fairly open hardwood, with some cutting ahead. There's a pretty rugged rocky outcropping and right there, the buck's track rejoins the doe, I come around the end of that point and look ahead- deer! I pull up, see that it's the buck. He's looking uphill over his shoulder, sort of quartering away from me with his hips lower than his shoulders, at 90-100 yards through some whippy stuff. I cranked the scope up and couldn't hold it still enough. I took a quick peek around and can see a maple sapling behind me. Two quick steps backward to steady things and I'm set. I quickly settled the crosshairs and pull the trigger. He takes off, with the doe coming into sight to follow him. I look for a spot for another shot, but see no openings. As they cross around the edge of the far side of the bowl on the ridge away from me, I thought I saw a deer tumbling, but I wasn't 100% sure. I snuck up to where he had been standing, find hair, then some blood in the running tracks. I go about 70 yards following the ever-improving blood trail and found him piled up. It's now about 2:30 in the afternoon.
The end of a tracking day
Maine 2019 - 6 points, 164 pounds
I love to drag them out! Especially with a few Maine mountains in view
I got him gutted, and got going on drag to the road. I manage to catch Dad as he is driving to where we said we were going to meet. He got a ride part of the way back, but had heard the shot. The gentlemen that gave Dad a ride stops by to see what happened and we share the story. As darkness begins to descend we get him loaded up and head for town. Dad might have been a little upset that he did 7 hours of the 7.5 hour tracking job... but was happy for me. I'm guessing he'll stick with it longer next time.
Such a great day together.
Matt and his dad, Richard, after a day of hunting in Maine. You can't beat time tracking together in the woods