My life now with a wife, a little girl and another one on the way along with working three jobs, is full. God has been good enough to allow me to be a part of a few ministries as well, including writing. In doing my best to keep my priorities in line with Christ, at this season in my life means not hunting as much as I might otherwise. In this I have a great peace because I believe it’s Gods will for me right now and I’m grateful for it. Thankfully my tracking skills have developed maybe just enough where I don’t have to spend a ton of time in the woods and with a little snow, I feel like I’ve got a decent chance at a good buck every day I go out.
In 2019 I never stepped a foot in the woods until the 2nd week of Maine’s deer season. On my first day out, it was 3 degrees and the wind was blowing. By 9:30 I got an eye on the nice buck I was tracking, but I could only see his back end. I wanted to get a better look at his rack to confirm it was him and also to get a better shot. He winded me while I was maneuvering and took off. I chased him the rest of the day without catching him, as he never stopped. This was to be the story for the rest of my season. I was in old tracks, had a tough time finding toe-draggers, and whenever I did jump one, he’d run all day and I couldn’t catch him. I did this same thing Thanksgiving week when I was going too fast heading up a hill and jumped a beautiful buck out of his bed when I had no indication of him laying down. This buck also ran the rest of the day. I had some exciting quick flashes and very close timing mishaps during the first week of muzzle loader season, but no good looks.
The 2nd week of muzzle loader week here in Maine we can only hunt the southern zones and the only snow in that zone was right up against the northern part of it. Tuesday morning I tried tracking closer to home but there wasn’t enough snow so I got back in the truck and headed north to find some real snow. I didn’t have a lot of time or much sense of where to go as I’d never hunted it before, but after traveling a few icy roads, I found some tracks and place to start for my next hunt. As I pulled onto the highway, I decided to act on an idea I had in my mind from the year before. I had talked with Lee Shanz last year on hunting a similar area for that same week. I gave him a call on the drive home, but he wasn’t in yet. He called me back, but I missed him and ended up talking to him on Friday evening. It was supposed to rain hard all the next day, which would be perfect tracking weather by softening up the 4-8” of snow that there was up in that area. I was anxious to hear any information he might give me, but I was also hoping he might want to hunt together. I’ve never really hunted an area with BWB team members and was excited at the thought of hunting around a pro. Lee was extremely helpful and then invited me to come up and hunt with him. I was to meet Lee at his house in morning and then we’d head out together. Man was I excited and appreciative and was looking forward to a fun day.
At 6am I was driving down Lee’s road trying to find his house when I got a text from Joe Kruse telling me to watch out because Lee’s road “is a skating rink.” The thoughtful Joe didn’t realize that I was just ahead of him and was doing all I could do stay on the road myself. There we were the three amigos talking over the season and the day ahead in Lee’s Living room. I thought I’d pass a store on my way up, where I could get breakfast and food for the day, but that did not happen. Lee’s wife Kelly was so kind to set me up with homemade donuts, a couple sandwiches and some drinks. Lee’s road was so bad, that we weren’t sure if we could get down the hill without going off the road, so Lee called someone he knew to sand the road. It was a great time talking while we waited. The man was slow in coming and it was just getting daylight, so we decided to strike out anyway. We made it down the hill and Lee took us to a place he’d been hunting the week before, where there had been lots of deer sign. He told us about it and other spots all the way there, which was selfless and something very few hunters would do.
What a time I was having with a beautiful tracking day ahead of us, talking hunting in the truck on the way there. I was excited to be with a couple guys that I knew had a great chance at getting a nice buck. We parked the truck and went down in the woods 100 yards or so. Lee told me to go to the right where the deer had been working and also where not go. Joe was going to swing left and Lee was going to go up the middle. I struck out, paralleling the road and zig zagging in and out of some old apple trees (there was probably a farm there many years ago) where Lee said they had been coming into to feed during the night. I could see older tracks, but it looked to me like there hadn’t been much deer action for the last couple days. There were maybe one or two tracks from the day before, but I had to find out where they had gone.
After 10 minutes of paralleling the road I turned down the ridge and deeper into the woods. I was moving quickly, hunting tracks and not deer, even though the woods and conditions were so beautiful. I made big zig zags down through the woods, going from old apple trees, to thicker softwoods and then into some hardwoods after another 10 minutes. Again, a good number of tracks but nothing fresh enough to follow. As I hit the hardwoods, I remembered that my friends that hunt closer to home said the deer had been hitting the acorns and beech nuts hard all season and had recently stopped feeding on the apple trees. I was hoping that would be the same case here. I was now zig-zagging away from Joe and Lee’s direction and the rain was coming down. There were medium growth trees with lots of winter beech leaves and I could see anywhere from 20 to 80 yards. I saw some beech nuts on top of the snow and decided it was too pretty of a hunting spot and conditions to not slow down and get my head up some more. No sooner than I had that thought and took a few steps, I stopped to look around. As I scanned from right to left looking down over the ridge to where it leveled out, I saw the brown backend of a deer sticking out from a patch of beech leaves.
I went from thinking “boy that looks like a deer” to “that is a deer” to “that looks like a big deer.” As I looked ahead trying to get a look at the front of the deer, I saw the head move and saw that he had horns. It looked like a good buck, but I wanted to make absolute certain. I could see he was feeding to my left across the ridge towards Lee and Joe and although I could see him, I could not see his head or upper front end well from where I was standing. I opted to make a swing back on my track and a little higher and then sneak down lower and across to get a head of him while he was feeding. Keeping my eyes below while sneaking down it was so thick with winter beech leaves and trees that I lost sight of him. I ended up circling back about 70 yards until I had some decent openings in front of me and I stopped and waited. It seemed like I waited an eternity and was worried he’d winded me or bailed out in some other direction and I never got a shot. After a few minutes though, he appeared at about 30 yards, angling towards me. I put the bead on his chest and squeezed off the shot.
The air was thick with smoke and I could see nothing in front of me. I didn’t hear anything with pouring rain being so loud and I had no idea what happened. I reloaded and kept my cool the best I could. I made my way down to where he was and saw his jumping tracks but not much else at first. I soon found ton of hair and but no sign of blood. My heart dropped thinking I gave him a haircut and nothing more. I headed down his track hopeful but also kind of feeling sick, 10 yards nothing else, 15 yards nothing, 20 yards some more hair, 25 more hair and blood! As we crossed a skid trail opening, I looked ahead and saw a beam sticking high above the snow 30 yards away. There never ended up being much blood, but he piled up just 60 yards from where I hit him.
I texted Joe and Lee and told them buck down, I shot him at 8:05am and it had only been 30 or 40 minutes since I’d left them. What a start to the day! He was a beautiful high, wide racked 8 point with tall brow tines. I saw Lee had called so I called him back and told him where I was. He showed up 10 minutes later when I was making a video and we had a good time looking him over and laughing about the whole thing. I told Lee I thought he would probably weigh 175lbs and not 200lbs as it was so late in the season. Lee agreed and then decided to give him a tug to see how he felt. Lee barley started pulling and one of his horns popped off! It was December 14th and it was so late his horns must have been ready to come off. He apologized but I laughed and wasn’t worried, as there’s no question I would have done the same thing the second I started dragging him around myself. The whole thing turned out to be quite cool and unique.
Lee took off hunting again before 9am and I was hoping to get him gutted and dragged out quickly so I could follow one of them with the camera. Lee ended up finding a massive track only a hundred yards past where I shot my buck. He ended up getting close to him, but the buck slipped away. Lee gave Joe the go-ahead to take the track the rest of the day, while Lee and I met up again at noontime and did a loop looking for another track. I had dragged my deer out most of the way and left him 300 yards from the truck. I had shot him .7 miles from the truck. When I got back to him at 3pm, I saw this big dude leaning over him and saw that the thief was Joe! He helped me drag him the rest of the way and when we got him loaded in the truck, Lee was coming up the road. We were all tired and drenched from the day and long season.
We headed to the nearest tagging station and after Joe bought his lottery tickets we tagged and weighed him. He was a good deer, with a nice track and we were all thinking 170-180lbs, knowing that he might be bigger. Pulling him out of the truck with his horns tied together, he hit the scales at 189lbs. He looked like a deflated balloon from a long rut and being in a foot to two feet of snow for the last 3 weeks. Joe and Lee thought he might have weighed 220lbs at the beginning of the season. I was happier than a pig in mud and kind of felt like one. The buck was great, but the day and the people around me were much greater. I was sad to not be with my normal hunting crew, but thankful to God and happy to be able have the experience with the BWB team and new friends.