"Tracking a Maine Buck with Rick Labbe": the Making of the Film and the Story of Rick's Buck

Typically I might put a spoiler alert in an article that goes with a video, but I don’t think I’d be spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you: Rick got his buck.

Unfortunately, we didn’t capture on film the moment that Rick ended his two-year pursuit of this buck on film. But Rick did capture the moments immediately afterward on film, and, combined with the film we’d gotten on the two days I spent with him hunting, we put together this video, that premiered on Friday, April 15.

After filming with Rick, I spent a week with Good Lee, and we got close to a good buck on our last two days together, film of which will be coming later this year. When I finally made it back to Brooklyn at the end of my two weeks in Maine and reviewed the footage, I admit I was slightly disappointed to see that on my day with Rick, the footage came out soggy at parts, there were parts where I talked over the film too much, the camera died for the last mile or so, and the footage was altogether hectic. It didn’t look like “Lee” or “Brutus” or “No Boundaries,” the films that most inspired me and led me to respond to Chris’s call for video editors about a year ago.

But after playing with the footage in editing, I realized that the fact that the footage was rough around the edges was really a testament to Rick’s style. I am a fairly in-shape person (most of the time), and I could barely keep up with Rick (toward the end of that day I simply lost him, and I was now tracking Rick). It’s downright amazing, and I wrote about my experience with Rick in this article in the Northwoods Sporting Journal.

So in the editing process I began to really start enjoying the film that was taking shape. I realized that the roughness, the intensity of the footage, contributed to the feeling of being on the track with Rick, where you really don’t have a minute to catch your breath, much less dry your gear out.

In that vein, I wanted to give a sense of scale and distance. Using my GPS data from that day, I was able to figure out the time and distance at each point in the footage, so I added markers throughout the film to give the audience a sense of how far we’d traveled in the time we had.

In addition, I wanted to build tension with musical cues in the moments we got close to the buck, so I asked my cousin Emily’s husband Matt “FreedBoy” Freedman to see if he could come up with a track, based on the theme from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), that would set the right mood. He came up with “The Hunt,” which in my estimation works perfectly (listen for it at several points in the middle of the film, and towards the end).

If “No Boundaries” and “Brutus” are the Casablanca and Godfather Part II of tracking films, I like to think that we made the Die Hard of tracking films. It’s really no stretch to say that Rick is an action hero. I hope you enjoy this film when it comes out tomorrow. And without further ado, here is the story of how Rick caught up with that buck he’d been chasing for two years.

RICK’S BUCK:

The Saturday of the third week was my last day hunting with Rick, but he continued on without me, putting in three or four more days in the woods on buck tracks. “We never got another snowstorm until the last few days of rifle season,” Rick told me. “It snowed all day on Thanksgiving, and then on Friday it snowed all day, so the deer didn’t really move. On Friday or Saturday, I found that buck’s track again, the one we tracked that first day, so I got on him and I tracked him probably four hours and never jumped him, so I knew he was still there.”

Rick went back to that same spot Monday morning, the first day of muzzleloader. It was his last day hunting in Maine that year, as he had to catch a plane the next morning to Oklahoma and then Kansas for a couple whitetail hunts out there. It had snowed a little bit on Sunday, freshening up the tracks. Rick found the buck from our first day out, but the track looked fairly old, so he kept driving. Not too far from there, Rick found a different, but decent buck track before daylight, so he stamped the tracks out, put his initials in the snow, and started after him.

Rick chased that buck for a few miles and jumped him, sending him running up over a mountain. Rick’s experience with bucks going over that mountain was that they don’t stop running for two or three miles, an “all-day deal.” So Rick decided to let that buck calm down, and went back to the original buck from our hunt. Rick followed this buck through a swamp and over a beaver bog that was covered in about an inch of ice that audibly cracked as Rick skated across it. As Rick feared, the buck had been bedded in the bog on the other side of the ice, and the cracking ice had jumped him, leaving two doe beds and a big fresh buck bed.

This side of the bog was filled with dozens of tracks, but Rick sorted it out and stayed on the buck, which was chasing a doe. He jumped them again, and saw running tracks, with the two deer splitting up. “I thought, ‘I should take that doe track and follow her about four or five hundred yards, and when I get to a spot that looks good I should hold up on the track,’” Rick told me of his thought process. But, against his better instincts, Rick stayed on the buck. This turned out to cost him an opportunity, but gave him the clue he needed to seal the deal. “Sure enough, in about a quarter of a mile, he turned right around and went back onto the doe track.”

Rick caught up to them not too much further from there, and they split up again as they ran off. But this time, Rick followed the doe. “I knew he was gonna make a loop and come back and find her again. So I went probably 400 yards, and I came into this area that had these strip cuts, it was pretty open. I got there and it just felt right, so I held up there just to see if he would come up on the backtrack.”

Rick only stood there about four minutes before the buck came out of the woods into the twitch trail at 75 yards, his head down looking for the doe. Rick blasted him with his Woodman Arms muzzleloader, a .45 caliber with “Rick Labbe” etched ornately into the receiver. “He didn’t go very far,” Rick said. He had bagged the buck we’d chased our first day out, ending a two-year pursuit. It was a ten-pointer, rutted out since we first chased him two weeks earlier, and down to about 185 pounds. (Rick had to hop on a plane to Oklahoma early the next morning, so he didn’t have time to weigh him).

I caught up with Rick on a phone call after he returned to Maine from his Oklahoma and Kansas hunts, and before he headed out again for a post-Christmas Nebraska whitetail/muley muzzleloader hunt and an Arizona muley archery hunt. With Maine’s season just closing, he was already talking about plans for next year. “I wait 365 days for deer season,” Rick told me. “When it’s in your blood like that, it never goes away.”

Watch the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0GAEs3EBBc&t=402s