By BWB Team Member Mark Schreeren
It was the last day of the season, December 5th 2011. I had already returned from my fruitless hunt in the Northern Zone in the Adirondacks, and was now hunting in a big chunk of woods behind my home in the Southern Zone. The good news was we had snow!
I was so wore out from the long season that I barely got out of bed, but the snow motivated me. It was 3 months of hunting with nothing since I had shot a buck in Montana a few months earlier. But I knew I had a good chance at a buck this snowy December morning. “Maybe the buck will be as tired as I am,” I kept hoping. If I had not had that early success out west, I’m not sure I would have had the emotional stamina to have pushed through to the last day of season.
I got my woolens on, grabbed the old 870, told my wife where I was going and was off. I had no real plan beyond just searching for a track. I wandered all morning and only found small doe tracks. I kept going and going, searching. My legs were past the point of sore, they were just simply weak by the months of trekking and not sleeping well. My stepdad had died a few weeks earlier, and it was a difficult time for me.
About 11 in the morning, I sat on a stump, tired and dejected. I just sat there for a while and reviewed the season as a whole and decided it was time to call it quits. In my mind I rolled through all the difficulty throughout the season and then I accepted that the Montana buck was going to be my mark of success for the year. I was not having fun anymore; actually I hadn’t been for a while. The season became a grind on my mind and my body. It was time to accept defeat; I decided 2011 wasn’t going to be the year of my northeast monster. I got up and headed for home.
I stepped into the front door of my house, began to take off my woolens and my wife Danielle came out to meet me in the foyer. She asked, “What are you doing?” She could see the defeat and my unhappy emotional stance clearly. She knew that the events of the last couple months had me pretty well beaten, and frankly neither she nor I were used to me being this way. It’s never been in my nature to quit or let life get me down. But I was a bit relieved to “let it all go” and call it a season – I needed to start over mentally and not think about deer or hunting or my step dad’s death, etc. In the woods you have too much time to dwell sometimes and it can get to you. I was of course grateful for the opportunity to have hunted in Montana that year, and for all the people who supported my hunting lifestyle, but I was having trouble shaking my depressed and negative state of mind. I needed to let the season end, get back to life.
Danielle then looked at me and said, “You are not quitting Mark. It’s the last day and you have snow. I’m calling work, and you are taking the rest of the day off. You have snow honey. Come on, it’s time to get out there!” She threw me a sandwich and a bottle of water and went back in the house.
I was a bit dumbfounded to be honest. It was like a slap in the face. Then I thought, “She is right!” Now before I go on with the rest of the story, I want to give credit where credit is due. My wife set me straight here. It was her love, her belief in me, and her tone at that crucial moment that provided the needed boost to switch my mental state from one of self pity and depression to one of single minded purpose. I had a total turnaround mentally and emotionally. I realized I had five hours left in the season and I was going to perform at the highest level. I decided that I was going to give it literally my all. In this renewed state of mind I made a plan.
Unlike the vast Adirondacks, I have a much, much smaller section of wilderness behind my home, maybe two square miles. I had already gone full guns looking for a track that morning to no avail, so I decided to take a different tact this time around. I would still-hunt upwind, old school style. If I cut a track, great, if not, then I will be going slow enough to see a buck before he sees me. It was that simple.
I put my woolens back on, put on my Lacrosse rubber boots and got to it. I took a straight trajectory following the wind at my back hoping I would not contaminate the entire valley with my scent. By going straight I was not casting my scent all over the place, just in a narrow strip downwind. I have no choice when it concerns the wind because my home is on the Western most edge of the block of woods. So, I am forced to travel to the hunting grounds east of my home with the wind at my back on most days because prevailing winds are westerly. So I made haste knowing that to be able to still hunt with the wind in my face I had to get at least a mile in, and then turn and circle around and hunt at a new angle upwind at a snail’s pace if I had any chance at a good buck. I got down into the valley quickly to save time. Once I got to the lowest point in the valley, I decided the best way to use the topography to my advantage was to literally walk in the water of the creek because it courses upstream in a northwesterly direction, angling into the wind. With snow on the ground, only my head would be above ground level of the creek’s embankments. This eliminated sight of my body, and I could peer under the brush at deer level. It worked perfectly! It was silent going.
I was in the zone. I watched a grey fox hunt next to the creek. (I thought about shooting him, but thought the better of it – I wanted a buck, not a fox.) He never saw me. I had red squirrels walking and feeding near me in the brush on the embankment with nary a hint that I existed. I then knew my pace was right. I felt confidence flowing. I stayed in the water. When it poured over the tops of my boots, I just let the water run in; I could wring my wool socks out later. I found that if I kept my feet under water as I walked slowly, I made absolutely no noise.
I came along a slow curve in the creek to see some does on the embankment about thirty to forty yards away bedded down. They were in the brush and found it difficult to get a good look at me. At one point though, a few of them scoped me out as I made my way upstream. I kept still when they were turned toward me, and then I moved when they looked away. It took some time and I was getting antsy knowing the clock was ticking, but I knew if I busted them outright, I might bust a buck nearby as well. I can only guess that they were not used to seeing a man in the water and were less bothered by the sight of me in this way. With the wind in my face they never identified me as a danger. I had never done this before – been that close to deer and moved amongst them without them fleeing. I knew if the wind would have shifted in the slightest they would have gone ballistic, but I got lucky that day and it stayed coming out of the west.
After I got out of sight from those does, the creek curved to where any advantage in wind direction was no longer there. So I pulled myself out of that bottom, sat down and wringed out my socks, put them and my boots back on, and made my way uphill and into the wind once again. I immediately spotted movement in the distance through a beech hardwood stand. My heart pounded, and then I saw the figures for what they were; turkeys; a bunch of big ‘ole toms. I kept still once again to let them eventually feed past me to the north so they didn’t make their warning clucks. They too faded into the white and gray behind me.
As I followed the spine of a small but familiar ridge, I finally found some tracks; buck tracks, big buck tracks. But I was confused, these tracks looked to be the same animal, but they were going in both directions multiple times! Back and forth, back and forth, I kept looking, staring, dumbfounded. I was really confused. Problem was, it was nearly impossible to distinguish which of the bunch were the newest, as the tracks were literally piled on top of each other. As he walked, the buck would kick up snow which made it very difficult to see what tracks were on top of the previously made tracks. It was a cluttered mess. From what I guessed, I thought the last tracks made were one of the sets that were going up the ridge, not down it, but honestly that was more a guess than tracking prowess. Regardless, that’s where I headed.
I hadn’t gone more than twenty feet – shortest tracking job ever – when I scanned to my right across a small ravine to the other ridge running parallel to the one I was on and looked at a log that seemed odd, almost out of place about fifty yards away. I remember thinking, “God, that looks like a deer, but it’s way too big.” I almost kept going but decided that since I had the scope, I’d take a look to make sure. I picked up my 870 and looked through the Trijicon scope which I had set at 2 ½ power. There in the scope was a log that quickly turned into a very large buck, laying down looking at me over his back. It was that moment that I felt blessed to have that scoped shotgun rather than my other guns with the red dot sight or the peep sights. If I had had either of those rifles, I would have blown the hunt right then. I would have assumed he was a log and moved on only to watch a flag disappear into the brush. But with the Trijicon, I saw that buck for what he was; he was simply awkward looking from the naked eye based on how he was oddly positioned on the hillside. (Today I sometimes hunt with a peep sighted gun for nostalgia sake or when the snow is really coming down, but I always carry a set of binoculars for situations like this.)
I immediately lowered the red triangle reticle and pulled on the trigger. Nothing happened. “Oh shit,” I thought…”Take the safety off stupid.” I pushed the safety off, aimed again, and fired - Boom!!! He jumped up, spun around and began running downhill. I racked another sabot…Boom!!! And another…Boom!!! And one last one before he disappeared…Boom!!! My gun was empty now and I was so excited I literally ran after him down and across that ravine. I followed the blood trail in the snow at a jog and then I came upon the buck, walking ahead of me about twenty yards bleeding out. He was still on his feet which amazed me. I had one sabot left in my pocket, and I wanted to finish him off; to end the suffering. I slid the Hornady sabot in the tube magazine, worked the pump, raised the gun and took my last shot. That sabot angled over his back, just past his neck and into obscurity. I realized then that I was shaking so badly I missed him at twenty yards! Now I had no ammo left. All I could do was watch as the life slowly was leaving him.
After a few moments, he finally laid his head down and died.
Everything; every emotion and memory from that season and those before came rushing through me in one moment, right then and there. My stepdad dying, my wife’s encouragement that morning, all the fruitless days of hunting, and now this ancient deer holding onto life for all it was worth. I was overwhelmed. I felt remorse, relief, victory, joy, and sadness, all in the same moment. Any hunter who has experienced the hunt, a true hunt, will understand maybe some of what I am talking about. It took a bit, but my emotions began to slow and a sense of calm came over me. The woods were dead quiet. That is when I noticed that the wind had stopped and it was almost dark. The sense of victory began to slowly overwrite the sense of sadness about the deer’s death and all the emotions that came with it. I said to myself, “My God, I did it. I did it. I killed the biggest buck of my life in his bed. I did it!”
I was then able to pull myself together and call Danielle and tell her the news and text her some pics. My phone had so little reception I couldn’t talk to her, so I texted her, “I just killed my biggest buck of my life, and I did it because you gave me the strength to keep going.”
In a sense, I think I needed that deer; that particular animal, and in that particular set of circumstances to pull all these emotions out of me and end the season so perfectly; to put an end to the miserable cycle I was in. I needed to overcome my own demons and self fulfilling prophecies of negative thinking and depression. I needed a breakthrough, and it could not have been any more exciting and perfect.
After I dressed him out and before I started the drag home, I backtracked with my flashlight in hand to see where all those tracks came from. I found out they were indeed all his tracks going back and forth. You see, he was tired from the rut and all the fighting, and was feeding under a large producing beech tree. He didn’t feel secure under that tree, so over the span of the snow storm he would have his fill of beech nuts, and then walk over that ridge and lay down. There evidently, he would sleep briefly, chew his cud, get up, and go back down to that beech tree to feed some more and then return to that same bed, over and over again. I just happened to catch him in the resting part of that cycle. Had he bedded under that beech tree and stayed there I would never have seen him or his tracks.
I call this buck the “Danielle Buck,” because without her encouragement, I would have succumbed to my self-pity and quit. She broke that mental lock and he sits on my game room wall now because of her. He ended up being 6 ½ years old. He was on a decline health wise. His entire neck was covered in holes from fighting, his ear was torn, and one of his main beams was broken off. He is a big 6 pointer (was a 7 pointer before the tine was taken off). Looking at his mount on the wall you can see that he has scars on his face and nose from previous years of fighting. His rack was oddly deformed on the right side, most likely from his older age. He weighed 181lbs with no fat whatsoever on his body. When I took him to the taxidermist I also found out he had top canines which I found out only occurs in an estimated one in one thousand whitetails on average – it’s a latent gene they say comes from the ice age era gene pool. Maybe that is why he was so tough and liked to fight so much.
To participate in the life and death cycle is no small thing. Getting that buck and all I went through that season as a whole changed me. It made me realize that there are life lessons that sometimes come in situations that seem bleak in one moment and switch to victory and joy in the next. Thank you Danielle, for believing in me when I didn’t. And for making me realize that you don’t quit, because success might just be over the next ridge waiting in the form of an old, wilderness buck.
If you or anyone you know has a problem with addiction or would like more information about the St. Jude Retreats and/or the St. Jude Program go to http://www.soberforever.net/bwb/ or if you would like to call Mark Scheeren directly and confidentially dial toll free (888) 424-2626.
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