Every hunter who has spent more than 3 years in the woods hunting knows how quickly things can happen. It's that hope that keeps most of us sticking it out to the end in spite of the weather, the temperature or whatever else would lure us away from the hunt until the last shred of darkness on the last day forces us to pack it in. So it was for me this past deer season.
I hunted every day, all day. I harvested a doe on my Dmap permit in the middle of the morning of the second day when it was pouring rain and I got soaked through all my layers of clothes to the skin. I wondered again whether I am demented to not only endure but to enjoy that.
I always greet the last day of the first week with some misgivings. For me, it will be my last day to hunt as I have to go back to work. But it was soon a very active morning on my watch on the point of the mountain. Early on, 4 deer minced their way through the brush. Does! Less than an hour later, 4 more antlerless deer picked their way across the wooded point I was watching.
It had been a hectic week; rain for a day and a half and I had stood out in it and hunted. Now it was cold and snowing and windy but it was my last day to be in those Armstrong County woods and I knew there were plenty of nice bucks around. Why wasn't I lucky enough to see one?
About 10 o'clock, my buddy Joanie Haidle came along the ridge to me, to tell me she had forgotten to pick up her two-way radio when she'd left the house that morning so we would not be able to communicate. To add to that, I had forgotten to put my cell phone in my coat pocket so we were simply incommunicado with each other.
Not a big problem, I thought. Not long after Joanie left me, 6 more does pranced across the point I was watching. But now I was shivering from the cold so I began to still-hunt around the ridge just to warm up. I intended to return to my watch as soon as I felt warm enough to stand for awhile longer.
The snow made sneaking around a lot easier and it is a favorite hunting tactic of mine. I pussyfooted along for awhile, probing the thickets with my binoculars to see if I could detect bedded deer.
Then my buddy, Dick Ryan of Altoona, radioed me to tell me that he was leaving the stand he was using and was going to head home to Altoona.
On impulse I decided to go get in the covered stand he had just left. About 3 p.m. I'd head back to my spot on the point to fill out the day. So at 12:20 I settled on the stool, wiped the snowflakes out of my scope and off the lens of my binoculars and made a visual sweep of the huge field outside. I saw nothing.
I took off my waist pack and let it slide to the floor and then I heard a swishing noise. I looked outside and there he was, just to the left of the stand about 5 yards away. I grabbed my rifle, looked him over to count points (where I was, there had to be 4 points to a side) stood up and took aim. Just as I pulled the trigger he made a little jump forward and I knew I had just made a bad shot. Too far back.
The buck jumped in the air then hunched up and in a couple steps disappeared down over the side. I knew I was in for a bit of a tracking job. I wished Joanie was there to help with this chore but I could not even get hold of her.
I climbed out of the stand and got on the deer's tracks. I tracked him down over the mountainside until I got to a high bank where a road had been cut out of the mountainside. It seemed incredible that the buck could jump that road but he did. I decided to let this buck alone in hopes it would lie down and stiffen up. I got in my truck, drove back to camp (about a 5-minute drive) intending to pick up my cell phone to call Joanie. I was surprised to find that she too had stopped off at camp to check on some things so I hustled her back to the woods to help me track.
Joanie is 25 years younger than I and can cover the ground faster, so I put her in front of me. The buck had indeed jumped the road and continued on down the sidehill. His tracks were very distinguishable in the snow and the blood trail was plain. Soon Joanie stopped short and pointed; the buck lay in a heap in the thick brush.
Then, incredibly, the deer moved so I moved into position to administer the final shot when the deer raised up and with one final burst of adrenaline, actually jumped up and ran a short way and then dropped for good. We dragged it on down the hill to the main dirt road, called for Joanie's father to bring the truck to pick up the deer.
Joanie and I had a conversation about how persistence is what always pays off. And about how quickly things can turn around on a hunt. I had hardly gotten my riflescope wiped off and settled in to watch when the buck came along. And how ironic that, after my buddy had spent all morning in that stand, I would bag a buck from it less than a half-hour after he left it.
Those who have endured the awful weather we have had so far this season, are the hardiest and toughest among us. Congratulations to all who were successful despite the odds.