10 Years in the Making
The weather forecast for Vermont’s 2018 opening day had been crumby a week in advance. Significant rain the night before and near freezing with opening day temperatures in the low 40s with more rain and maybe some snow. This was one occasion where the meteorologists were right on the mark.
My hike up the mountain in the damp, misty dark was easy going in spite of all the mud. I pushed hard to get to my hunting spot in half an hour and paid for it later. The sweat flowed freely on the hike in and as the raw chill of the morning permeated my multiple layers I started to feel like a roast wrapped up and marinating in the back of the refrigerator. But I got to my spot half an hour before sunrise, the start of legal hunting hours. My back was against a massive log as I sat watching over a section of mountainside that a logging crew had cut a few years ago. The ground sloped down in front of me, ended at a creek and then climbed back up the other side. A few hundred yards upstream the grade steepened to form a large bowl. It looked like a great spot to draw in deer, afforded shot opportunities up to 200 yards in places and gave visibility out to who knows how far. I had a good feeling about this hunt and really hoped my 10 years of hunting Vermont without getting a deer was coming to an end.
I scanned back and forth covering better than 180 degrees, searching for a deer among the trees and leftover tree tops the logging crew had left behind. If a deer made an approach, I would almost certainly see it. But once it got in among the tree tops, it would be a different story. The woods were quiet, the wind light and variable. And it was damp. Hearing a deer walk in was out of the question. I looked at the snow further up the mountain, shivered momentarily, and was glad I only had rain to contend with.
After staring to my right for a few minutes I swiveled my head to the left. There, about 60 yards away, just uphill of the logging trail I walked in on stood the apparitional form of a deer. Its head was behind a tree but its body mass suggested it was a buck. It took a few slow, cautious steps which prompted me to flick off the safety as its head moved into view. Horns. Not a massive set of picture-perfect antlers, but enough to make me think it was a legal deer. The beams were long, certainly long enough to indicate a mature deer. But I couldn’t see points. He walked, one slow step at a time, starring at me the whole way, passing behind a few close together maples. The Savage model 111 came to my shoulder and I gave the antlers a check through the scope. At least one legal point on each beam. He stopped, quartering toward me. The cross hairs settled low on the chest in front of the facing shoulder. The trigger broke, fire flashed from the muzzle of the ’06 and a 165 Sierra Game King was on its way.
I threw the bolt as I watched the buck trot down the embankment to the logging trail, cross it and continue down slope into the tangle of tree tops. I looked on, fresh round in the chamber, and caught a glimpse of movement. Looking through the scope I could see antlers moving slightly. Then nothing. I took a moment to calm my nerves then set out to examine the situation. After a moment of searching I found freshly churned up mud, the spot where he’d been standing. On the logging trail were more tracks, with pink blood. My eyes raced down hill. There, 30 yards away in a small open spot was my buck, my first deer shot in Vermont, laid out stone dead.
I was thrilled and stupefied. I knew I had made a good shot but somehow I couldn’t believe that it had finally happened. Standing next to my deer I counted five legal points. It would have had seven if it had had brow tines. I checked my watch. I had shot my deer at 7:40 am, one and a half hours after the start of legal hunting hours.
A few hours later my buck was loaded in the back of my Honda Pilot and was on my way to the nearest big game check station, in West Rupert, Vermont. When the processing was done I had 70lbs of meat for my efforts and plans for a European head mount. Not a bad end to opening day. Even if it took me a decade to get there.