The Buck that Haunts Me
At first light, on the morning of November 15th, while on route to my regular hunting grounds, I came across the track of a large Maine buck. The track led me into unknown territory, and tough to navigate terrain. I had to fight my way through tightly packed snow covered pine boughs, crawl through dense brush, climb over blow downs, slide down steep ridges, and cross a wet snow covered cedar bog. Exhausted, and in need of a break, I stopped and pulled up the area’s satellite imagery on my GPS. The track was heading towards an old partially grown-in logging cut. I decided to circle in towards the cut via an old skidder trail. At this point I was mentally and physically drained. I had been hunting nonstop for weeks, and had recently made the 36 hour drive home from Wyoming, following a 10 day public land deer hunt. I remember thinking to myself “I need this big buck to make a mistake. I need him to walk down this trail and give me a break, why can’t it be that easy?” It was at that exact moment when I caught a glimpse of movement on the trail ahead of me.
It was as though I had summoned him into sight. There he was, a massive Maine buck, glaring back at me from the trail ahead. His neck was fat, his shoulders wide, and his giant white belly sagged low beneath his chest. His antlers extended far beyond his ears, they were tall, wide, and webbed. For a moment I was stunned. We locked eyes and he dropped his front shoulders as though he were about to spring away. He was quartering towards me at about 150 yards. I quickly braced myself for a difficult shot and pulled the trigger. He spun around and ran back down his tracks, rounding the corner of the skidder trail. I grunted and ran to cut the distance. Seconds later I saw the body of a large deer just inside the tree line. I aimed at the vitals behind the front leg and held the crosshairs on the body of the deer. The head and neck were blocked by thick brush and pine boughs. I could not see antlers. My mind became a whirlwind of thoughts and doubts. Was this the same deer? Did I miss the first shot? What if this is an altogether different deer? What if it’s a large doe? Should I take the shot? Do I take the risk? I opted not to take the second shot and with one leap the deer disappeared.
I walked back to where the buck was standing when I shot. The smell of gunpowder still lofted in the air as I scanned for any trace of blood in the snow. No blood. I sat down, held my head in my hands and replayed the encounter over and over again. My mind raced, and doubt crept in. Should I have taken the second shot? After a few minutes I texted my father, telling him of my current frustration. He responded, both calming and reassuring. With his words of encouragement ringing in my head I stood up, shook the morning snow from my woolies, and got back on the track. I would continue to track the buck for another 5 hours soaking in all the information he wrote in the snow ahead of me. I never did catch that buck. But I learned a great deal about him and his territory and I will carry that information with me for years to come.
The following day I went back and placed a trail camera on his scrape line. Six days later that cam captured pictures of him. I was relieved to see him alive and well. For the rest of the season I scanned social media and tagging stations for any evidence of another hunter connecting with him. Happily, I found none. He will forever haunt me as the one that got away. Despite my despair, I am grateful for our encounter, and for our day together in the woods. He reminded me how important it is to be physically prepared for miles of tough terrain and long cold days in the gnarly Maine woods. He reinforced that mental toughness and the ability to overcome doubt is essential to staying focused during a long grueling hunt.