My hunting buddy, Jim, is a technical writer like I am. After our successful hunt, we both scurried to our computers to write up the story from our own perspective and Tracy posted mine to the NH Photo Tour blog. And also being an amature photographer, I had to take some photos of Jim's fine, five-point buck seen here.
Click. Click. My radio crackles. After a long pause, I reply with one click. The signal for a deer sighting perks my senses and I feel the familiar rush of buck fever course through my veins. Sitting silently yet with heart pounding, I wait, listen, and watch. Finally in a ripping echo through the woods, 'Boom!'
Earlier that year in the summer, I interviewed for my new job and I remember Jim's final question and comment. 'I'm Finnish, too, and I notice in your resume that you hunt. What do you hunt for?' From this beginning, Jim and I easily become co-workers, hunting buddies, and friends. Our dialog through the work-weeks explore hunting topics from strategies, deer tendencies, munitions, and map reading.
The deer hunting season opens in 2006 and Jim invites me to hunt well-scouted land near his house which is ironically in the town of Deerfield, NH. Our first time is an evening watch near a gentle rise in the land. He shows me his gear which includes a doe in heat drip, game cameras strapped to trees, and a climbing deer stand strapped to a tree. Jim's fanny pack is filled with scents, sprays, and cotton soaked in deer attracting fragrances.
'Here!' Jim says. 'Spray this racoon urine on your boots and then around your stand. Works great!'
I take the spray bottle after Jim uses it and I walk to my stand. I spray the urine on my boots and on the leaves around the tree. I use my self-climber to climb my tree and watch in the forest until sunset. I hear things scurry about in the woods, but I do not see any deer. After dusk, Jim finds me and I ask simply, 'See anything?'
'No, but all of a sudden I saw this big-ass racoon!' We laugh heartily!
We further discuss details from our evening watch as we return to his house.
A couple of weeks after this, we agree to an all day Saturday hunt so we can go deeper into the land near his house. Solo hunting is best done in accessible areas so the drag is shorter, but Jim and I were eager to scout woods which hold promise of bigger deer. In this case, a hunting buddy is essential if nothing else to haul a deer from the woods. All week, I wait anticipating an entire day in the forest, but a foreboding forecast for rain dampers my spirits. The night before, I call Jim.
'Looks like rain tomorrow.'
'Yeah.' Jim replies.
'Maybe we should do a still hunt and do some scouting.'
'That sounds reasonable. Maybe we can drive the deer towards each other. I want to show you a place where I saw a huge scrape anyway.'
So early that morning around 3:30, I wake, get ready, and long before sunrise, I drive an hour or so to Jim's house fully expecting morning rain. Since our expectations are low, we are loose and we joke around. A motion sensor on his driveway indicates movement so we predict where the deer walked and we stalk off into the forest. Nothing.
Eventually, we move into deeper woods which look viable on his maps. As we walk, we take note of white oaks, rubs, scrapes, droppings, and features which might be useful information for later. The rain holds off.
Our pace quickens and I suspect all that we did was scare the poor deer away from us, or perhaps we walked unwittingly past them. Jim recorded a prime location as 'Bear Bait' on his GPS which we find. The forest changes here from brushy evergreens to sharply rolling hills, beech and oak trees with large, sweeping vistas which offer hundreds of yards of visibility. This type of area is not typical for New Hampshire.
Jim stops at the top of a ravine while I walk a long, sweeping curve into the wind and back downwind in the hope of driving deer into his sights. Along my walk I see a buck trail, scrapes, and other encouraging signs. I hear things, but I never see anything - which indicates that my pace is too brisk, but yet I press on.
As I complete my loop, I loudly approach Jim and he says, 'I heard you for quite a ways. The whole forest quieted down when you approached.'
Reunited, we chart another direction to a marshland where we hope the deer are bedded down and eventually we return to the ridge just below Bear Bait. Our next target is another spot so we begin our walk.
'Look.' I say as I point to freshly turned leaves.
'Those weren't turned when we were first here.' Jim replies. Our excitement builds because this is a great sign of deer!
Our awareness increases and I see the transition forest from beech and oak to evergreen. There is a gentle rise along the ridge for deer to travel. A buck trail crosses here. Jim whispers, 'Flush out the hemlock grove.' This place has all the things deer need to live!
So I turn and walk through the hemlocks in the hopes of pushing the deer into Jim. I see huge scrapes on the hemlocks and a small tree snapped in half! This is what we want! Signs of big bucks!!!
I meet Jim and we're both beaming from ear to ear because we finally found a prime location and we sit and watch what we think is a bedding area. I could have sat all day, but we had to return to his house. Before we leave, I lay on a rock outcropping like a cowboy surveying a ravine so we call this place both Buck Bed and Cowboy Rock.
We plan to return.
So earlier in the fateful morning, we returned to Buck Bed and Cowboy Rock by walking the powerline trail before sunrise. Our self-climbers are strapped to our backs and we're weighted down with supplies. A small hint of regret fills both of us that we're not out early enough, but the weather is exactly as forecasted: cold and dead calm. Perfect for deer hunting.
About a mile into the trail, we creep into the forest. Since I have a shorter-range 12-guage shotgun, I sit at Cowboy Rock and Jim moves to the edge of the ravine, the beech trees, and the evergreens. I cut some branches from my tree to get better visibility. The sun eases higher in the sky and the air is perfectly still. Gradually the forest comes to life and I hear nature itself wake. Contentment fills me because as with most hunts, they do not produce, but the lasting memory of watching the sun rise in the forest is indelible.
The radio crackles twice. I reply. Heart pounds and finally, 'Boom!' I wait because I learned that deer are often attracted to a gunshot. I hear another, 'Boom!' I continue to wait.
'Deer down.' I hear Jim whisper over the radio.
'Ok.' I reply.
'It's either a four or a six point buck. Dropped dead in its tracks.'
'Awesome. I'm going to wait to see if your shots attract anything. I'll be there in twenty minutes or so.'
'Ok. Radio silent.'
I continue watching and listening to the idyllic sound of the forest waking on a perfect, sunny morning. Finally, I relent my watch and I clamber down the tree and work my way towards Jim. We both smile ear to ear as I see his first buck which has five points!
We gut the deer and then use my recently purchased saw to cut a stunted beech tree to create a sturdy pole. Then we strap the deer to the pole and shoulder the deer between us on our way out. The weight, Jim estimates 110 and I estimate 105 and later weighed at 108, is not easy to bear so we leave the tree stands, my shotgun, and other equipment at Buck Bed which we later retrieve.
After an hour or more, we finally get the deer to the truck and the journey would have been nearly impossible for one person. We moved the deer in 20 to 30 yard segments before laying it down for a moment while we catch our breath and ease our aching shoulders and legs.
The amazing thing is that producing a buck eases all the tension and self-doubt of the hunt. Before getting a deer, questions breed endlessly such as, 'Are we in the right location? Is our scent control adequate? Was an accidental noise enough to scare a deer away? Is the wind shifting too wildly? When will I see, let alone kill, a deer?'
Jim's wife smiled when she saw the deer and teased him, 'It looks a little small! But where are you going to put the meat?' Nothing could defeat our spirits after such a successful hunt, until next year.
--By Tim Somero