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Cat and Mouse

SpaccarelliBy Mike Handley

-- Tracking the buck was simple enough. Even without an easy trail, Bob Spaccarelli might have heard the splashing and followed the nose to the beaver pond. Only the springtime acrobatics of spawning carp could create that much commotion, so it had to be the deer that he'd arrowed 30 minutes earlier.

The New Yorker's suspicion proved true when he crept up to the standing water and peered through the cattails. In the middle of the pond stood his prize, staring back at him, steam rising angrily from its flared nostrils. Or was it his buck?

The whitetail's antlers resembled nothing of those worn by the buck he'd shot, except maybe for their ivory color. Bob stared, mouth agape, at the panting deer. He'd only seen one side of the rack before he released his arrow - the left side, now that he thought about it. The right side had been hidden from view.

It took a couple of minutes, but Bob finally reasoned that it was indeed the same deer. The tall, white rack was fairly typical on the left, and that's what he remembered. It was his buck!

Of course, he couldn't allow the trophy of a lifetime to escape.

Although the animal had been hit, it was far from being ready for the meat pole.

Bob hunkered down and started slipping around the pond's edge, arrow nocked, to see if he could sneak within range for a follow-up shot. Visibility was difficult, but the buck kept track of the hunter's progress. Whenever the man got too close for comfort, the deer sloshed his way to the opposite side of the pond - apparently unwilling to leave the safety of its makeshift moat.

Thus began a 45-minute session of cat and mouse.

The setting was a friend's 140-acre farm in western Pennsylvania. It was a cold 30 degrees and raining that day, Nov. 19, and Bob and the landowner, Jeff Spence, had planned a man-drive.

Bob was sitting in his treestand by 10:30, a good four hours before Jeff was supposed to start slogging through a nearby swamp. By noon, however, Bob was soaked and irritable, and he couldn't bear to remain in his perch. So he got down and took up a position on the ground.

Not long after Jeff had begun his swing through the prime bedding area, Bob saw a group of deer - a buck and six does - sneaking out of the thick woods. Only one side of the buck's rack was visible, but it was impressive. All Bob needed was a shooting lane.

"Judging by that one side, he just looked like a nice typical deer," he said.

He eventually found a pocket through some hemlock boughs at about 30 yards. When the buck stepped into it, Bob let loose the arrow, and the deer scattered.

Bob waited 30 minutes before he started tracking the tall-racked buck, and he followed the trail almost 100 yards straight to the beaver pond.

Forty-five minutes later, the exhausted hunter discovered a small hole through which he might shoot.

"We were both worn out," he said. "I circled that pond at least three times. Even when I finally got the chance to shoot again, I was tired. I shot anyway, but it was no good. On my third attempt, I put one through his lungs and ended it."

"It was just like carp fishing," he added. "I could see the buck. I knew where he was. But hitting him was a different story."

After the buck collapsed, Bob also fell to one knee. He was out of breath, suffering from an adrenaline overload, and he was totally spent.

"I was getting the dry heaves. I was really ready to puke," he admitted.

Only when Jeff arrived was Bob able to think about getting the deer out of its watery grave. Even though he'd been staring at the strange antlers for more than an hour, he could hardly believe his luck when he got to wrap his hands around the odd configuration.

Jeff had no idea that such an animal lived on his farm, and he was eager to hear all the details.

"It's a crazy story about a crazy rack," Bob began.

-- Mike Handley

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