By Larry Occhibone
I am sure there are thousands of stories that give you that “ultimate” advice: Never give up!
This is my story.
The 2005 Pennsylvania deer hunting season came in as usual. It was the end of October, and I was in a tree stand hunting deer with my bow.
Where I hunt, the deer must have at least four points to one side of his antler. I hunted the archery season as often as I could after work. I am a Pennsylvania State Trooper and time off is a premium. My wife and daughter share my passion for hunting, so they are very understanding this time of year.
As archery season came and went, I passed up several deer. I did harvest one antlerless deer to put meat in the freezer. Some of the bucks I passed had eight points.
To understand why I let those bucks walk, you would have had to be standing beside me on the second day of the season. I was hunting the afternoon after work. Just as I entered the woods, I kicked up a small buck in front of me. As he ran into the woods, he kicked up a huge buck that ran out in front of and away from me.
It was the largest buck I had ever seen in my area. All I saw was antlers and tail running away from me. This incident ruined me for the season. All I thought about was that buck!
Archery season came and went. Then the rifle season began. The two-week season was a long one. I spent part of every day in the woods. I did see a couple of small bucks, but they were not even legal to harvest in this area. And that was it! No big buck no harvestable bucks, nothing!
The last deer season in Pennsylvania is the primitive weapons season. Starting the day after Christmas, you can take deer with either a flintlock or a bow and arrow. I hit the woods with high hopes and my traditional .50-caliber flintlock.
The season is about a month long and encompasses some of the coldest days of the year. At the beginning, I hunted hard in hopes of seeing my big buck again. By the second half of the two-week season, I was pretty worn out from hunting. There were days that I didn’t see a deer in the woods.
I was cold and cranky, and my wife was less understanding. I was hunting hard, just in hopes of getting a legal buck.
On the next to last day of the season, I hit the woods in the early afternoon. As I entered my hunting area, on part of a cattle farm, I saw a cute little calf. I even stopped to take a digital picture of the animal. Little did I know that this would haunt me.
I finished hunting that day at dusk without seeing a deer. As I crossed the fenced-in pasture, I saw a large-horned cow standing in the roadway. As I walked towards it, I realized that the cow was moving toward me at a rapid pace.
When it was at 20 yards and still charging, I tossed my flintlock over an electric fence and I did my best to climb through it. I was shocked several times, but made it through the fence just in time to see the horns try to gore me through the fence and the cow tearing the fence apart.
I made it to my truck and headed straight for the main barn at the farm. Still shaking, I told my story to the farmer. He told me that there was one cow with a calf that had attacked his tractor at that pasture. Oops! I had come between a calf and its mother without knowing it.
After that incident, I told my hunting friends I was giving up for the season. There was no way I was going hunting the next and last day of the season.
Staying true to my word, I took my daughter shopping. I was not going to give that cow another chance to kill me.
A snow storm had come in, dumping about 10 inches of snow on the ground. As my daughter and I walked in to the house after shopping, I noticed my muzzleloader standing in the corner. I looked at the clock, and realized that there was about 45 minutes left in the season.
After a little coaxing from my daughter, I got dressed and hit the woods. I decided to hunt on a different part of the farm, away from the crazy cow.
As soon as I hit the woods line, I kicked up two does at about 30 yards. This was a good sign. I was walking down a trail and stopped to look out over a ravine and catch my breath. After standing for a couple of minutes, I turned to continue down the trail. Just as I turned, I saw a nice buck standing between two pines at 20 yards. I counted four points to one side and immediately pulled my rifle to my shoulder.
One shot from the flintlock put him down in his tracks. As the smoke cleared, I saw a second buck running in front of where the downed buck was laying. Then I saw more movement. About 10 yards behind the deer I shot was the “big buck”! I couldn’t see the other deer because of the snow hanging on the pine tree limbs.
Well, with 15 minutes left in the day and in the season, I did get my buck — just not the one I was hunting so hard for. I had mixed feelings about it. If I had waited just a couple more minutes, he might have walked into the same opening as the buck I shot. But he might not have.
I did harvest a nice 7-pointer with a 20-inch spread. He only had one brow tine and a couple of broken tines.
So, my big buck is still out there. And you can use a lot of different clichés for this experience: Patience is a virtue. Hard work pays off. Never give up. I just know I am not hunting near that pasture and that cow again!