By Rocco Zacarolli
Rocco Zacarolli of Valhalla, N.Y., did not let his 0-for-2 performance on new hunting property deter him from taking a chance on the opening day of gun season. His efforts were rewarded with this 8-point buck.
-- Prior to opening day of gun season in Columbia County, N.Y., I had heard about a piece of property that was for sale not far from a productive location I had hunted in the past. It had a swamp, corn, apples, hay and most importantly, lots of cover. Without hesitation, I told my hunting buddies about the great find.
One morning, while bowhunting in Westchester, I told them I had a great idea for our evening hunt. We packed up and headed off on my hunch that evening. We set up on the edge of a large cut cornfield and waited for deer to enter. My hunch did not work out too well because I was the only one out of four hunters who saw deer.
A few weeks later, I convinced another friend to try the new property. We struck out again. There seemed to be a lot of speculating going around this year. With gun season approaching, there were many rumors floating around that all the neighbors heavily hunted the property. There were no signs of bucks like scrapes or rubs. Once more I tried to recruit company for the first day of gun season to no avail.
Reluctantly, I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. and headed north, hoping to see some encouraging sign. Even a doe or small buck would be just fine. With daylight approaching, I pulled into the property and began walking toward my stand.
A little scared, a little apprehensive from bad gun stories, I shined my light a bit more than usual and climbed up. Minutes later, not even completely set up, I heard large antlers crashing and rattling. I said to myself, some disrespectful hunter followed me in and set up right next to me! I noticed it was only 6:30 a.m.
I looked out over the first hedgerow about 100 yards away and noticed a deer walking with its head down. I looked through my binoculars, and saw that it was a little buck. In no time, it walked back into the swamp, and out of sight. Disappointed that this might be the only buck I would see that day, I settled in and waited patiently.
After hearing gun shots all around me, I was surprised to see a doe on the horizon. I judged the distance to be about 800 yards away from my stand. The doe hurried to feed and nervously moved around in little circles. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was a large buck looking at the doe. Judging from my 28 years of hunting experience, this was not a puny buck. It was heavy and tall with antlers that reached beyond its body.
I lifted my binoculars and took a look. I could not believe I was watching a 10-point buck. I realized the buck was trying to mate with the female. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they moved over the top of the horizon and disappeared.
I waited to hear the report of a shot from another hunter but it never happened. The buck and doe must have slipped through and made it to better cover. I sat in my stand and thought about what had happened. Soon, the sound of gun fire was ringing out once again. I wondered if someone had taken the buck.
As I settled back in, another doe entered the top field and was moving at a fast pace. The doe was looking back toward the thick stuff as it fed. Again, another large buck entered the field. The buck chased the doe around and disappeared without giving me a chance to evaluate either deer.
I ranged the shot at 500 yards away. Ten minutes later, the doe was back in the field feeding without the buck. Eventually the buck made its advance on the doe, giving me enough time to see that this was a heavy 8-point buck.
I wondered if I should climb down and attempt to stalk the deer because they were well over 500 yards away. I convinced myself to stay put and wait. Quickly, they were both back in the thick hedgerow, leaving me with nothing.
I realized there were no other hunters near me. These two bucks, the 10- and 8-pointers were causing all the rattling I heard earlier. In disbelief, I ranged the farthest shot I would take if they appeared. The first hedgerow was 100 yards away, the second was 277 yards away, and the distance to the hayfield beyond was 800 yards away. I would have to wait for them to come down to the second hedgerow.
Around 9 a.m. the second buck and doe appeared once again; this time heading toward my stand just as I had envisioned. Shaking like a leaf, praying for a chance and realizing that it could happen, I lifted my gun just as the buck finished breeding the doe.
The buck knew it was out in the open too long because it started looking for cover. It then walked down toward the second hedgerow. My time was now. As I looked through the scope, I shook all over. The deer turned broadside; I clicked the safety off and fired.
I sat in the stand for nearly 30 minutes, climbed down and started tracking. Moments later, I saw the large rack shining in the sun. What a great buck! I remembered what my father told me as a young hunter: "Wait and be patient for the shot."
Twenty-eight years have passed since my father taught me how to hunt, and I realize that it is not the size of the deer but the experience. Never give up the dream.
Valhalla, New York
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