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Out on a Limb

By Clif Kirsch

Clif Kirsch

It was the third day of the four-day hunt during the Vermont deer season. I decided to climb the ridge to the old maple tree, where my hunting companion had taken a nice spike on opening day.

The predawn hike to the top was sweat-producing despite the 20-degree temperature. I reached the tree 10 minutes before legal shooting time, climbed up and got as comfortable as possible standing on the 10-inch-diameter limb. It did not take long for the sweat to evaporate and the bite of the November morning to reach my toes.

Sunrise was a mixed blessing. With it came some early relief from the cold, but since I was facing east, the sun shone directly in my eyes, making it hard watch for movement. Soon after sunrise, the wind picked up, countering any warming value the sun offered.

There was a sudden crunching of leaves to the south. I turned and strained to identify the source. Most of the time, I hear whitetails before locating them. Of course, this changes with rain or snow.

I saw broken movement coming off the mountain. As the sound got closer, it became very clear that the source was one of the hunters sharing our camp. This one is special, though. During the eight years we’d hunted together, he had yet to drop or shoot at a deer. Does had often presented themselves to him, but no bucks.

He approached the gnarly old maple in the hopes of finding it vacant. When he spotted me, I reminded him there’s a price to pay for sleeping until after sunrise. He shrugged and headed across the flat for another perch.

As the morning lingered, I became restless with sleep and cold. Standing on a tree branch all morning had taken its toll. I could no longer stand motionless waiting for my quarry. I secured my Marlin 336 lever-action .3030 to the tree, checked my safety belt and began pacing on the limb. 

Suddenly I heard the sound of footsteps over my right shoulder. I glanced over to realize a hunter’s nightmare. My hands were my pockets, my rifle was beside me, and five deer were behind me.

I counted four does and one nicely antlered buck. I assessed the situation and determined my only choice was to move quickly, grab the rifle, turn on the branch and hope for a shot. As I moved, I head the deer break into a run. I picked up the rifle, chambered a round and turned toward the movement. The does were now about 60 yards distant.

The buck was not with the group. My heart fell.

As I replayed the events in my mind, movement to my left caught my eye. I realized then that the buck had frozen and let the does run ahead.

He must have felt safe because he put his nose back to the ground and started to trot toward the does. I calculated his path and picked the best probable shooting lane. I swung my gun with his movement and squeezed the trigger.

The report shattered the cold morning air. The buck jumped straight up and then came back to earth with a thud. I chambered another round as he quickly scrambled to his feet.

Today!A follow-up shot would not be needed. As he crashed through the woods, I knew he would be down soon.

Hearing the shot, my hunting buddy returned to lend a hand. I stayed on the limb to act as a spotter as he moved to the place I last saw the deer. As I directed him, he casually asked if he should move past the 8 pointer crumpled up in the mountain brook.

The excitement was incredible. After a few deep breaths, I unloaded my rifle, lowered it to the ground via the hoist rope, and then carefully descended from the tree.

I paced off the shot at 65 yards and the buck’s run at 80 yards. After the normal recapping of the hunt, I proceeded with the ritual of field-dressing. My friend had never seen this done, so I took the opportunity to show him in detail how it’s done.

Although the buck was not huge, it was a very respectable 8 pointer that weighed 162 pounds, field-dressed.

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