By Clint Anderson
-- I awake to the smell of coffee and the sizzle of bacon frying on an old pot-bellied stove. Voices can be heard out in the living room, raspy from the early awakening. But nobody is complaining about getting up today, for it is opening day of gun season, and my brother, uncles and a few friends now gather around the stove. A plan is quickly construed as to where each person would hunt. We will sit all day, and only those with deer, or too wimpy to handle the cold, will return early.
Due to early season scouting, I found a decent stand in a small saddle on top of a ridge, covered with a plethora of oak trees. I was excited. The air was so cold that it hurt to breathe. I knew if I broke a sweat, my day would be over. I wouldn't last long out there being wet. So I crept silently up the mountain. A lone coyote howled in the distance, sending an uncontrollable chill down the back of my neck. Instinct told me to hurry, but my deer hunter instinct insisted I keep my pace.
I arrived in my stand about a half-hour before daylight. Perfect. I looked up at the stars and took in God's awesome wonder. Then, before I was even settled in, I heard crunching in the snow. It was headed right for me, but I could not see 2 feet in front of my face. Silently I waited, not sure of my adversary that lurked in the darkness. To shine my light could reveal a monster buck, a buck I couldn't shoot, and would have to sit here knowing he was out there. On the other hand, I would feel much better knowing what was out there. The crunching continued, past me and down the hill.
Daylight brought relief. The sight of the sun can make one feel warm and safe. The woods come alive with the sounds of birds and small animals scurrying about. I settled back against the oak tree that broke up my silhouette, sank down in my coat, and began to watch as the woods transformed into a living painting. The roar of a jet could be heard, and I looked up to see the sun piercing the trees with its golden kiss, and the sky slowly beginning to give way to the morning.
I looked down and checked the safety on my .300 Weatherby, and it was on. I held her close to me and remembered the first time I took her out. Her name is Georgia, and at first she didn't like me much. It was Thanksgiving, and a buck ran around me and stood behind me on my right. So I had to turn Georgia and shoot off kilter. She bit me. I got the buck, but also got a nice gash above my eye. So then I was bleeding and couldn't see too well. I did manage to load the buck onto the four-wheeler.
Before I could get it into first gear, the buck slid forward and its hoof was wedged between the throttle and the handlebar. This sent me, the buck, and poor Georgia backward through the trees. Needless to say, we wrecked. The buck and the four-wheeler went 200 feet down into a valley. I lay on the ground battered, bruised, and embarrassed.
First my gun tried to take me out, and then the buck got its revenge! I looked over and Georgia was barrel-first in the mud. I stumbled home, after many hours of recovering the ATV and deer from the valley, and my cousins were shooting fireworks. I thought I would sit and watch, and by golly if one didn't fall over, hit me right in the chest and set my hunting coat on fire! I should have stayed in bed.
A snap brought me back to full focus of my latest quest. My heart raced as I tried to pinpoint the crunching sound. My eyes blurred as everything seemed to converge into one. And then I saw it. I can't say how many times a little squirrel or chipmunk has sounded like a herd of deer coming and sent my heart racing. As I thought about how I would avenge myself against the squirrel, I caught movement to my left.
It was a doe and a yearling buck about 50 yards out. The little buck made me smile, remembering the time I took my sister hunting when she was 3 1/2. We were bowhunting and a little buck came out. We watched it for a while, then he sneezed, to which my baby sister replied, "Dod bwess yoo." The buck ran. I laughed and we went home.
It was noon now, and I was cold. I know there are those who say, "I just like being in the woods, it doesn't matter if I get one or not." Well, let me just say, I was not enjoying being out there. I was freezing, but my overall intention was to take a deer. That is why I put all the time and money into gear and scouting. I can come out and look at trees and wildlife all year long, but this is a match of wits between man and beast. This is what separates the men from the boys, and I will NOT go back to camp just because I'm cold.
So there I sat, thinking of how to get warm, when I saw it. Not much, just a flick, and something in my soul knew it was a buck even though I couldn't see it yet. I looked and glassed, moving as slowly as I could, but nothing. The buck couldn't have left that thicket without my seeing it! I had it covered! Maybe it was all my imagination, maybe there wasn't even a deer there at all! Yeah, that was it. I was so cold and wanted to get one so bad, I made it up.
Wow! Some deer hunter I am. I decided to walk around for an hour or so, and as soon as I stood up, there went the buck. It was a whitetail mockingly waving to me as it powerfully tore through the brush. The last part I saw was the wide, 8-point rack, which the buck wore like a crown, disappearing over the hill. I sat right back down to feel sorry for myself and tell myself I didn't deserve the right to take the life of this majestic creature. Suck it up pansy, you're a deer hunter.
Darkness enveloped the woods like a blanket, and right before I got to camp some stars began to poke curiously through, as if looking to see what they had missed during the daylight hours. I had seen many does and a few small bucks, but now I was connected with the wide-framed buck. From here on would be a quest of skills, instincts, toughness, and of course, luck.
There were three bucks at camp, and one was a large 8-pointer taken by my brother. Now, every camp has the guy who is "The Hunter." He gets lucky once or twice on the way back to camp at 8:00 in the morning, and now has all the advice and tips for everyone. Well, that guy is my brother, and that day he got "lucky" again. To make things worse, on opening morning, everyone puts $20 in a kitty for the biggest buck, and now he was telling us what he was going to buy with the money! I had to find the wide-framed buck. He was the only deer that could beat the large 8-pointer. Thus, I was resolved to my quest.
For two more days I hunted diligently for the wide-framed, 8-point buck and only saw it once, after legal shooting light. So that meant he was nocturnal. That complicated things.
I was going to have to call this buck out, literally. He and I - one on one. It was Thursday, once again Thanksgiving, and the snow had begun to fall and cling to the saplings like they were lost children. Within an hour, the woods were transformed into a wonderland of glistening beauty. The wind stopped, the birds stopped, it was as if time itself, had stopped just for me, so I could just enjoy this moment. So I did, and I thanked God.
Then it was back to business. If Georgia wanted to get on my good side again, we were going to have to get to work. The snow started to fall, and I had about 2 hours of shooting light left. I decided now was the time.
I went to a large field below where I had encountered the buck the first time. I set up and softly called a few times, then waited and glassed the edge of the woods. I tried calling every which way I knew without overdoing it, but this buck was good! I stepped out into the field, took three steps, and four deer took off in the edge of the wood line to the right, where I couldn't see. I was sure that was the wide-frame, and put my gun sling over my shoulder.
I covered the scope as the snow fell. It brought a blanket of haziness with it. There were only 10 minutes of shooting light left, if that. I figured I'd try again tomorrow. Just then I saw movement. Up above the fence was a deer. That had to be him! I tried to glass him, but my heart was beating too hard.
Finally, I got a good look. It wasn't him, but I saw another deer coming off the hill, then another. They were 265 yards away, and I was in the middle of a field with no rest. But, after glassing them all, and all being bald, I once again slung my sweet Weatherby across my shoulder, and turned toward camp. What happened next is actually hard to say, because it all happened faster than I could think. I am a good shot, but not a great shot. And I have perfect confidence with any kind of rest, even if it's my knee. But I have no confidence in my free hand skills, so this is where instinct and Georgia took over.
I heard grunting and saw a deer running down toward the does. He was about 40 yards above the fence line, in the woods. I put the scope on this buck. When he hit the flat, he never stopped grunting, or running, and headed out the flat. I had about a 35-yard window before the wide-framed buck was gone again. In an instant, I raised Georgia and felt the coldness of her Monte Carlo stock against my face. Through my scope was a different world. It was lighter and closer. I could see the buck running with its head down toward the does. I could see the opening. I saw him turn onto the flat. I saw its antlers. I saw the opening. I waited, fired and then it was dark.
I went to camp and got my brother-in-law. We went to the fence line to look for blood. We searched for 10 minutes and found nothing. This could not be happening! Just as I was about to start blaming all my misfortune on Georgia, my brother-in-law yelled that he found a trail. It was a flat higher than I originally thought. We found the buck about 45 yards away. As we pulled ol' wide-frame into the field, the full moon shone as warm as the sun and two hunters shared in a moment that will forever be etched in our memories. As I slung Georgia across my back, I felt the scar above my left eye. I smiled. I must be growing on her.
Back at camp, we hung the buck up and went inside. The smell of fresh coffee attacked my senses, and I had to have some before anything else was done or said. My brother was the first to start asking questions. I told him it was an 8-point buck, and he let out a sigh of relief. After a quick bite to eat and some more coffee, we headed outside.
My brothers' rack dropped down inside of the wide-frame buck, to the delight and amusement of everyone. I told him I would take my kitty winnings and get him "Deer Huntin' for Dummies." The wide-rack now rests on a wall in my house, where I can constantly be reminded about a deer, a gun and a truly magical hunting season.
Fairmont, West Virginia
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