By Joe Servello
One of my big dreams was to kill a mature Adirondack buck with a primitive weapon... since spears are not legal in New York my muzzleloader with patch and roundball would have to do. Opening day of the 2014 Northern Tier early muzzleloader season began as a wet morning from the previous nights' rain. Although it wasn't raining when I entered the big woods of Fulton County, it didn't take long before the drops started coming.
I made my way through the dence hardwoods headed for a spot we like to call "the bowl", a low area skirted by a small adirondack stream and surround by a twenty foot ridge that made up the edge of the bowl. A friend actually introduced this spot to me about four years ago. There is always good mature buck sign in the area. There is an old loggers trail ( which now is more an impression of a trail than a real trail ) that leads from the bowl and makes it's way winding towards what we call "The Big Creek". I have snuck down this trail many times, each time expecting to see a buck standing in the trail as I slowly peek around the ever winding turns incorporated in the trail.
My original plan was to stop at the bowl and spend some time calling with my grunt tube with hopes to grabbing the curiousity of a mature buck. When I reached the bowl it started raining a bit harder. I began remembering all the times I've hunted in the rain with the smoke pole, snuck up within killing range of an unsuspecting mature buck just to have the gun not go off. In fact, I had one incident where I grunted in a huge 160ish class buck in a cattail swamp to within 15 yards broadside only to have the cap go off but not the gun. I guess that's part of what you have to be willing to accept if you are going to hunt with a tradional muzzleloader.
I spent a short time in the bowl giving a series of grunts and bleats then realized that the rain was so loud it might be hard for a distant buck to even hear the call. I decided to sneak down the winding trail instead, again envisioning coming around one of the bends in the trail hoping to see a big buck standing there. As the rain came down harder I tucked the hammer of my gun under my armpit, trying to keep it dry, and climbed out of the bowl onto the trail. The rain was so loud and the leaves were so wet that moving along quitely was not a problem. I was in full camo so as long as I moved very slowly, stopping occasionally to scan the trail, I had a good chance of catching a buck before he caught me.
I made my way down the trail, which over the years had grown in quite a bit in spots with small beeches beginning to block portions of the trail. I used the young beech trees as cover as I tip-toed down the path. After going just a few hundred yards I knew that there was a big bend just up ahead that opened up unimpeded by any trees or brush making it possible to see nearly 100 yards down the trail. This part of the trail bordered a big marshy cattail riddled swamp to the left of the path and a mixture of softwood and hardwood to the right. For years in my head I have imagined peeking around this bend to find a mature buck bedded, standing or feeding off the edge of the trail only to be disappointed when I did. The area was just too good not to be holding a mature buck.
As I approached the big bend I slowed down to a crawl, making sure not to mess up the perfect stalking conditions created by the driving rain. I snuck up behind a small branch hanging in the trail and peered around it to look down the trail, again expecting to see a nice buck standing there. As my eyes focused through the light fog that was forming from the warm morning air meeting the colder driving rain I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There it was a buck feeding on the edge of the trail just 8 yards away.
The first thing I saw was his rack between the two trees that formed a "V" just in front of him, then his whole hind quarter poking out from behind the trees. I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn't imagining it all. At that moment I realized that I was going to get an opportunity to take a mature big woods Adirondack buck with patch & roundball. I also realized that although he was only 8 yards away I didn't have a shot. I could only see his antlers and his butt. With his head down feeding, his chest and midsection were covered completely by one of the trees.
I pulled up my gun and set my peepsight between the two trees and waited. About a minute went by and he was still feeding... totally unaware of me standing there. I thought to myself, " Just pick your head up and take one step forward so I can get a good front shoulder shot." No sooner did that thought leave my head, he picked his head up and took one step forward giving me his front shoulder. I wasted no time pulling the trigger. It took only a second for the heavy rain to knock down the smoke cloud from the shot as I saw him take one bound, before his head buried into the ground as he flipped completely over himself.
I quickly fumbled in my pocket for another load, but with the rain I knew I had to be careful not to get the powder wet while reloading. So, as I stood there slowly and methodically reloading my muzzleloader to keep things dry, I could only watch as he got up and headed back the other way across the trail. I was thinking I better get reloaded because I might have to shoot this guy again... then down went his head into the ground as he flipped over again. Still sliding the ramrod into the barrel packing the load I could only be a spectator as he got up again and headed back the way he had just come.
I finished loading the gun and as I was putting the ramrod back in it's holder he fell down for the last time. It was over... well... we all know that is just the beginning. It wasn't going to be over until I got him back to my truck. Fortunately I had a buddy hunting just a mile or so from me... I was able to contact him to help me take photos and get the buck out of the woods. Pictures were taken and after a two hour drag across the creek and up hill back to the truck it was over... Another big woods buck, but this time done the old fashion way... with patch and roundball. It doesn't get cooler than that. Well... unless spears become legal in New York.
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