By Leif HerrGesell
The morning of November 18, 2012- the morning that I tagged "The Rogue of the Ridge" started out frosty and clear. I started a half hour late, leaving my house in the hills South of Canandaigua, New York at around 0645. I hunt from the ground and this year my firearm of choice had a scope. I knew I’d need ample legal light to shoot by and I didn’t want to give up body heat to the crisp air waiting in the still darkness so I still hunted several hundred yards up the ridge behind my home while my wife and two children slept soundly in our little home tucked into the woods.
For the last 15 years I had hunted exclusively with flintlocks, compound bows and stick bows. I’m not a great trophy hunter. I’m more the guy who likes the challenge of process and putting a little meat on the table. I’ve been a military historian for my entire adult life and the idea of hunting like our fore fathers has been my inspiration. Over the many years I have tagged a fair number of whitetail deer including a few bucks with either bow, custom jaeger or Brown Bess.
I have to admit though my eyes and ears aren’t what they used to be. I returned from a tour in Afghanistan in March 2011 and succeeded in frustrating myself with two misses on bucks using my jaeger during the 2011 season. I had developed a pronounced flinch, noticed my eyes were struggling to focus in the cold at distances that I used to take for granted and that the tinnitus in my ears drowned out all but the noisiest and closest squirrels. As a 48 year old veteran I’m in better than average condition, but time and the runway at Kandahar Airfield in the Helmand province had taken their toll. Time for a hunting implement that while not the latest and greatest, at least didn’t leave me wistfully watching the smoke drift away as a buck high tailed it for the county line. Nothing left to prove, as a still hunter with primitive weapons I had tagged nearly twenty deer including several bucks with every legal implement in those years.
Pro Gun Services in Victor, New York always stocks a great collection of used, antique and new shotguns. Back in the day I had worked with several of the staff at another gunshop in the area. I stopped in to see if I could find a weapon that spoke to me. I had parted with a beautiful Ithaca model 37 years ago and hoped I’d find a new ‘friend’ that gave me the same sense of confidence. After an hour of quiet rumination and hemming and hawing between a beautiful Browing BPS with a rifled barrel and a nearly mint, classic Remington 870 Wingmaster with Brushmaster barrel and a modest little Bushnell scope. I went with the 870. It recalled my youth growing up in rural Western New York and it’s rare to find a used working gun in this kind of condition.
Visiting my camp in the Central Adirondacks over the summer I had acclaimed North American gunsmith Jason Barden check it out for me. Jason is famous in classic double gun circles for his museum quality restoration services. Jason keeps a shop in Blue Mountain Lake and he dropped in on our family at our little deer and canoe camp to have dinner. Jason also happens to be my cousin and a devout deer hunter and chaser of big bucks. I’ve always valued his opinion which, just reinforced my own satisfaction with the shiny little vintage 12 gauge. I was starting to feel like I might experience a rebirth as buck hunter. Two weeks before season I dropped in on my brother to sight the gun in on a 75 yard range he has west of his house in Bloomfield. I decided that since I had the advantage of a scope I might as well zero it for a hundred yards so that it would plunk the one ounce slugs in nicely if I got a long shot. I reasoned its easier to hold low at shorter ranges than to calculate elevation and range at greater distance. Most of the areas I frequent are hardwoods where ranges seldom exceed 75 yards but occasionally I drop in at my brothers where open fields offer longer shots. The gun wasn’t a tack driver like the 6.5 Grendel or the .50 cal Lapua used as sniper rifles in Afghanistan, but then my ranges weren’t the thousands of yards and the game wasn’t as dangerous as what my fellow service members had faced. I got a nice grouping that you could cover with a coffee cup after patiently putting 10 rounds of Super X down range. Rifle hunters are often appalled at what we slug hunters will accept as a “tight” group. The 12 guage isn’t a gun for the open fields of Kansas or the cross valley shots of Idaho but it works handily in the woods of New York and the hot dog sized wound channels generally create enough trauma that blood trails are obvious. This is useful in coverts, thickets and gullies where a deer can be out of sight within 30 yards of the hunter. All of this describes my neighborhood, ridges, gullies and brushy thickets.
After slowly and quietly still hunting up the ridge through young hardwoods studded with white pines I broke over the crest at the ridges west end. There are a few big oaks that because they were hollow the last logger wasn’t interested in. One of them is enormous, easily 5 feet across the butt. Its location makes it a an awesome tactical position. I could see up the hill 55-60 yards and I had an overlook of a little flat that began 35 yards downhill and extended out west another 50. Everything was within shooting range and the base of the ridge formed a natural funnel point.
Years ago I used to enjoy tree stands but I also enjoyed still hunting. After taking several deer from their beds while still hunting as well as grunting in a buck while still hunting, I gave up the trees. As you can tell I like a challenge. I stood between the massive roots of the old hollow oak and gently cleared the leaves from between my feet. I added a few grunts from my tube hoping the combination would cover my preparations. The sun was at my back and I enjoyed the early silence that was rarely broken by a distant shot. We all know how nice it is to be alone with your thoughts on a stellar morning. The squirrels started their morning rounds, ditty birds were visible flitting in the brush on the little flat below me. I had been on stand about 30 minutes, I can only guess since I forgot my watch. I heard a squirrel rustling in the leaves above me near the break of the crest. I turned uphill using the ample tree trunk to cover my move. I saw brown movement in the cage of sapling trunks. I realized instantly that I had more than one deer and as that thought completed its jump across my synapses the doe had materialized heading downhill thirty yards to my left. The gun was at my shoulder and my head was up scanning- hoping that there was a buck with her. The flicker of antler confirmed the thought and he popped out right behind her with his nose just a few feet from her tail. He herded her like a cutting horse driving her in a tight circle back up the hill in just seconds. They vanished for several seconds, obscured by the tight young woods I groped for the grunt tube and let out a couple of vocalizations. He didn’t seem to react. I blatted using my mouth. Suddenly she was circiling counter clockwise in a loop that was probably no more than 25 feet long. I knew they were less than 50 yards away. I had his head and shoulder. I was trying to react and acquire the cross hairs. She completed the loop heading to my left and now he was moving again quickly trotting just 20 feet behind her at my twelve oclock with his neck stretched out and head down. I found his shoulder quickly in the scope and the voice in my head said, “hold low!” I squeezed, the shot sounded good, it felt right. My head came up from the comb as I rocked from the recoil. The doe had spun and was looking at me. I registered his body laying on the ground partly obscured by trees. The thought of taking her passed quickly. Don’t be greedy- make sure he’s down! Meats not meat til it’s in the pan! He tried to rise. He looked done for but I settled the cross hairs in the middle of his back and fired again- he’d been down less than 5 seconds. I heard the round hit, he quivered and the doe was gone. I slowly walked up on him at the ready. The eye remained fixed when I touched it with the muzzle. I counted the points. In the 30 seconds from the time I had spotted them until the first shot punched into his heart and lungs I had no chance to count points or judge his mass.
He was big. Nine points, very symmetrical but missing his right eyeguard. The beams were thick and dark, the second and third points long and wicked. After getting him in the tree in my backyard I measured his left G2 at over 8 inches. He was a once in a life time buck. Later the following day I took him to Gale Wyn Farms for butchering and a biologist from Region 8 New York State Department of Conservation was aging the many deer stretched out there for butchering. He looked into the trailer. “Wow, that’s the biggest buck I’ve seen this year.”
That statement got me thinking I should probably measure him. I decided to cap the rack and not do a shoulder mount. I’m kind of old school and I’d rather spend the money on a gun or other frippery rather than on a dust collector.
As of this writing he’s going through his drying period and I’ve contacted the Ontario county measurer from New York State Big Buck in my area. I measured the deer at a rough, very conservative gross , green score of 135.5 Boone & Crockett.
Now the waiting game begins. I will always smile when I remember the cold morning when I met The Rogue of the Ridge.
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