By Marc McIntosh
With a rare “backwards wind” blowing from the east on Nov. 22, 2020, and with unprecedented hunter pressure on the public ground that I’ve got to know over the years, my brother (my hunting partner for life) and I decided to try a new area. After scouring maps and aerial imagery for hours in disbelief at the number of people and their terrible sportsmanship in our opening day spot, we settled on a real adventure for the next morning.
The near vertical slopes, and over 1.5 mile walk into our decided locations should deter all but the most dedicated hunters in these parts we thought. With that notion, we were hopeful for a successful day that Sunday, away from people. The hike through the pitch black that morning confirmed those topo lines we looked at the night before. Steep is an understatement. I could almost hear my brother cursing me out for convincing him to head into that spot with our climbers and provisions for a full day sit.
After nearing the pin I dropped on my map app the previous night, I was on the lookout for a suitable tree. The white oak I settled on (stumbling around in the dark, mind you) ended up being one of my new favorite climbing trees. Straight as an arrow as high as I could climb, too big to wrap arms around, and situated on the edge of an incredibly steep gully, I was content with my choice after climbing nearly 30’ up for a better view. The wind blowing hard in my face from where I expected deer movement made me that much more hopeful as climbed.
That morning was one of the most unique sunrises I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. With a strong front blowing in and temperatures falling, that orange glow on the horizon was something I will not soon forget. I hoisted my rifle up on my maxed out 30’ pull rope and hung it from my climber rail. Standing there watching the woods wake up, I started to get cold. I quickly slipped my arms out from my safety harness. I was pulling my right sleeve up on my parka, and as I put that arm back into the harness shoulder strap, I heard the unmistakable crunch we all know and love. I silently grabbed my rifle as I stuffed my left arm back into the harness, jacket sleeve uselessly hanging from my left arm, and turned my head towards the sound.
A lone hemlock tree obstructed my view in that direction, but it didn’t matter. At 15 yards he stepped into the only lane I had under that tree. I put cross hairs on the front shoulder, hoping to prevent him from running into the gully below. Boom! Off like a bolt. He literally ran by the base of the tree I had just climbed. While safety harnesses are a must, I was really cursing that tether strap as I tried to turn for a follow up shot. That strap digging around my neck as I turned to follow him with my scope really handicapped my efforts to get it done. I was able to get two more shots off through that struggle as he disappeared over the ridge and into that gully.
Knowing that he went straight down hill, I was confident that at least one of my three shots landed. As a rule, I won’t immediately pursue a questionable hit. After an hour wait, (while I finally was able to put on my coat) I climbed down. To my dismay there was no hair and no blood at the spot I first shot at him, there was just a very distinct track of turned up leaves to follow. I crept towards the edge where he disappeared in despair, thinking to myself, “How could I miss that close?” I stopped as I reached the gully edge to text my brother my location and ask for help. As I was typing, I saw two does trot along that edge just below me. It was then that I saw my buck stand up with the intention of running out of my life for good. I quickly leveled the sights on him and pulled the trigger. He crashed straight down the cliff he had apparently bedded on within that last hour or so.
With the hemlocks as thick as they were, I couldn’t see where he ended up as those two does ran by me. I waited five minutes for a sound. I heard rocks in the creek below clacking together. I ran down the hill to the cliff he fell from, crouched down, and there he was crawling across that creek below at 50 yards. I quickly put another shot on him, this time leaving no doubt.
To this day, and for the rest of my life, I will never forget this bucks will to live. While field dressing him, we found three wounds. My first shot punched straight through the stomach (hence the lack of blood). The second and third hits obviously landed better. On both his flanks, there were graze marks where I barely missed him as he broke for that ravine over an hour ago. This buck is proof that when in doubt, wait it out. Had I immediately pursued him after the first encounter, I’m positive I would have never seen him again.
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