The Servello Buck

By Joe Servello

The Joe Servello Buck

It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, three days into opening week of the 1994 New York Southern Zone shotgun season. The weather was extremely windy as it had been since opening day. A friend and I had hunted that morning, but a snow storm came in and forced us to leave the woods at around 9 am.

There wasn't much sense in staying out given the weather conditions as they were. It seemed as if the deer weren't very active. In fact, there were reports that the deer kill for the first three days of the season were down significantly from previous years. So I decided to go home, catch a nap, and wait out the storm.

I woke from my nap around 10:30 am. I looked outside to find that about six inches of snow had fallen since 9 am and was just starting to subside. I half thought about staying on the couch and finishing my nap, but something told me that I should get my butt up and use this fresh snow to my advantage.

I decided to walk the woods behind my house and look for fresh deer tracks in the snow. Any tracks that I'd come across now would only be an hour or so old.

I had knowledge of a few trophy bucks that were seen in the area during the bow season and knew this would be the perfect opportunity to get on one of those bucks and dog him until I caught up with him. Little did I know what was in store for me.

I had only walked into the woods about half a mile, passing by all my bow hunting stands checking for any deer activity in the area during the storm. Not only did I find no deer activity, there was no animal activity at all. I started thinking maybe I should have stayed in and finished my nap.

Not having any luck walking the woods, I decided to walk one of the tractor paths that made its way through the property. I had only gone a short distance when I came upon a single, very good size, track cutting across the path and back in the direction that I came from. There was just a light dusting of snow in the track and since it hadn't snowed in about a half hour or so, I determined that this deer passed through within the last half hour to forty five minutes.

I followed the track in a set of woods overgrown with saplings grouped together about every two feet. There was still snow on the trees making it difficult to see very far ahead. I plugged along slowly picking up information as I walked.

I noticed that this deer had a very long gate for a walking deer and that the tracks were unusually wide between the right and left side. This led me to believe that this was a rather large whitetail. I was thinking more and more that this might be one of those nice trophy bucks living in the area.

Forty five minutes had gone by and I still didn't seem to be gaining on this deer. There was still a bit of snow in the track telling me the deer had been by this spot quite some time ago. I knew I was getting closer to my house and the road that ran in front of the house. If the deer made it across the road I would have a tough time catching up with him before he reached posted property.

The thought of trailing this deer all afternoon only to lose him to posted property started to make me a little anxious. I thought about leaving the track and trying to cut the deer off before he reached the road. That's when I notice the woods becoming a bit thicker. I also noticed, the deer was avoiding the thick areas and, was walking only where the trees were wider apart. I was beginning to piece the puzzle together.

A lone deer with a large track, a long gate and wide between the hoofs. The only reason I could think that the deer would avoid the thick areas and walk the open areas was so that his antlers would fit between the trees. This deer was definitely a buck and by the width of the trees it was avoiding, a fairly big buck. I was becoming very excited and stopped to gain my composure. I realized I needed to calm down if I was going to see this buck before he saw me.

The tracks led me to a small clearing. I became very cautious here. I had read somewhere that a big buck will cross a clearing, then hide on the edge of it and check his backtrack for predators. Not wanting to fall into that trap, I checked to see the direction the deer had taken across the clearing, then skirted the perimeter in that general direction. When I got around the clearing I picked up the track again leading to a hemlock tree. The lower limbs of the tree hung down to the ground and formed what looked like a tent around the bottom of the tree. The buck's track led directly into the tent-like structure. At this point I wasn't quite sure what to do. I was afraid the buck might be inside laying under the tree. If so he already had me pegged. I decided to make a move to the rear of the tree. Either he had left already or I might catch a glimpse of him escaping out the back side. When I got there I was relieved to find that the buck had been there quite some time ago.

After inspecting the tracks under the huge hemlock, I found that the buck had indeed stopped here to scan the clearing. I got back on the track as the buck made his way closer to the road.

It was now around 12:15 pm and I had been on the track a little over an hour. Things didn't look good for me catching the buck before he crossed the road. All of a sudden, the tracks that had been traveling east made an abrupt left hand turn and headed north. I became excited again knowing this might allow me a chance to catch this buck before he reached the road. Still, I kept considering leaving the track to try and cut him off. But, the track was now heading into the thicket that I knew to be a major bedding area, so I decided to stay on the track.

I stopped at the edge of the thicket to gather my thoughts, knowing that I had to be much more cautious and alert to get a look at him in here. I took a deep breath and entered the thicket.

The buck was still avoiding the close trees and taking the easiest route to allow room for his rack to clear. He then started east again toward the road. My heart sank. The road was now less than 200 yards away and there was no way to cut him off before he reached it. I decided to stay with the track and hope for the best.

After a few steps the track began winding back and forth. Once more I became excited. I knew this type of behavior is common when a buck is looking for a place to lay down.

I got off the track at that point still keeping my eyes on its path. The track then made a complete "U" turn and headed west directly in the wind. The moment of truth was here. The buck had decided to make this area his bedroom. Now it was a matter of who would see who first.

The wind was in my face and blowing much harder making it difficult to hear. This was to my advantage even though my footfalls were fairly quite in the deep snow. The tracks still had some snow in them telling me the buck had reached here some time ago and might be less nervous all tucked away in his bed already. Nonetheless, I knew I had to take things very slowly and quietly.

Working into the wind I proceeded like a snail. I would take a step, then stop and scan the area ahead. Every move was deliberate. Later I learned that it would take me twenty minutes to travel only 10 yards.

I came upon a small dirt mound in the track. Two branches had crossed each other blocking my path through the thick brush. I had little choice but to separate them hoping not to make any noise that might alert the buck. Very slowly I pulled the branches apart, then stepped through and over the mound. The wind was blowing pretty hard and everything in the thicket was moving. I stood there looking into the wind for a minute or two.

Just then a movement caught my eye about 35-40 yards away. I thought it was just brush moving in the wind, but something didn't look right. I saw the movement again and thought it looked like antlers moving, yet I still couldn't see any sign of a deer. I had been straining my eyes for some time now and I began to think they were playing tricks on me.

Suddenly, I saw the movement again. Only this time as my eyes locked in on the movement I saw the profile of a deer's head with three tall soldiers standing at attention above his ears. The buck had been laying there the whole time, completely hidden by the brush at his back. I could only see his head and a few inches if his neck just below his jaw. Instinctively, I brought my Remington 870 to my shoulder, picked the spot just under his jaw, and pulled the trigger. The bucks head disappeared.

Everything happened so fast that I didn't have time to get excited or nervous. I wasted no time getting to where the buck had been laying. Sure enough, there he was, his legs still tucked up underneath him in the same position he had probably been laying for a few hours.

When I finally got to where I could see his head, I couldn't believe my eyes. Although half of his rack was still buried in the snow, I could see from what was exposed that he was a true trophy. I reached down and lifted his head out of the snow. I immediately noticed two abnormal tines that dropped off the base of each beam. He had ten normal points that ranged from 5 - 10 inches. The spread was nearly 20 inches and the bases 5 inches around. The drag through the dense thicket was less than 100 yards to my house and took me nearly and hour. When I finally got the monster to my back yard I collapsed to the ground, exhausted from the drag and the excitement. As I laid there in the snow I thought... a few hours ago I woke from a nap to track a kill a buck that was just settling in for his.

The Madison County buck grossed 176-5 and netted 155-3 B&C and remains one of the top 10 bucks ever killed in the County.

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