“I knew them dang ol’ pistols weren’t no damn good,” Bo exclaimed. “I just needed to prove it to you. Tomorrow, you bring a shotgun.”
I did, figuring I would shoot one of my two turkeys allowed and then go back to the pistol. But the weather changed and it got tough. I shot a gobbler, but it was half an hour before I had to leave for the airport. I never did get a rematch with the pistol and that haunts me still.
After the Whitetail Apocalypse
The “hands-off” approach to logging the Left instituted years ago in Vermont meant that there were no viable winter deer yards. Those we had were grown past usefulness, and without clear-cut logging to create new growth we had not made enough new winter habitat. Some areas of the state suffered under almost 300 inches of snow, and the deer just foundered and died.
The fall deer season in 2011 was pathetic. It was like an alien spaceship had used a giant vacuum hose to suck up all the whitetails. I have never seen the woods so empty; there were no deer, no tracks, no droppings. Mast crops sat on the ground uneaten. It was as if most of the deer had vanished. Which they had.
My grandfather grew up hunting under similar conditions, when the whitetails were just getting reestablished back in the early years of the 20th century. He had told me that he kept moving and looking until he found the deer, then he started hunting. So, that’s what I did. I finally found where a few deer were eating some beechnuts on a ridge above a big beaver bog. Just below them, on the edge of the pond, was the only apple tree with fruit that I had seen in two days of hard walking. Near that apple tree were several fresh scrapes and rubs. So that night I sat downwind, along an old, abandoned road, watching and waiting.
As a gun guy, I was excited about my new rifle. It was a .280 Ackley Improved built on a Model 700 action. I had traveled to Pennsylvania to Mark Bansner’s shop and he had taught me how to chamber and fit a rifle barrel, using this gun as one of the test subjects. Then I went home and turned that raw, barreled action into a unique hunting rifle. I had finished the stock and put the gun together Thursday night. Friday I zeroed the scope. Saturday, deer season opened. This was Sunday.
It was starting to get dark when I checked the road for the thousandth time. What was different was that this time a buck was standing there looking at me. Not just a buck, but the biggest buck I had seen alive in 46 Vermont deer seasons.
The trouble was, he came out where I didn’t expect him, and I had to rise up the bank a little and poke the gun through some brush for the shot. The scope came clear, the crosshairs were on his ribs and I added that last little bit to the trigger. The buck ran back into the swamp, but I knew he wouldn’t go far.
I was shocked when I couldn’t find any blood, even with a flashlight. After looking for half an hour I went back to my stand. The fresh scar on top of the log told the tale. I had the scope clear, but in a rookie mistake the barrel was not. The bullet kissed the top of a downed log 2 feet in front of the gun. From there it careened off and hit a sapling then wandered off into an unknown location other than where the deer had been standing.
A guy from a neighboring camp heard my shot and was waiting at my truck. I told him nothing, but he and all his buddies were in that part of the national forest the next morning. Ten days later one of them shot the buck and got his picture in a local paper for bagging perhaps the best buck in the state that year.
To rub salt in the wound, I had been hot and sweaty after looking for the buck and faced a long hike back to my truck. I gathered up my coat and vest in my arms, slung my rifle and made the long, dark walk out while trying to keep the black dogs of depression at bay. When I got home I noticed that the rifle had been rubbing on the metal buckle of my suspenders the entire time, wearing a big, nasty hole in the side of my new stock.
Remember when I mentioned misses that keep you awake and staring into the dark at night? Well, this one has cost me a lot of sleep.
There are more, far too many, actually. For example, I missed one of the best bucks I have ever seen in Alabama. We were using shotgun slugs, testing some new product. The distance was long, but I could make the shot 100 times out of 100 tries at the range. He was in an open field, no branches to blame. I just missed.
Or the whitetail I shot at twice in Michigan with an AR-10 in .338 Federal. Clear shots, good rest, accurate rifle.
I think the witches took my bullets.