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Thanksgiving Hunting Traditions

Thanksgiving Hunting Traditions

Around my house, Thanksgiving Day is one of the most revered holidays; no presents or gimmicks, just a fantastic meal in the company of loved ones, and being grateful for what we have. However, it is inexorably tied to deer season, and for all of my living memory the Thanksgiving Day hunt is as important as turkey dinner. My very first deer hunt was at eight or nine years old, accompanying my father for the morning. It’s been a tradition from that day to date. There have been many Thanksgiving hunts—some successful, some not—but all are precious to me, as it celebrates the family unit in the deer woods.

There was one very cold Thanksgiving—’93 or ’94 I think—where the temperature didn’t rise above 10˚F, and the hunt was brief. My own stubborn youth wouldn’t allow me to sit inside, so dressed in the best I could afford—an old Army fatigue jacket—I sat on watch anyway. That was first good deer, a symmetrical eight that fell to a .280 Rem., and though I was late to dinner, you couldn’t have chiseled the smile off my face.

There was the Thanksgiving Day when my dad—Ol’ Grumpy Pants—showed up mid-morning, and pushed three does and a beautiful buck in front me on the way to his stand. One well-placed .300 Winchester round gave us all an extra reason to celebrate, and we were on time for dinner that year.

There were other Turkey Day hunts where my hunting partners were successful, and it was a pleasure to help them get their deer out to the truck; somehow the drag wasn’t as laborious on Thanksgiving Day, and the friendship gave us all another reason to give thanks.

However, my best memory came on a hunt all by my lonesome. Thanksgiving morning 2013 dawned cold, a low pressure front having pushed through on Wednesday, delivering rain to most of the Hudson Valley, but ending with temperatures cold enough to deposit a couple of inches of fresh snow in the Catskill Mountains. I had stayed out too late at band rehearsal the night before, four a.m. came very early, but I got up and dressed—in spite of blood-shot eyes and allure of my wife in a warm bed.

Upon arrival at my hunting grounds, I was pleased to see the fresh snow, which would provide a great background to see movement as well as show what game had moved through the area. I was less than pleased to find out that it was a stark 18˚, and that the tail end of the rain storm had turned to ice underneath the snow, so that every step sounded like walking on potato chips. The swirling winds were blowing the snow from the trees, and the combination of harsh elements and a lack of sleep had me doubting my sanity. Nonetheless, I had come this far and decided to stick out the morning. I loaded the .308 Win. with three Nosler Partitions and headed toward a favorite stand of mine.

Today’s walk down the logging road would prove a bit different, and lead me on a bit of an adventure. Within 300 yards I found the tracks of a doe and her fawn coming off the higher side of the property and easing down the logging road. Ok, this is a good sign; maybe she’ll be in estrus and draw a buck.

Well, the universe shined upon my hunt, as I cut the large track of a buck within another 100 yards, and he was following the pair of does like a heat seeking missile. As the does walked in a straight line down the road, I could tell he was meandering back and forth, and by his path I guessed that he wasn’t far behind them, nor that far in front of me. This bleary-eyed exercise in sitting on a stand, in true Thanksgiving tradition, just turned into a stalking hunt in swirling winds and freezing temperatures. Game on!

I walked as quietly as possible, stepping on stones in the logging road wherever I could, to prevent cracking and crunching the ice under the snow. Fifteen minutes in, so far, so good, the wind held steady in my face, and I went along in a relatively quiet manner. That’s when the does, and subsequently the buck, decided that a left turn into a thick stand of young beeches was absolutely in order.

What to do? I tried about ten steps into the carpet of ice-coated, snow-covered beech leaves and decided that was useless, so I did the only thing I could think of. I sat on a stump and pouted. Well, I called it heavy planning, but I’m sure it looked an awful lot like pouting. I planned-pouted for a good 20 minutes, until I decided to take a chance and try to cut them off on the logging road that they were last headed for.

I stalked, so very slowly, down this aforementioned logging road, for over 200 paces without any sign of them, when I found the track of the does crossing the road in front of me. I was back in business, for sure. The only problem was that the buck’s tracks were ten yards further down. They had all beaten me there, headed into a very dark patch of hemlocks. The wind was starting to swirl again, and all hope had left me. I considered heading back to the truck and the comforts of my warm bed, but argued with myself, and I’m glad I did. The hemlocks had taken the brunt of the snow, and the logging road was bare in patches, so I crept along until something caught my eye. That something was the G2 tine of the biggest buck I’ve ever seen in the hunting woods, just 5o yards away through the hemlock branches. As best as I can figure, all three of the deer had decided to lie down, and when the buck saw me, he stood and tried to run, until I sent one of Nosler’s dandy little products through his heart and lungs. I can’t put into print exactly what came out of my mouth at that instant in time, but rest assured it was joyful and colorful. A hunt that I didn’t expect to happen ended up successful, with a buck that scored an even 125 inches of antler.

For over three decades I have spent my Thanksgiving hunting deer, with and without company, and it gives me an opportunity to contemplate all I have to be thankful for, in the midst of the pristine wilderness that I hold so dear. I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving and a successful hunt! 

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