Friday, December 6th, the last day of day of "buck only" during rifle season was a rainy, icy day. I was off work by noon, and checked into the cabin at Stone Valley. My uncle hunted with my brother in the morning and then we met Spencer down at the cabin soon thereafter. I planned on setting up a blind for my dad on his typical spot overlooking the lake bed, but the stream was running so high I could not cross it without getting soaked. So, I bagged that idea and figured we should probably not waste any more daylight screwing around despite the bad weather. Something told me to go for it.
So, there I was putting on drives in the thickest thickets for my uncle and Spencer. Getting soaked, but my gear is good, so I was still warm. Lost a glove. Lost a good hat, but kept on keeping on. Finally, the final hour of light arrived. And, I could tell my hunting partners were both cold and itching to get dry back at the cabin. So we walked back to my uncle's truck, and I said, "I have one more spot I'd like to push off for you."
Near the grassy lot is a good hill with the kind of cover that is impossible to see through and a stand of massive old hemlocks planted long ago by Penn State foresters. The deer are in there at times, and earlier in the fall I spooked two nice doe out of it while scouting. So, I placed my standers together so they wouldn't be shooting toward one another. They had a long grassy logging road to cover. About 100 yards of a clear view to the woods edge. The logging road was the basically the only way out for a bedded deer, unless a wily one stayed still or sneaked out behind me. I hiked around the backside of the hill and started pushing through the thickets. No one else was out there in the nasty weather except us. And, something else was there too.
I crawled and twisted through the dark thickets and finally emerged to where I could stand up under the sentinel pines. I took no more than five steps when I heard "Crack!" It was the report of a rifle, and I couldn't believe it, and it was my guys! One of them had shot! Doe didn't open until the next day, so it could only mean one thing. A buck! I trotted a few more steps and yelled, "Hey! Was that you? Did you shoot?"
"Yeah! Big buck! Big buck!"
I couldn't believe my plan had actually worked! A buck was in there! He watched me walk by him twice and then he finally moved when I drove him off the hill.
My uncle said he was leaning down because his back was hurting, and he said, "Spence, if anything comes out....you take the shot."
A few minutes later he heard Spencer say, "Oh My God....."
He looked up in time to see Spence take the shot and he watched the deer jump and slip into the thicket on the other side of the logging path.
I ran to the bottom of the hill right to them....
"Over there...about a 100 yards in front of us..." It crossed exactly where I told them it would.
"OK, let's give it a minute, just in case..."
Oh, how I wish that buck had piled up in a heap. But it wasn't meant to be. We tracked his predicted path, but we found no blood. Nothing. And, then darkness was upon us. And the big buck was gone. Victorious.
Yet, my uncle would later say, he enjoyed that part of the weekend the most. Going after that buck in the rain. It was fun. And, no one felt worse than Spence, but what's the use of making a guy feel bad. I know he did. But, I tried to encourage him, "Spence, the next shot you take is the more important shot now. Can't do anything about this one. At least we know he is alive and well. Might get a chance at him again." I know all to well the heartache of a miss.
Spence said it would have been the largest buck he would have ever shot in his life. At least 10 points, massive body. Despite the fact that I had pushed him off the hill that wise old buck never ran. He was walking, not running when the shot rang out. He was just sneaking and slipping on by, and this time, luck was on his side. He could have been stone dead, perhaps an inch or two away from death. And, he had slipped away from us.
There are times when I say to my wife, you know sometimes the best movies, the best books, don't end the way you expect them to or even hope them too. Sometimes it's the bitter ending that is better, the heartbreak. It kind of keeps one going more, makes us more determined to find success even when it slips right by, through our finger tips, out of our grasp just when we think we've got it.
We returned to the cabin with some broken hearts that night, but then the snow started falling through the pines, and everything was awesome again, and we were part of a fantastic winter scene in the mountains, warm and dry in a wooden cabin, and we were all full of hope for the next hunt, the next day. Sometimes the best hunts don't always end with a successful harvest.