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Posts Tagged ‘white-tailed buck’

buck

The spark that ignites the fire is usually that chance encounter in the forest. A massive buck, 7 or 8 years old and so woods-wise as to be a sage in all things sylvan, winds up crossing paths with a human. The encounter is usually fleeting, but that’s all it takes.

The human goes home and dreams of deer.  It becomes an obsession, a quest of near epic proportions.

For the truth of the matter is that such deer are phantasmal entities.  A simple dictum governs them:  you don’t get to be old if you’re stupid or careless. And the corollary of this dictum is that all those old monster deer, unless they have lived their whole lives in parks or on very limited access private land, are way smarter and way more cautious than the typical whitetail.

A deer lives by its nose and by its ears. The simplest snapping of a twig or the slightest waft of human body odor on the wind will force these old veteran bucks into extreme caution mode. The young deer learn to read the sounds and scents from their mothers. The bucks that watch their comrades fall from arrows flying from trees or from hidden gunmen get a crash course in human detection and human evasion.

A few years of such harsh lessons, and they become the grayness against the tree trunks in November. They become the stillness of the crisp air. They become more silent than the acorns falling upon leaf litter.  They become beings that both exist and vanish, and no exactly when the vanish effort must be at its strongest.

So was the story of this old buck who had lived for 8 years of flying arrows and flinging lead. He knew every approach that man would make into his Allegheny Mountain redoubts. He knew the scent of man, including all the cheap cover scents that the hunter will slather upon his body in hopes of fooling neophyte deer. He knew the exact sound of a hunting boot cracking a beech twig in the heavy leaf litter.

He was a maestro of evasion, and most hunters are not maestros of deer. Most hunters are able to get the drop on the neophytes and cull them from the herds pretty easily. They also take the middle-aged bucks that get so cocky and horny that they forget that a human hunters are still a very real threat.

But some hunters are not content with the neophytes and the cocksters. The spark of a chance encounter has lit a flame that does not burn out easily. Indeed, it might not burn out at all.

The great buck had heard the guns go off for more than a week. It wouldn’t be long, and all the hunting camps would be cleared out. The ATVs would not longer be squalling up and down old tram roads. The forest would return to the more natural order of things, and he could get to work on trying mount a few yearling does before the long nights of snow came sweeping in.

As the darkness fell, he ambled cautiously down from his favorite remote stand of rhododendron and eased his way down to the creek.  He drank of the cold November water. He allowed his brain to relax and passed a little gas.

Why he had chosen that second to relax, we will won’t know, but it was at that very second that a gun raised from the opposed bank. A shot was fired. The bullet shattered the buck’s lungs. He leaped in surprise, and he fell down in death. The cold creek water ran red with his blood.

The hunter emerged from his hiding spot.  For three months, he’d been tracking this buck. He’d put out trail cameras, and he’d read all the sign.  He knew that he’d never be able to get such a buck during the hard gunning early part of the season.

So he waited until that particular night, and he positioned himself up against the wind underneath a white pine tree. He sat stoically through the waning hours of the day. He felt not a tinge of impatience. He knew that the big buck would come. It might be almost dark, but he knew that the buck was still there and that he would be coming.

For years, this man had allowed himself to become ensconced in all things deer. He had settled with the neophytes and cocksters, but he had always yearned for a big buck.

And now one lay before him, dead from a bullet chambered in a rifle that he had carried that he had fired with expertise and efficiency, and it was so oddly satisfying. Yet it was also quite disconcerting.

The challenge been met, and all of us who seek goals know the feeling of reaching them. There is a certain feeling of sadness that the challenge no longer avails itself in the same way.

Every hunter, though, comes to love his prey. And there is always a remorse in killing.

And to kill a creature such as this one is to kill out of a whole history, a whole set  knowledge that we will never know.

It is like felling an ancient oak and wondering about all those who sat under its shade.

The hunter was a trophy hunter, but he paid no more than the usual hunting license fee.  He had never even left the state or even the county in which he resides.

He had let the fire burn and burn and burn until he could only go forth into the big woods and follow that quest for the big rack.

And no he had done so.  He was connected once again to those Pleistocene hunters whose blood coursed through his veins, and who hunted, not for big racks, but for their very existence.

In France, some of those ancient hunters painted the likeness of their quarry on cave walls. In modern America, the buck’s head would be preserved in a taxidermy. It would hang on the wall, a tribute to both the buck’s cunning and sagacity and the man’s skill in hunting.

And the gamy buck venison would fill more than a few dinners as the dark days of winter approached.

And the buck would nourish the man. His flesh would feed him with the nutrition of biochemistry. The knowledge of having hunted this creature would nourish the man’s spirit.

And in the summer, there would be many bucklings among the fawns. Some of them would be the sons of the old maestro, and maybe one or two of those would have their father’s cunning and wisdom to live out long lives in the oak and beech woods.

And maybe in 7 or 8 years, they too will fall as their father did, and they will nourish the hunter as he did.

For that is the story of deer and deer hunting. It is not about the murder of the beasts. It is about passing it on,  so that both deer and men can live out their dramas of hunter and hunted.

It is a relic of a time when man was a beast of prey and all meat that he consumed was either hard-hunted or hard-scavenged.  It is a relic that pays tribute to that heritage, though few hunters will ever contemplate what that heritage actual does mean.

For it is ultimately about humans expressing our animality as much as it is about deer expressing theirs.

But it is almost never understood in those terms.

But it most certainly is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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buck white antler

The second Thursday in November has just passed. In most of the country, thoughts will be about the big feast that comes exactly seven days later, but not in my part of the world.

This coming week does include American Thanksgiving. Big family meals will be held that day, and swarms of people will go charging out to shopping malls on Friday.

But in West Virginia, another holiday takes precedence: “buck gun season.”  This coming Monday, the woods be filled with more loud booms than the Fourth of July.  Organic protein and “horns” will be the prize, and a few more forest destroying cervids will be removed from the population before the coming winter turns them into twig chomping fiends.

When I was a child, all sort of people came into the rural districts, often people who had grown up in the area but had gone into the industrial parts of Ohio for work. Ohio’s deer season, “shotgun only,” came later in the year, but West Virginia’s came the week of Thanksgiving. If one wanted to visit the family for the holiday, why not come a few days early and drop a buck for the freezer?

It was such a big event that the school was out all week, not just Thursday and Friday. We received a truncated Christmas vacation, but school attendance during that week would have been terrible. So the district let us all out.

And the tradition continues. I don’t know of a single school district in West Virginia that stays open the week of Thanksgiving.

In fact, virtually every college or university in West Virginia has a week-long holiday this coming week. It is that big a deal.

And it’s not like the deer are massive trophies. The state has antler restrictions in only a few public hunting lands, and in most of the state, there will be many young bucks taken. Because the “antlerless” firearms season occurs at the same time, button bucks will be taken as well. When that many younger bucks are removed from the population, the number of mature deer with nice racks becomes much lower.

But this is a state that allows the hunter to take six deer a year.  If you have a family who owns land and have two hunters who have resident rights to it, you’re talking potentially twelve deer killed a year, which could feed a family of four fairly well.

I come from a family of deer hunters, but they were not venison eaters. When I was a kid, every deer that got shot was given to a relative or someone who couldn’t hunt. My grandpa, who loved to hunt everything and would have us eat cooked squirrel brains, wouldn’t even field dress a deer. That was my dad’s job, and for whatever reason, if my dad or my grandpa even smelled venison cooking, it would make their stomachs weak.

I never had this problem, and in the last few years, I’ve learned how to cook venison properly. I much prefer the meat to beef, especially when we’re talking leaving certain steak cuts rare.  These deer have been living well on acorns, and their flesh has that oaky, rich taste, which some call gamey. I call it delicious.

I’ll be in the woods early Monday morning. I don’t know if I’ll get anything.  The odds are usually against my killing anything that first week.  I don’t have access to the best deer bedding grounds, and the hunting pressure means they won’t be moving into the area where I hunt.

My favorite time to go is Thursday evening, when more than half the local hunters are at home watching football games and digesting turkey. I would rather go through waterboarding than watch a football game, so it’s not big loss for me.

I am a naturalist hunter on the quest for meat. My ancestors in Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain hunted the red deer and the roe thousands of years. They got their meat from the forest.

I am doing the same.

And if you really wanted to know what I think of deer, I’d have to say that I love them. They are fascinating animals.  This particular species has been roaming North America virtually unchanged for 3 million years. This animal watched the mammoths rise and fall. It was coursed by Armbruster’s wolf and the American cheetahs.  It saw the elk come down from Beringia– and the bison too. It ran the back country with primitive horses and several species of pronghorn. It quivered and blew out at jaguars and American lions that stalked in the bush, and it dodged the Clovis points of the Siberian hunters who first colonized this land.

The white-tailed deer thrives so well, but this coming week is the beginning of the great cull. Fewer deer mean less pressure on the limited winter forage, which means healthier deer in the early spring. Better winter and spring condition means that does have had a chance to carry fawns to term, and mature does usually have twins if the conditions are good.  Healthier bucks get a better chance to grow nice antlers for the coming year.

A public resource is being managed. Organic meat raised without hormones or antibiotics is easily procured, and stories and yarns are being compiled for exposition that rivals any trophy mount on the wall.

I know deer stories, including ones about the people I barely knew and are no longer with us.

For example:

My Grandpa Westfall once went on a deer drive for my great grandpa, who was getting older.  He valued his clean shot placement, as many of those old time hunters did, and he would not shoot a deer on the run.

But as he grew older, deer hunting became harder for him, so my grandpa decided to jump one out to him.

My grandpa went rustling through the brush to drive one into my great grandpa’s ran, and he happened to bump a nice little buck and a few does that went running in his direction.

Expecting to hear rifle shots, my grandpa was a bit surprised to hear nothing. So when he approached the deer stand, he saw my great grandpa sitting there.

“Did you see those deer?”

“What deer?”

“I ran three out to you. A buck and two does. Why didn’t you shoot?”

“I didn’t see or hear any deer.”

“Well, you should have at least heard them.”

“Well, if there were that many deer coming my way, they must’ve had their sneakers on.”

He didn’t want to tell my grandpa that he appreciated the effort, but that deer drives were against his ethics. He shot deer cleanly, or he didn’t shoot them at all.

These old men will be with me when I’m out on Monday.  I go in their memory, participating in the Great West Virginia Deer Cull.

 

 

 

 

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Bucks are starting to spar. Luckily, right in front of the game camera!

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nice buck

At low light and nearly 100 yards away, but his antlers are in velvet and soon will be hard “horn.”

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A buck with a damaged antler is the first to visit this year’s feeding station:

The antler could very well continue to grow out at this weird angle. The antler is still in velvet and will be for the next month or so.

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An old buck

Source.

Not bad for West Virginia.

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Not a coyote, but I’ll take it:

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It’s just the musk from the glands that brought in this deer, who is apparently too wise to come into the other camera.

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Buck chasing a doe

buck chasing a doe 

On the trail cam early this morning.

 

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well that worked buck

There are two lures in the trees behind this trail cam.

This is the main breeding buck in this territory, and these big ‘uns didn’t get big by not being cautious.  That’s why you almost never see one in the middle of the day.

But this time of year all it takes a doe pee to bring them out!

 

 

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IMG_5909

The rut is in high gear and deer season is little over a week away, so the best way to attract the deer now is is to use this synthetic urine in the scrapes.

This fake urine mimics the scent of rival buck, which will make the resident buck come in and mark over it.

These scrapes are how white-tail bucks mark their breeding territories, which they hold only during the rut.

Outside of the rut, the same bucks will run together in a band all year, but as soon as the hormones take over, they can’t stand each other!

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