Great Northern Productions

The Waterfall Buck

by Tom Blais

It is 4:30 a.m. at the Benoit campsite and everyone is awake. I slip out of my sleeping bag and into my rubber boots. After eight days of rain, the floor of my wall tent is nothing but a muddy quagmire. I have been with the Benoits for three weeks filming their video. Three cameramen were travelling with them; however, because of the harsh environment one cameraman decided to leave early.

I had just about finished cooking breakfast when I heard a voice outside of the tent. "Tommy, Tommy." It was Lanny Benoit calling to me in his smirking voice. "Come on in, Lanny" I said, "I've cooked your favorite go-all-day, trackers breakfast with bacon, eggs, peanut butter, toast, and coffee."

Lanny shooting at his buck across the waterfall.
Lanny shooting at his buck across the waterfall.

"Well, isn't this nice," said Lanny, gratefully taking his plate. "The rain turned to snow during the night and there should be snow up north for tracking," he said between bites. We ate quickly and I grabbed my camera and gear ready for a new adventure with the Benoits.

We drove north about fifty miles on the slippery snow covered roads. Lanny was driving; his younger brother, Shane, was in the passenger seat; and I was in the backseat with my younger brother, Bill, also a cameraman; and Larry Benoit. Larry Benoit is the father of this legendary clan of great whitetail hunters.

"Hey kids, keep your eyes peeled for tracks back there," Lanny said in anticipation, as we turned onto a logging road. Lanny has an amazing ability at spotting buck tracks while bouncing along at thirty miles an hour.

"There's one, Lanny," Shane said.

"Looks too small," Lanny said and stepped on the gas knowing he has not found the right one yet. The truck moved on, then suddenly skidded and came to an abrupt stop. "That looked like a big buck track," Lanny said as he jammed it into reverse, snapping our heads forward. This time Lanny stopped the truck and hopped out for a closer look. I got out with my camera ready, watching Lanny. "Who said you could get out?" Lanny yelled.

"I'm not here, I'm your shadow," I shot back.

Grinning, Lanny said, "Well shadow, this buck just isn't what I'm looking for either Let's go!" We jumped back in and off we headed again.

Riding with Lanny in "Casper", Lanny's nickname for his 1988 white Suburban with a custom lift kit and 35" tires, is an adventure in itself. Lanny drives the Suburban with incredible skill where most ATV riders wouldn't dare crossing rivers, climbing over boulders, and mauling through swamps. After three hours of rough riding, stopping and backing up, I was feeling nauseous and looked a little green. Larry, who had been watching me closely, said laughingly, "Now you know what I've been going through all these years."

We were on one of those ancient logging roads, miles from pavement, when Lanny spotted what he was looking for, a big old buck track. Lanny said it was an old flat footer. A flat footer is what the Benoits call a buck that walks leaving its dewclaws in each print. He explained that a younger buck walks on its toes, seldom leaving dewclaw marks. "This buck is old and heavy, just the type I'm looking for." "Let's go get him Tommy," Lanny said with a smile.

Lanny Crosses the river to retrieve his deer.
Lanny Crosses the river to retrieve his deer.

Lanny and I were off tracking the old flat footer; we went through swamps and some nasty brush holes. "Look! See how he struggled to get through this brush, that tells me he's got a good rack on him," Lanny explained. Lanny was moving at a fast pace, covering a lot of ground. He told me he tracks at a fast steady pace in order to catch up to the buck, only slowing down when he knows the deer is near. "I'm not going to waste my whole day creeping up on a deer that's three miles ahead of me. I want some action," he said. The tracks went up a small ridge covered with spruce trees. "I smell him," Lanny said as he suddenly went into slow motion. We crested the hill and found the buck's bed with a fresh scrape next to it. The area reeked of tarsal. "We spooked him," he said. "We should have spotted him under that spruce tree." Lanny once again picked up his pace and headed after the bounding tracks.

I had trouble keeping up with him; I was carrying a twelve-pound digital camera trying desperately not to get it wet. I yelled to Lanny, "Remember, don't shoot the buck until I say, SHOOT 'EM!"

"Ok, I hear ya," Lanny said hot on the deer's trail.

It takes me about seven seconds to turn my camera on and focus it on a deer. With Lanny's super fast shooting ability that buck could be on the ground before the camera had time to come on. The buck started to slow down turning Lanny into a serious predator. "There he goes."

"No, don't shoot him, I can't see him," I said as the big deer took off through the thick brush. That was how it went for most of the day; Lanny would catch up to the buck just getting a glimpse but not enough time for me to film the deer.

The big deer kept going in a big circle, crossing over our tracks many times. Lanny said that this buck didn't want to leave his favorite hideout; which was a thick spruce covered mountain. "I'm going to put some pressure on him," Lanny said. "That bucks got to move out of this thick stuff so you can film him." Lanny could have taken the deer a couple of times. But he had waited patiently for my command to shoot so that I could get the film footage and I could tell his patients were running out.

We jumped the big deer again. We were right behind him moving swiftly pushing through the jungle of snow covered spruces. The buck was headed east moving away from the deer's core area where we had spent much of the day. The woods had started to open up but the deer wasn't slowing down. After a mile or so we could hear the distance sound of a waterfall and the tracks were headed in the same direction.

"This isn't good," Lanny said. "The buck is headed for that river and I'll bet you he's going to cross it." We came to the edge of a raging river just above a huge waterfall that emptied into a beautiful lake. The tracks disappeared into the rapids at a narrow point of the river.

"There is no way that buck made it across those rapids," Lanny yelled above the roar of the waterfall. "He must have gone over the falls. That buck is either in the lake or has swam to the other side." Normally, the deer would have crossed easily but after all the rain, the river was flooding and would have been too powerful for him to cross.

Left Lanny Benoit and videographer Tom Blais with lannys 225LB 11 Point Buck
Left Lanny Benoit and videographer Tom Blais with lannys 225LB 11 Point Buck

Lanny ran along the river looking over the falls, scanning the shore of the lake. He was holding his rifle in both hands as he tried spotting the buck. "There he is," he said to me pointing with his rifle barrel at the woods just across the lake. I stepped up next to Lanny, shouldered my camera and hit the record button. I could just see the deer's chest about seventy yards away. He appeared to be standing there looking right at us. "Shoot 'em?" Lanny yelled.

"I got him, shoot him," I yelled back. His 270 barked and through the camera's lens I could see the bullet strike the deer behind the shoulder, spraying water and hair into the air. The buck bounded away in a blur as I heard two more shots. I kept the camera rolling, panning back to Lanny.

"What do we do now?" he asked.

I said, "Let's go get it." This would not be easy, as the deer was out of our sight and no doubt dead but it was on the other side of that torrid river. We went above the falls to a wider part of the river where the current was weaker and Lanny tried to cross. He waded in past his knees and then turned around saying the rocks were too slick and the current was too strong. We needed to cross but how?

Lanny said, "I'll get my chainsaw and we will drop a tree across this part of the river." When we got to the truck, we found Larry there and signal shots notified Shane and Bill to come back. With chainsaw and axe in tow, we all hiked back to the waterfall. Lanny and Shane worked together cutting down an old spruce tree that would just clear the river. Shane used the axe to cut the branches that stuck up from the downed tree. One by one, we slowly crossed with the whitewater rushing just below our feet. One misplaced step and we too would end up in the lake below, knowing that we might not survive the falls.

On the other side, we quickly spotted the old buck behind a dead fall where Lanny had last shot. He had a thick chestnut colored rack with eleven points and long beams. I rolled the deer over and cleaned him up in preparation for the camera when I noticed that Lanny had hit the deer with all three shots. I could not believe it.

It was getting late and there was no way we could bring the deer out before dark, it was too dangerous to try. We hid the buck from all predators and hiked back out. The next morning, we brought a fifty-foot rope to drag the buck back across the rapids. Pulling the buck back across the river was very dangerous. We attached one end of the rope to the bucks rack and the other end to a stick. Lanny tossed the stick across the river to Shane. Shane tied the rope to a tree and Lanny rolled the deer in to the river. The buck went under water and was soon on the other side of the river. I caught the buck's rack and pulled it up the bank. With teamwork and patience, we finally got the buck back to camp. What a hunting adventure and I captured it all on film!

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