Great Northern Productions
White Mountain Adventure, One buck at the expense of two. By Robert A Crary

New Hampshire 1999

I am thirty-eight years old and have been hunting since I was twelve. I've shot quite a few deer, but have yet to harvest a wall-hanging buck. I've had several chances, but for one reason or another, I was not able to drag out a nice buck.

With the close of the 1988 deer season, my mind was already thinking ahead to the season coming. Who would have believed it was to turn out as it did.

Each year I look forward to the hunting seasons, bow and rifle, in the mountains of New England. Although a Vermont resident, I've primarily hunted the Northern woods of Maine with three friends during the last week of November. There are decent bucks in Vermont but bigger woods and less hunting pressure always draw me to Maine and this year to New Hampshire.

This year I wanted to get in some extra hunting before I went to Maine. So to sharpen my tracking skills, get in better shape and acquire more hunting time, I purchased a New Hampshire license. This year the New Hampshire rifle season started November 8th and would end on December 3rd, adding another week beyond Vermont and Maine seasons. I hunted a couple of days around Lyme, New Hampshire without any luck. It rained hard the first day and was quite warm the next. Sunday, November 12th, my friend Gary Clough and I headed for the Northern Maine woods.

During the week and a half of hunting, I had come across some good tracks but had never managed to catch up with the deer that had made them. Gary harvested a four-pointer. Gary's brother Dale and another good friend, Brad Lockwood, came up to hunt with us later in the week. Between the four of us we saw twenty-eight deer. Dale passed up an opportunity at a small buck and Brad shot at another good sized buck -- that was the extent of this year's Maine hunting season; without the success we had hoped for.

Early Wednesday morning, Gary, Dale and I decided to head back home to spend Thanksgiving with our families. Gary and I turned our sights to New Hampshire, where we hoped for fresh snow. Little did I know this was going to be the most exciting, disappointing, and rewarding part of my hunting season.

The next day, after Thanksgiving, we went up to my Uncle's old farm in the White Mountains. I had hunted these mountains as a boy. There never used to be many deer there, but in the recent years the herd has come back some due to better management.

When we arrived at Uncle Clayton's house, it was the usual cluttered place I remembered. He lives alone and housekeeping is not a priority for him! We made ourselves comfortable and got a good night's rest for the day ahead.

Early the next morning we headed up the road about a half a mile and parked the vehicle. The mountains had received a light dusting of snow over night, making tracks in the hardwoods distinguishable between old and new. I had gotten about fifty yards into the woods when I came across what I was searching for; a track with rounded toes, stagger, and foot dragging. He had to be at least 200 pounds. I followed the track for about an hour east. After a while, I figured I was following his night wanderings down low on the mountain, so I decided to head up the mountain, hoping to cut his fresh track heading up to bed. Halfway up the mountain, around 10:10, I came across where two deer had bedded down and then got up to feed. I felt pretty certain that one was a doe and the other a buck, possibly around 140-150 pounds. The buck really wasn't one I was interested in, but I continued to follow it on the chance he might have a decent rack.

It wasn't too much later when I heard a couple of shots in the direction the deer had headed. I found out later that Gary had been tracking a doe and buck at the same time, he had been the one I heard shooting. He said the buck had been standing up the mountain about a hundred yards away when he shot. He noticed the buck had an exceptionally wide spread. He had followed the two deer over the top of the mountains, into a large basin covering a good distance of the 3900 feet elevation mountain. He was not able to get another sighting, so he decided to head out a bit earlier, knowing it may take longer to find the way out of unfamiliar woods.

I, too, didn't fair much better for the day and joined Gary at the vehicle, looking forward to hot food and a chance to recharge our systems for the next day.

Sunday morning we entered the woods with three inches of fresh snow that had fallen during the night. Once again the tracking was excellent, except for the fact that the snow had stopped during the night so the deer had plenty of time to track things up before daybreak. Well, every hunter knows that there are always going to be some sort of obstacles, but they always hope for the perfect conditions.

Gary decided he was going to head south east and I decided to walk south up the mountain. It wasn't too long before I came upon a track made by a medium buck, maybe four hours earlier. He was heading up the mountain, the same direction I was traveling; I decided to follow along. An old track can become real fresh when the deer is jumped from his bed. Gary tells of the freshest track as being the one with deer standing in it. I tend to agree!

I had been following along for about two hundred yards when the track turned and headed east. I continued south hoping to find a fresh trophy track. I hadn't gone three hundred yards when I found the track of a buck that might go 200 pounds. It was what I'd been hoping for. He had come down off a brushy knob and was cruising through some open hardwoods. I stopped to take the sling off my rifle, change from mittens to gloves, and clean the snow from my scope before starting off on the track. As he went into a gully, I noticed more tracks accompanied his. I wasn't sure if they were from the deer I had been following earlier or another. I searched out the freshest, largest track I could find and followed it up the mountain.

The buck back-tracked a good thirty feet on his own track; we were heading near the edge of some pretty steep terrain. It was quite rocky and there were some small saplings; not the best walking. I was thinking that he might be bedded close by. Sure enough, I came upon his bed which he had scrambled out of. He hadn't bounded away so I was thinking that he probably wasn't sure what it was that had startled him. It was foggy, reducing my visibility, so I crouched slightly as I slid each foot into the snow, trying not to make any noise. As I came over a small rise, I looked down through the hardwoods. Fifty yards away I could see the front half of the buck standing broad side looking up the mountain. Even through everything happened so fast, I'll never forget how majestic he looked standing there in my snow and fog. His right antler beam protruded out in front of him and I could see the long tines branching upward from it A perfect picture of a trophy buck in the North Woods.

I figured if I got my 30-06 bullet into him, behind the front shoulder, way up here in the White Mountains, on snow -- i'd have him before the day was through. I had to hurry the shot, but as soon as the cross-hairs were focused behind his front shoulder, I fired. He went off his feet and landed against a Rock Maple tree. He got up and disappeared straight down the mountain.

I ejected the empty cartridge from my Remington pump and ran as fast as possible down to where the buck had fallen. There was some hair but no blood that I could see until I started to follow him, then I could see a few drops. I figured by the way he was running that he was hit hard.

I try to keep one cartridge in the chamber and four in the clip but when I stopped to replace the one I had fired, I noticed the clip was full. The second shell hadn't fed into the chamber. I had that happen once before when I was shooting at a running buck in Maine a few years before. It's an awful feeling to have a nice buck in your scope only to have the firing pin land on an empty chamber.

As I was reloading, I heard two shots about a hundred and fifty yards below me. I was hoping it was Gary, for he had headed in that direction earlier in the morning. I wasn't three minutes behind the wounded buck when I jumped off a bank onto a wood road. It was then I saw some stranger standing next to my buck. What a sick feeling. When I got down to where the buck lay, the guy said he had heard me shoot, then saw a big deer running down by him. He said the deer wasn't running like a deer can run. The buck had come onto the road, running down it in front of him. He shot, knocking the deer down, then jumped off the bank and shot the buck again in the neck.

I walked up to the animal, noticing where I had hit high behind the front shoulder. The buck was an eight-pointer. His beautiful rack had an incredible spread that could easily fit my rifle, from the barrel to the end of the clip magazine near the trigger guard, within the beams. Later I transferred my field "measurement" to twenty-two inches and found out the deer weighed 197.5 pounds.

At first the guy offered me some meat, but I declined. What I really wanted was the whole deer. Any deer I harvest is always used to the fullest capacity by our family, but for so long I had been hunting for an animal of this magnificence; "meat" wasn't going to soothe the feelings in my gut.

He then offered me a can of beer, apparently he had carried some in his fanny-pack. I said, "No thanks!", personally I think that hunting and alcohol do not mix.' This guy had been "hunting" for twelve days and hadn't seen a deer. For some unlucky reason, he happened onto mine. I can't imagine he'd be very proud of how he had acquired this buck. Hunting the rest of the day was the farthest thing from my mind after that, so I headed back out of the woods, taking my time getting back to the truck.

Gary had seen four deer that day, but nothing he wanted to take. We both had to head to work the next day, so we started home. On the way we talked of hunting the next and final weekend, but the way I was feeling at that moment was pretty sick; even though I felt pretty certain there was another, better buck there, by the size of the tracks I had seen that weekend. I love tracking a trophy buck through the big woods, but after that day I really wasn't feeling like going back.

The next three nights I couldn't sleep much. I kept thinking of how incredible it was that someone just happened to be there that day. Pure bad luck. By Wednesday I started to come around and figured I should try and forget the past weekend. My wife, Dawn, throught I should go back and try for the better buck. Thursday night I gave Gary a call and told him I was heading back to northern New Hampshire. Gary decided he wanted to go also, so we headed out Friday night.

Saturday morning, December 2nd turned out real cold: ten below zero. The trees were snapping and popping with the cold. Both of our beards were completely white from the frost caused by our breathing. We decided to split up, Gary taking off for one mountain and myself to the other. Gary tracked a buck to a gut pile, the deer had been freshly killed that morning.

We talked it over that night and decided to go back where we had hunted the previous weekend. The weatherman was predicting four to eight inches of snow that night. We went to bed early, anticipating the good hunting conditions to come.

Sunday, dawn broke with three inches of fresh tracking snow. It was perfect for going after a trophy buck. The snow was boot-top height, which made the walking quiet: it was all soft without any crust. We headed up the mountain just as we had done before, when I had shot the other buck; Gary going southwest and I heading south.

I hit an old wood road and followed it straight up the mountain until it joined onto another wood road. Slabbing southeast up the mountain, I had probably travelled a quarter of a mile when I found the fresh track of the buck I had come back for. I was pretty excited to find his track at 8:00 in the morning, on fresh snow, and going up the mountain. I immediately stopped to take off my mittens and put on my gloves. Then I took off my sling. I looked up the mountain through the hardwoods which were open for nearly a hundred yards. His track led right up through the open hard woods. Looking ahead, I could see that he had dug up some ferns, a delicacy which deer often feed on before they bed down.

Wanting to be alert for any movement by the deer, I picked out where the track went and where I wanted to walk so I wouldn't have to look down at the ground as I walked. I scanned over the woods to see if I could see him bedded, then turned my scope up to five-power, at least until his track would lead me into thicker cover. I was ready to continue on the hunt with increasing anticipation.

I hadn't gone thirty yards before he jumped from his bed above me!

The first thing I noticed was his good size. I didn't see his antlers until he had bounded ahead a couple of times. He was about seventy yards ahead of me, running up the steep slope of the mountain. I started shooting, after the fourth shot he went down. He laid up there with the top of his back facing me. After what happened the weekend before, I decided to shoot one more time, but it wasn't necessary; he was already dead. I had managed to connect twice; once in the hind quarter and another behind his rib-cage, angling up through his chest cavity.

Robert A Crarys Buck

When I got to where he lay, I could see his left antler buried in the snow. As I pulled his head up out of the snow, I couldn't believe the spread of his antlers! His spread was like the other buck! He had bedded on a little plateau about twice the size of his body. There's no way I would have seen him as he was laying. I wouldn't have been able to see his body, but maybe his antlers. If he had run to my right, it would have been a next-to-impossible shot. As it was, it was probably the hardest shot I had ever made. Certainly on this day I was in the right place and the right time. Pure good luck.

The drag was an all downhill model to the vehicle and I was back to the farm by 9:30 AM. The buck had eight points with a 24-inch spread inside the antlers. He was really short bodied and dressed out at 183 pounds; not a bad sized deer for the last day of the season. During the early part of the season, I thought he may have weighed well over 200 pounds.

After we got home that night, and the pictures had been taken, I couldn't help but be amazed at my fortune this season. It's really something how you never know what will happen while you're out in the Northwoods of New England in November and December. With persistence, a lot of luck, and God's help; hunting the truly magnificent Whitetail Bucks and tracking them down in the snow, one on one, is my ultimate challenge.

Robert A Crary
Robert A Crary

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