Night Hawk Stories... Entry 26
Secrets Of Snow Hunting In Anticosti
ON THE TRACK
I followed LeBrun. Because of the fresh snow, we could move quietly through the evergreen forest. I watched as LeBrun stopped beside spruce trees and broke small branches about every 10 or 20 yards before moving on. Later, I asked LeBrun why he had broken the branches as we stalked.
"If a deer hears us coming, I want him to think we are another deer approaching," LeBrun said. "As deer move through the woods, they will stop to feed on the lower branches of trees. When they bite those branches, the twigs will pop and snap. I also will take a branch and rattle it in overhanging trees to try to simulate the sound a buck's antlers make as they hit the branches in the tree where he's feeding."
Moving slowly and quietly, we continued to stalk while stopping every 10 to 20 yards to break branches and look for deer. I still didn't know whether or not we trailed a buck. I constantly checked my watch because I couldn't believe LeBrun could determine how long we must travel to find the deer. When 15 minutes had elapsed, I assumed LeBrun incorrectly had estimated the time required to locate this invisible buck.
Then LeBrun whispered, "There's the buck."
LeBrun already had his binoculars out and reported, "He's a nice one -- at least 8 points. He's feeding on the moss on the side of the tree. Can you see him?"
As I looked through my riflescope, I spotted the deer. I lifted the riflescope, to view the animal's head and saw heavy, dark antlers. While I took my time admiring the buck, I heard LeBrun say, "If you can get a clean shot, you better take him."
I brought the crosshairs down the deer's neck. Since the buck quartered away from me, I picked a spot behind his front shoulder, hoping the bullet would penetrate the lungs and possibly hit the heart. I squeezed the trigger. When the .243 reported, the buck jumped and ran.
HIT -- BUT NOT DOWN!
"You hit him," LeBrun yelled as he raced through the snow. As I closed ground on my guide, I could see he had stopped at the spot where the deer had stood when I shot.
"I think you got a good hit on him," LeBrun reported. "Let's wait a few minutes, and then we'll follow him up."
We discussed the shot and the animal's reaction after the shot. Then I looked at LeBrun and told him, "You misjudged how long we would search for that buck by three minutes. You told me we would catch up to this deer in 15 minutes, but, instead the stalk took 18 minutes."
LeBrun looked at me with a big grin on his face as he said, "If we'd left the truck when I told you we could overtake the buck in 15 minutes, we would have seen the deer in 15 minutes. But you spent at least three minutes asking me why I thought the track was a buck track and how I knew how old the track was. Then you had to get your gun out of the truck, load your rifle and put on your gloves and hat. If we'd started after the deer when I told you to, you would have seen that buck in your rifle scope in 15 minutes."
I felt like one of Babe Ruth's teammates who had watched as the mighty Babe stood at the plate, took two strikes and then pointed over to the fence, indicating where he planned to hit a home run before the throwing of the third pitch. The Babe accurately predicted exactly what he planned to do and did it. LeBrun performed much the same feat. I knew I'd never stood in the presence of either a luckier hunter or a better hunter than LeBrun on this day.
Finally LeBrun said, "Let's go find your buck."
As we moved through the powdered snow, the telltale red color just off to the side of the track directed our path and gave us hope.
"Look," LeBrun said. "Here's where the buck stumbled. There he is."
Like a sled dog charging out in the new snow at the beginning of a dogsled race, LeBrun raced toward the downed buck as I chased along behind as fast as a son of the South could travel through a medium as unfamiliar as knee-deep snow. Much bigger than the whitetails I generally bagged in Alabama, this buck had a very short nose and the darkest antlers I'd ever seen on a whitetail.
"He's a good buck," LeBrun commented. "But I knew he was from his tracks. Big deer will leave a deeper track in the snow than smaller deer. When I spotted his track, I realized he was a buck. I also knew he was a heavy buck because the track was so deep."
We field dressed the deer and started to drag the animal back to our vehicle. Because I still hadn't accepted what I had seen, I asked LeBrun when we stopped for a rest on the return trip to the truck, "How did you learn to snow track?"
"I've hunted deer all my life, and I've guided hunters here on Anticosti for the last 25 years," LeBrun explained. "I often work seven days a week for three straight months guiding hunters and attempting to find deer for them. So I watch for the little things that help me track quicker and avoid wasting time tracking smaller deer.
"One reason I could predict we could get to that deer quickly was because of the small amount of wind in the air. The wind caused the trees to hit together, and the snow to fall from their branches. These sounds disguised our footsteps. Because everything else in the woods was moving, even if the deer saw us, I didn't think he would be spooked. I knew we could move quickly to that buck and could get him in a hurry if you could shoot straight. Then we could spend the rest of the day hunting another buck.
"I have to admit, however, I didn't have much confidence in that little .243 of yours. Most hunters who come to Anticosti bring either a .308, a .30-06 or a 7mm. But that little Browning rifle hit the heart and dropped the buck much more effectively than I would have believed possible."
As soon as we loaded the buck into the truck, LeBrun suggested, "Let's go get another one."