The ground I covered, miles I walked, and time invested paid off during early muzzle loader and rifle season. Unless I know where I want to be 5-10 miles of walking in a day is a normal day of deer hunting for me. I carry a gps so the miles I cover is not estimates. I know exactly how far I've walked at the end of everyday. I hunt public land in the Alleghany Highlands and I like hunting as far away from the road in the steepest, nastiest, thickest, roughest ground you can find where no one else wants to walk to. It's hard to get out of bed some mornings at 3:00 am day after day so I can drive to where I'm hunting and give myself enough time to walk up what ever mountain I'm hunting normally its straight up and down walking and get to where I want to be before daylight. I hunt these places because bucks on Virginia public land only get old and mature enough to grow a trophy rack because they are lucky enough to get old and wise and they live in these places where there is no pressure from man. A man probable doesn't even sit foot on most ground that I hunt and I take great pride in that.
I was over 2 miles from my truck by the crow flying where I was hunting the second Wednesday of Rifle season. It was the day we had freezing rain through Tuesday night into Wednesday morning and then turned into snow shortly after daylight. I didn't make it to where I wanted to be before daylight. I missed daylight by about a half hour because I was running late and had a long walk to make. I was late from simply being worn out from the miles I had put on my legs through out the season.
When I dropped into the hollow I was going to hunt the wind was in my face and the leaves were soaking wet from the cold rain so this was ideal for me. If there was any deer in the area below me they wouldn't smell me but it was possible they could hear me fighting and walking through the thick mountain laurel. The ground was steep and there was loose rocks under the leaves which between that and the thick brush was almost impossible to slip in quietly. If you could imagine walking through brush and flipping a rock now and then, snapping a stick her and there; if a deer couldn't smell you or see you a person would basically sound like a old buck coming through the brush which leads me to the next part of the story.
I positioned myself so that I could shoot up and down the the hollow and across the hollow to a little finger ridge that split the head head of the main hollow which made two smaller hollows with a big bowl in the mountain in the right hollow. That middle finger ridge and bowl was really brushing and thick. A perfect place for a old buck to live. There was about a 1/8" of ice covering all the brush, it was starting to turn into snow and at this time the wind had not started to blow hard so you could hear pretty good at this point. I was about thirty yards from where I was going to sit for the day in the head of a big hollow right where it feathered into the top of the mountain when I heard something I stopped in my tracks to listen. My heart started to come out my chest when I realized I was hearing a buck's rack making noise on the ice covered laurel brush. Then I realized the buck was coming to me not away from me. I thought, man he thinks I'm a buck coming into his ground. I could see where the sound was coming from but I couldn't see any movement to zero my eyes in on. I had my gun on fire and shouldered ready to stick a bullet in this buck once I could get a glimpse of what he had on his head. I don't shoot scrub bucks and I was to far from my truck to shot anything but a good rack buck. The buck stopped after he realized I wasn't moving. I waited and waited and I figured he was just standing there listening for me wondering where I was. So I thought he wants to hear something. He's wondering where i went
I slowly picked up a stick and snapped it as loud as I could. The buck began to come towards me some more. Then he stopped again and wouldn't move. I figured it worked the first time I'll try it again. I broke another stick then the buck began to put on a show of dominance by raking his rack on the laurel brush. Then he stopped. I waited and waited and nothing. I broke another stick and waited, nothing. I turned over a bleat can waited, and nothing. I waited a few more minutes and gave a few grunts waited, and nothing. I waited to lunch time and never heard or seen anything. I thought "You sneaky old bastard you". As much noise as he made coming toward me he turned around and walked back through the same brush but yet never made a sound.
At this point there was almost 2 inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down. It was raw cold in the teens and what allowed me to stay in there all day and stay warm was the $700.00 and some odd dollars of Cabelas Goretex MTO50 cloths which I pack in on my back in the back of a turkey hunting vest to keep from getting hot and then put them on when I get to where ever I want to sit. I wanted to walk over to where the buck was to see what he had done to give me the slip and also to get some blood flowing in my feet to warm them up a little bit.
I walked about 90 yards from where I was sitting to where the buck was just inside the thick brush and I then found several nice trees horned into the meat of the trees and the hornings went high up on the trees. Between his rack being wide enough to hit the brush when he was walking towards me and by his sign I knew he was a mature buck. Then I found his bed and it hadn't been used one time this bed had been used for years. I said to myself; This is perfect. I'm his bedroom and he didn't see or smell me and he's not spooked. Then about ten yards from his bed I saw his doe's bed. Ah ha! He has a doe that's why he didn't show himself he was just saying hey this is my girl stay away. I dont want to use my energy to fight you unless I have to. Once I learned this I turned right around and went right back to where I was sitting and I knew I was staying there until dark. I figured he was just hanging around in the head of this big hollow in the brush and if I was lucky he would make a loop and swing his doe right back into here sometime and maybe I could catch him when he did.
As 4:00 pm rolled around I had just a little more than a hour of shooting light when I saw something in the bottom on the hollow below me coming up the hollow towards me moving fast. I thought; Here he is it's getting ready to happen. I turned out to be a bear it was running up the mountain towards me in the bottom of the hollow as if he was spooked by something. I knew he had been spooked but didn't know by what. Was there another hunter below me and he caught his wind? Was the buck I'm hunting running his doe in the brush and jumped the bear? I had never been in this particular hollow much less, I had never even hunted this mountain before period.
I figured well shoot I guess I'll hunt out of this hollow which ran out right to my truck. Thought maybe I would learn something, find a deer stand, find some more buck sign, and maybe catch a buck on the way out. Besides it was so cold at about 3,500 feet that my bolt on my gun was trying to freeze up and my safety on my gun was trying to too. All day I keep working my bolt and my safety to make sure they weren't froze up from the moisture from the rain that morning and now snow and dropping temperatures. it was about 10 degrees at this point and my feet couldn't take much more cold. Plus the bear just ran by so all these factors gave me reason to get up and began my way out of the mountains hunting along keeping my eyes and ears peeled in the process in the possibility of catching a buck chasing a doe or get a running shot at a buck if I would jump one. I am not scared to shooting at a running deer and I feel that I'm a solid running shooter.
I hadn't gone 125-150 yard down the mountain from where I had been sitting all day when I seen a doe running right at me about 50-60 yards away with her mouth open breathing hard. I knew she was being ran by a buck and I thought bingo it's getting ready to happen. I had my gun on fire and shouldered watching behind her for movement. I saw a big body dark deer about 30-40 yards behind her. I found a hole in the timber and I seen his rack and knew this is a good one; this is him! Don't look anymore just get a bullet in him and get him on the ground. A couple big trees made a wall and when the buck popped out I could have killed him with a bow. I put the cross hairs on his shoulder and sent a 150 grain hand loaded Hornady SST down range from my Savage 300 WSM. Even though I knew it was a perfect shot my dad taught me to shoot until they stop moving. Never chance letting a big buck getting away from you. I worked the bolt and as he was kicking and rolling I sent another one at him but I later found out I missed him due to him rolling and kicking and a little case of buck fever as all of this happened in the matter of seconds. Regardless he was done.
Here's the kicker after shooting two times and now I was running to the buck a bear, god strike me dead was running right at me and the buck. There is no food this year. No acorns and everything is hungry. I believe with out a doubt the bear was following along at a safe distance just out of sight waiting for the old buck to get wore down and weak from chasing the doe and the bear was waiting for the right time to ambush the buck. I know that's what he was doing. First time I have ever seen anything like that and probably never will again.
I shot him at 4:10 pm. I drug him luckily all down hill 3.6 miles to my truck and I got to my truck at 7:30 at night by myself. My plan worked. He was bringing his doe right back to where they were that morning. He was bringing her back to his bedroom. His teeth said he was 5.5 years old. Both ears had long rips from fighting. He was blind in his left eye from where another buck's tines had knocked it out fighting. Scars on his face and chipped points. He is a 10 point, 17 inches inside spread, carried heavy mass from his bases all the way through. He weighed 151 lbs (which is a good size deer for the part of the country I live in and for not having any acorn crop this year) dressed and he didn't have one ounce of fat on him due to almost no acorn crop. Killing him back deep in the mountains on public land one on one means more to me than anything. It just means so much more to me killing them like that. It's something I'll never forget. He is my best buck to date. I got three pictures of him before my phone died and got some more of him once i got him to the house.
I credit my Dad for me killing this buck. He had hunted this area five years before and found some big buck sign. We looked at Google earth on the computer the night before which gave me a visual idea of where I needed to be and I used my legs and gps to get there. Although I hung in there all day, did the work, and pulled the trigger I would not have been in that specific spot if not for my Dad sending me there.