North Country Deer Hunt!
©2014 Brent Reece
The quest begins and ends here, a track in the snow.
I come from a tradition of deer hunting lost to most of the rest of the country. A tradition of deer knowledge and skills handed down through the generations. A type of hunting we call D or D…or just DD. Deer or day, which ever dies first. What it encompasses is the concept that you find a deer track and you get on it. You track that deer until you have either killed it or the day has passed into night.
Real deer hunters celebrate the first snows of fall hunting. Gathering in the backcountry in old haunts hunted by fathers and grandfathers ahead of them. Each hunter having a particular ridge or trail system they preferred. Some having hunted in the shadow of the previous generations or ran along side a sibling who shared the knowledge and skills. Passing on the old ways to insure they survive.
My clan always headed for Crystal/Stacyville and places like the Cow Team Road. Back in the day that was strictly a washed out logging road that had hundreds of miles of side roads and twitch trails all along it. We loved the fringes of the THOUSAND ACRE BOG. Truly, a hellhole for humans, but a paradise for big bucks and record moose.
No matter where you venture you still have to first hike the trails and tracks to find a deer worth tracking. Once you cut the track you get your bearings look over the topography and start your strategy. It is not as simple as just getting on a track and casing after the deer in the hopes you see him just long enough for a shot. You have to know where you are and also figure out where that wily buck is headed. Part of the trick is moving to get ahead of a ridge-runner and ambush him as he runs the ridge. Taking advantage of their tendency to watch their back trail to keep you just far enough behind to stay safe. Cutting the loop as we call it is a sure fire way to get inside his comfort zone and maybe get a good shot. Older deer have had predators chase them before, and learn to watch their backtrail to avoid having one get too close.
You can see this happening as you track the deer right from the start. Initially you are trying to close the gap to catch up to the deer that passed maybe an hour earlier. When he senses you are behind him he will pick certain spots to stop and watch for you. They are always in heavy cover and from higher ground. The tracks will show you he stopped, milled around, and saw you long before you could see him. Then he will slip away, either going higher to run the ridge to a safe place he has used before. Or in some cases I have had deer bust me and tear out full tilt from higher ground and dash down the ridge headed back the way they came. Heading straight back to a secure bedding or feeding area as fast as it’s furry butt can haul it. The latter are never caught up with.
The real smart ones seem to just keep climbing and changing direction. So we sometimes call in blockers to approach the area from other access points to keep the deer from leaving the county entirely. FRS radios will allow you to check in with hunting partners and share info on that wily buck that is staying just too far ahead to be a shooter. We often have other hunters who watch vast stretches of logging road for that deer as we push him as we track him. If he breaks cover and crosses a known road we can sometimes shorten the loop and catch him where he came out. Then get back on the track knowing we are just minutes behind.
I lost a really nice deer once by sending a buddy over to a road I knew my buck was going to cross if he kept running in the same direction. He had to jog about 300 yards from where he had been sitting to get over to where my buck was headed. I was fast approaching that old road when I heard a shot. I was still tracking that buck and was looking all around as I kept on it in case the buck came back my way. When I stepped out of the tree line, there it was, dead on the ground where my buddy had dropped it. That deer had been so preoccupied with me that it just calmly walked out and crossed the road. Stopping on the other side to look back and never saw Ray aiming that old 35 Remington. I couldn’t get mad ….it was only the 2nd deer he ever shot in his life. Sure wasn’t happy about it though. Liver and heart sure tasted good at camp that night. The rest of our little safari teased him enough for all of us!
The Benoits of New Hampshire have written a lot on this style of hunting. As have writers like Hal Blood of Maine. Snow tracking is a lost art and a dying skill. So if you want to be a real hunter and not tree stander. You need to pack light, bring a lunch and warm clothes. Choose a 308 Winchester with see thru mounts, and a low power scope. The scope is faster than iron sights, but sights work better when the shots come at a closer than expected distance.
The best way to learn is to just get out there and track’em! Try to study the topography and you will see how they play the terrain against you. If you stop along the way and get that feeling like you are being watched, you are! Never look for the whole deer, look for an ear flicker, horns, or outlines. Pieces of the deer will catch your eye when he is using cover to hide in.
My good friend Pete Lord of Littleton Maine once took a deer after tracking it for hours. The only thing he could see for sure was the deer’s nose as the steam came out with each breath. He put a 308 170 grainer right up it’s nasal passage! Deer dropped right on the spot! Head was useless for a mount…but man didn’t it eat good!
- Brent 11/24/2014