Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Frost Buck

My mother-in-law, Johanna, firmly believes that all big bucks deserve a name that preserves their memory for generations. She has the Christmas buck, an enormous 6 pointer that weighed in at over 200 lbs dressed. As you can probably guess, it was shot on Christmas day. My wife has Talisman, a giant non-typical buck that is one of the biggest in Massachusetts history with a score of 199. The skull of a third giant buck hangs on the wall of Johanna's house. The Bilger buck is a massive 12 pointer that was shot in 1949 by Les Bilger, a renowned hunter and trapper from the area who was a family friend. That buck rough scored 174-175. The buck I harvested this past Saturday wasn't quite at the level of those deer, but he certainly deserves a name. Because of the story that goes with the hunt, I think I'll call him the Frost buck, as a tribute to "The Road Less Traveled." This is how he earned it.

The Frost buck

After a night where Cullen woke up screaming every hour or so, I somehow managed to roll out of bed and make the drive to one of my favorite hunting areas. The wind was howling, with gusts over 30 MPH. I set up downwind of a feeding area, with a bedding area to my south. I was hoping to catch them making their morning commute. Just before first light, I set out a couple pieces of cloth I had sprayed with doe urine. About ten minutes later, I heard what sounded like crashing toward the bedding area, sounds that faded quickly away from me. I suspect a young buck was bedded and came to investigate, only to get a strong whiff of me and head for the hills. In all likelihood, the wind had forced them out of the open feeding area and into the sheltered bedding area earlier than usual.

After a while longer, I crept to another spot where deer move, albeit randomly, throughout the day. It wasn't long before I looked up the ridge to see a couple deer moving. Unfortunately, the wind was swirling toward them in a direction it hadn't blown all morning. I am pretty sure they scented me or something else because they didn't stick around long and never got close to being in range.

My wife is pretty famous throughout MA and New England for this giant buck 

Eventually, I headed back to the house to meet up with Mary May and my father-in-law Jerry. We decided to push an area where we suspected those deer had headed; however, the push yielded nothing. With only about an hour before lunch, we decided to try another short push in area we know well. After getting set, I started to slowly climb a long hillside toward where Jerry was situated. My job in the push is to cover the back door via a route I've walked dozens of times. Generally, I either push deer up toward Jerry or re-direct deer coming from MM's direction. Of course, if you sneak in, it is a great spot to sit and wait, which I have done many a morning. As I walked, I was noticing fairly fresh sign here and there, as well as giant coyote tracks. Suddenly, I came over a knob and saw a blob of orange near one of my old spots. I had to do a double take. At this point, I was way off the beaten path, and we never see other hunters in that area. I was somewhat let down as I pondered what to do next. I decided to circle back a few hundred yards and cross a flat well above him to not disturb his hunt too much. Typically, I avoid that route because walking across it leaves too many gaps in our push, rather than funneling deer toward Jerry's position. In this case, the less-preferred route was my only option.

I slowly made my way up a small secondary ridge and onto a flat that angles uphill for a few hundred yards before hitting thicker woods. I was moving fairly quickly and quietly, as the ground had thawed and allowed me to walk without a crunch beneath each step. As I stepped into a small lane in the trees, I caught a glimpse of the outline of a deer about 50 yards away. I was directly down wind, and he had no clue I was there. As I raised my gun, the deer raised its head, and I could see the reflection of an antler. I took a deep breath, focused, took my time, and squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped instantly.

In full disclosure, it was hard to tell just how big he was originally. I never got a great look at the head, and I could only see from the base of the neck down from where I was standing, but it looked like a big-bodied deer--the perfect kind for filling the freezer. I waited about 20 minutes while trying frantically to get a text message to send to MM letting her know that the deer was down. Of course, I also texted her earlier that there was another hunter in the area, and that text didn't send right away. So, she got the "there is another hunter down here" text and the "deer down" text at the same time. "Yours?!" I eventually got back. I'm sure the suspense was killing her.

In that span, I also heard the other hunter climb down and walk out of the woods. I feel a little bad about the way it happened, although he couldn't see or hear that deer from where he was. I guess luck was simply on my side that morning, and hopefully that luck finds him this season as well.

As they say on those annoying hunting shows, "big buck down"

I eventually walked over to the deer to check and make sure he was dead. The neck shot was a quick kill, and I got my first good look at him. He was bigger than I had thought--way bigger--in fact, the 9 pointer is the biggest deer I've ever killed (granted, I didn't really hunt for about a decade while in college and both rounds of grad school).

Soon after, MM and Jerry got to me and saw the buck. I'm not sure who was more excited, MM or me, but all three of us were smiling from ear to ear as I told the story of how it happened. Our family has been pretty successful the past couple years, harvesting three bucks and a doe, but this is the biggest buck that has been taken by the group since the Christmas buck in 2006.

A family buck! 

We were a long way from the truck, and although over half the drag was downhill, the terrain was fairly unforgiving. The last 1/4 mile or so was almost all uphill. Needless to say, I'm still sore a couple days later, and I'm glad Jerry and MM were there to help me drag it out. Per tradition, we took the buck to Gould's Sugar House to check it in with a state biologist. Processing will begin for us tomorrow, and fresh loins, steaks, burger, and sausage will soon be on the menu.

I always enjoy checking in my deer here in MA and learning more about them from the biologists (also, of course the kid who never wants to look at the camera is staring right at it in this pic)

I always get sentimental after a successful hunt. This year was particularly special because it was the first hunting season for Cullen. Of course, he won't be out there with us, but I like to think of him as my little good luck charm. Additionally, it was my first MA buck, which goes to show that curses can be broken (for more on that, see my synopsis of last year). Of course, I always think about my grandfather, who taught me so much about hunting, and although I never met him, about Ted Howes, the namesake for Cullen's middle name who had such a special influence on MM and her parents (as well as numerous others). Thanks for looking down on us with your amazing facial hair, old timers! You, and fate, steered me down a path in the woods I rarely take, but this time, it was meant to be.

My two favorites snapped a selfie while we were cutting down our Christmas tree last week

Until next time, tight lines!


  1. Very eloquent description of a special hunt. i'm so glad that you payed homage to the mentors that taught us and the knowledge that this tradition will carry on...after all, besides the wonderful meat there is the richness of the stories, the special places in the woods that we revisit annually and the sense of connection that this legacy gives us. Thank you for the story of the Frost Buck. Johanna

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