I have waited so long to write this that I can hardly remember what happened in November. Of course it was “deer season,” and I do have some fond memories of that. There were a few more deer around this year, though we had the smallest group of hunters we have had since we started this business. There were no beechnuts but plenty of apples on wild and domestic apple trees. There were nowhere near as many hunters in my favorite territories as usual, and that made it a little easier.
I always look forward to deer hunting. It gives me an excuse to visit a few of my favorite places. There are certain places in the woods that call me now and then. None of them is on a road or accessible except on foot. Some of them are associated with an event, but other spots have a power over me that I can’t explain. Some of the more remote ones I haven’t been near for a long time. I always try to make a hike up onto Howard Hill and I got there again this year. With no beechnuts it doesn’t attract a large number of deer, but there is always something going on. Since the entire hill is covered with beech trees, it is a very busy place when the nuts are plentiful. It was quiet when I hiked it, with evidence of only the resident group of deer. On the way down the hill, I took a familiar route that always had a few deer in it and often a young buck staking some territory. It has been a few years since I found good buck sign there, but on this hike I checked the scraping places and they were freshly disturbed. Near them I jumped a group of deer and then a single. I didn’t get a good look at any of them, but my impression was that the single was a decent buck.
The place where I saw them happened to be one of the favorite places of my friend Bob Westphal. Bob and I got to know each other years ago at Pierce Pond and he has spent a lot of time at Claybrook Lodge. He comes hunting most falls but has never had great success. Like me, while he is in the hunt, he also pays attention to the places. One fall in this particular spot, Bob sat in the sun and watched two bears that were unaware of his presence. He visits the place each fall even if the deer sign isn’t there. On a dreary, wet November day this year, Bob went to one of his favorite places and almost immediately shot a fat, ten-point buck.
After seasons with no deer at all, this was one of the best events I have experienced. Every hunter at the lodge went in to help with the drag rather than continue hunting themselves. When there were plenty of deer and we were more successful in years past, we took for granted that several hunters would be successful. Each event was a cause for excitement, but Bob’s buck on Howard Hill was more than that. It was as sweet as it gets for me. For November that was the only deer we got, but if we had gotten more it could not have improved on Bob’s ten-pointer. (I got a call from Bob a few days ago, and he wanted to know how Pat would cook a large venison roast. He said the meat was perfect and a lot better than he had anticipated.) The rest of us tried hard but were not successful in November. I am not discouraged; there were plenty of deer. Next year will be better.
In mid-season, on a Sunday, I looked out one morning to see a group of does in the field. I got the binoculars just in time to see a larger deer emerging from the maples. It was a big buck and when he looked my way I recognized him as “Little George”, one of the young deer we have fed over the years. But now he looked more like “Big George”. He had a ten-point rack on the verge of becoming a trophy size and he appeared to be in the 210 to 220 weight class. George’s father used to come around when he was about as old as deer around here live. I assume he is dead now since we haven’t seen him for a couple of years. Once I got a picture with the trail camera that was a portrait of them both head on. They were identical except one was young and the other old. We don’t often get to see the transformation of one of our young bucks to a mature adult. George is coming into his prime, and he will be a “Monstah” if he survives. He was in the field for an hour or more with the does; obviously in love with them all. He must have known about being safe on Sunday because we didn’t see him again. I estimate his age at four and a half years. After that age the survivors become ghost deer. We see their tracks but rarely do we see them. It will be interesting to see if George made it. Hopefully he will return after the season is over.
It was a pleasant fall and all species of wildlife seem to be thriving. I want to thank all of you who have continued to hunt from Claybrook Lodge even in these lean years. Hang in there, as the saying goes. It may pay off after a while.
Pat and Greg