A fighter he was, that old buck of '86. The first time I saw him he seemed to be in two places at once, or maybe he had company. I wheeled around in my stand in the dark balsams, first looking one way, then the other, confused that I couldn't track down the direction the deer noise was coming from. Then I heard it, south of me, the "tic, tic, tic" that we hunters love to hear. He came out of the gloom and I could just catch a glimpse of that "buck look", because he was in the brush. At my shot, he seemed to fall like a ton of bricks, but I had hit him a bit low. The poor critter then led me straight back to the road. He fell a couple of times, and I thought he was a goner for sure.
Charlie and Jer were at the road, walking and talking, when they heard a lot of noise in the brush. All of a sudden he stumbled out like a drunken sailor. Charlie had a loose scope on his gun and of course couldn't shoot, and Jer didn't shoot because Charlie didn't. Anyway, they trailed him toward the White River, and when I reached the road, they were out of sight. I noticed Jer's bootprints and figured they were trailing him. I motioned to Bill, who was down the road a ways, to hurry on down, and we took off after the others. It was getting pretty dark when Charlie and Jer told us the story of their seeing him.
Incidentally, I think Jer was a little gun-shy, ever since she put the scope on my 308 too close to her face about noon. She was shooting at a doe on the logging road and ended up with a broken nose and a black eye. Lucky thing she's a tough woman!
We were trailing that buck to the river brush when we heard a lot of ice and water noise downstream. Bill ran up there, but it was too dark downstream to see anything. Then we tracked the deer to where he had jumped in the water. We marked our path and got out of the woods for the night. I figured on finding him dead the next morning, but Jim and I only found where he had come up on the bank and then jumped or fell back in. Jim, my neighbor, had agreed to help me, and I would have never done it without him!
We proceeded downstream and spotted an area on the other bank that looked like he had gotten out there. We had our waders in my packsack, and Jim and I walked downstream through the thick alders until we realized the White River was too deep to cross anymore. It was only a few minutes before Dan and Rod, a couple of friends, came by hunting in a canoe. They brought Jim back across the river to my side, and promised to look for the buck.
By now we figured for sure that the buck had just died and sank to the bottom. I told Jim that I would walk the river to Southerland Bridge if I had to! We walked that river bank for about a mile, and lo and behold, we found the spot where the buck had gotten back on shore! We headed after him and noted that the track was hard already, which meant that he had been on shore for awhile. He had apparently laid down a few times, but always got up, the poor critter. We could even see where he had made a little circle, and laid down three times. He was pretty hurt, but deer are amazing animals.
We cached the packsack and waders and moved on. After another half-mile of searching we finally found soft tracks. He had started traveling a little faster; he knew we were on his trail. We then saw that he was starting to circle, so Jim followed his tracks and I cut across. We could hear him ahead of us when suddenly I heard a shot from Jim's gun and a loud, "Whoopee!" I knew what happened when Jim yelled, "I got him for ya, Ralph!" I was so excited that I was "whooping" too as I ran up to the deer. There he was, a big eight pointer. He was only about a hundred feet away from jumping in the river again.
Well, we snapped some pictures, gutted him out, and started the drag. At noon we had him to the road. What a monster! He weighed in at 210 pounds at Angler's All registration station. It had taken me twenty-one years of hunting, but I had finally gotten a big one.
P. S. Some years have past, but I know that no buck will ever come close to that one for pure tenacity. The 308 shell had entered slightly low, grazing the pericardial (heart) cavity, completely breaking the right leg and badly injuring the left. I have always wondered how long a human would last with such a wound. I have always felt a little sheepish and certainly sorry for wounding the animal, but hunting is not always perfect or pretty. It is at worst a regrettable experience and at best a satisfaction of an old and primitive instinct. When I got that buck my son wasn't old enough to hunt, and he just got his first Pope and Young buck this December! We are planning a once-in-a-lifetime Alaskan moose hunt for September. My how the years fly by! I've gotten some good bucks since that White River buck, but his memory will be forever fresh in my mind.