It wasn’t ‘my’ deer in the first place

Eventually, I lost “my” deer to someone else. In a nutshell, that seems an apt way to sum up my deer season of 2012. At the very least, it allows me the ammunition I’ll use to rib my hunting buddy for the next 40 years or so.

Of course, deer don’t come with name tags attached, and the fact that one of my best pals shot a deer that just happened to be traipsing across a dirt road not 300 yards from a tree stand where I’ve spent far too many hours over the last six years should not come as a surprise.

He has “rut luck,” he’ll say. You can read his side of the story here.

Chris peers out of the double-wide ground blind, waiting for a moose. Or a deer. (Neither showed up).

All I can say is, “If someone was going to shoot a deer that wasn’t really mine (but which I expect has been taunting me by leaving scrapes and rubs all over “my” hunting territory), I’m glad it was my co-worker Pete Warner.”

Internally, of course, I’m saying something else. Like: “Why couldn’t it have been me?” Or like, “What am I doing wrong?” Or like, “C’mon, Pete. Give a guy a break!”

All in jest, of course.

The fact of the matter is, I had quite an interesting hunting season. Really, I did.

One big reason: This year, my other hunting buddy, Chris Lander, and I were multitasking. You see, Chris had received a moose permit that allowed him to take a moose (of either gender) from the Wildlife Management District that we always deer hunt in (WMD 26), and that permit was good for nearly the ENTIRE month of November.

That, you might figure, is a pretty cool deal.

And we figured just that. We could hunt deer, if one crossed our paths (they didn’t). We could hunt moose, if we chose (we did). And we could have loads of fun in the Maine woods while waiting to fill either of our deer tags, or the moose tag.

Unfortunately, we learned that the moose of WMD 26 are either a) non-existent, b) nocturnal, or c) migratory critters which decided to bug out for warmer — or was it colder? — climes when November rolled around.

Well, most of them did. More on that in a bit.

First off, I must point out that Chris and I did our homework. We scouted. Man, did we scout.

A couple of weeks before the season started, we even talked to a nearby moose, which proceeded to tear down trees and make a general ruckus before wandering back into the woods.

I also went to the state’s top moose biologist, Lee Kantar, and asked him what we ought to expect during the November moose hunt.

Chris Lander, Pete Warner and John Holyoke with Pete’s 180-pound nine-pointer.

Kantar warned us that the hunt would be different than anything we’d done before. First, there wouldn’t be as many moose in downtown Otis (that’s a joke … there is no downtown Otis) as there are, say, in downtown T4, R15 (ditto). And second, the moose that do summer down around Beech Hill Pond would spend their autumns doing more than wallowing in shallow ponds and hiding in dark growth.

They’d be eating.

Kantar told me to look for moose chow — small, tender trees — and we’d have our best shot at finding moose.

And that’s what we did.

In fact, we erected a ground blind in an area that was full of moose chow. And moose tracks. And moose droppings. Not far away, there were two ground scrapes made by a deer. We were multitasking. We were set. We knew it.

Then the season started … and nothing happened.

Sometimes we followed fresh moose tracks into the woods. Sometimes we sat in that extra-large ground blind, side-by-side, and waited for the moose that never came.

And one morning, as one or the other of us snored (the blind was very comfortable … did I mention that?), the other of us (Chris) surveyed the landscape and pointed at a nearby tree.

“Look at that,” he whispered, a trace of frustration in his voice.

I followed his gaze and noticed something that was, in equal parts, encouraging and infuriating: All of the small trees within 30 yards of our stand — the tender, tasty moose-chow trees — had been munched down to nubs.

Those same trees had been un-munched just a day or two earlier. Now, they were destroyed. The moose had come … they’d eaten … and they’d left.

Feeling duly humbled by our resident moose herd, we took a walkabout after leaving the blind that day. We checked out the buck scrapes — the ones that indicated that a deer might stop by for a visit before the end of the season.

Both scrapes were full of fresh moose droppings. I’m not making this up.

The moose were taunting us.

Undaunted, we increased our efforts. On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, we finally saw moose. Three of them. Daddy Moose. Mummy Moose. Baby Moose.

Or, more accurately, Chris’s brother, Billy, saw moose. And I saw moose. But Chris? He had to work that day. And since he was the permit-holder, and wasn’t present for the festivities, we had to let those moose amble away.

The last we saw of the moose family, they were jogging down the camp road, then up a woods path into an old clear cut. I swear I heard one of them laughing.

The next morning, Chris and I followed those tracks into the cutting. For 400 yards, we tracked. Then the tracks vanished … just like the moose had the night before.

Alas, that day wasn’t a total washout. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself now.

You see, our long-lost pal, Pete (who had given up on hunting the Otis woods because had found greener pastures elsewhere), joined us for the hunt.

He’d rustle us up a moose. No doubt.

That was the plan, anyway. “My” deer had other plans, we learned later.

Cold after an early-morning sit, Pete stood up for his own walkabout. He walked right into a dream scenario: A doe popped out of the woods. Then a buck.

One shot, and it was over … not 300 yards from my favorite tree stand. Of course, I was some 600 yards away, hunting (non-existent) moose.

Chris and I heard the shot ring out. By that time, we were back in the jumbo ground-blind, licking our wounds after having been outsmarted by the three little moose.

We knew it was Pete. It was.

And we knew what he’d say when we met up with him soon after.

“You watch,” I told Chris. “The first thing he’s going to say is, ‘I’m sorry. I shot your deer.”

That’s exactly what he said.

And that’s exactly what I’ll be reminding him about for the next 40 years.

No, deer don’t come with name tags attached. No deer is truly “my” deer … I’ve certainly proven that over the years.

But what’s a hunt — or a hunting season — without a tale to tell, or a buddy to razz?

This year, we may not have found a moose. Chris and I may not have filled our deer tags.

But a story, we certainly got. And I expect it’ll be a keeper.


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.