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  • Matt Breton

A Tracking Story

Dad and I split up in the morning, parked in different areas within a couple miles of each other. My uncle and another friend were with us, hunting down low. The snow was fluffy, with a good amount that came Tuesday and a puff overnight. Temperature was 4* when I left the truck. I cut one track and it eventually went into a cut and through where Dad was parked. There were three rigs parked there and someone else took that track. I split away and went down low again. Saw a bunch of deer sign and started to angle across it. Saw a decent track in the mix underneath other deer sign, then eventually cut a fresher buck track. Foot wasn't huge, but ok, and a long stride, 22-24". I think of this size buck a 'Chapstick buck' because it isn't an -06 shell wide, but it is bigger than my chapstick (2.5"). This buck was cruising along, checking does. Laid down a few scrapes and kept meandering along the softwood below some cuts, until he began to turn up hill. His track was fresh and distinct, so easy to keep separated. He went a mile plus, then crossed a snowmobile trail near some cuts on the high side that I knew was in there- I was hoping no one else had walked in and taken his track. Thankfully there wasn't a footprint on it.

I followed as he slabbed up the hill side for a while, feeding periodically on old man's beard in blow downs and dug for ferns once.

He got near the top and checked another doe in a thick, mountain top swamp, chased her around a bit. I spotted a deer to my left- it was a fawn. Staying on the tracks, they were twisting around so I circled to get out of the mess, knowing he didn't have a great big rack at that point by the way he was busting through the tight stuff. Jumped the doe and looked for him, but he wasn't there.

I kept circling and cut his track leaving the area, walking, so he wasn't there when I jumped her. He then started wandering on top of this knob, back and forth, up, down, around- looking for a place to bed out of the wind I suspect. Knowing he was likely bedded, so I slowed way down. The snow was hanging everywhere and there was a gusty breeze up high, so I was relatively quiet, I could peek around. Sliding through along his track, I came over a small wrinkle and looked down to my right along his track and something seemed out of place. 30 yards away there was a broken off old stump, but more. I pulled up and saw antlers up over the stump and his mouth moving on the left side of it, chewing his cud. I searched a bit, found his body to the right side and decided to tuck one in there. POW! The snow blew off the trees all around me, and the sound of my rifle was deafening and subdued at the same time. I lost sight of him for an instant, then saw him bounce to the left, not doing well and he was gone. I crept down to his bed and saw where he went out the back, then to the left, plowing in the snow. I crested another little wrinkle and spotted him, pulled up, but he was done. About 3.5 hours on the track.

Cleaned him out and got things oriented for the drag out- it was 1.1 miles from where Dad had been parked in a straight line, but through that swamp would be crappy going and there was one steep pull. I decided to go across to the snowmobile trail and then to his truck. A little longer, but flatter.

3+ hours later, I got Dad on the radio- he had been parked near me, so came back to where I would be coming out. I mentioned I was dragging a buck, but he didn't come in to help. When I got there, he had a nice buck in the back of the truck! He'd been in the woods less than an hour that morning, still hunting along the edge of a cut and bumped up a buck. He had seen antlers on the run and when the buck stopped in some brush at 75 yards, he let him have it. He got it out and had reported it and was back by noon, joined the boys for lunch and was waiting for me, figuring something was up when I didn't come back at the prearranged time. Pretty awesome to both shoot bucks on the same day!

Dad's was 7 pts, 171#, mine was 4 pts (you could make a case for 6) and 173#. At the check in, the biologist aged mine at 3.5y/o- surprising! Dad's was 4.5 y/o. A good day to sneak up on one- and a good story written in the snow.

I've been asked about the patch previously, so I'll lay it out there now as an aside. My friend Ben (also my boss) was an awesome deer tracker- we spent ridiculous amounts of time at work talking about deer hunting in between patients. He killed himself in June and I'll never understand it or likely get over it fully. I've come to realize that's often life- a series of ups and downs and tragedies, and what you do with all those internal and external scars is what matters. A friend had that patch made up for those of us who knew and hunted with him, as a reminder and a little extra boost when it gets hard out there. I thought of Ben a lot on this hunt and the drag. He would have loved to hear the story. Maybe a piece of him out there knows it. Rest easy my brother...

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