May 23, 2018
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Does outnumbered by bucks in deer stories

Painting by Tom Hennessey
By Tom Hennessey

In all of the deer stories you’ve heard at hunting camps, tagging stations, sports shops and the Public Information and Education Center otherwise known as the town dump, how often have you heard a hunter say the buck he shot was number than a pounded thumb? Not often, I’d say. The reason, of course, is that it has long been recognized that Maine bucks are inherently “wicked smart and some old cagey,” regardless of the circumstances of their demise.

Likewise, a buck with impressive antlers is immediately described as an “old-timer,” even though it may be only 3 or 4 years old. Back along, scientific research concluded that genetics and nutrition affected antler development more so than age. Supporting that knowledge are statistics showing that, on average, bucks don’t live much more than five years. However, since the term “old-timer” commands respect, it is readily applied to bucks that circle behind hunters intent on following tracks indenting the season’s first snow. Or that crawl across scrubby power lines on their bellies. And how about the old-timer that lay statue-still in a strip of alders until you walked by, and then blew as it jumped and bounded away, keeping the alders between itself and you.

Don’t you sometimes wonder, though, why scant mention is made of does in the deer stories told taller and stretched longer each year? Granted, bucks are smart some of the time, but does are smart all of the time. They have to be to survive while raising and protecting their fawns from predatory bears, bobcats and coyotes. So why aren’t does glorified? Because they don’t have trophy racks remindful of rocking chairs and they don’t leave splayed tracks driven to the dew claws. Still, it’s fair to say that bucks earn their old-timer accolades. That is, until their antlers are polished and their noses are savoring doe scent. Then they’re as witless as you and I were as young bucks all shined up and headed for the dance at the VFW hall.

All put together, though, it’s not surprising that wherever stories about big, smart elusive bucks are told, hunters typically end their narratives by saying it wasn’t the ones they dragged and tagged that left the deepest tracks on their minds. That distinction belongs to the old-timers that outsmarted them.

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