The year was 1985, and I was the ranger at Churchill Dam in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. There were plenty of deer in the area around Churchill Dam in those days. If you walked downriver from the dam, you would see an abundance of deer sign in the form of tracks, droppings and scrapes. In other words, if conditions were right and you played your cards correctly, there was a good chance of seeing a deer.
I had talked to my supervisor, Tim Caverly, and we came to an understanding that I could take the day off if we had a good hunting day, as long as we didn’t have any emergencies that needed to be dealt with.
That good hunting day finally came when it snowed about 8 inches overnight. In the morning, the precipitation turned to a light mist and there was no wind. It was a perfect morning to hunt.
I walked across the dam and hiked down the Churchill Dam Road for about a half mile looking for tracks. I only saw one small set of deer tracks heading up along Heron Lake. I decided to follow the track and see where it would take me. I hadn’t gone very far when the track took me to a buck scrape and a nice big track. The tracks were headed back toward the road. When the two sets of tracks crossed the Churchill Dam Road headed down along the river, I knew I was close.
I kept following the tracks expecting to see a deer any minute. The tracks were going around in circles, and I thought to myself, he is with a doe and his guard is going to be down. I slowly followed the tracks for a mile or so until I came to the edge of the old grown-up field where King LaCroix’s horses once grazed.
The tracks went directly out into the field. I can remember thinking, as my jacket was beginning to wet through on the shoulders: “Should I quit and go back to camp to warm up and put on some dry clothes or keep going?” I decided to keep hunting until I was too cold and wet to continue.
As I crouched down looking out over the field, the mist changed into a light rain, but still no wind. I can remember seeing a dried-up goldenrod move, but I didn’t give it a second thought.
After a few minutes of staring out over the field, I decided to leave the track and skirt around the edge of the field using the cover to my advantage.
I took three steps to my right when all of a sudden this big, racked buck picked up his head; he was looking right at me.
He was a mere 40 yards away — right where the goldenrod had moved. I shouldered my .35 Marlin and shot him in the neck before he could even get out of his bed. I was some excited. All I had shot before this were does and a small buck.
After my adrenaline rush subsided, I dressed the stag and tried dragging him, but I soon gave up and went for help. Tim Caverly was at the waterway headquarters, and he gave me a hand dragging the big deer back to Churchill Dam.
Once the deer was finally hanging back at camp, I noticed a nice round hole in his left ear. Could this be the same deer I shot at and missed the year before? I had missed a big buck the year before just a little down river from the old field. I knew that I had shot high on that deer; all I ever found was a little bit of white hair.
I took the deer out to be tagged and weighed on my next day off. It weighed 208 pounds after hanging three days.
I butcher my own deer and was anxious to try some of the venison, so I brought in a hind quarter to be cut up. We had some nice deer steak for supper, but it was a little chewy. After chewing for a while on a piece, my 4-year-old daughter said, “Daddy when can I swallow?” That was a tough, old buck that should have been all ground up into deer burger.
I had the head mounted and the antlers scored later that winter. The antlers scored 149 and 3/8 points. You know what they say, “Pride cometh before a fall.” Well I didn’t shoot another deer for four years after bragging about my big buck for most of the winter.
The North Woods deer population is on the rebound after the tough winters of 2008 and 2009, but not at the levels they were in the 1970s and 1980s.
The AWW and most Maine state parks are open to hunting after Sept. 30 with restrictions near campsites, marked trails and other developed areas. See the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife law book for the details on closed areas and restrictions on these lands.
The AWW allows camping in the parking lots at Chamberlain Bridge and Umsaskis on Oct. 1. We have a vehicle access campsite at Ramsey Ledge on the north end of the waterway, and it is only a short carry onto the campsite at Churchill Dam.
For information on the AWW, visit www.maine.gov/doc/parks/ or call 941-4014, email email@example.com or write to the Bureau of Parks & Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor 04401.
Matthew LaRoche is superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.