OTIS, Maine — I admit it. I had pretty much given up on hunting in this area.
It had been my deer hunting home for the first two or three seasons after I joined the blaze orange brigade in 2006.
Good friend John Holyoke, the BDN’s outdoor editor, had established it as his preferred patch of land. He started hunting there because our buddy Chris Lander and his family had frequented it for many years.
The problem was, deer seemed to be scarce there.
For another perspective on the events surrounding the tale I’m about to tell, check out Holyoke’s “Out There” blog.
In 2006, my first toting a rifle in the woods, I had a doe blow at me during one pre-dawn hunt in Otis.
The next year, I threw up a ground blind nearby. I had a small doe come into view one rainy morning, but the only shot taken was to eradicate a coyote a half-hour later.
In 2008 another friend, Bhraun Parks, invited me to hunt his property in Kenduskeag where I passed on a spikehorn.
I made a handful of trips to Otis that year with John, but frequent sightings in Kenduskeag led me to tell him something like, “there aren’t any deer down there.”
From 2009 through 2011, I hunted in Otis perhaps once a year to spend some time with John, Chris and Billy Lander. In the meantime, Steve Trimper had occasionally put me in a couple of stands in Orono.
This fall, things changed. Chris was drawn for a November moose permit and John was his sub-permittee. That made it an easy decision to go back to Otis, where I could hunt deer and scout for moose.
Unfortunately, nobody laid eyes on a moose until Nov. 15, when three were sighted only a few hundred yards from a spot where Chris and John had placed a ground blind.
I arranged to hook up with them again the next day in the hope of finding a moose for them to shoot.
We started just after first light, roaming the skidder paths and former clearcuts. I spent almost two hours traipsing around one area, then headed across the road to the site of the previous day’s moose sighting.
For about an hour, I sat in an area that featured fresh moose droppings and a ton of deer pellets.
As a breeze blowing into my face chilled me, I impatiently got up and started walking down the gravel road toward another area where moose had been seen the previous day.
I turned down a side road and slowly walked a few hundred yards when I saw the flicker of an ear in the tall grass off the righthand side of the road. It was a doe.
It turned its head and stared back at me for about 30 seconds. Knowing it was off limits, I relaxed.
I carefully reached into my pants pocket and pulled out my cell phone, hoping to take a photo without spooking it. As I did, there was a rustling in the bushes off to the right.
You idiot, I thought, at once realizing why the doe hadn’t bolted. I had heard about bucks chasing does during the rut, but hadn’t witnessed it.
I placed the phone back in my pocket. When the doe turned her head away, I took two or three careful steps to my left into the middle of the road to improve my angle.
Again, I heard noise emanating from the bushes. Within a minute, I watched as at first a set of antlers and then a rugged-bodied buck slipped out and toward the doe.
The breeze was coming from behind my right shoulder and blowing at an angle to my left. That bit of good fortune meant the buck never winded me.
Initially I had no shot, as all I could see was the buck’s rear end. Even in my limited experience, I sensed the shooting clock was ticking down.
I raised the gun, found the deer in my scope and flipped off the safety. The doe moved along 10 or 15 feet and the buck wandered a few steps to the right.
He began to turn his head and neck back toward me. I couldn’t wait any longer. I aimed behind the right, front shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
The buck dropped out of sight in the blink of an eye.
The adrenaline still surging through me, I texted John to give him the news, “just shot a buck.”
Before he got mine, I received one from him: “You rang?”
Admittedly, I was thrilled. Still, I marveled at the ridiculousness of the timing and rut luck that had put me and the deer within 60 yards of each other at that precise moment.
I must have flinched, because the shot struck the deer high in the neck. I was only two or three inches from shooting right over the top of him.
The buck lay some 300 yards from John’s tree stand on a day he wasn’t in it. I felt a tinge of guilt, even though I never could have planned such a scenario.
John and Chris arrived and together we celebrated what for us has been a pretty rare moment of triumph during deer season. The rugged nine-pointer tipped the scales at 180 pounds.
Having escaped field-dressing duty on my first deer in 2009, I took care of this one myself. John provided the Buck knife and Chris led me through the process.
It was unforgettable, and plenty disgusting. And it took probably four times longer than it should have because of my cautiousness and inexperience.
Hunters in two vehicles stopped to offer their congratulations. If those trucks had come by a little earlier, I thought, the doe would have bolted and the buck never would have stepped out.
I was extremely fortunate to shoot a nice buck. Everything fell into place through a random series of decisions and good timing.
If it wasn’t for Chris and John’s moose hunt, I might have only snuck down to Otis once or twice this fall. I was pleased we could share the experience, as we had when they each shot a moose in prior years.
It’s safe to say I’ll be going back next year — if my hunting buddies let me.