George Smith shares one of his favorite hunting memories, from the deer season of 2000.
Sometimes small changes in hunting laws bring big benefits. My big buck one year was the result of a small law change that legalized deer driving by groups of no more than three hunters, as long as noise makers are not used.
The deer driving statute was so strict that it prohibited even two hunters from planning and implementing a hunt in which one hunter tried to move deer toward a second hunter. Many Mainers hunt together this way, but technically they were violating the law.
On Friday morning of that year’s hunting season — Nov. 3, 2000 — I loaded my new Browning BAR Mark II semi-auto .30-06 Springfield rifle in my kitchen and walked out into a breaking dawn. I had purchased the rifle at Audette’s Hardware in Winthrop the day before the firearms season on deer opened, after my Remington Woodmaster failed to fire the day before when I tried to sight it in.
In a rush to take the new gun home and sight it in so it would be ready the next morning when the season opened, I was some old mad when I failed to pass the required FBI background check. Please be assured that I am not prohibited from owning firearms. But for some reason, even though my social security number was provided, the FBI “delayed” the approval of the sale of the gun to me, so I had to leave it at Audette’s.
Perhaps everyone was on coffee break when Audette’s called down there to FBI headquarters in New Jersey. Who knows? They don’t have to provide any reason for a delay in approval. The “instant check” can actually take three days – that’s the federal definition of “instant!”
I used my son’s rifle to start the season, all the while muttering about foolish laws that only harm law-abiding citizens. I was finally able to pick up my new rifle the following Tuesday, after the FBI decided it was ok for me to purchase a new gun. Thank you very much.
So I was toting the new Browning on this particular Friday morning, the end of the first week of the 2000 season, as I approached my stand. The ground blind selected for this morning’s hunt was a short walk from my house. Settling into my ground blind overlooking an active buck scrape, my mind was on previous successful hunts at this spot that produced deer for three generations of Smiths, my Dad Ezra, son Joshua, and me.
Hot coffee and fresh cranberry muffins provided an enjoyable experience, even though no deer joined me for breakfast. At 7:30 a.m., Dad hunted down through the woods hoping to move a deer toward me. No luck, at least not yet.
Time to try a different area. Now that it is legal, we can plan our hunt and work together with clear consciences. I won’t say we’d never done it before, but now we were legal!
Here comes the deer
I stood still next to a tall pine, looking in the direction of the deer that had blowed, and within seconds I saw a doe coming straight at me. I got the scope on her as she turned to her left about 40 yards in front of me. The woods are thick here and there were few shooting lanes or opportunities. I had to make a quick decision. I lowered the rifle and let her go. She moved off to my right.
Seconds later, on the same trail, a large rack appeared, also headed right at me. That’s what I saw first — a beautiful set of antlers moving in my direction.
Snapping the rifle up, the scope showed a huge buck. But things happened quickly and there was not time for buck fever to set in — fortunately. At the same spot where the doe turned, the buck stopped and glanced the other way. For some reason, he intended to go right, where the doe went left. In a split second, I decided this was my best opportunity, and fired just as the buck turned. He offered a good shoulder shot.
Bang! The new gun felt good. I glanced up, glanced left, glanced right. Where did he go? Then I saw him, on the ground, flopping around. I moved quickly and took a finishing shot. In a matter of seconds our deer drive — in reverse — had worked. Before me was the biggest deer I’d ever shot, with a gorgeous eight-point rack. I hollered, “Dad! We got him!”
And we had. The planned hunt — the deer drive — had worked, not as planned, but it worked, nonetheless. Dad jumped the deer and pushed them back to me. I thanked him for his effort after he arrived a few minutes later.
Deer drives don’t always work the way you hope — in fact, they seldom do. The key ingredients to a successful two- or three-man drive are these: Know your territory well and be familiar with the habits of the deer that live there. Once in a great while, you’ll succeed, as we did. It was nice to do it legally.
At Ballard’s Meats in Manchester, the buck weighed 214 pounds, my second “Biggest Bucks” patch in 20 years and one Dad and I never forgot.