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Last Day Lucky

Late season hunting in the Adirondack Mts. Of northern New York can often be tough. It was the last day of the season and I was undecided as to whether to hunt or not. The alarm clock went off at 5 AM, and the camp felt cold. I got out of my sleeping bag, and headed for the woodstove. After stirring the hot coals, I loaded in several pieces and went to look at the temperature. It was 0, and I could hear the wind blowing. I sat by the stove drinking coffee, trying to make up my mind. I decided to hunt, if for no other reason than to say I gave it my best. The boys had all gone home the day before, I was alone. It had been a wonderful season, two bucks taken, many memories made. Just yesterday the camp was alive with hunters. Colonel Jack, Tommy, The Old Trapper Ken, Willard ,Red Dog , and Zeek Brock, had called it a season and headed home. Big Mike was due in by noon to hunt the last afternoon. I finished that first cup of coffee and went to the back door to look out. It was snowing and blowing, and just a foul-looking morning. I made myself a breakfast sandwich, had another cup of coffee, and it was time to get dressed. Having hunted these Mts. for years, weather was no big deal. But somehow hunting alone is always harder. Fully dressed, I took that fine Dakota rifle out of the cabinet and ran the oil rag over it. This weather is also tough on equipment. Out the door and down the road to the big swamp. I had found some new scrapes there the day before. We had about 8 inches of snow on the ground, and it looked like this morning would add to that. As I neared the swamp it started to break day. I entered a thick stand of Cedars, sat on a dead tree, to wait for more light. I thought back to the conversation I had with Colonel Jack, Trapper, and Tom the day before. We heard there was a clipper coming in, and they were advising me to hunt the swamp. Bad weather always brought the deer to the heavy cover. I was only there for five minutes when two doe came thru in front of me. It was then that things started to happen quickly. As the doe passed thru the snow covered pines and out of sight, I heard a loud snort on the ridge to my right. The wind was hitting me in the face, the deer couldnít have winded me. That snort was followed by another, only to my left, and close. Two different deer, and snorting at each other. Another snort on the ridge brought the Cedars alive. Four deer passed by me, one a racked buck, heading for the ridge. I had no shot, as he was covered with doe. The next ten minutes will live forever in the canyons of my mind. The sound of two bucks coming together, branches breaking, horns banging together, hissing and snorting. I knew immediately I was witnessing a war between bucks. Because of the snow on the trees, and the distance they were from me, I couldnít see a thing. But every sound played out in my mind. It lasted about ten minutes, and all went quiet. A few minutes passed and I caught a deer coming off the ridge to the left of me. I eased up the Dakota and found it in the scope. It was a four-point buck, the third or forth I had seen that year. Soon it was out of sight, disappearing into the snow covered pines. Then I heard a branch break to my right, and saw a deer coming thru the trees headed toward the swamp. I could see thru the scope it was a big deer. It entered a small clearing and stopped. Iím not sure what I was thinking, but eased off the safety and the Dakota roared. The big buck went down and never moved. I waited a few minutes to make sure he was down for good and approched with caution. As I neared the buck I realized I had shot the loser of the battle. It was a two hundred plus lb. 11 pointer. The deer was soaking wet with sweat, had a piece of ear missing, and a bloody nose. Looking down at this beautiful buck, somehow the cold didnít seem to matter any longer. I couldnít help but imagine what the winner must have looked like. Maybe bigger, maybe not, but probably younger. I was sure however that this guy has had his day. Somehow the end of the season always brings down the biggest bucks. I think their peak rut starts later and lasts a little longer. After dressing him out, I headed back to camp for a sleigh and my camera. It was snowing hard now,but who cares, life is good.

- Dakota