Let’s face it. Deer season is about memories, both good and bad. I can vividly remember the morning a beautiful 10-point cautiously walked across an overgrown gas line that bisected the farm on which I was hunting. I was about 100 yards above him and the shot was easy. His antlers now grace a wall in my office.
On the flip side, I still remember last deer season, and it won’t soon be forgotten. The rain that drenched us here in the Southern Tier made the roads through the fields we have to drive to get to our hunting stands nothing short of a quagmire. Our four-wheel vehicles were no match for the marshy conditions we faced. To make matters worse, following the rain a foot of wet snow made walking extremely difficult and, as a result, no deer fell to either my gun or bow last year.
Regardless of how the season plays out, we tend to think of the good things and treasure each memory. One way to keep memories alive is to honor the game animal we harvest and to preserve the memory of the hunt by mounting the antlers of the bucks we kill. I still have the antlers of the first buck I ever shot with a rifle mounted in my office, and they serve as a constant reminder of the cold winter day he died.
I was in my early 20s and my brother and I were hunting near the ghost lumber town of Laquin, Pa., located in the southern part of Bradford County. As I recall, the rutted dirt road to Laquin was about 13 miles from where we left the paved highway near Monroeton, and other than a few hunting camps sprinkled here and there the area was as remote as any place I had ever been.
Following the road along Schrader Creek, we arrived at our destination and parked in an area designated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Getting out of the car and seeing nothing but trees, it was hard for me to imagine Laquin once boasted a hotel, two churches, a school, a boarding house, store, depot, town building and several homes. Several mills, all associated with the lumber industry, manufactured things like wheel hubs, barrel staves and even kindling wood that was shipped as far away as New York city. For years the town thrived and the mills kept people employed. However, that was then, and this was now.
We put on our hunting coats, shouldered our rifles and followed an old railroad bed to get to our hunting spot, but the railroad tracks that once ran past a mill pond and a baseball field were all gone! Pausing to take a breath halfway into the nearly mile long walk, I could almost hear the mill whistle blowing, the sawmill humming and the voices of people as they were going about their everyday business. After our short respite, reality set in. All this activity happened at the turn of the 20th century and now the only reason for being there was to hunt deer.
Climbing the mountain and reaching the top, I took a stand at what I thought would be a good spot to see any buck moving on the bench below me. Turned out it wasn’t. I only saw a few doe all day and as late afternoon approached I decided I had better head back to our parking spot before darkness set in. That’s where devine intervention stepped in.
Making my way down the mountain, I spooked a herd of about eight deer that were heading up the mountain from the valley below. As the deer scattered, I sat down on a stump, wondering if there might have been a buck with them. Turns out there was. A few minutes later I spotted a spike buck that was intent on getting to the top of that hill. I put the crosshairs of my scope on his shoulder and he went down. Two hours later I arrived at the car with my trophy and found my brother had gotten lucky a few hours earlier and killed a six point. The ride home was extremely satisfying.
Every time I turn on the light in my office, I glance at the spike with the 10-inch antlers. Although I killed him almost a lifetime ago, they remind me of that December day when I feel I killed the biggest buck of my life. Memories are what you make of them.
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