Luck and patience combine in the winter woods.
The snow was deep, requiring snowshoes. The task ahead was not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Having hiked in under the cover of darkness, I was well concealed and ready for action at shooting light. Other than a squirrel, the forest was still. I tried some rattling, to no avail.
Growing restless, I abandoned my blind hoping to cut fresh tracks. It took a while, but Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt, smiled upon me: there, in the snow, were the unmistakable prints of my chosen quarry. They looked to be from a doe.
Following the tracks through the trees and brush was maddening. These animals are either masters of evasion or have ADHD. Then the snow revealed a story of lust: multiple males had pursued the doe; at least one had found her and they’d gone at it all night.
What a break. The rut was on. This increased my chances of bagging a trophy-sized animal–the more meat, the better. While hormone-fueled males are more apt to make poor choices, they are also more aggressive during the rut and could charge if I got too close. Care needed to be taken.
After two hours of tracking, I leaned against a tree to catch my breath, and the magnificent beast revealed himself. “Holy shit!” I thought, my heart racing as I saw those long ears. He stood there broadside, his slick grey fur shimmering in the sun.
He hadn’t spotted me. Ever so slowly I raised my rifle and took aim. The adrenaline got me, however, and I flinched as I squeezed the trigger. Damn buck fever! Fortunately, it was a clean miss.
He bolted at the report, bounding through a copse of pines. The chase was on. I had to be quick yet stealthy. Easier said than done with a touch of blood lust, but I used the terrain, took away the angles, and closed the gap.
I had him in my sights, but didn’t have a clean shot. There was brush between us and I didn’t want to risk spooking him by moving. I’d just have to be patient and wait for him to take a few steps. Hopefully the wind wouldn’t shift and give me away in the meantime.
Artemis rewarded my patience and I was redeemed. Down he went. It was a double lung shot, a little off the mark, but the cape was clean if I wanted to have him mounted.
I forgot my tape measure so wasn’t able to see where he scored on the Boone and Crockett scale, but after looking at him more closely, I don’t think he was trophy-caliber after all. Space in the apartment and money were both a bit limited, so I bagged the idea of the taxidermist. I’d still get a keychain, though. To save time and weight on the pack-out, I used the gutless method of field-dressing, then boned him out.
It was a long hike back to the truck. The dog was excited to see me, but more excited to sniff at my pack while I put away my .22 rifle. It was a tiring day, but worth the effort. I had enough rabbit meat for one full meal, for a smaller-than-average person, if he wasn’t too hungry. It would still be a refreshing reprieve from all the venison and elk.