It was early December, 2011 the days were getting bitter cold. Shotgun season in Massachusetts had already been open a week. In my opinion, the barrage of gun fire from the “orange army” had pushed any wild life to seek cover and concealment in places that hunters rarely, if ever venture to. I was walking in about 2 inches of two-day old powdery snow. The sounds of my footsteps almost totally muffled by it. I crept deep into the state forest toward a swamp I had picked out from satellite imagery and topography maps. There was no easy way into this area, and I had figured that no hunter would want to under take the trek out that far and battle the mountain laurel and thick cover it provided. It was just me and the peaceful serenity of the surrounding forest. I walked ever so silently and strategically placing every footing carefully as if the buck of a lifetime was 15 yards from me. As I crept further into the forest, I kept thinking, this feels like black bear or moose country. Little did I know that I would be right about it being inhabited by a big game animal, but totally wrong about the species.

An hour and a half or so had passed, and I had finally made it to the start of the frozen swamp. Dead cattails, tall grasses, moss, and evergreens littered the surrounds of it. As I double-checked my wind to make sure my approach was stealth to any big game animal’s nose, (more specifically hoping it was home to a monster buck) I continued my movements along the swamp. Through a thick patch of mountain laurel I had spotted what looked to be a heavily travelled deer run. I ventured into the thick laurel, moving every branch ever so slightly. (Again keeping with that mindset of 15 yards from a dream buck.) The laurel must have been about 20 yards thick and when I say it took me 30 minutes to get through, I wasn’t joking. Sure you could walk right through in 2 minutes but you would also alert any animals lurking tall grass in the swamp beyond the laurel and scrub pines.

I had made it through the laurel on the same path that several deer had taken. I stayed on this deer run; which led further into the swamp. Tall grass flanked the path on both sides. In my head I had told myself this is perfect concealment to mask my approach up to any unsuspecting game. The water was not very deep, maybe ¾ up my rubber boots at its deepest. I had made my way to what seemed like an island oasis in this swamp. Dry land, scrub pine trees, and some mountain laurel. Just as I took a step on to this island, I see a flash of tan and a big white tail fly up in the air; like a white surrender flag in a battle, bound off to my left. My heart started racing uncontrollably and I could see by the second bound it was a doe. “Gather yourself man”, I told myself. Staying calm was the name of this game. You see, I had killed deer before and I had taken small bucks and doe to fill the freezer, but that coveted “Buck of a Lifetime”, a mature whitetail buck with an age bracket of 5-7 years old is what I had my heart set on. It’s a chess match against one of the most cunning, most intelligent, and most strategic big game animals on this continent. The older they are, the smarter and more intelligent they become. They are ghosts of the woods; they hardly ever make a mistake, if they do it usually costs them their life. I froze in my tracks, took a slow deep breath, the cold frosty air slowly and silently filled my lungs. The doe had not blown at me, so she spooked not knowing who or what I was, my wind was perfect.

I waited 15 minutes before I moved a muscle. I slowly took two step, paused for about 5 minutes and took two more. That’s when it happened, where the grass, scrub pines and laurel all construed together like a natural wall, bounded the biggest buck I had ever laid my eyes on. (I was taken back for what seemed to be in my mind like 2 minutes but in reality probably about a half a second.) This magnificent King of the Woods must have bounded 15 feet from my right and landed almost perfectly in front of me standing about 40 yards away. He paused, (again in my mind what felt like forever but was probably another half a second.) I was already standing at the low ready weapon position (weapon shouldered, muzzle toward the deck) like I was on patrol expecting contact with the enemy in combat zone. My heart was now, what I felt like in max output range of 90%. {For all the fitness junkies, 80% is a target heart rate. (Your max during sprinting and strenuous exercise.)} It was beating out of my chest uncontrollably. I lifted my camo Mossberg 500 pump action shotgun, placed the red dot on the front, left shoulder of the deer, the sight picture swaying from my racing heart, took a breath and held it, all at the same time clicking the safety, and almost immediately pulling the trigger. It felt like an immediate action drill for contact that I had practiced so many times in the Marines.

BOOM! The blast of the 3 inch sabot slug echoed through the cold, dry, unobstructed air. I saw the buck jump straight up, what seemed to be 10 feet off the ground. I pumped my shotgun and was getting ready to engage with a second sabot round, by this time the buck had landed and bounded off so fast, it was as if he was never existed. I fell to my knees and then rolled to sitting position, I was shaking uncontrollably. “Had I done it?’ I thought to myself, “Did that just happen?” I don’t know if I was in partial shock, emotional melt down, or what. But I had just pulled the trigger on the biggest buck of my lifetime to-date.

After, calming my nerves, and drinking some water, I stood up. My heart was still pounding, but at the very least I had controlled the shaking and the mental euphoria I was experiencing. The thing I have always learned from hunting is the hunt begins after the arrow flies or the trigger is pulled. Never begin a track without the proper mindset, this has caused me to lose deer in the past and you’re right, I didn’t want to add this King of the Woods to that list. I went over to where I had shot, I found brown and white hair everywhere with red blood littering the surrounding area. I felt enormous relief immediately, like a big burden had been lifted off my shoulders. Maintaining a level head I continued to track the buck, his bounds were so far apart the blood trail would be little d drops then a puddle of blood, then drops and another puddle every 15 feet or so. I made it to the other end of the island following the blood on the snow and grass. The contrasting red against the white snow made for a brilliant bright candy apple red dotted path that led to the edge of the island just before the swamp and there he lay, like a pot of gold at the end of rainbow. I had accomplished something not many hunters have. I harvested the King of the Woods, a “Buck of a Lifetime”.

Nate's BBD

Nathan Larabee
Executive Director of Outfitting Operations