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November 29, 2013

Whitetail bucks are as smart as they come

The Daily Star

---- — I was on my hill deer hunting the other day.

I sat on a pine hillside where deer usually wander. Quite a few tracks were in the snow when I got there. After about an hour, I decided to get up and wander. With little patience for sitting, I was lucky to have lasted that long.

It amazes me that guys can go out in the woods and sit there all day. A friend of mine just went to Kentucky to hunt big whitetails. He would sit in his tree stand or ground blind from dawn to dark. I would need three books and two days of rations along with a case of Pepsi to do that. To me, hunting is wandering through the woods pitting the tactics I’ve learned over the years against a very smart animal.

Anyway, I still hunted down through our hardwoods and across the swamp. I knew that the thick pines ahead of me were a good bedding area and the wind was right. I came across a few old beds in the snow, but nothing was fresh.

After a while, I ranged out a little farther and dropped over the hill toward the lower creek. I found a fairly fresh track in the snow. It was quite large and all alone. I figured it was a buck.

Slowly, step-by-step, I moved ever-looking for an ear or a bit of antler. I meandered for several hundred yards before a deer stood up. I stopped and got ready.

He took one step and looked back to see what I was. Ordinarily, that would have been his fatal mistake. But in the split-second that followed, I realized where I was. He jumped over a downed tree and disappeared into the forest.

I could have taken him. Maybe it was that I’m a little older and realized how far it was back to my house. I could have won the game, but he lived to play it again another day. So let’s call it a draw. I know he’ll be smarter next time.

A whitetail buck learns very quickly. He knows his territory and how to use it to his advantage. That little buck had a perfect spot to deal with the hunters on the other farm. He could smell them as they approached and had an easy escape back to where he came. I guess he didn’t expect someone to come in from behind.

I’ve followed a lot of wise, old bucks over the years. I hunted one for several weekends in the Adirondacks. I knew where he lived and finally figured out how he escaped. I climbed Upper Pine Mountain, always knowing that he’d be there. He was. He’d run off and then double back to watch his back trail, ever planning his next move. When I got close, he’d go off the back side of the mountain down a break of sorts through the ledges.

One day, I drove one of my friends around to the backside of his territory.

“Go right up there and wait,” I told him. “I’ll put him past you in about an hour.”

I drove back around and started the long, steep climb up after that old ridge runner. There was no snow and I heard the buck get up and run. Just like clockwork, he headed for the notch in the rocks.

Suddenly, he stopped and headed back toward me. I saw a flash, but the buck quickly disappeared. He jumped down over the jagged rocks to a leveler spot nearly 20 feet below. He won again.

We would normally hunt a big buck like that until he made a mistake, but the season ended before that happened. The next year, I climbed back up that wooded arm off of Upper Pine. There was no sign of that old buck. I guess he moved on or didn’t make the winter.

I’ve learned a lot about deer over the last 50 or so years. One thing’s for sure: When you finally have it all figured out, those smart bucks change the rules of the game.

I just love it.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at