Story & pics-2006Hunt for the Mountian Monarch
Well this will be long as posts get as the details are fresh in my mind but here is the summary and story behind the 4 days (3 hunting, 1 Sunday) I spent on the Monarch’s mountain. Hope you guys enjoy it….
Friday 12/1/2006 (travel day)
The windstorms of the day proved to be a bit unsettling as I left work at 5 PM and headed home to pack and go. My trip home was delayed by a large oak that fell across our road, as restless as I was to get to camp this only added to it. I did not like leaving my wife and 3 kids on a night like this, but she finally convinced me they would be fine and I should get to camp before it gets too late. The tree was cleared and I was on my way at 7:30 towards Potter Co., estimated time of arrival at camp 10PM. I threw the chainsaw in the back of the truck just in case. I make it all the way over to the camp road with just maneuverable branches in the way. Then 300 yards from the camp driveway a big hemlock lay across the road. I step out of the truck into a heavy wind on a dark mountain road, trees creaking and falling everywhere, I begin to unload the saw…up the road comes headlights on the other side of the downed tree, then I recognize that GMC grill. Dad and brother Joe step out of the truck and suddenly I just feel comfortable about being in the remote woods in dangerous conditions. They drove in the back way to get to camp tacking on about 6 extra miles. We decide it is too dangerous to clean up that hemlock now, so I decide to take an alternate route as well. Finally all in camp, we prepare for Saturday’s hunt, staying up til 1:30 AM, and taking the “chill out of our bones” with some Gentleman Jack. It has been a few years since the 3 of us have been preparing for a Potter deer hunt together in this camp, man did the time fly as we started with the “remember whens".
No snow yet although some is predicted, still some strong wind kicking around. We all decide to stillhunt various parts of the two mountain ridges that head away from camp. My Dad and brother go to the Monarch Buck’s home area a spot we are all familiar with, while I ascend the ridge on the opposite side of the valley to survey the deer activity over there. I saw 9 does total during the day, 5 of which feed right up to me. One small button buck came really close and just looked at me for a while. I sat motionless and wondered what his little buttons will develop into over his life, and wished that little guy the best of luck as he followed the lead does over the rim. Maybe someday he will make my hunting dreams come true up here. I don’t think deer are any more beautiful than they are up here in these endless mountains, but that is probably just true in my own mind. I continue on til dark not making it out as far as I wanted too. Seeing only decent, but not large buck rubs. While I was near the hiking trail at the crossover I met a guy from a camp on the opposite side of the mountain. He is from Erie, PA a grade school principal. Kind of close to my home, so we talk for a good 20 minutes, almost like we were old friends. He tells me folks he knows don’t understand why he comes out here to hunt, where things are so tough. I know exactly what he means. His family cabin has been there since 1929, ours since 1936. We shake hands and continue our separate ways, I then stop and mention about the does I have seen close by, but he has no doe tag either but is appreciative of the tip. After his reply a feeling of relief came over me as part of me did not really want that button buck to have to survive any more danger today, as I rethink my suggestion I feel like I just betrayed that little buck that gave me so much enjoyment only a few minutes ago.
Back at camp Dad, Joe and I share notes of the day. Dad saw 3 does out where the large rubs were last year, but also saw fresh much bigger rubs than that out by where I encountered the Monarch Buck last year. He is still here! Dad spotted the first doe of the day near where he killed his monster 8 point back in 1980. Her head was down when he spotted her, he thought the time had come, but it was not to be as her head raised to show no rack. To hear the excitement in the story was good medicine for me. My brother Joe, saw one flag but it was right below those big rubs , also right where the Monarch Buck was in 2005. Only needs to be one deer sighting up here if it is HIM. I sleep well that night very satisfied with the day I just had…man I love these mountains more than any other place on earth. I was a bit worried that my suggestion of our second week hunt together up here would not be well received if deer sightings were low to start. But everyone is VERY glad to be hunting these hills together once again, enthusiasm is thick as we tell stories of the day in locations with such familiar names. We made the right choice.
A relaxing day to be at camp. A big pancake breakfast and way too much hunting camp coffee for a day where you have not much to do. We do a few small chores around camp and do a little reading. Dad reads my articles that were published in the Potter Enterprise and his eyes well up a couple times. If you read the articles you may know why. My brother comments on that fact and how little he is mentioned, and we all have a good laugh. We took a drive around the roads to just visit the areas we spent our childhoods on riding dirt bikes back in the 70’s when it was allowed. Stopped to check a couple camp rosters at empty camps to see how the first few days went, not many deer were taken, a couple 6’ points here and there. Head down into town of Cross Fork and visit Kinney’s store. The place where time does not change. I buy a few overpriced trinkets for the kids and happily hand them money as I know times are much leaner in that now sleepy little town than it use to be in the heyday of the deer herd…they have survived and I hope they always continue to do so, as that store is as much a part of this place and its history to me as the endless rugged hills that surround it. We get back to camp and pull together a plan for Monday. Still no snow to count on yet. Discussions and even debates on our next day plans continue on as individual past experiences and theories are questioned or don’t always blend perfectly, but it forms one **** of a plan in the end as good teamwork always will. We decide that the crunchy leaves will not allow for excellent solo still hunts, so we decide to still hunt towards one another to best utilize the only movement that will likely be in the woods on Monday. Us. We plan exact routes to take to clean off benches towards each other, being careful not to bite off too much that will go unutilized by our limited manpower. Plans in place, a big steak dinner , extended happy hour and then to bed.
My brother heads out to the saddle at daylight as Dad and I delay our departure for a half hour to capitalize on any deer movement caused by him and his trek out, and alos to allow him to get into position well before we arrive. Dad and I head out together, walking down the road a little ways til we have to depart company on a spilt in a gas well road. We shake hands and wish each other luck…”time to make this happen” I tell Dad as we give each other a stern serious look in the brightening of dawn. Dad moves off down his trail towards the clear-cut. I stop and adjust gear and then get down on one knee as I always do to pray to God for a safe hunt and ask old Pap for his help today as well, we miss him alot, but I feel him all around me up here on this mountain that both our living days will have shared. A bit misty eyed for some reason, I head out the gas road and the morning has a great feel to it as the sun rises more in the sky.
I very slowly work my way out the gas line as it is likely to be the quietest earth I will have underfoot this morning and after about 150 yards I approach the first cut. My rifle sling is squeaking with every step so I remove it and stuff it in my cargo pocket of my camo pants. I look up and across the cut and see a large solo deer moving across the lightly snow dusted woods at around 150 yards. He is walking stiff legged like a buck. Scope up on 7X, confirms that he is and I quickly measure him up as a legal shooter I would be very proud to take. We are a good mile+ from the Monarch Buck and his home area we planned to hunt and are more in the area around camp we usually don’t spend much time in during hunting season anymore. Usually we are just in here during the summer hikes around camp, but all of the old guys stories are imbedded in this part of the mountain, back when it was just scrub brush from the massive clear-cuts of the early 1900’s. The buck goes under a pine at one side of the gas line and disappears for a split second and that instantly causes me to doubt the antlers I have just seen seconds before as the light is dim eventhough we approach the 8:15 mark in the morning. He reappears on the gas line partially covered by a pine bough from a nearby tree that blocks my view, then he crosses the only true opening that remains, a quick look at the rack again confirms the need to shoot, but also allows a critical second to pass in his crossing as my mind makes a final verdict on what it saw. His head and front shoulder enter the pines on the other side. Crosshairs settled on the front of the body that remains and the gun erupts and sounds unbelievably loud on this silent morning. The buck hunches and I see him go off crashing thru the pines. Instant replay in my mind tells me I hit him too far back on the long off-hand shot, that extra second it took to convince my self he was legal even though he was large racked, cost him a quick death and me a quick prize. But I only blame myself for not trusting my original sighting. I head down slowly hoping by luck to find him laying there however that is not the case. I locate the shot area and find white hair , small spots of bright red blood, and flesh. **** IT, gut shot confirmed. I kneel on my haunches and try to shake the bad feelings that come with a shot like that. I try to stay focused, tell myself you got snow and tracks and it is the second Monday and the only guys in the woods are yours. Like on cue, Dad approaches after hearing my shot and we discuss the situation. The talk and his presence are reassuring this buck will eventually be mine, “You put a hole in him, we’ll get’em”. Dad heads down to the tram trail in the pines to monitor the tracking and steer the buck from heavier cover as I began the trailing process. The buck beds within 70 yards of shot impact and the blood trail is better than I hoped, especially in the light snow dusting. However he was already across the tram and headed to the creek in the shallow valley below before Dad crosses his trail. Dad heads over to the dirt road across the valley, the road that camp is on. I track the next section of the blood trail across the small stream. Dad signals up where the buck already crossed the two track road and heads up into the cut that leads to “the flats” above camp. I never in 100 years expected to be tracking a buck in this country so close to camp, I am use to hunting miles out the mountain in the much more rugged steep terrain. These lands near camp are talked about a lot in the stories of yesteryear but never in our hunts of today. The woods are just too mature and open, but it does have deadfalls littering its floor. The bucks beds 4 times up that hill each about 60-80 yards apart, using the slightest terrain change, cover and crunchy leaves to his full advantage, he starts to head to more level ground as I can see he is tiring with blood loss. I still have not seen him in any of these beds, and I figure I am at least a bed behind, and that bothers me alot. Had this been opening day, likely a passing truck full of hunters or even a posted hunter would of shot at him by now. I regroup my mind, drink some spring water and give him a couple minutes without pursuit. I hat wave down to Dad on the road the direction that the buck is headed. Dad heads up the road and back towards camp. Hunting these bucks for years up here and knowing the area like our backyard allows us to decide the course the buck is planning without speaking any words. He wants to circle back to the pines and creek bottom for the cover and cooling water it can provide some relief to his wound. I pursue again and go a little further before I see him get up about 100 yards out, the rack looks bigger to me now, but with Dad on the road below I do not attempt a shot as it is just not safe and glimpses will only result in another bad placed shot. The buck turns over the hill to escape me and I get to thinking “he has got to be right above camp by now”. His change in direction takes him across the road again before Dad arrives there and back into the shallow valley that runs along it. As I approach the valley I can see him on the open wooded hillside on the other side. He is actually half trotting right down the path we use to fetch our spring water from, he is hurting bad, this trail will eventually lead to the back door of the camp. Old Pap used to do well back in the day right in this valley, but it was much brushier then than it is now and short of a few virgin hemlocks and pine shares nothing with the look of the past. I take a confident broadside shot as the buck heads in the direction of camp. The buck falters at the shot and changes course slightly up hill and off the trail, but it is for the last time as he falls down and starts to kick, his mind telling him to run, his body telling him he just can’t. I run down to Dad who I see now on the road above camp and we celebrate with a high five that the buck is now down . We laugh and shake our heads at the unbelievable unfolding of events that just took place. I run across the small and very familiar valley and approach the deer and he his on his very final series of breaths. My smile instantly leaves my face as I curse myself again for putting him thru all of that, not worthy of his meaning to me, not even close. I let us both down as it is a true honor for me to take him from this land that is so holy to me. He passes soon after and as I give his eye a poke to check for a blink, I roller coaster back to a high when there is no blink or more signs of life. I point skyward ,and truly thank my hunting God and my Pap for their help, and pump my fist now that he is done and the "I did it" feeling takes hold. As I unload my gun, Dad makes his way over and congratulates me on the buck. “Nice buck son, man hunting with you is exciting”. We then talk in amazement about where this buck lays.
For your benefit, here are some pictures to hopefully fill you in on our amazement. Keeping in mind the original encounter was close to a ½ mile way. This is Dad on Sunday (12/3/06) by camp, pay special attention to the woods right above my truck’s hood. I had no idea what was going to unfold there less than 24 hours later.
Any of those trees around this buck look at all familiar?
OK lets make this easy, How about now?
This buck died behind the wood pile of our camp. Only hours before , I sat right inside those windows and suited up for a day on the mountain chasing bucks for miles. My drag is now 25 yards to the actual meat pole, the one Dad stands under in the pic above…definitely the shortest drag of my life. It feels so different than the other fourteen bucks I have killed up here on distant ridges ans elsewhere , as I am surrounded by areas that my kids play in on our summer camp trips. Getting him on the pole is a very simple chore.
I debated on posting the final ending and pic here as I figured guys would accuse me of shooting it out of camp, truthfully….LOL, but anyone that knows me knows that is not only something I wouldn’t do, but it is not any kind of hunt that would get me thru another year of waiting to do it again regardless of rack size. I just found it truly too amazing not to share with you guys this fact. This buck fell about 20 yards from the picture of Pap we leave hanging in the new camp building. We rebuilt camp in the early 2000’s after Pap passed. Dad and I laughed as I mentioned how Pap used to spend his final years “hunting” from camp , and I mentioned that this happened a few years too late. What an ending to a hunting career it would of made to run this buck to camp only to hear Pap shoot and kill it. “Skin this one Pap and I’ll go get you another” (for you Jeremiah Johnson movie fans just like us)…this discussion led to one **** of a hug from Dad that made us both well up pretty good with the memories of that silent and strong man. Big woods hunting traditions, man they run deep in our souls.
By now my brother Joe has certainly given up hope on having us come to him, especially since we are sure he heard the shots. So Dad headed down the road to get him in the truck as I cleaned out my buck. It took me along time as I kept sitting on the now sunny hill and just reflecting on that chase and its uncanny ending. Soon Dad and Joe came driving up the driveway, Joe also is completely amazed by the story Dad told him on the ride and truly did not believe it until he saw it. I wish he was there when it all went down, but I think the story brought him right into the thick of it and he was about as happy as he could be for me. We have not shared a deer kill in a long time due to varying time off schedules and committments, and to do it over a special and unusual one like this, well it was perfect.
Dad and I once the buck was on the pole.
Moving on to the rest of the hunt….
We ate lunch on a great high, laughing about things and planning our next move with enthusiasm on how to make this happen again today. Deer were on the move after the weather that passed thru, and there is still a lot of daylight left. We spent the afternoon with me being a more deliberate driver and Dad and Joe taking stands. On the first drive I put deer past both of them including a half rack that just could not prove legal before disappearing past Joe. On the next drive I enter a huge two year old clearcut that was terrible with treetops and red briar growth . I was in the middle of a sea of this and at points felt helpless in ever finding my way out. I cursed my suggestion of driving it as I felt I bit off way more than I could chew because of my “buck high”, and felt like with one guy driving this was wasting everyone’s time. It was like running a ½ mile hurdle course, while having nails shot at you, and getting your face smacked with old time switches used by school teachers. I got to where I could see their orange and could not get out fast enough. As I approached my brother I was preparing to apologize for suggesting such a drive that wasted valuable hunting time. A single man drive thru an enormous clear cut what was I thinking??…just then he came down the hill and was shaking a bit and quite excited. Not one but two enormous buck came out and bounded thru the clearcut. Bucks that made mine look very small in comparison. Dad saw them too, but the cover and direction never allowed for a shot from either. They got up and going the moment I entered the cuttings, I never had an idea they were in front of me. We tracked them a bit in the snow dusting to determine their direction and but another push plan into place. But about 200 yards into the drive and with Dad and Joe already posted and in place the bucks changed direction completely, with the time being 4:30 there was no time to react today. I push the rest of the pines and 8 doe run past Joe, but no bucks come out. We ended the day, and went back to camp to start a great evening of celebrations.
Tuesday 12/5/2006 (last day in camp)
We woke and were still discussing plans as we suited up for the day. We decided that despite our sightings that our shortened hunt day would not allow us to get after the bucks of the day before very effectively. That and the fact that we have still not even attempted a real hunt on the Monarch in his stomping grounds decided our plans. With snow underfoot we headed out again. But to me, today did not have the same magic feel to it as yesterday though, and when I mentioned that to Dad later on, he said he felt it too. Like the window of chances had passed. We performed the same drive that I interrupted with my buck shooting as we had a lot of faith in it still and don't give up much. The snow came hard at times and the drive produced nothing , not even any tracks and we begin second guessing our decision to hit this mountain, but stick to the planned second drive right thru the Monarch’s living room. In the word’s of Dad “I couldn’t live with not giving it a try”. I come in from the mountains end toward my Dad and brother. Heavy in laurel, I pick up the trail of a coyote…soon after a shot roars out from my brothers location, I hurry my pace a bit and Dad joins the drive as I pass by him. As I approach Joe’s spot I see some fresh deer tracks and now for a minute envision him standing above the Monarch as I bust out of the laurel. Unfortunately he is not, but excited just the same. The deer tracks were from four does and they did past him and provide a good look, but the shot he fired was at the coyote. We checked for a hit , and found the spray of dirt on the ground at the bullets impact point but no sign of a hit. The coyote was moving good before the shot, but afterwards his tracks were a good 10 feet apart as he headed back into the laurel. This shot was fired a mere 60 yards from where I downed a 35 lb female in the mid-90’s on a similar drive. Tracks were everywhere in here last year as well. Must be their home.
Because of the lack of deer tracks and with the bucks of yesterday haunting our minds, we quickly vacate this hill and decide to drive out the pines near camp for one last chance since the weather is turning worse, deer seemed to be headed into there yesterday afternoon and the big bucks could have easily made it into them last night and just stayed put. But no deer move out of them and deer tracks are not seen. The difference a day makes astonishes us, and tells us this hunt is over as we approach our pre-set quit time. We are back at camp by 2PM, and start the clean up and pack up process.
This deer hunt has meant more to me than almost any other. We certainly did not play as much of the game on the steep sides and mountain ends that I expected going in, but spent alot more in the areas frequented by our ancestor hunters of 50 years ago. This trip pointed early to a hunt that was more for reconnecting than tagging out. And some surreal moments certainly took place throughout the days here. I know my Dad and brother both miss the old cabin as much as I, in fact I believe it is why some of the ties to these annual hunts here were broken. The old cabin had old Pap in every nook and cranny, from the makeshift repairs, to the old slippers he left there for his return. The day he would never return again, was tougher on us and this tradition than any of us realized. The knocking down of the old 70 year old rough built cabin a few years ago, needed to be done to ensure this camp could continue in existence for more generations to enjoy, and definately was not a very easy task and one we never would of done while Pap was still alive. Been 9 years since he has been gone and we still struggle to get this new camp, as beautiful and comfortable as it is to become the heart of this family’s hunting history put we are trying. The guys that were up on the opener referred to us as the “second week crew” in the log book, and I really like that name. Perhaps with the changes to the camp, the woods, the deer herd, the hunt styles…we needed a fresh start to our traditions. "The Second Week Crew", I look forward to being a part of that til I am the Pap, in my someday future grandchilds story. It brought me in touch with the land in which Pap was more familiar as a hunter, as he seldom had to wander far from camp to find the deer. It feels right to make this change now, and even though the mountain monarch continues to run and found us to be no true threat this year, last year he opened our eyes to the best hunting you could ask for in PA. The second week in the Big Woods, you , the deer, and your history. My season now has tow opneing days and I like that.
The second week crew and our first successful year.
Hope you guys enjoyed this year long story...look forward to providing one every year for quite awhile god willing. I also hope that wheather you are new to the hunting ranks or and old veteran , you have a place in Penns Woods that makes you feel like no other. It is great thing to have in life, especially when you share it with others who feel the same.