The Halloween Buck

Somehow — it’s still unclear how — I’ve been roped into helping a friend of my wife’s move on Halloween, the last day of rifle deer season here in Western Washington.

True, blacktails are not my favorite deer to hunt, but I’ll take anything right now.

I’m as desperate to get out there as a friend of mine is to just see the buggers. He’s been out this week on clearcuts in Snohomish County and has seen, if I recall, precisely one deer (a doe) in the jungle. He’s also heard a twig snap.

That’s about it, though.

But he’s got a plan. To clear the cuts out for hunting, he’s in the market for some Agent Orange.

“It would have to be fast acting, like an hour tops,” he says. “I could contact somebody at Harvey Airfield and have them do a fly by very early tomorrow morning, and then you and I could sneak in there, with facemasks/respirators/hazmat suits on, and make our stalk.”

As good as an idea as that sounds right now, I don’t think Uncle Ted saved any from Vietnam, bub.

Plus, I got that moving to do.

I’m not the only guy in the world, of course, whose wife has other ideas than letting us clear out for hunting season.

Pat Thomas’s plans to take final day of deer hunting off last October were thwarted by the Missus. He ended up in his daughter’s class dressed up as … well, you’ll see when you read his tale, The Halloween Buck:

As an average suburban dad, free time is scarce. Between 40-plus hours a week on the job, two kids and trying to keep the wife happy, there isn’t much time left over. So when deer season comes around each fall, something has to give.

Sure I hunt the weekends like everyone else, but now that my kids are getting older, the leisurely all-day excursions in the hills behind my town are becoming fewer and farther between. It’s often running up for two hours in the morning, coming home to take the daughter to a birthday party, then darting back up to glass a clear-cut just before sundown – hardly a dependable method.

Considering that less than 20 percent of rifle hunters successfully bag a buck in my area each year, it seems that many other hunters are feeling the same life pressures I am.

Perhaps we all need to get our priorities in order.

Last Halloween, I finally did.

It was perfect. There was nothing going on at work on Friday and my boss was going to be out of the office. A prime opportunity to use a bit of the vacation time I store up throughout the year for this sort of situation. This Friday happened to be Halloween, the last day of the early deer season.

I was giddy as I drove home Thursday night. No computers, staff meetings or PowerPoint charts. Just logging roads, clearcuts and a childlike hope of putting my crosshairs on the vitals of a mature blacktail buck.

When I got home I just couldn’t contain my excitement and mentioned to my wife I was taking tomorrow off to go hunting.

She, however, didn’t share the same level of enthusiasm. In fact, she informed me that my oldest daughter had a school Halloween party in the morning, and that since I would be home, I would be attending.

It’s amazing to me how many things seem to pop up when you decide to take a day off.

I was doomed. My daughter wanted me to go and I can’t resist a 6-year-old’s “Please, Daaaaaaaaad!”

So much for the perfect plan.

To make matters worse I had to wear a costume to her school.

Instead of bagging the whole thing, I decided I would go to the party in the morning and then head to the woods after it was over. Since I had no costume, I wore my camo and orange and dressed as a deer hunter – a perfectly acceptable costume in the town of Enumclaw.

HALLOWEEN MORNING, as the sun was creeping over the horizon, I found myself stationed at a craft table in a miniature chair that was literally 20 inches off the floor. Knees towering over the tiny table in front of me, I helped kindergarteners stuff popcorn into plastic gloves for an hour and a half.

I think they were supposed to be skeleton hands or something, but they just looked like white, lumpy blobs. I was trying, but I’m not exactly a craft whiz.

As I assisted the hoards of costume clad munchkins at my station, the clock kept ticking and ticking. I could almost hear it in my head…driving me toward insanity like the corpse beneath the floorboards in the “tell tale Heart”. Just as the clock hit ten thirty and I was about to run screaming out the door. My wife tapped me on the shoulder. With an appreciative smile and a nod, she released me to the woods. I was in the truck 30 seconds later.

I reached the gate to the Hancock forest management area by 10:50 and I took the mainline up to a clear-cut where I had spotted several deer throughout the course of the early season, but I had not seen any mature bucks.

I pulled my red F150 off the dirt road about 200 yards short of the landing overlooking the clear-cut and quietly exited the truck. I loaded my rifle and walked slowly toward the landing. I was relieved to be in the woods, but I should have been there four hours earlier.

A light drizzle fell and quieted my footsteps as I walked to a stump atop a slash pile of dead logs and limbs. I sat down, put my .30-06 across my lap and started glassing.

I worked from the open swath under the power lines to the far right, down the reprod and into the timber. I then swung out into the 2-year-old clear-cut below and left to the knob of the next hill. Picking apart the browns, grays and greens of the landscape through the rain I searched for any sign of life.

Nothing.

The rain continued to drip off the wide brim of my bucket hat. I kept my eyes to the glass for 15 minutes.

Nothing.

The excitement of being back in the woods had started to numb and I started to ponder my next move. How long should I sit? It was damn near midday. Still hunting the tree line might be more productive. Damn I got a late start. I shouldn’t have said anything to my wife, then

I’d have been up there at first light.

I put the green binoculars up again and looked through the glass; I swung a slow path and searched.

Nothing.

I set them down and looked left.

Antlers.

One hundred and twenty yards below, a 3×3 blacktail buck paced slowly up a trail headed directly at me. My heart jumped. I thumbed the grooved lever safety to off.

“Click.”

The deer stopped, eyes fixed on my position and nose in the air.

I slowly leaned out over my left knee, resting my elbow on my thigh and raising the scope up. I gently popped the scope cap and buried the stock in my shoulder.

I directed the crosshairs to the tuft of white hair on his chest, exhaled, and let go the 125-grain nozzler bullet.

Recoil.

Buck down.

The deer had beautiful chestnut antlers and high forked points, the best Halloween present I could ask for. I pulled the trigger at 11:20 and I was home by noon.

 

ALL TREAT FOR PATRICK THOMAS WHEN HE BAGGED THIS HALLOWEEN BUCK. (PATRICK THOMAS)

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