By Chris Eberhart
It snowed last week and about an inch of the cold white stuff hung around for a few days. I was walking a small tract of property here in northern Michigan when I jumped a young buck that was bedded just over a small ridge. I caught him by surprise. He was only forty yards away when he jumped up and bounded off. On a whim and following my natural instinct as a predator I decided to give chase, since I was done hunting at that spot. Picking up the buck’s track I doggedly followed his trail in the snow. He crossed an oak ridge, turned down a draw, and crossed through a patch of red willows before jumping the fence on to the neighboring property, which was where I had to stop, a line of blaze orange no trespassing signs warning of imminent arrest, or worse, should I too jump the fence.
The few minutes I chased this buck reminded me of a kind of hunting that is the paramount of hunting experience that I love but rarely get to do. It also reminded me of a hunting adventure I had a few years back in North Dakota.
I arrived at my hunting spot out in the prairie only to be snowed in by an early snowstorm. After two days of sitting in the cabin I was going crazy, so I decided to take a walk out in the great wide open. Just a few minutes into my walk I jumped a nice young buck (about a sixteen inch wide short tined eight pointer) out of a brushy draw. I decided to follow just to see if I could catch up to him. Moving fast in a pace that was a mix between running and speed walking I dogged that buck for almost a mile before I jumped him again. About a quarter mile further on I jumped him once more. At about the two mile mark he stood still and let me slowly walk to within thirty yards. He gave me all the time in the world for a shot with any rifle, shotgun, or muzzleloader, and it was a definite possibility even if I had had a bow in my hand. That day though the only weapon I was carrying was a pocket knife. He ran away again and I was determined to catch him just to see if I could, but just a few minutes later a huge buck jumped up and was standing with him.
The snow was perfect for this kind of chase and I switched target animals and began following the bigger buck. The evasion tactics of that older 150 class buck were more refined and he circled back numerous times, seemingly unwilling to leave the large wooded bowl where we found ourselves. Eventually, he crossed a road and took me about two miles out into another long deep draw where I kept catching glimpses of him, and could have perhaps taken a shot with a rifle or muzzleloader. The last time I saw him he was standing about eighty yards away looking at me for a second before slipping around a bend in the draw. At that point I broke off the chase because of impending darkness, and the very long walk back to the cabin. I had been following those deer from morning until nightfall, and had covered probably around ten miles.
This was a magic experience for me, even though I wasn’t actually hunting. I have always read the works of the Benoit’s and Bernier’s up in the Northeast, and wondered at trackers the likes of Hal Blood, and wondered if that kind of hunting is even possible. My attempts at hunting like that in Michigan were limited to a few wintertime muzzleloading exploits in the U.P. that were largely unsuccessful and morphed into stand hunting. That day I proved to myself that it is indeed possible to run down a buck. It was the one time in my life where everything came together and I was able to try a hunting form that has always intrigued me. There are, however, only tiny windows of opportunity, and special conditions required for success.
The first requirement is vast amounts of space. This is the primary limitation in most locales. In most places you run out of property where you can go before you catch up to the deer. The second necessity is snow. This means running down a deer on foot is limited to a few northern states and Canada, or freak snow storms through the middle of the country, and for times when hunting seasons and snow coincide. The third thing that is helpful is being in a place with a relatively low deer density. The forth element is personal fitness. You have to be in good enough shape to run/walk behind a deer for hours.
There are a lot more subtleties to this and numerous books have been written on the subject. If the conditions are right and you can hunt this way I am envious. It is the original way humans were designed to hunt, and is primal to the core. The bottom line is that if you can actually run down and kill a mature buck you are a real whitetail hunter in my eyes. Run down that buck, if you can.
- Chris Eberhart, BowhuntingWildFood.com
If you want more great whitetail hunting information like this, check out Chris’ latest book, Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way