I'm always a bit skeptical of weather reports. But when a south to southwest wind was predicted for the next day recently, I decided to head out and try a stalk hunt shortly after sunrise.
Like most Shenandoah Valley hunters, I've found over the years that sitting on stand is the most effective way to harvest a deer. But every year at least once, and often several times, I try still hunting, sneak hunting or stalk hunting. It's all basically the same thing, just called different names.
The idea is to move along as slowly as possible, pausing often, trying to sneak up into shooting range of a deer. Some really good hunters can do this successfully at times with a bow. I could never get that close to a deer with my bow, though, so I save my compound and crossbow for stand hunting and use my trusty .30-06 Ultra Light Arms, built by Melvin Forbes of West Virginia, for stalk hunts.
That way, if I can sneak to within say 150, or maybe even 175 yards, and have a clear, safe shot with a rest, I'll try it. (Sure, the gun will shoot much farther, but unless I'm hunting out West I don't feel a need to shoot farther than that for a whitetail).
For stalk hunting, I like the foothills or mountains the Valley is famous for, and generally start low, working my way higher as the day progresses. Deer often feed in the lowlands at night and chase does there, then head up the mountain to bed higher around daylight or soon thereafter.
The morning dawned cloudy and warm, and the weatherman was right. It was a southwest wind. That was perfect for the spot I wanted to stalk hunt. I headed out, dressing lightly because I knew I'd become heated up climbing the mountain as the day wore on.
The first quarter mile was uneventful. Several squirrels scampered about. A crow scolded from a nearby branch. But little else was moving. And I only heard two other shots from other hunters.
Then as I a crested a knoll and cautiously peered through the trees 300 yards away, a doe suddenly walked past on my left, just 100 yards distant. I watched her carefully, knowing the rut was in progress and a buck could be following. But nothing else appeared. Gradually she eased up the mountain out of sight.
After the rest my legs got watching the doe, I continued the climb, walking several steps, then pausing next to trees and shrubs to scan ahead. Finally another doe appeared. This one was running, which was a good sign. I suspected a buck was on her trail, and he was.
It was a classic eight point, with long tines and about an 18-inch spread. Unfortunately, he didn't pause and give me a clear shot. Later I got one more quick glimpse, but then the pair disappeared over a ridge into a patch of broom sedge.
I tried to relocate them, since they weren't spooked, but I never could. Another doe appeared further up the mountain. Antlerless deer were in season. But I already had taken one during bow season and didn't relish the thought of getting a doe down out of this rough mountain spot, so I passed on the chance.
I had expected more buck activity and chasing of does, so I was becoming less hopeful as the day wore on. Finally, I decided to call it quits as far as ascending the mountain and hunt my way back down. That way I could save my time and energy for an evening stand hunt. Nothing showed on the way down.
After a mid-afternoon lunch break, I headed out and settled on watch near a cluster of cedars, brush and grasses. Deer sometimes chased there, and I knew the rut was running late this year. I hoped a doe might ease out with a buck on her trail.
Less than an hour before dark, my wish came true. A beautiful doe emerged with a dark gray coat and vivid white throat patch. Then antlers appeared back in the cedars and soon a deep-chested buck stepped out following her.
I could tell the deer was mature by the build of its body. The antlers confirmed it. The tines were fairly short and the spread was not exceptional, at about 17 or 18 inches. But the mass was very impressive.
This buck had seen several ruts before, and I quickly calmed my nerves as best I could, centered the crosshairs on the shoulder and squeezed off. The facing-quartering shot was true, and the buck dropped on the spot.
He was everything I'd hoped he was. The buck had eight mainframe points, a 2-inch brow tine kicker and a 10th broken point (G-3) that you could hang a ring on, but not quite an inch long. That made him a solid nine-pointer.
Later I scored him at 132 inches gross B&C. Tooth wear confirmed he was five years or older.
The mountain stalk hunt had been fun and great exercise. As usual, tough, stand hunting had been the tactic that came through. And when it came time after pictures and field dressing to haul the deer out, I was glad the buck was in the accessible low country instead of perched high on a craggy mountain ridge!
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.