The Leonid Buck

Monday, November 26, 2001 - by White Oak Mountain Ranger

There are three kinds of deer hunters. The good, the lucky and the rest of us. After a strange string of unbelievable poor luck during muzzleloader season the cosmic alignment of the planets somehow managed to shift the Ranger into the lucky third of the deer hunting populous. It took a lucky hat, a horoscope reading and a meteor shower that we won’t see the likes of again until the year 2099.

After the big miss of the big six pointer on the second day of black powder season I took to wearing the lucky hat. The lucky hat is big medicine. The lucky hat came from Hamilton Stores on the shores of Lake Yellowstone. My first trip to this store had been about 1971 and that particular expedition to the beautiful shores of the big lake was compliments of our thumbs and a long series of kind vehicle owners that were willing to put up with a pair of shaggy hitch-hikers. My partner, who had just returned from a voluntary trip to Southeast Asia with a thirst for Coors and trout fishing, and I, were just about to enter the back country of Yellowstone Park after Labor day, and we were shopping in the only store on the lake, laying in provisions for a week long back pack deep into grizzly country.

Hamilton Stores just happened to have everything we needed for trout fishing in man eating bear country and with the very last of our disposable income, we were laying in a rather heavy supply of Old Yukon. We reasoned that a man couldn’t have too much Old Yukon when he was armed with only a knife, knee deep in cutthroat trout and Grizzlies. It was during this little shopping spree I spied my lucky hat. I tried the big Stetson on and in the very instant that the stiff hat fit perfectly over my brow I knew that it was MY LUCKY HAT.

I looked at the huge cash of Old Yukon and then at the hat. The hat would have to wait. I vowed to someday return for the lucky hat as we left the store with our back county provisions and headed for the ranger station for directions to the Pelican River.

The Park ranger was about five two, with long blonde braided hair under her smoky the bear hat. She had emerald green eyes that flashed when she told us how good the fishing was on the Pelican River in September. We immediately invited her to join us on the journey and even though she declined, saying she had her federal duty to fulfill, I sensed she somehow wanted to be of assistance on our expedition. I imagined that if I had purchased that lucky hat, back at the store, I might just get lucky here with this power packed little blonde in the well stuffed uniform. When we told her that we had laid in a prodigious supply of Old Yukon her large green eyes sparkled and she immediately wondered if we would like to join her for bacon and eggs in her cabin after work. The luck of the hat had not yet worn off.

We languished about the ranger station, waiting on quitting time, sucking down the Old Yukon until she led us down the dark trail to her log cabin and scrambled eggs. To this day I am certain that the ranger from California violated all manner of Park Service rules that night there on the Yellowstone but let me state it this way, this was a full service blonde ranger. At the time, it really didn’t matter that she was hard on our supply of Old Yukon. We were probably going to be devoured by a foul minded Griz anyway. If we lived through this expedition, I once again vowed to return to that store and own that lucky hat. Maybe the little frisky, blonde ranger would still be offering late a late night breakfast too.

I now own that hat. Not only did we survive the expedition, we survived the bears and the blonde and I went back for the hat. It took me years, but I went back for the hat. Thirty some odd years later I wear that hat when I’m in need of some extra luck and after missing the big six pointer at 70 yards a week or two earlier, I needed a little extra luck. It’s a lucky hat. I knew wearing the hat during the opening weekend of regular gun season ensured that the odds would be stacked in my favor. That’s the kind of hat the lucky hat is. I can’t explain it. It’s just lucky.

When I heard that there was a meteor shower coming on Sunday I knew that some weird series of strange things that are prone to bring me luck were gently, rhythmically, almost mystically falling into place. The media boys said the Leonid Shower was to be the most spectacular display seen in 35 years. I knew this once-every-30-or-so year-thing somehow must have meant good luck. NASA said the Leonid shower occurs each November, when the Earth’s orbit takes it through the trail of particles shed by the Comet Temple-Tuttle as it swings around the sun once every 33 years. This had to be an omen of good luck.

In the early morning darkness I hiked up the mile long hay field nestled in the hollow that spilled gently into the Cumberland River. The meteor shower was in full bloom as I slipped by the big round rolls of hay, my boots and pants legs collecting the fog laden dew of the secluded field and the ankle deep clover. I was headed west along with most of the meteors, stopping occasionally when a random, particular bright comet fragment illuminated the bales of hay and the deepening hollow. NASA said most of the particles were the size of a grain of rice and were traveling into our atmosphere at 45 miles per second only to burn up as streaks of light.

I didn’t buy it. I knew damn good and well that more than one of these balls of fire were every bit as big as the state of Montana and if one was going to make it all the way in, that it would come, screaming, bouncing, sliding right up this very hollow on the Cumberland River, spitting fire and radiation, just like all of Hell on a bicycle. It would skid to a halt at my very feet, light up the woods that surrounded the deep hollow, illuminating an entire herd of 17 point bucks, freezing them in their tracks just long enough for me to rip off a few well placed shots at the biggest buck in the pack and we’d just call it a day to remember.

That’s the kind of power the lucky hat has. I knew NASA was probably just trying not to scare the public. The size of grains of rice, my eye. BULL-#@%&. I declared BULL-#@%& on NASA and at the end of the long cavernous hollow I silently slipped into the dark timber.

The dawn was followed by an erie fog that rolled off of the warm Cumberland, over the bluffs and into the hollow. 20 to 30 turkeys were startled by one of my buddies high up on the bluff. The nervous birds, disoriented by the fog and the night’s celestial display, sailed loudly over my tree to the bottom of the long hollow, cackling madly until they had rounded everyone up, waiting nervously for more daylight to cut the fog so they could begin to loudly scratch the day away.

When you set your tree-stand up in a tree you generally have two choices for positioning yourself. The point of this challenging little mental exercise is to be positioned in a direction for viewing all available quarry before they view you. Most times I’m positioned 180 degrees out and this time was no exception.

There are some things that even the lucky hat has little control over.
At 11:45 the sounds coming from my back told me that this noise had to be made by a little more than the footfalls of squirrels. Straining to my left and struggling to stand as slowly as possible the big six point shuffled into view through the brush and vine filled thicket where he had made his scrapes. The four power scope found his shoulder easily as he unknowingly slid through the brush, but the shot was not a clear shot. He stopped abruptly, showing only his rear half. This is another thing that the lucky hat has never seemed to overcome. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve had bucks do this to me. I thought about trying a shot at his haunch through the big grape vine cluster in the hopes of breaking him down for a quick second shot at his shoulder, but I discarded that thought and waited. It’s the waiting that misses the big bucks.

The waiting will drive your attention span off scale. That’s when I realized that there was a second buck coming into my peripheral vision. I moved the Ruger #1 further to my left and picked up the four pointer. A clear shot and the old redneck proverb, “A buck in the hand is better than a buck in the bush,” came to mind. The 7X57 Mauser roared through the hollow’s stillness and I rapidly reloaded to swing the gun back in the direction of the brush-bound six pointer.

He had wheeled and was headed back the way he had come like a bolt of brown lightening. I was picking him up in the scope on about every third bound when I finally matched his pace and settled the cross hairs on his shoulder. Squeeze the shot, don’t jerk, ignore the trees, squeeze the shot, don’t jerk - I jerked the shot, and the poplar sapling splintered and fell over like it had been hit by a meteor. The buck was gone.

Reloading again, I spun the single shot rifle back to the four pointer and found him still where the first round had left him. The sound of the big buck crashing through the thicket faded up the hollow and I sat back down in the tree, listened to the sudden silence of the woods, pondering my lucky hat and the meteors that come from the direction of the constellation called Leo.
When I got back to camp someone had gone to town and bought a Sunday paper. The paper was scattered, open to the section that printed the Horoscopes. Mine said, “Cycle high. You will be at right place at crucial moment with hardly any effort on your part. Circumstances turn in your favor.”

It’s the lucky hat.

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