THANKSGIVING DAY started with a long, slow slog through the soggy meadow where the deer usually lie, and ended up with me sitting on a blue milk crate at "the best stand on the whole place." And nobody saw a deer.
This season has been like that for a lot of people.
"The deer have had all the advantage, so far," says regional wildlife biologist Terry Moore. "It's been dry -- and even on days when the leaves are wet, it's been impossible to stalk them."
Not that stalking, or "still hunting" is a particularly good method for animals that can smell you and see you long before you can catch a glimpse of that wig-wag white tail, signaling a quick departure.
The idea is to take one or two silent steps, then spend minutes looking all around without making any movement. You are supposed to take an hour to move the length of a football field.
Nobody can do that, except in the "How-To" books.
Real people usually crunch along for a few paces then sit down or lean against a tree, more or less motionless, and hope that some other hunter on the other side of the woods has just done the same thing and has spooked a deer toward you.
Of course, if there are enough hunters in your party and if you trust each other with firearms, you can put on a "drive," which we also tried on Thanksgiving: A few guys take likely stands while others walk the fields or woods, chasing the deer toward the waiters.
"Usually the guys up the hill, in the woods will get a shot or two," said my host, Bob Robinson. "That will send the deer back to us. At least that's how it's supposed to work."
Well, he and I walked, slowly and wetly, squishing through the backed-up beaver bogs.
Later, he put me on a stand -- his "best place" -- while he wandered into the deep woods to see what might be moved back toward me or the other guests he had placed strategically.
Since hunting is not really about killing, it was a pleasant and instructive day and everyone made it back to their respective tables in good time for the Thanksgiving feast.
The next day, however, a fellow named Keith Beck of Hamburg wandered back to that blue milk crate and by 10:30 in the morning was dragging out a nice, 11-point buck.
A very nice buck, indeed.
"It weighed 180 pounds, dressed," Beck wrote with the snapshot showing the massive, trophy rack. "It scored 170 points, green." That means, after drying, it will be good enough to make the first page of the Big Buck Club record book.
Deer hunting is obviously as much about being in the right place at the right time as it is about skill or technique.
Yearling shy of record status
Remember that 12-point yearling buck logged by the DEC on Opening Day? For the record, it came from the Town of Java, weighed 170 pounds at the butcher shop and was tagged by Hank Baker of Buffalo. Baker, an experienced hunter, says it is shy of record-book status.