The Blackpowder Journal

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...for the blackpowder enthusiast

Hunter's Moon

Brent Abbott, Stickwalker

"I was instantly enveloped in a billowing cloud of blue-grey smoke... A good shot, a clean kill, ..."

It was Thursday, five days into the Iowa early muzzle loading deer season, as I prepared for the afternoon hunt. The meat-pole at camp sagged under the weight of four nice white-tails, and I couldn't suppress an envious glance toward all that tagged venison as I quietly walked out of camp and into the woods.

I slowly and deliberately trudged the half-mile to my hunting area, partly in an effort to keep from overheating and soaking my clothes with sweat, and partly because I was in a dejected mood. Earlier in the week I had two chances to fill my tag. The first was during an unseasonable blizzard with 50 MPH winds. I took refuge behind the burl of a huge oak tree and waited out the worst of the storm. As the snow and sleet subsided, a doe and two yearlings, came running up from behind me and stopped upwind from me at barely 15 yards. Despite all my careful manipulations, the Hatfield flintlock misfired when I squeezed the trigger on the large doe. It was a long face I wore as I thumbed black soup out of the pan. The second chance was while in a tree stand. Another large doe materialized out of nowhere, but she was nervous and constantly testing the wind. By the time I had the cock pulled back and the trigger set, she was walking back into the heavy cover of safety. At 30 yards, I decided there was a large enough opening in the brush for a shot and the twilight was shattered by the roar and echo of my .50 caliber. As the smoke drifted away, I was heartbroken to see a small sapling slowly topple to the ground, a sapling that was a full fifty feet in front of the doe and unseen by me. A forty-five-minute search by flashlight revealed no blood on her escape trail.

I grounded the butt of my long barreled Hatfield when I was 200 yards from my area and knocked the embers out of my pipe. With delicate precision I removed the toothpick from the touch-hole, greased the pan cover, and dribbled in 2 grains of 4F from my prime horn. It was decision time. The infernal south wind that had been blowing since Friday had died down a bit, but was still firmly in my quarry's favor. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a north or northwest wind right now! I mentally clicked off my options as I hefted the rifle and adjusted my cap. I breathed a sigh of resignation and chose a ground stand to keep the wind in my face.

The large oak tree I found myself leaning against was familiar. Only this time I wasn't being pelted by ice crystals that felt like bird-shot. The twelve-acre clover field I looked out on was like an island in a sea of river-bottom timber. Seeing deer on this island was not the problem, The problem was intercepting them before they reached the middle, where they grazed and frolicked in safety due to my self-imposed limit of fifty yards. I had seen two nice bucks on this island, but always moving and always out of range. There was also a handful of yearlings and does to be seen every morning and every evening. And as you might well know, the hours spent on deer stand do funny things to one's mind. Perhaps that is why I came to regard this as "Gilligan's Island," there were Gilligan, Mary Anne, and Ginger. The professor was on the far side, Where was Mrs. Howel?

I turned my head to the right, and in the golden light of a sinking sun stood a sleek spike buck. He was unconcerned and scratched behind his ear with a hind hoof as he masticated a wad of foliage. He was so close I was certain he could hear the "thump-crash" of my heart as it beat wildly within my breast. A funny smile came to my lips as I remembered the adrenalin rush and pounding heart from other hunts. The smile grew as I realized my situation was near-perfect. I was downwind and in deep shadow. He was bathed in the dappled amber sunlight and only 25 yards away. The jaws that held the well-knapped flint came to full cock, and my left index finger found the set-trigger. The muzzle slowly rose to a horizontal position, and my cheek felt the cool maple stock. The sights became steady with my right hand braced against the solid oak tree. A shaft of sunlight illuminated my silver blade front sight, and it looked like a shiny star against the black of the rear sight. When the shiny star came to rest behind the young bucks front leg there was a barely perceptible motion by my trigger finger.

I was instantly enveloped in a billowing cloud of blue-grey smoke which wafted back into my face on the light south wind. A quick step to the right and I could see the body and hindquarter of the spike buck walking into the woods. My reload was accomplished quickly, with one eye on the spot where the buck had disappeared. I have never seen a deer "walk" away after being shot at, so I entered the woods with my rifle at port-arms, ready for a snap-shot .

After going less than 150 feet into the woods I found my buck with his legs folded under him and his head to one side resting on the leaf carpeted forest floor. A good shot, a clean kill, the first touch of that greyish hair to examine my quarry. With fumbling fingers I dumped the prime in my rifle and lit my pipe. I was elated, yet somehow saddened as I mumbled a quick "thank you" to the Creator. The field dressing was done in the fading light, and a zip-lock baggie received the heart, a heart with a .50 caliber hole thru it.

That funny smile returned to my lips as I tied a rope around the antlers and began to pull. The sun had set, and the moon had risen, a full moon, The Hunters Moon! The smile on my lips grew as I sweated and pulled that buck out of the woods, the buck I had shot with my new flintlock on my 38th birthday under the Hunters Moon.

Postscript:.....All six hunters in our camp tagged deer this year. The largest being a 234-pound nine point. My spike weighed 191 pounds field dressed. 100% success ratio in spite of that darn south wind!