by WADE SHAMBAUGH
A few years ago, I was exploring some new territory on public land near the Virginia/West Virginia border. I had looked at maps, and it appeared that both sides of the mountain were big and steep, with no roads crossing for several miles. I parked on top of the mountain and left my truck well before daylight, with the plan to be further from the road than most people would walk by the time it was light enough to see.
Just at daybreak, I came to a saddle in the mountain, running East to West. There was farmland far in the valley below on the East side. The season had been open for a while, and I figured that any deer using the farm at night would be well away from the open fields by dawn, and seeking the safety of the rough terrain and the cover of the laurel patches on the mountain. I settled in and got comfortable to watch some promising looking terrain across the saddle, big rock ledges and steep areas with spots of thick cover. I had my second buck tag in my pack, but knew that I was unlikely to use it. I had killed a nice buck the previous week, was mainly scouting, and not interested in shooting anything unless I saw the buck of a lifetime.
As the sun cleared the mountain and lit up the area I was watching, I caught movement down over the East side. A doe cautiously made her way around a rock ledge about 150 yards away, and stopped to look things over. Soon, more deer filtered in and began to bed down. About ten minutes later, a huge doe appeared on a slightly lower trail. Behind her was a very nice 8-point buck. His rack was tall and wide, with long, even points. While not a huge trophy, it was a really good buck for the area. The big doe ventured forward a bit, checking the wind, then turned and walked back towards the buck. Finally, she laid down facing him. He laid down as well.
After watching them through my binoculars for a bit, I sensed something behind me. There was an old man standing about 50 feet away. He smiled and gave a slight wave. I motioned him over.
The old hunter had a red wool plaid hunting outfit on that looked like it was from the 1950’s, and a woodland camo Jones-style hunting hat. He wore tall leather lace-up boots and wool gloves, with the trigger finger cut out of the right one. He carried a knife in an ancient looking leather sheath, and a few cartridges in loops on a leather belt. The only thing that looked modern was the orange vest that completed his outfit.
As he knelt down beside me and slid off his pack, I pointed across the ravine and told him to look just below the big rock. He raised an old set of binoculars and smiled.
“They have always liked bedding there,” he said quietly.
He then said, “I didn’t mean to crowd you. I’ve never ran into anybody out here before.”
I assured him that he was not, and asked if he had hunted here a lot. “I’ve been coming here for over 50 years,” he replied.
I said, “Well then, I think I am in your spot.”
He chuckled. “Not at all,” he said.
I told him it was my first time there. He said, with a calm tone and a certainty that did not invite questions, “This is my last.”
Finally, I asked if he wanted to shoot the buck. He smiled and said that I had spotted it, I should shoot it. I explained why I wasn’t going to.
He quietly slipped open the bolt on his old rifle, showed me the inside and smiled…it wasn’t loaded. I told him that if he wanted to shoot that buck, I could get it out for him. He thanked me, but said that he had taken a lot of bucks off this mountain, had already shot his last deer, and that wasn’t why he was up there. We both then sat, quietly looking through our binoculars. I got a thermos out of my pack and offered him some coffee, which he accepted. He laughed and said he used to carry a thermos, but now it was too much extra weight. He was smiling the whole time.
After an hour or so, he said that he was going to head downhill, over the West side, to a friend’s camp. He was a little unsteady getting to his feet, but quickly braced himself. We shook hands and he stepped off into the laurel.
I looked back across at the deer still bedded on the opposite ridge. In a few minutes, it seemed like he had never even been there. After looking at the deer a bit longer, I backed away without disturbing them, and headed out the way I had come.
Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.