Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
My first encounter with the Gray Faced Buck occurred on November 1st, 2014. It was during my first bow hunt of the season, and the annual rut was in full swing.
Prior to first light, I had set a ground blind along a strip of hay ground bordered on one side by an oak woodlot and by a corn field on the other. The action came quickly. As soon as the horizon began to color, I saw a large deer moving along the edge of the corn. The deer was traveling at a brisk pace and I could soon see that it was a very nice 8-point buck. By the time I turned around and got facing in his direction, the deer had already passed my location.
I hit the grunt call. The big buck hit the brakes and stared back in my direction. I hit another note on the call, and the deer immediately swapped ends and began to trot back toward the blind. I kept calling; the deer kept moving. When he finally stopped, the buck was standing at a distance of twelve paces. As I knelt in the blind at ground level, it seemed as if the white-tail and I were nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball. I could see every detail – his symmetrical main beams, his distinctive gray face, even the pencil line scar on the left side of his face. The beautiful buck also sported a pair of short, curved brow tines that seemed somewhat undersized when compared to the rest of the rack.
Although incredibly close, the deer was standing more or less head on. And as the seconds slowly ticked away, I became increasingly fearful that the buck would smell a rat and vacate the vicinity. At last he slowly turned, offering a perfect broadside shot. I had the deer dead to rights and it appeared as if things were stacking up for a very short season. Drawing the longbow, I took aim and released the string. It’s likely that I’ll never forget the sight of that beautiful brightly fletched arrow as it cleanly passed just an inch or so below the deer’s rib cage – perfectly in line with the buck’s heart and lungs. I’ll also not forget the sight of the Buck of my Dreams bounding into the woods and out of my life.
My mistake was obvious. In an effort to see the arrow hit home, I had dropped my bow arm causing the missile to pass below its target. It was an amateur’s error that had caused me to completely miss a mature white-tail standing at a distance of twelve steps.
Following that first encounter, I didn’t see the Gray Faced Buck again until early December when he reappeared just a couple hundred yards from where we first met. He was much less cooperative his time, preferring to chase a nearby doe rather than investigate the sounds of an imaginary buck.
The 2014 season’s third and final contact with the Gray Faced Buck came on January 7th. Local habitat conditions were ideal. Six inches of new powder had freshened the landscape and at first light, I was pleased to see evidence of ample deer activity. It was cold. Wind chills had plummeted to minus 40, and morning temps were brutal. When it finally appeared above the horizon, the rising sun was accompanied by a pair of spectacular rainbow colored sundogs. Although I saw some does and fawns, they offered no viable shots. I finally froze out at ten o’clock.
By early afternoon, I was getting antsy to return to the hunt. Only three full days remained until the late season’s January 10th closure. Although I had already put two deer in the freezer, I really wanted to collect one more bundle of venison.
Although the temperature was still hovering at 10 below, the winds had backed off to around 15 mph; raising the current wind chill value to a balmy minus 32. I felt certain that deer would be up and on the move long before sunset. The theory panned out and I soon began to see does and fawns slowly moving through the timber.
A bit later, I spotted a single deer moving toward me along a well-used trail. As the white-tail drew closer, I could see the animal was a large mature buck. It was, in fact, the Gray Faced Buck – the very same deer I had been hoping to take all season. Unfortunately, the magnificent buck had already dropped [shed] its antlers — the second shed buck I’d seen in the past three days.
Although the woodland giant had taken my breath away earlier in the season, I now decided to let him walk. Hard to put into words, but it just seemed somehow ‘disrespectful’ to shoot the regal creature in his current diminished state. Continuing his approach, the huge bodied deer passed within 20 yards – totally oblivious of my presence.
I soon detected another movement down the same trail. A second deer was on its way, following the identical path of the first. Peering through the brush, I could see a modest set of antlers. Moving quickly, the deer had soon approached to within 35 yards. I cautiously raised my longbow and got ready. At 15 yards, I emitted a single grunt. The deer halted and I dropped the string. The buck fell to the snow within seconds of being struck.
2015: As winter gave way to spring, summer, and finally early fall; I continued to wonder if I would see the Gray Faced Buck during the 2015 season. But although I hunted the same area, he never appeared. When a monster buck referred to as Home Wrecker appeared as trail camera photos on another area I like to hunt, I moved to that location where I spent most of the remainder of the season. Although I passed shots on four different bucks there, I never received so much as a single sighting of Home Wrecker except, of course, as pictures on another hunter’s trail cam.
Eventually moving back to my original territory, I saw several white-tails but the Gray Faced Buck remained noticeably absent. I began to think he no longer existed; that is until one day in late December.
While watching a small buck polish a sapling, I detected the movement of a second deer. When I finally caught a glimpse of his antlers through the brush, my pulse rate sky rocketed. The second deer wasn’t just a nice buck – he was an absolute stag!
Although too far for the longbow, the deer was within camera range. And in spite of the fact that the big buck never left the thick stuff, I did get a good enough look to see that there was no mistaking the fact that this was indeed the Gray Faced Buck — alive and well. Although the light colored face and undersized, curved brow tines were unchanged, the buck’s antlers had gained an additional point on each side. Maintaining its symmetrical form, the rack was higher, wider and more massive than the year before.
From then until New Years, I received four additional sightings of the Gray Faced Buck. And then he was gone; as completely vanished as a wisp of smoke.
We love venison; but with the end of the archery season looming near, the freezer was bare. It was time to capitalize on whatever opportunities might still come my way. After passing shots on those November bucks, I ended up shooting a late season doe and a plump button buck.
This year’s archery deer season ended on Jan. 10. With a good supply of venison steaks now secured, I am already dreaming of next fall. Most of all, I’m wondering if I’ll catch another glimpse of a deer I like to call the Gray Faced Buck.
Jan. 11, 2016