Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Katelyn's Story

My love of wildlife, the outdoors, and hunting has been embedded in me since I was as little as can be. Growing up with my English Springer Spaniel, Zak, as my best friend and my dad, an avid outdoorsman, as my role model, I couldn't avoid it. I can remember the excitement on Zak's and my dad's faces after coming home from a successful hunt.

I had decided back then that being a girl wouldn't inhibit my dreams of being a hunter. Little did I know later in my life being a woman involved in hunting and shooting sports is a blessing. I owe so much to my dad for molding me and giving me the opportunities I've had. From my first coyote, my first buck, my first goose and so on. There's a very small amount of Pennsylvania wildlife I have not had a chance to hunt and harvest. For the most part I've been on every sort of hunt imaginable around here.

I couldn't have been happier for my dad when he became part of the Pennsylvania Game Commission 5  years ago. I am a huge supporter of ethical hunting and fair chase. I support what him and the other Wildlife Conservation Officers do. I love being able to share my hunting stories and knowledge with others.

Fast forwarding to my second year of archery season. This past fall I saw some of the most amazing Whitetail bucks ever. They were the kind of bucks that physically drop your jaw and you can't stop staring because you can't believe what your eyes are looking at. The best part is that these were "my bucks"! They lived on my property and the surrounding farmland that was posted, which only my dad and I have permission to hunt. I hunted almost every single day during the archery season and made sure not to miss a single day when the rut started up.

I knew it was only a matter of time before I was going to have an opportunity to harvest a nice buck with my bow. I was hunting with my new pink-camo, Diamond compound. It would be my first archery deer, having previously harvested other nice bucks, but with my slug gun. The opportunity finally came early on in the season on a decent sized 8-point. I judged him to be at 40 yards. Standing up and drawing my bow back I placed my sight right on his vitals and released my arrow. My pink luminox lit up as I watched it fly directly towards where I had placed it. Then all of a sudden I watched it ricochet off a twig half the size of my pinky and fly off to my right. I sat down, my stomach in knots as a tear rolled down my cheek. I couldn't believe what had just happened, I blew it. Why hadn't I saw that twig there?

Throughout the rest of the archery season I saw some absolutely amazing bucks. My most memorable ones were a drop-tine buck with at least 10 points and a few others that just had outrageously large racks. If you're wondering why I saw these bucks, but didn't shoot them let me explain. The last thing I ever want to do is injure a buck to the point where it suffers until it dies. Just the thought of that disgusts me along with the thought that some people are okay with taking a chance like that.  These huge bucks I saw were on the verge of 50-60 yards. I may have been able to pull off a lethal shot, but it was risky. Risky enough that I preferred to sit in my stand in awe observing them. "There's always another day, gun season, and next year" I kept telling myself.  I preach ethical hunting practices to everyone I know. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't follow my own beliefs.

I saw plenty of little guys throughout my 2014 archery season also. Spikes, 2 points, 4 points, legal little racked bucks too. A lot of these young bucks came right up under my stand or 10 yards in front of me. The little barely legal ones I passed up. Some may call me crazy, but I can't kill a buck that I won't be beaming with pride for. Those little racked guys will be bigger the next year, just wait until then. Let them go, let them grow.

I never did take a buck during this archery season, but I was okay with that. Not at first, but after I thought it over for a good, long while I was. I continuously told myself that this was just God's plan and he was saving me a real nice buck for gun season. I would've never expected he was saving me more than that.

While archery season was out and gun season had yet to come in I did some small game hunting. I took my old English Springer Spaniel, Lucky, out to kick up some pheasants one morning. Everything was going well until a blizzard set in! I decided enough was enough and headed back home to thaw out and dry off. I shot a few squirrels throughout those “in between deer season” days too. I tried out some new hide curing techniques that didn't turn out too bad. I can't complain about meat in the freezer either.

I had the opportunity to take a trip to West Virginia to rifle hunt with my boyfriend, Trevor, along with two of his friends.  I jumped at that, no way I was missing out! The day after Thanksgiving he and I woke up at 4am and started our 2 hour drive down to Marshall county. We stopped at a little diner to get some breakfast where we ran into many locals all geared up to do some deer hunting. Trevor and I headed out to the property he hunts a little while down the road to get things going. The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon when we began walking into the woods. We sat down in a favorite spot of his dad's, where quite a few bucks were taken over the previous years. We were on a mountainside, a few benches down from the top. It began blizzarding, all you could see was white. I was praying the snow would subside. We wouldn't be able to see a deer 10 yards in front of us if it didn't! The wild winds and snow calmed down not too long after they began.

About 45 minutes after sitting there we heard such a strange noise coming from my left. I looked at Trevor, he looked at me, what the heck was that? Then I heard Trevor say "Two deer, get ready!" A doe came flying by us 5 yards out, running full speed. Trevor said that he knew there was another down there. Just then he peeked his head out. He was a nice rack buck! I pulled up my .308 my dad had built himself, put the crosshairs on his chest and fired. He ran down the mountain 50 or so yards then stopped and looked back. Trevor drew his 300 H&H up to get ready to shoot if he wasnt down. He watched the buck through his scope, saw him take a step forward and collapse to the ground. He was gone. I had officially shot my first West Virginia buck!

I couldn't get down the mountainside fast enough to check him out! I was so excited! He turned out to be a really nice 7 point, especially for down in West Virginia. Bucks don't get very big down there due to the lack of food they have. Our Pennsylvania bucks seem like cows compared to the ones in West Virginia.  I filled out my tag and stuck it in his ear. I wanted so badly to call my dad and tell him the news, but there was no cellphone reception for miles and miles. Trevor pulled out his camera and took some pictures of my buck and I. I had made a perfect shot. The bullet went through the top of the heart and double lunged him. After he was field dressed out the drag up the mountain began. Thank god I had Trevor there or it would have taken me literally 3 hours to get that buck up the steep mountainside. We took turns dragging him up. Well, Trevor did most of it, I just gave him a break every now and then because I felt bad! Once we got him in the truck bed I put my gun away and we headed back out to try and get Trevor a buck before the day was over. It was still only 8am we had a lot of time left.

We walked all over the mountainsides the rest of the day. I wanted Trevor to shoot a buck so badly.  Meeting up with two other guys we decided to put on a drive around 3pm. Trevor & I set up at the end of a thicket while the other two walked through it. As soon as they walked in the mountainside came alive. There were deer running everywhere, going every which way! I strained to find a buck and I saw two. I whispered to Trevor, but he already had his rifle waiting for a buck that was down in a low spot. That buck started running closer! We bleated at him and he stopped behind a tree. He began moving again, we bleated, he stopped.. behind another tree! Trevor put his crosshair right in front of the tree waiting for him to step forward. He did, Trevor pulled the trigger and he collapsed to the ground. It was official, we just doubled up on two great West Virginia bucks! We were so excited!

Trevor’s buck ended up being a nice 8 point. After I took some pictures he field dressed the buck and we figured out the best way to drag him out. We were all the way at the bottom of the mountain with Trevor’s truck at the very top. We decided that wasnt even plausible to drag that buck up the mountain because we were both already absolutely exhausted. Thankfully our friend’s truck was parked at the bottom of the mountain, but it was still going to be a long drag. We finally made it back to that truck. Later on the other two met us there and we made the drive back up to Trevor’s truck.

We had both bucks loaded up and we were ready to go home. The sun was starting to set on such an amazing day. I was soaking wet and absolutely freezing. Since we were hunting out of state we had to stop at one of the local convenience stores to check in our deer. We did that, grabbed a couple snacks, and then headed on our trip home. We kept trying to make phone calls to our family on the way home, but we kept losing service. Eventually we were able to tell everyone about our awesome day!

So I had the following two days, Saturday and Sunday, to prepare for the opening day of buck season in Pennsylvania on Monday. Living in Wildlife Management Unit 2B we are not permitted to use rifles. My dad and I use slug guns to hunt our bucks. We watched the weather all weekend and it looked like it was going to be cold and rainy. What a surprise..not. The chances of having snow on opening day has always been rare. I kept thinking to myself how crazy it would be if I shot another buck on Monday! Then I thought about how much more crazier it would be if I harvested one of those big guys I saw during archery season!

Monday morning was here and I was ready. I posted up in a spot where I had seen many deer throughout archery season. The way the land is set up the deer tend to funnel into that spot. My dad was posted up in another decent spot not too far from me. We sat for a while and then he decided to push out the thicket, leading to where I was. We didn't see a single deer. So we put on another drive and once again we didn't see any deer. It was still only morning, but my hope was slowly dwindling. I kept thinking of the odds that I'd down another buck having just shot my West Virginia buck the other day.

We decided to push out one last thicket before we headed in for lunch and to dry off. I posted up and waited. Five or so minutes passed by then from what I heard it sounded as if a herd of buffalo we're running at me! A group of deer came flying out of the thicket. I was frantically searching for some antlers. I saw some finally which I realized only belonged to a spike and a 4 point. I met up with my dad to fill him in on what passed by. Hey.. At least they were bucks! We headed home on the ATV to warm up. I was still feeling pretty determined despite not seeing much that morning. We had about 4 or 5 hours left to make it happen.

With our stomachs full and some dry clothes on we took to the woods again. I hunt a large valley with a back road that runs through the very bottom. Both hillsides are fields covered in thick brush with acres of woods behind them. Putting on a few more drives on the opposing hillside that we had hunted that morning only doe were seen. We took the ATV up to the highest point on the hill. We scanned the hillside facing us for deer with the binoculars. At first we didn't see any. Then my dad noticed a deer like figure in the middle of the hill. We tried and tried, but couldn't make out if it was a deer, let alone a buck or a doe. We headed down the hillside, thinking that with a different angle we would have a better chance of making out what it was. We determined it was most definitely a deer. We moved a bit further down, pulling the binoculars up to our eyes. That's when I heard my dad declare that the deer was a buck, a giant one at that. I'll never forget his exact words, but I'll leave them out due to some profanity! Him having better binoculars than me at the time, I grabbed his up to get a better look. I don't know what exactly came out of my mouth, but I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We both agreed that buck looked like more like it was an elk! His tines were straight up and so tall. Enough gawking though, we had to make a plan to get all the way over there without being seen.

Taking the ATV to the bottom of the valley we parked it. We emptied our pockets of anything that wasn't necessary to take up there. The slightest sound of something banging around in our pockets would be enough to ruin our opportunity. We mapped out the path we would take, realizing that if things went according to plan he wouldn't catch us until we were 60 or so yards from him, guns drawn. The wind was working with us perfectly. We knew we'd have to move low and slow all the way up the hill. Hunched down and moving at a snail's pace we worked our way towards the buck. Once we made it up the hill far enough we would have to cut across being that he was standing in the middle. Once we had sight of him we would open fire.

So we were at the right elevation and began cutting across. We lost sight of him once we began our way up the hill. I was praying to God he hadn't moved. Then we were so close I could barely breathe. I knew right over the little knoll he'd be standing there. My heart was pounding out of my chest. We stepped forward and I made eye contact with the buck. My dad had not noticed the buck standing there yet, being only his chest and head were visible. The rest of his body was behind a bush.  He was so well camouflaged with the background of the thicket. As quietly as I could I whispered, "He's right there...", my eyes as big as tomatoes. I drew up my gun, my dad drew up his and we shot. There was no way that buck was getting away from us.

The buck took off at a slow run. One that you'd look at and think he's gonna be down within a hundred yards. My dad and I took off running to the spot where he was standing. Yes, blood! It was everywhere, covering the field. The buck took off out of the field and into the tree line. We went running that way following him. Just as we made it to the treeline our neighbor, Ernie, was standing there wide-eyed. He was out hunting as well, but had no idea we were right over in the field. Our buck ran right by him!

We had about 45 minutes of daylight left. My dad had me run down to get the ATV and grab some flashlights from the house in case we ended up not finding him before dark. Him and Ernie would continue to track him while I was gone. By the time I made it back up the hill the darkness had set in and our buck still wasn't found. We had a decent blood trail with good bright red blood. It would taper off here and there, but then would be followed up by large puddles. Ernie ran over to his house to get his old Coleman Lantern. Blood shows up really well with them. Another 45 minutes went by and our buck still wasn't recovered. Doug and Timmy, two of the Pennsylvania Game Deputies that patrol with my dad gave him a call. They were out patrolling, but decided to head on over to our place to help us track. So with myself, my neighbor, and three DWCO's ( who all took a class on tracking) I was sure we'd find our buck soon. “We better find him”, I thought to myself.

There's something about tracking deer at night that's fun, in my opinion. It's not something you get to do often! At this point we had been tracking for nearly two hours and we were 1.5 miles from where we originally shot. We were almost all the way through the patch of woods and nearing the road. Then Ernie thought of something that made my stomach flip upside down. He recalled after our buck had run by him a shot had been fired on the other side of the road shortly after. The same road that the blood trail was heading up towards. My heart sank. The thought of someone shooting our already shot buck and then tagging him as their own ripped me apart. I would be so devastated.

The blood trail made it right up to the road. I thought for sure he had crossed over, but my dad picked the trail back up heading the opposite way, back into the woods. It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. We started heading uphill and we were all so confused. What wounded deer runs uphill, let alone for this long??! The blood spots got fewer and farther in between. My stomach started knotting up again. I stood at the last blood spot for twenty minutes while the guys branched out to look for the next one.  Nobody could find any. My dad ventured a little bit further and yelled something I couldn't make out. Not wanting to leave the last blood spot I yelled back and asked him what he said. He didn't respond and then the guys started heading towards him. I took off running in the pitch black through the thorns to where my dad was, being pretty sure of what was going on.

OH MY GOD, THERE HE WAS. Our buck was laying there under a bush. My oh my was he nice!! His tines were so long and tall, all 10 of them. I couldn't have been happier in those few moments. I thanked the guys over and over for coming to help us. It might've taken us hours, but we finally found him.

The buck had run over two miles from where we shot him. The next dilemma was deciding how to get him out after he was tagged and field dressed. Thankfully we were close to the road. I called my mom and sister, asking them to bring one of my dad's trucks down to us so we could load him up. Too much traffic was flying by up and down the road so we turned on the truck's lights and sirens. This truck was the one that my dad used when out patrolling for the Game Commision. Timmy and Doug directed traffic while we got the buck loaded. All five of us jumped in the bed of the truck afterwards while my mom drove us home. Even though my dad mentioned to her "Remember were back here!", she drove a little too fast for our liking. Freezing wind whipped across our faces, but I wasn't complaining. This was the best deer season of my life so far!!

Our freezer is full to say the least. Just recently Trevor & I went out to pheasant hunt one afternoon. We hunted the same property where my dad & I had harvested the 10 point. We walked through the first thicket, him towards the top, myself on the bottom side. I told him to be ready when we got towards the end of the thicket. I had saw quite a few pheasants throughout deer season around there. And sure enough a nice big male flushed up to my left. I shot and he dropped. I ran over to check him out and he was beautiful. I was content with just him for the day. We headed on home to clean my bird. I kept the tail as a souvenir, which is something I've always done. I stuck the pheasant meat in the freezer, ready to be cooked for dinner.

I have doe tags left that I'll be getting ready to fill within the week or so. Living in Allegheny County we have an extended firearms season, allowing us to hunt does up until January 24th. If I could wish for anything it would be more time in the day. I didn't have much of a chance to do as much coyote hunting as usual and didn't make it out waterfowl hunting either this past season. With winter setting in and deer season going out we'll be getting after those coyotes here shortly. I can say that this year has come to a close and I couldn't be anymore thankful for how it's turned out! So many cool experiences and opportunities!

 Katelyn Cerciello

1 comment:

  1. Way to go girl! Love knowing there are other girls like me out there. Maybe some day we can get together and go pheasant hunting. Congrats on Bug Buck and good luck getting a doe.