Russell Report 2018

RussellBro2

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JEFF Preseason
Fitness was a priority for me during the offseason. I finished my MBA back in May- had been going to class at night for several years and was really excited to finish- with the extra time in the evenings, I began to run with November’s tracking demand on my mind. And I ran a lot, all year, and really enjoyed it. I did a lot of trail running off pavement and that was new, more fun, and more challenging. Legs were strong/fast and by late July, I was running every day including a half marathon distance every Wednesday night with a headlamp. I had some weekly mile counts in the 60’s on several occasions and learned a TON or relevant information about hydration and nutrition. Not intending to boast here, but rather encourage others… it was so worth it.

On Sep 30[SUP]th[/SUP] I ran a 35-mile trail race down in Connecticut called the NipMuck. I had no idea CT was that mountainous! That was the first race I’ve registered in since high school and it was a very tough, humbling adventure! An amazing experience with a very supportive community. Couldn’t wait to test the new legs while tracking in the mountains!






 
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RussellBro2

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The Spring was fun with my two boys now of age to trample after sheds and with an attention span sufficient enough to make one lap around the lake trolling… or at least half a lap… OK- we caught this one from shore.




 

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Josh led a successful moose hunt back in September with our neighbor/friend taking a young bull- her 1[SUP]st[/SUP] big game animal- on the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] day of the hunt. She was pumped!




 

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JEFF Friday Nov 9[SUP]th[/SUP] The Trip Up
With cold temps and snow in the forecast we were pretty giddy before the trip… and entirely unproductive at work. We left early to beat a storm and rolled into camp just as the flurries started. 2 sets of Russell Brothers- Josh and me. Dad and Uncle Gary. Uncle Gary would be hunting the 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] week with us, while Josh, Dad and I were going to hang on right till the end of rifle season.

JEFF Sat Nov 10[SUP]th [/SUP]Day 1
Snow was falling fast and heavy as we opened the 2018 season, and I’m not certain if it stopped the whole time we were there! We usually take separate vehicles to cover the most ground during the early “scouting days” of our trip. Dad and Uncle Gary had trails they planned to go sit over, while Josh and I were making big loops in separate areas to locate a good track before light. With snow expected for the entire trip we spoke a lot about being really selective in the track we’d take early in the trip as we both we’re looking for a mature buck to place our tags on.
Really, I felt the drive was futile as the snow was falling fast enough to cover even the freshest tracks, but it felt so good to be going through the motions of a “tracking day”- riding the roads before light, with a hot cup of joe, and enjoying the quiet, whiteout conditions on the maze of backroads.


I made a loop around the base of a mountain and saw a coyote as it jumped across the road and one doe track before returning the truck to pavement. I started down another road system around 5:30. With the muddy tire ruts of several trucks ahead of me, finding a track crossing the road seemed impossible, so I hustled the truck right along planning to get back into a remote area to find a buck track on foot.
There was just a touch of light on the horizon when I spotted a set of tracks out of the corner of my eye in an old logging landing and at a rise in the terrain. I backed up the rig and jumped out. Both the temperature and the wind seemed to be increasing as I examined a smoking fresh track of a running deer. It was obvious that the deer was spooked off the road just moments before by one of the trucks ahead of me. The tracks looked big!… but running tracks always do. I backtracked the deer to where there was walking tracks and saw enough size and stagger and stride to get excited.


I hustled back to the rig and threw on some orange, fastened my pack, and slid some brass into my 30-06 peeped carbine. I couldn’t believe my luck- Day 1, perfect conditions, a 10-20min old track of a mature buck at the end of his nightly swing, and it had JUST turned legal shooting time! As the saying goes, it would have taken a Louisville Slugger to get the smile off my face.
 

RussellBro2

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Heavy wind and snow as I started the first tracking job of 2018… nothing in the world I’d rather do, and please don’t tell my wife that! I felt he was close and firmed that up when his running tracks stopped as soon as he’d jumped off the road. There was hardly any snow in his track and there was NO new snow in the first scrape I came to perhaps 100 yards off the road.



“Keep your head up” I kept repeating to myself. Another scrape. And another FIVE scrapes after that one- all in the first mile!





 

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I figured that with every scrape he made I was getting 1-3 mins closer. I actually did the math. Seven scrapes meant I was 10-20 mins closer which meant he was essentially just out of sight!
I could see an old skidder trail ahead and slowly eased my head into it to get a view down the trail. As I did this we spotted each other at the same instant and he was gone in a couple bounds without sufficient time to center him in the peep. He had been standing 50 yards away over yet ANOTHER scrape. I should have had the stock on my check as I poked my head into that trail. I’ll do that next time. He sure looked like a goodun!



 

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The 30min wait was tough as I watched the snow accumulate in his track… but it did the job, for after a 200yd sprint, there was clear evidence in the snow that he’d also waited as he watched for me on his backtrack. The walking tracks away described the once-again-relaxed state of the buck. Actually, the track changed in a very obvious and significant way- he was dragging his hooves much more and his gait made it known he was tired.


The tracks continued for 100yds then began climbing a ridge. Soon I came to the feeding sign I hoped to see- old man’s beard and mushrooms. I “knew” he was bedded just ahead of me. I began creeping ahead slowly with both my head and gun up. It was still snowing and blowing enough to cover any mistakes I’d make.

I was only 30 yds into this, pivoting my head side-to-side, when I saw the buck rise very slowly from his bed as if in slow motion! He remained standing in his bed. 70 yards. Broadside. He looked strange. Behind all the falling snow there was really no definition to him at all. He just seemed like a dark silhouette. What a sight! The image etched in my mind included a sag in his back and the frame of a decent rack. The muffled blast of the o-six was followed immediately by another as he raced downhill and out of view! I worked a third round into the chamber and tried to catch my breath!

I did it!! I knew I’d connected on that first shot and was certain that he would be lying dead before the base of the ridge! I waited a few minutes and topped off the clip before walking over to a big bed.



There was hair within a couple yards and blood within 5. And it was good blood too, confirming what I already knew had happened. I couldn’t believe it! Filled tag on the first day! I was so eager to go see what he looked like!

 

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I was shocked when after 70 yards along a decent blood trail he blew at me as I saw him struggle to get out of sight. “Sh!t! It ain’t over!” There was a bunch more blood as I approached where he laid, but that bed also revealed I hit him much further back than I thought. “Dammit!”





The tracks showed him struggling to run and there were signs that he’d fallen over several times. It began to rain. I kept moving fast to keep him on his feet and bleeding which he continued to do heavily for over ¾ of a mile! I saw him only one other time during the chase before his tracks came out to a logging road I didn’t recognize. What a gruesome scene along that road! It looked like he opened up some more there.



 
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RussellBro2

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The tracks showed he hobbled down the road for 60 yards or so. I ran the road to where he cut in on the other side. Just as I stepped in off the road he blew at me, and I could hear him really struggling just 30 yards away in the thick stuff! I CHARGED!! After a 30-yard sprint though some thick balsams I emerged to see him running broadside 40 yards out and I instinctively threw the carbine to my shoulder and fired three fast ones at him- POW! POW! POW!!! I reloaded and ran to where he was when I shot and could see that his tracks continued and headed for a big opening just ahead. I ran to the edge of good size lake where the tracks just disappeared. I missed him in my first glance over the lake, but in looking further out, there he was almost entirely submerged and 40 yards from the bank!! Simultaneously I’m thinking “Finally he’s dead!!” and “F*ck me, how the hell am I gonna get to him?!?!”



The wind had raised the water to just shy of whitecaps and the waves were pushing him parallel to the bank. The water appeared to be over my head, but I was gonna go find out for sure! I stashed my gun and fanny pack and waded out. I was so lucky to find him floating in water just below my crotch! I grabbed a tight hold of a big ol 8 pointer! Man, I didn’t think he was THAT big! It felt like I was in the middle of the lake! I hollered a big “Waaahoo!!!” and began to pull him back to shore absolutely drunk with adrenalin! It was just after 9AM.





 

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Back on shore and my first thought was “I gotta get a fire going, fast!”- I was soaked. I pulled him up on the bank. No easy tasked with a mature, waterlogged, Maine buck! My gosh, he looked as big as a pony!



I could see I’d hit him twice more in the 3 shot volley including a round right to the shoulder and one to the top of his neck, yet he still managed to get way out in the lake.

It was raining pretty good now and a strong wind continued to drop snow and ice from the trees as I scrambled up and down the bank stuffing my jac shirt with silver birch bark. Tinder collected, I then made a pile of dead cedar and spruce branches. In the next 20 mins I tried in vain to light that fire. I found my windproof lighter was not windproof before it ran out of butane- and that wet birch bark is impossible to use as a tinder with a flint striker. Dummy. I knelt next to the buck and assessed the situation. I was very lucky it was 40 degrees. Other than my feet I wasn’t uncomfortably cold. I emptied the water from my boots and put on dry socks and gloves. I have a very lightweight merino wool neck gaiter I keep in my pack and I threw that on and tucked a hand warmer inside it on the back of my neck. Thirty miles away from comfortable, but boy did I feel great! Still wet to the bone, but warming up… and I had a big 8 pointer at my feet.



I calmed down a bit after this. In my mind I had exaggerated the situation. I was fine- but I learned a lesson... I got some practice to do lighting fires in wet conditions!

With the demanding thought of a fire I hadn’t really looked him over. Man, he was a really long buck! His rack sat tall, thick, and symmetrical. It had that 2-toned look, like an elk from some high mountain meadow- polished at the tips with handsome walnut staining below that.


Strong brow tines! He was missing a third of his ear and had scars up and down his neck from some prior combat. Tracks tell you a lot about a buck, and when by some miracle you are successful tracking, the bucks themselves continue to give clues about how they lived. Such an impressive animal.



I took a bunch of pics and then sent a text to Josh on the in Reach and asked that he round up the old timers. “You’re FN kidding me! Yahoo…. I’m going to be awhile…” was the expected response from Josh.
 

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With the blood painting the road just 100 yards away, I expected company at some point. And sure enough a couple gents soon joined me down at the kill scene. I really enjoyed their “visit” and they were eager to hear all the details of the hunt as they offered congratulations and compliments on the buck. Better still, they knew what lake I was on and that made directing Josh to the kill scene SO much easier/faster as the buck had taken me to an entirely different road system. I really enjoyed the conversation with those two and only wished it was next to the wood stove back at camp! One was an old marine and he commented that it was a great way to celebrate the Marine Corps’ birthday- Nov 10[SUP]th[/SUP] 1775. The conversation was easy, and it felt like we were old friends. I thanked him for his service and he offered me a cup of coffee back at his truck before we parted ways. Hope to meet up with him again in the future. It was a pleasure to meet you, Dan and Paul! Best cup of coffee I’ve ever had…
Standing by the buck I couldn’t keep my feet warm, so I walked out to the road and began walking up and down it within sight of the blood scene to get circulation going again. While I was doing this a Tundra came flying around the corner and Josh jumped out and we had a big embrace. Dad and Uncle Gary were right behind him and after a few hugs and handshakes and “Holy Sh!ts!” we worked our way down to the lake and the buck as I told the chaotic tale.



The moments shared with those three on the shore of that lake is what I wait for all year. Absolute perfection.





 

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After a much shorter drag than normal, we had him loaded up and off to get a weight of… 217!! Back at camp, we strung him on the gamepole before it got dark. We celebrated by the woodstove and feasted on ziti and meat sauce. With “No Sunday Hunting” the next day, we stayed up a bit- talking about the resilience these deer have and about the beauty and remote-ruggedness of the places we chase them. Josh, Dad and Uncle Gary pulled as many details of the hunt as I could remember, and many of those details sparked memories of past hunts. We told stories till our eyelids forced us into the bunk room where I replayed the entire day in my mind. The image of him standing in his bed is what a tracker’s dreams are made of! And standing there in the middle of the lake with him in the wind and the waves… it was all so wild! I was part of it. You know what I mean? What a great memory! What an adventure!! And it was only the first day!





 

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JOSH Sat Nov 10[SUP]th [/SUP]Day 1
Snowing as we left camp. The plan was for Jeff to check out a mountain range closer to camp while I headed to a spot we call way out back to check a crossing they frequent. No tracks from the road on my way in so I struck out on foot at about 7:00. As I entered the woods I got a text from Jeff saying that he was on a good one. I was excited for him as I knew how fresh it was because of how hard it was snowing and because of the location of the track (I had just passed 45 min prior).
I continued on my trek and as I got about 1.5 miles from the truck (the crossing is 2 miles) I checked the Delorme again. “Monster 8 point down!” Great – I didn’t even get to where I wanted to go and I already have to head out of the woods. I let out a whoop of excitement and did my best to hoof it back to the rig. It was likely more of a waddle.
I made it back to the rig and went to grab Uncle Gary. I let out a signal shot for him before I made radio contact. He was excited to be getting into his heated Chevy and out of the wintery mess and even more excited to go look at his nephew’s deer. We got Dad on the radio too, and then started our way over to Jeff.
I had an idea where Jeff was and with the Delorme technology we figured out we could take another road system and drive pretty much right to him. It took a little longer getting there but made the drag a lot easier. A few hours after Jeff pulled the trigger, the cavalry finally arrived. Jeff was pretty fired up, soaking wet and cold, but mostly just excited to see the boys. We followed him in and his previous description of his buck was spot on. Tall, wide, thick rack and at or over 200. We took some pics as Jeff told the story and made quick work of getting the deer out of the woods. The amount of fat on a Nov 10[SUP]th[/SUP] deer vs. a normal 4[SUP]th[/SUP] week deer was extremely obvious and it showed at the check station he pulled the needle down to 217lbs!
 
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JEFF Sun Nov 11[SUP]th[/SUP]

In the morning, the camp was still abuzz over the 8 pointer. Up to watch the sunrise but we did it in darkness as we’d lost electricity during the night. Fortunately, it came back on around 9 allowing us to have a late breakfast.
















 

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Then we heading into our camp on the other side of the lake. The bunk house Dad built came a long way in the last year! Just a bit more finishing work and it will be complete.



 

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We had a bitterly cold session at “The Pit” before Josh and I headed off to scout. With the snow cover we decided we would stay in the truck and hit as many roads as we could to locate the “pockets”. And we found a couple good ones, with several big bucks in the mix. They were moving! Then a big steak feed.



 

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JOSH Monday Nov 12[SUP]th[/SUP]
With the warmer snow storm on Saturday, log roads were a mess by Monday and I knew I’d have to find a track on foot as the splatter of passing trucks had made any road travel hard to see.
I went in to an old winter road that goes back in a couple of miles. There’s always tracks on the road and sure enough, within the first .25 mile I was looking at a nice buck track. It was fresh, but it wasn’t huge – probably in the 170lb range.



I thought about taking it but with more snow in the extended forecast (little did I know how much snow as in the extended forecast!) and with it being early in the trip, I decided to continue my search. Less than a half mile later, I found what I was looking for except it was a little old. Melted out some, but still one of the biggest tracks I’ve come across.





I kept going down the road hoping to cut his trackfresher, I found a set the was made during the storm, but nothing fresher. Icut off the road down into the big woods and found another old buck track andsaw where he made a scrape.
 
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