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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Antlers Reunited

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 8, 2009.)

A jolt of adrenalin pulled Mike to the top of the hill.
As he took the buck’s only antler in his hands,
he realized it was a mirror image of the one
he had found just 50 yards from this spot.
The 2008 deer season had been long and frustrating for Mike Stimmell of Warren, Pennsylvania. Mike is an avid archery hunter who sometimes handicaps himself with a homemade bow and homemade arrows. For practice and for fun, he even chips his points from stone just like the native Americans local to the area once did. In 2006, Mike shot a nice 6-point with his primitive handcrafted gear.

Mike had hunted all or part of 30 days during the 2008 archery season and had taken a shot at only one buck. The 21-yard shot was a long trek for a slow, heavy wooden shaft -- and gave the deer plenty of time to react. The whitetail ducked to load the springs in his legs, and Mike’s arrow sailed over his back. He had blown his only shot opportunity of the archery season.

When rifle season opened, Mike picked up the old Model 70 Winchester that had witnessed many deer seasons in the hands of his dad and his granddad. The veteran .30-06 made lots of memories, and was about to create one more.

On Friday of the snowy first week of the rifle season Mike put several miles on his tired legs. He saw just two deer, making the week’s tally only four. Mike was discouraged and frustrated.

On Saturday he hunted the morning, went home for lunch, and dozed off. A slap on the shoulder from his wife brought him back to reality. “Are you going to sleep, or hunt?” Amy was frustrated too, and chased him out of the house.

Mike headed out to State Game Land #29 near “Heart’s Content.” Shortly after 1:00 PM he parked his truck and headed into the woods. About 300 yards from his truck he discovered a dropped antler, the right side from a nice 8-point rack, lying on top of the knee-deep snow. The buck had been feeding on acorns when he lost it. Mike shrugged, tucked it into his backpack and thought, “It’s a reward that’s better than nothing for such an unproductive season.”

Mike spent the afternoon making a big loop through the bottom of a valley and back up to the starting point. He saw plenty of tracks, droppings and rubbed trees, but not a single deer. Mentally and physically exhausted, he trudged through the deep snow. At about 75 yards from the top of the hill, just before quitting time, he stopped to take a breather.

His eyes picked up movement -- a nice-sized deer along the crest of the hill. When he found it in the scope, a half-rack buck was looking right at him. His mind processed a dozen thoughts in the few seconds he had to make a decision. “He sees me. Is he going to run? Could it be the buck that lost that antler? Or is it another one with a broken rack? Should I shoot? Can I get a shot off?” His final thought was, “Squeeze.”

The buck dropped in his tracks. A jolt of adrenalin pulled Mike to the top of the hill. As he took the buck’s only antler in his hands, he realized it was a

mirror image of the one he had found just 50 yards from this spot. Mike pulled the shed antler out of his pack and it fit like a missing puzzle piece. “Thank you, God!” He might have said it out loud.

This big woods buck had apparently cast the antler at breakfast that morning, and was returning just before dark to help himself to more acorns. The 3½ year old buck field-dressed at 165 pounds. Mike, formerly a high school football running back, struggled to load the deer into his truck. When he finally flopped it into the bed, the other antler popped off, leaving Mike with an antlerless buck.

The 8-point rack had a spread of about 19-inches, as near as Mike could tell. No one has worked so hard to reunite a shed antler with its original owner, and in the process create a truly unique memory for the wall. One more hunt with granddad’s old Model 70 taught Mike that a little extra effort can change your season.


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