The Cap and Ball Buck
Russ Chastain 03.12.20
“I’m proud of you.”
Those four words made me feel better than any others ever could. The buck in my truck was great. The feeling of accomplishment was wonderful, and knowing I’d properly scouted the area and later watched a buck chase a doe by my stand was immensely gratifying. But they were nothing compared with the feeling I got when Dad told me I’d done good. I was positively glowing.
It had all started a few weeks before, when I’d once again explored an area of the Ocala National Forest near the Ocklawaha river and had been surprised to learn that a bulldozer-wide trail had been plowed along the forest boundary. Suddenly there was a wide, straight trail where before there’d been only thickets. Better yet, the trail was fresh and the snow-white sand made it easy to see the many deer tracks in the trail, and to quietly move through the area. This was a game-changer.
I had always liked the area, but moving to and through it had been a problem. With the access problem solved and the fact that I seemed to be the only hunter who’d discovered it so far, I was excited. Heck, I’d even managed to get a shot at a doe with my bow while still-hunting and that NEVER happens. She’d jumped the string, but still.
Hunting the Trail
I’d found the area during the archery season. Next came muzzleloader, and on the first morning of that hunt I had initially hunted an entirely different WMA. I was haunted by the thought of the sandy hammock trail I had found, though, so after the morning hunt I made the drive north and headed for the sandy trail, hanging my climbing tree stand onto a reasonably straight water oak near its edge. Nothing was seen that evening, but I was not deterred.
Saturday morning dawned moist-cool, with low-hanging fog soaking up sound and soaking into my clothes as it condensed on and dripped from the many hardwood trees. This was not unusual, but my choice of muzzleloader was. I was toting a small, light, handy Uberti “Cattleman’s Carbine” cap & ball single action revolving carbine. I’d splurged on it earlier that year, and had worked up an accurate load consisting of 38 grains of FFFg black powder behind .454 round lead balls. This little gun weighed a mere 4.2 pounds unloaded and was not quite three feet long.
The load, the rifle, and myself had all been proven capable of keeping the balls within “minute of whitetail” at 50 yards and considering that it was ballistically similar to the 44-40 cartridge, I did not feel undergunned for hunting Southern whitetails. No long-range shots were possible here anyhow, and I liked the thought of fast followup shots thanks to its six-shooter cylinder.
Gone to Grunt Town
After several hours, I suddenly heard some mechanical-sounding buck grunts to my south. That is the general direction of the paved road, and all I could think was that some goofy “hunter” was on the old woods trail down there blowing on a grunt tube. When I began to also hear some crashing in the brush, I reconsidered and perked up a bit.
I stood to face the racket, which had come from behind and to my right. No sooner had I done so than the world exploded! It was actually a whitetail doe crashing through the brush with a young buck hot on her heels, but my adrenal glands went ahead and released an exploding-planet-sized dose of jazz juice, just in case.
I felt the rush and the increased pounding in my chest as I witnessed the pair run behind (and almost underneath) my stand in a rapid zig-zag, far too fast for me to have gotten a shot at the ever-grunting buck. The pair turned back into the thick hammock woods and disappeared from view.
I’d seen a buck and had utterly failed to even try to get a shot, but I didn’t mind at all. I just stood there grinning like a possum, knowing that I’d witnessed a buck-doe chase up close and personal for the first time in my life. My internal voice wouldn’t shut up; it just kept repeating, “This is great!” I was awestruck and about as happy as a guy can get.
I didn’t have long to soak up the moment, though, because I soon heard something moving towards me through the woods from the direction in which they’d disappeared. The woods were thick and I could only tell that it was a deer as I spotted bits and pieces of it. As it came along, I noticed another deer following not too far behind.
The lead deer stepped into the trail 35 yards distant, and it was a doe. I figured it was the same doe I’d seen during the chase, and the deer in the rear must be the buck. The doe hesitated a few seconds before turning right and walking away from me along the trail. I tensed as I got ready for the buck to emerge behind her.
When a Buck Ain’t a Buck
The second deer stepped out and I got ready. I’d already cocked the hammer of my little black powder six-shooter and was all set to aim when the deer stepped into view on the trail and turned out to be a fawn. After just a moment’s pause, the little critter spotted mama down the trail and followed her.
I didn’t even have time to feel let down before I heard even more movement in the brush, indicating that a third deer was following the same route. When it stepped out into the trail I could immediately tell it was a legal buck. I grunted to get his attention and he paused briefly, giving me the only chance I was going to get.
Finding a Hole
A magnolia tree stood between us, and I straightened my body to make myself taller, finding a hole between the large shiny-green leaves. I propped my right elbow against my oak tree, steadied the sights on the buck’s boilerworks, and pulled the trigger.
The buck showed no sign of having been hit, taking off to run straight ahead across the trail. Something automatic inside of me took over, and I found myself instantly cocking the little carbine, swinging it, and firing at the fleeing beast. I could see no effect of the shot other than the cloud of white smoke, and with a few more bounds the buck was gone in the thick woods across the trail.
I clenched my little repeater, cocked and ready again, straining to see where the buck had gone. I heard a thrashing in the brush and leaves.
“He’s down,” I told myself, “He’s down and dying.” Still I craned my neck, seeking movement amongst the scrub oaks and saplings.
I trembled, I panted. Then I spotted motion!
I raised the small rifle as the buck struggled to its feet and stood facing me; a narrow target but I took aim and fired. The resulting cloud of white smoke destroyed my view and I could see nothing for the next hour — or perhaps a few seconds.
How’d I do That?
The smoke cloud slowly dissipated and once again I spotted movement. The buck was lying on the ground and hidden from view, but it was repeatedly lifting its head up where I could see it. With alacrity and skill that still astound me more than two decades later (and which elude me at less-intense moments) I raised the long-barreled revolver, timed the shot to coincide with the raising of the deer’s head, and fired. This took much less time to do than it does to read about it.
As my fourth shot echoed through the woods, the only movement came from a slow-drifting cloud of aromatic white smoke, my thundering heart, and my quaking limbs. My post-kill attack of the shakes was, as usual, deliciously unrelenting.
I eventually gathered myself, made my gun safe, and climbed down the tree. Still a bit shaky, I crossed the trail and there lay the buck; as fine a young spike as you’ll ever see.
My first shot had been a good lung hit, and would have been enough to kill the deer. The shot I fired at the running buck had apparently missed.
The shot I’d fired as it shakily stood facing me had done nothing more than graze one shoulder, merely removing a line of hair from the hide.
The final shot was the most impressive, landing exactly where the neck meets the head in a perfectly-timed, perfectly-placed coup de grâce shot for which I wish I could take credit.
Even Better Than a Buck
I thanked God for my blessings as I dragged the buck to my truck and loaded it. I then drove towards the area where Dad had gone to hunt, feeling pretty great. I turned off the pavement onto the woods road and before long we met as he came driving out.
We emerged from our trucks at the same time, and my grin was enough to tell him I’d gotten one. As we walked around to the back of my truck to admire the deer, I said, “I carbined him.”
“You did?” was his reply. He sounded mildly surprised. I answered with a smiling nod.
My father shook my hand, gave me a hug. He said, “I’m proud of you, son. You done good.”
If there is any feeling better than what I felt upon hearing those words from that man, I don’t know what it might be. I think I floated back to camp that day.