STARR, Ohio - Some bucks are like cats. They have nine lives.
Take, for example, one big old boy that haunts a certain valley here in Hocking County, deep in southeastern deer country. He may not know it but he has used five of his allotted nine already.
No. 1 probably was the closest call. It came during shotgun season, the week after Thanksgiving, when one cloudy morning all that stood between him and the freezer was a thick white pine. The tree took the slug and the buck took a powder, bolting like lightning, his flight supercharged by a shower of flying wood splinters.
No. 2 got spent the very next day when, in a pouring rain, a certain diehard if sodden hunter almost stepped on him when crossing a blowdown. Said buck blew town faster than a speeding bullet, so to say - well at least faster than the hunter could overcome the surprise of the soggy close encounter.
Lives 3 and 4 were bartered away the opening day this week, Wednesday, during the statewide muzzleloading
rifle deer season. This same buck - his size, antler shape, and territory are telltale - eluded the same hunter twice in a day.
In the morning the buck loped up an opposite hillside without stopping and with just enough trees and brush in the way to obscure a clear shot. In the afternoon the buck was a sure thing as he shuffled along the shoulder of highbank, 50 vertical feet above a creek; he didn't see the hunter, tiptoeing along slowly and quietly below and slightly behind him. But a small cluster of saplings intervened to save his bacon again.
Yesterday the same buck, in company with another, lesser buck and four does, trotted into range as if according to script, tracking as if they were dummies on rails. A miss - maybe a tree limb deflected the big .54 caliber bullet, or maybe it was just a plain miss. Whatever, there went No. 5.
That is the way it goes with deer and deer hunting. It may, of course, turn out that this lucky buck may live another year to spend Lives 6 through 9.
Mind you it is not all luck; big guys like him do not reach maturity by being easy marks. But if he runs through all nine and keeps moving on, he may not become known as the Magic Buck but rather the Ghost Buck.
In any case tomorrow's sunset marks the end when it comes to muzzleloader season. The archery-deer season, however, continues through Feb. 4.
The results of the muzzleloader season may determine whether an all-seasons record bag is achieved this time around. The current record is 216,000-plus, set in 2004.
If the muzzleloader harvest approaches 20,000, "we may set a record this year," said Mike Tonkovich, deer biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. That is because hunters already have taken more than 191,000 deer in 2006.
That total represents the combined harvest from the first six weeks of archery season, early special muzzleloader, youth-gun, statewide-gun week, and the new statewide gun weekend on Dec. 16 and 17. Tonkovich said that another 5,000 to 10,000 deer should be counted by the end of archery season, so a muzzleloader kill approaching 20,000 should add up to a record.
Such a result would indicate that the new gun weekend adds to the annual bag rather than merely redistributing hunter effort by drawing some hunters away from the muzzleloader season. Results of that season, which began Wednesday, will be announced next week. The preseasons forecast was for a harvest of about 209,000 deer, about like last year.
The new gun weekend obviously was popular with hunters, many of whom cannot get much time off to hunt during shotgun week. "I was pretty surprised," said Tonkovich about the size of the kill. He had been expecting a bag of 10,000 to 15,000.
As for harvest prospects from muzzleloading, he added, "the weather largely will determine what happens."
It has been substantially cooler than the shotgun season, but a lack of snow and an El Nino winter - who said Global Warming? - usually has an impact on the bag.
In related news, Michigan elk hunters took 105 elk during the December season and are on track to meet expectations in helping maintain the size of the state herd.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources wants to keep elk numbers at 800 to 900 in the core counties of Montmorency, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, and Otsego. The herd, however, actually has expanded into neighboring counties, including Alpena, Alcona, Emmet, Charlevoix, and Oscoda.
A total of 43 elk were taken in a season in late August and early September. Another season for 40 hunters is set for Jan. 16 to 20. Hunting is permitted only through a special lottery drawing and is limited to state residents.
In neighboring Pennsylvania a harvest of 3,099 black bears is second only to a record 4,164 taken a year ago. The state's traditional bear season, three days just before Thanksgiving, brought a kill of 2,560 bears.
Another 74 bears were taken during the state's first archery-only two-day bear season, and 465 bears were taken in an extended season in select areas.