In the fall of 2008 I was a freshman at Hobart College in Geneva, New York and had been paired with one of the 3 other people I met on campus that hunted. My roommate was from Mannsville, a small town near Watertown, and was used to deer hunting in the deep snow of the Tug Hill area. As we approached the gun season opening day for the Northern Zone, my roommate dug out a VHS tape and insisted that we watch it. The video tape was about tracking deer in the snow and was made by the Benoit family. The Benoits tracked huge bucks on public land in multiple New England states and in Ontario, Canada. In the movie, they covered some preparations they would do before hunting. One unique method was to practice shooting their pump-action rifles at tossed up bean cans! They said this prepared them for when they jump a deer from its bed and it starts to run away. The Benoit family became one of the most famous deer hunting families in the world through their books and videos about tracking big bucks.
Fast forward eleven years and I am helping organize the New York State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation Leadership Meeting to be held in January 2020. On a conference call with the Leadership Meeting committee, we began discussing some ideas for a speaker who might be able to draw a larger crowd than we normally get. After a few options were thrown out, one was having a guy named Lanny Benoit talk about deer tracking in the snow. It turned out that an NWTF volunteer knew Lanny from snowmobiling and had asked him about possibly talking at the Leadership Meeting. All that he asked for was some money to cover his gas and some beer. The consensus of the committee was to invite Lanny to talk about deer tracking.
This past weekend was the Leadership Meeting in Syracuse. On Friday night, we held a welcome social for anyone who travelled in and was staying the night before the Leadership Meeting on Saturday morning. As we sat around the hotel lobby bar for our social, an older man snuck into the group with a green plaid shirt and a Filson hat. I finally overheard someone ask him if he was the speaker for the meeting and it all clicked in my head. After that I found myself standing around listening as he talked with other NWTF volunteers, particularly a friend of mine who is from Vermont (Lanny’s home state). While he didn’t stay long at the social due to fatigue from the drive in, I was in awe that he was just hanging out with us.
Saturday morning came around and the Leadership Meeting started at 9:30. At 9:45, Lanny was given the microphone and began to speak to the room of over 60 attendees. He began by talking about his family and his hunting roots. From shooting squirrels with .22 shorts to getting his first deer rifle a .38-40 caliber lever-action rifle. As he continued his talk, he welcomed questions from the crowd and let the audience dictate the direction of the talk. He gave insight on reading deer tracks in the snow to know if you are looking at the tracks of a small buck or a big buck. Also, he offered some tips on reading the deer’s path to know if he has big antlers or not. Throughout his talk, he joked and laughed as he remembered hunting stories from almost 70 years ago. At the very end of his talk, he got more serious than he had been when asked how many deer he had shot in his life. “Too many.” He went on to say that they had hunted multiple states and even in Canada for many years and shooting a buck in each state would add up quick. Over a course of 10 years or more, he said his average deer weighed over 240 pounds, a feat that he doesn’t think could be repeated. He continued to say he was extremely lucky to have hunted when he did. Back when he was hunting in his younger days, most of the northeast was still in large tracts of land without many roads, so whitetail bucks could survive without hunting pressure to be 8 years old or older. He finished his discussion by talking about the weather and moon phases in relation to tracking in the snow.
Later over lunch, I sat at the table with the volunteer who knew Lanny from snowmobiling. As we finished our lunch, Lanny came over to say goodbye to him so I was able to thank him for coming to talk to us. It still makes me think about being in a dorm room in 2008 and learning who these deer hunters were that actually followed deer tracks in the snow and snuck up on them to shoot them. It gives some merit to the saying that it’s a small world.