Preface: I know this is a BOW-hunting blog, but there are plenty of entertaining GUN-hunting stories out there too. The following is the story of my brother’s 2015 rifle deer hunt. Enjoy!
Hope-Frustration-Pain-Success. Hunting on General Tags
Hiking to our base camp the day before the opener was a bigger chore than I had expected or wanted. When I was younger, hunting from the comforts of a camper and shooting bucks well-within view of camp was the norm. It was fortunate, because back then we would always drag the full carcass back to camp, rather than cutting it into quarters with the gutless method of today. Nowadays, just the hike to base camp is a long and arduous chore, much less the daunting task of the harvest and recovery of meat, if successful. Alas, this is what it takes as animals are pushed further into the recesses of the back country.
The hard-earned location paid off right away. That evening we were able to sit in camp and glass up probably 30 bucks. One buck, the biggest one, was a mile and a half away and way up high above tree line. It looked to be a good size in the spotting scope, and had unusually light colored antlers that in the setting sun looked almost bleached white. Compared to all the other bucks we were seeing, this buck was quite a distance from camp and there was no assurance that on opening morning it would still be there. Nobody wanted to get up so early in the morning to go after it, so I volunteered.
Very early, probably too early, I started hiking in the dark to the big buck’s area to see if I could get to it at first light before other hunters moved in. I had left camp so early, that I actually had to slow down and rest on the ridge top in the dark so as not to move into the buck area and spook the deer without ever seeing them. While relaxing in the dark, I could see the head lamps of other hunters well below me trying to make their way in the darkness, as well. Any headlamp in the area within two miles was easily seen in the dark. I imagined they all had the same ideas…get out early and beat out the competition. Well, I was ahead of them all. Naturally, I shined and waved my head lamp down into the valley and canyon far below, making myself known to all, “Here I am, this is MY area”. Marking my spot like a dog on a fire hydrant. Sure enough, the head lamp closest to me, maybe about three-quarters of a mile below me, suddenly stopped. The brightness of it peaked, indicating it was looking my direction. I could almost make out the cuss words as the hunter realized he had to come up with ‘Plan B’. Sure enough, he did not come up any higher.
When I finally got close to my target location it was just starting to get light enough to see and I had to crawl around a ridge of shale rocks. Crawling was necessary to keep from skylining myself. As I crawled along, I kept glassing to make sure I would see the deer before they saw me. Binos up, binos down. Crawl a couple of yards. Repeat.
Well, I guess I was just too exposed on the barren ridge, because suddenly I could see something standing just 250 yards ahead of me. Through the dim glass, sure enough, it was the very same light-colored antlers of the big buck with his two little buck buddies all staring right at me. Keep in mind, this area was way up high, and there was very little brush, so even though I thought I was being smart by crawling, they still caught me skylined. Even in the dark I stood out on the ridge line. Maybe more so with the dawning sky. I tried to prep my gun, but they immediately took off. I watched them go down to a gully about 600 yards away and stop and look back. The wind had been in my favor, by design, and maybe crawling had not completely given up my silhouette as human. So I did the only thing I could do and started crawling, again, to get myself some cover below the ridge line.
Well, after about 5 more minutes of this awkward crawl with gun in one hand and shooting sticks in the other, I heard something rattle the shale rocks above me and sure enough it was a dude on a horse. You see, this spot is so high up and so hard to get to, pretty much only dudes on horses go up there. The spooked bucks moved even further away. All I could do was stand up and quickly move toward where the bucks had been earlier, and to where I had better cover in a more brushy area. My bold move was partly out of frustration, but also strategic. I needed cover if I was going to be making anymore moves. But maybe more importantly, I needed the horseman to see me move into the basin ahead of him. I had nowhere else to go, but he could move all over the mountain on his horse. This was going to be my spot and he needed to know it.
Upon reaching cover, I sat down and started glassing. The horseman had seen me on the move and meandered away on his horse, seemingly without seeing the bucks I had been after, or the other 20 bucks 600 yards ahead and a little higher.
I watched as the big buck and his sentinels kept moving away, and eventually, I could not see them anymore. So I sat there and glassed for an hour. Glassed up about 30, or more, bucks around me within 500 yards. None as big as the one I had come all this way to chase.
The shooting down in the canyon got pretty busy for a bit. And deer kept pouring into the area I was in, I suppose to escape all the hunters below. Lots of does and smaller bucks taking cover in this little bowl where I had settled. No shooters, so I just practiced ranging them and aiming with my new scope.
After sitting for an hour and a half, I noticed a little buck up ahead of me about 450 yards. As I looked at it through the spotting scope, to my excitement and surprise, I noticed the tall white antlers of my target buck sticking up out of the sagebrush right next to the little buck. They had never left the area. Turns out the little buck was one of those two original sentinels and was still standing guard for his boss. The tall white antlers gave him away, even though I could not see any of his body behind the brush. I trained my scope on the brush directly in front of him and dialed in the yardage and waited for him to stand up. I knew it would be a long wait. But, so far, I had the bowl and the buck to myself.
After about 45 minutes I noticed two dudes way down below that were starting to head toward this buck. They had come into the bowl half an hour earlier, but were obviously discouraged to see that I had already claimed it with a much better vantage point, and they left. Probably, with the canyon below so full of hunters, they had nowhere else to go, so they returned. This time, however, though they could see I was on this buck, they must have decided that if I wasn’t taking the shot, then they were going to try for it themselves. That really upset me, so I continued to watch the buck very closely so I could take the shot as soon as it stood up, hopefully before they got into shooting range.
Jerks. I was about to get ‘duded’ by jerks. As if their aggression wasn’t enough, I had seen them glassing me with their rifle scopes. Probably with rounds chambered. I mean, why not? They were jerks and that’s what jerks do. I guess by ‘jerks’ I mean dudes. I am sure they were normally very pleasant people. Something about bone on the head of big game can somehow turn perfectly nice people into, well, jerks. Heck, here I am calling my fellow sportsmen ‘jerks’. I digress…
To complicate things, two more horsemen showed up just a couple of hundred yards directly above my buck. For me to take a shot, I would have to shoot in their direction. Even though it was probably theoretically safe with all the ridge and dirt to absorb any wayward bullets, it would be a shot that no one in their right mind would ever take. Nervously, I waited for them to see my buck and ignore my interpretation of safety and ethics and start shooting.
They never saw the buck, and slowly, too slowly, moved up and away. All the while my ‘friends’ from below were closing in on my buck. After about half an hour I was getting real nervous that these fine gentlemen were getting close enough to take a shot. So I decided to shoot at the brush it was bedded next to. Not the situation I had imagined, but I figured if I could get it to stand up, it would give me a good shot opportunity.
It took two shots before it got up, and then I had to fire 3 more shots to get it to go down. Which it did. I had been concerned those jerks (oops, there I go again…dudes) would start firing while I was, so I unloaded my gun on to make sure it was down. Now I was all out of bullets. I had never used more than one bullet before, so I had only carried five rounds that day to save on weight, and thought that even five rounds was overkill.
As I gathered my gear, I noticed that the buck was laying down with its head still up. Could be bad, but I figured it would die by the time I got over to it. So I grabbed my gear and went to it.
When I got to about 30 yards from the buck, I could see it staring above the brush right at me, laying down, but head up, still alert and very much alive. And I had no more bullets. Not sure what to do, I closed the distance, but when I got to 15 yards, it tried to run away using only its front legs (I later learned that I made a mistake on my new scope’s left-to-right turret that caused it to shoot more left, so two shots hit it back too far, and also hit spine; at 450 yards a small mistake is exaggerated).
This was a very steep mountain, so the buck pulled itself about 50 yards straight down the hill very quickly, eventually falling over on its back and getting its antlers stuck in some sage brush. Fortunately, this time it just laid there breathing heavily, but would get upset whenever I tried to move any closer. Without any more bullets, I wanted to slit its throat and bleed it out, but I did not want to keep chasing it down the hill or to get in a fight with it and possibly get myself stabbed by my knife or gored by its antlers. So I hoped to just let it lie for a few minutes and see if it would die. It was stuck in a very awkward upside down position, which I thought would aid in its quick demise.
After about 25 minutes, it seemed to just be content to lay there on its back stuck, but still alive. To make matters worse, the two dudes were down below me watching the whole debacle. And, I later learned, a friend of mine was watching it all through his spotting scope, too. I am sure I looked like the biggest clown on the mountain. The tables had turned. Surely, the two dudes below me were thinking “what a jerk”!
Finally, I mustered the courage, out of necessity, to inch my way close enough to the injured buck to finally make a quick thrust of the knife into its throat. It fought a little but, finally, just laid there and bled out and was dead in a couple of minutes.
The adventure did not end there, though. After field dressing the buck, I loaded the whole buck (that is…all the meat…quarters, back straps, and head) into my pack and it was extremely heavy. As soon as I started walking (literally at the first step), a big rain storm rolled in and rained on me for the whole 2 hours it took to haul this heavy pack back to camp in steep and rough terrain. I was cold and wore out and cramping in my back, legs, feet, and toes. Every time I stopped to rest and take the pack off, within a minute I was freezing, so I’d have to keep slowly moving to keep from hypothermia. My buddy, Danny, met me about a third mile from camp and took my pack for me the rest of the way. But it was a huge third mile. Probably would have taken me another hour at the exhaustive pace I was going. Took Danny less than 10 minutes.
I crawled into my tent and laid there for two more hours of pounding rain and pain. Eventually, as the rain let up, Danny’s father-in-law showed up with horses and hauled out the deer. I was able to make it home that evening. Tired, but glad to a successful end of another grand hunting adventure. And I would like to say a little wiser, except for the fact that two weeks later I found myself waking up in Idaho not knowing how I got there or where I was, although I did have a Salmon Idaho Hospital wrist band on. That was just the first day of a 10 day elk hunt that was much more interesting than this deer hunt…and with even more dudes.