Hunting is nothing if not exciting, some of my most exhilarating experiences have come from the thrill of the hunt and the frenzy of the chase. None of my previous hunting experiences would have prepared me for the rough and tumble harvest that would entwine me last fall.
I think it was a Tuesday, four days into the general deer season here in Utah’s Wasatch Range. I had spent all morning and the better part of the afternoon getting the deer my father had shot off the mountain. I carried four quarters, the head, and my rifle out. A simple feat, if you aren’t a fat, out-of-shape kinda fella like me.
The afternoon hunt was still ours to have, and Coldboremiracle Junior had just gotten out of school. So we gathered up our things, and headed to meet my cousin who wanted to come along. We tossed our gear into the back of his side by side, and in a swirl of dust we went sailing up into the mountains.
At that pace it didnt take long to get up to our usual haunts. We ran into some friends, who hadn’t seen much, but evening was coming. That magical hour just between the red light of dinner time, and that dark twilight where the cold sneaks into every little canyon cove. For me that magic hour holds some of the greatest memories, it seems as though an entire day’s worth of action can happen in mere moments.
Today however, it seemed awfully quiet. We weren’t seeing many deer at all, but I had my best good luck charm sitting next to me gnawing on granola bars. The evening would come, and almost like clockwork, the deer began to appear. Having spent many years scouting these mountains, we kinda know where to look.
Off in the distant peaks from our perch, there was a hill top. Perfectly iluminated by the steeply angled rays of the sun. And as we watched it, several deer made their way into the open, feeding without a care. To my surprise the base of that hill is right where we had come in on a trail, a trail with significant traffic. The deer seemed not to care about the sound of passing atv’s, a phenomenon I would come to understand later that evening.
It took a few minutes to devise a plan, my cousin would stay back at the observation point (1300+) and watch the deer while Jr. and I tried to sneak into the opposite end of the clearing from the deer. It would have given us a shot inside 200yards, and it was a plan I was comfortable with. Junior and I made our way back down the trail, past and below the clearing where the deer continude to feed. After confirming our party reservation with my spotter, Junior and I began our sneak up the steep hill.
I mentioned I had already packed one deer out that day, well my legs wasted no time in telling me that they were done. But like most of us often do, I summoned fresh energy from the depths of my being. Quietly, and slowly Junior and I made our way up the hill, to a point we had determined would give us the tactical advantage. Trying to get a thirteen year old to understand absolute silence is like pulling teeth, but none the less we made it up to the spot I had aimed for without spooking them. But to my dismay, it gave us no joy. The lay of the hill, and the grossly thick vegetation made getting any closer impossible. Surely they would hear us before we ever got over the slope of the hillside into line of sight. We tried several different angles, and perspectives according to our plan, but we had to abandon our stalk. I didn’t want to bust em, so we decided it would be best to retreat and regroup.
As I made my way down the hill, I figured out why the deer were there. Despite the close proximity to the trail, and human avtivity, the hillside gave the deer a bonafide shelter. The only place you could see them from was the distant point thirteen hundred yards away, if you got any closer, the curvature of the slope, the trees and thickets blocked them from view. Any effort to get closer would result in quite a racket as one crunched through the thorn infested dry brush.
When we got to the bottom, I looked back up. The broad hillside that from a distance looked like an open pasture, was almost completely blocked by trees. There was but a single small patch of the open area that could be seen from our closest position. We looked around, and glassed many other drainages, but by the time the sun was near set, we had run out of options. Regrouped with my cousin, the three of us decided it was time to start heading down. Maybe we’d get lucky and spot something on the way.
The three of us fit snuggly acrossed the bench seat of the UTV, but a complete die hard, refuses to shut down his deer eyes. Just before we started rolling down the trail, my cousin stomped the brake, and dug for his binoculars. He looked back up that very steep hill, to that one little visible patch, and pronounced those joyous words; “That’s a buck!!”.
Never had three dudes dismounted a vehicle faster, it literally seemed like thirty seconds from the time buck was called, till Junior had his eye on his little Minox scope.
The uphill angle of the shot was so steep that Junior had to use my pack as a support, his little rifle rest at a near seventy degree angle. I looked him close in the eyes and gave him a Father/Son speech about making a good shot that counts.
He nodded his approval, and ran the bolt on his little Remington. I never would have guessed how this would play out. I looked up the steep ridge through my rangefinder, and hit the buck with the laser. It came back just over three hundred yards, well within Junior’s realm of killin’. But this setup was new; off a pack, up a steep hill, rushed as possible, fading light, and a wound up spotter yelling commands at him left and right. Luckily Coldboremiracle Junior is a smooth character, he must have gotten that from his mother. I quickly did some range maths, knocked off a few tenths for the angle, and cranked in some elevation on his scope. As I resettled my eye through my rangefinder, I asked him if he was ready. “Ya Dad” was all I got, so off went the fire command.
Three hundred yards away, this little buck stood there, perhaps listening to the strange sounds coming from down the hill. He stood there all majestic, brightened by the last bits of sunlight, facing into the west. I’d like to think he was happy, calm and collected. Because it was right then that Junior put the kettle on. The two sixty Remington had proven very capapble at pounding deer, and that night was no exception. The 120 grain bullet that I had loaded days before, was now deep into battery.
The report of the rifle was a welcome sound, as I mentioned it seamed only seconds ago that we were sitting in the UTV ready for defeat. Even more welcome was the sound of the impact, nothing sounds quite like a bullet hitting flesh. I watched the deer buckle, and heard the wack of the impact come back to us. The deer stumbled a few steps forward, and went down. Junior was quick to celebrate, but seconds into his fist-pumping, my cousin announced that he was back up. Junior quickly jumped back on the scope, and reloaded his rifle. Sure enough, the young buck stood there, staggering amongst the bushes. Not wasting any time he sent round two from the top of my pack. And again, that solid thump of an impact came back through the advancing darkness. This time, the deer flopped over, and fell down the steep hill into a bush.
What an awesome shot it was, both times, to see a kid hunker down and steady his homeade rifle for a great connection like that would make any Dad proud.
Sadly, I didn’t have much time to congratulate him, a quick hug would have to do. I am never one to trust a deer that I cant clearly see, so I wanted to get him recovered, and now. I wasn’t about to let my son trod off into the dark mountains, so I had my cousin center his spotting scope on the deer’s last known position, and I lauched into another uphill battle. My body wanted to kill me by this point, my heart was pounding like I had never felt before, my legs burned from exhaustion, and I couldn’t breathe fast enough in the thin air at almost nine thousand feet. To add more pain to my suffering, I had to wade through thorns in the darkness. I rushed as fast as my body would allow, but at that altitude, and steep angle, three hundred yards is a long ways. When I finally felt like I was getting close, I yelled to my cousin below, who continued to guide my flashlight closer and closer to the center of his spotting scope. By this time it was completely dark, only the light diffusing from the distant city below and our flashlights provided any help.
As I neared the bush my cousin believed to be our quarry, I began to sense a strange kind of feeling. The darkness and my alone-ness was enough to have me on edge, but when the deer was not behind the bush as I had hoped, panic began to set in.
I kept moving around looking for sign, and I picked up on some stumbling tracks in the soft black dirt. It was at this moment when I really appreciated my fanatical commitment to always carry a gun with me, I had shouldered Junior’s little 16” Remington, because it was both compact, and light. At least moreso than any other gun we had along that night. As I continued along in a direction almost completely guided by this erie sense of foreign presence, I heard a noise in the bushes above me.
I may have neglected to describe just how steep this hill was, to give you an idea, I could put my arm straight out perpandicular to my body, and fall forward into the hillside, and only fall forward a foot or so. So when I say I heard something in the bush above me, it was just above my head, almost in reach.
I slowly un-slung the rifle from my shoulder, and chambered one of the three rounds I had brought in the magazine. And just as I had fit the butt of the rifle to my shoulder, the rustling in the bushes above me stirred again. But this time he was serious, the noise I had heard was this deer’s last ditch effort at defense. Both his front legs were broken, and he was nearly bled out, but this tough little buck with rage in his eyes jumped up on his back legs, and like a charging ram he turned his ivory forks against me and dove down ontop of me. With literally nowhere to go but down, I aimed point blank as all this deer came down on me, I fell to the rear, away from the oncoming charge, and fired a shot into him as I fell.
This was combat effective hunting here, I believe it was the first shot Ive ever taken while falling.
As I regained my footing some ten to fifteen feet downhill, I could hear the buck slowly expire. I called down to my cousin to let him know I was ok, and more importantly that the cat was in the bag. Then I grabbed him by the antlers, and we went downhill, fast!
The steep hill did have one redeeming factor, and that was to help me get the deer down without killing myself.
When we got back to the road, Junior was excited to get hands on his buck, only his second ever. We took a bunch of pictures, hugged, painted faces, and cleaned up the deer for the ride home.
Very few times have I had such harrowing experiences, it truly makes you appreciate everything just a little bit more. That little set of antlers will be on the wall soon, Junior takes great pride in displaying whats his. My greatest hope is that he remembers the hard work we put in for those memories he displays in his room. As well as the love of the hunt, gratitude, sacrifice, and those who share the same blood.