You may have noticed a trend over the past decade or so, not the gradual return of high-waisted jeans or a familiar form of music past. The trend of which I speak is at the cutting edge of much of our shooting, and it brings more than just a bold new look. Tipped bullets are quickly becoming the standard from many bullet makers, by tipped I mean they feature a uniform front end that is typically made of some kind of polymer, but can also be another material like aluminum or something else. The purpose of the tip is to increase the bullets uniformity and efficiency, which translate into more consistent and accurate shots. As well as bullets with higher ballistic coefficients which allow them to retain their energy and reduce the effects of wind.
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Is there anything more soothing than a campfire surrounded by a relaxing group of hunters vigorously discussing the pros and cons of one hunting cartridge to another? How many times have we entertained each other with heroic stories of hunts past, and how “that old magnum” or something similar saved the day with an unbelievable take down on a monster buck? Well stoke up the fire folks, and draw near, as we’re about to analyze two of history’s greatest contenders.
The year 2020 has left us with what seems like one tragedy after another, but we managed to pull one gem out of the darkness in October. A decent deer hunt that would make some great memories. We hunt as a family, and those in our hunting party who aren’t family are close enough they may as well be. Mine is a family with a long cherished practice of hunting, farming, and raising our own food, and the primary origin for these handed down practices and skills comes from my Father, and his Father before him. I have fond childhood memories of helping butcher sheep at my Grandfathers humble little farmhouse, where my Father and three brothers were raised. Whether it was lambchops wrapped in thick paper with familiar handwriting on the top, or a massive head of cabbage grown carefully and pulled from a deep underground cold-storage, Grandpa always was sharing what he’d grown. As a child I watched the interactions between my Father, his Brothers, Grandpa and the whole rest of our family. There was always something to share, whether it was a bushel of corn, or a fresh loaf of home-made bread. It was a beautiful example to behold even as a young child, and it has stuck with me my whole life thankfully.
But the time that passes is no trifling thing, and every year there are fewer of the old familiar faces, and more new ones with whom to share. Memories are all I have now of my Grandparents, and I have resolved to make as many memories as I can with the generation before me, and the one after. Part of that plan involves taking my Father hunting every fall, it brings great joy to all of us, and I feel like it gives him the same exciting rush it always has since he was a boy. Dad has hunted these exact same hills and canyons since his Father first showed them to him, and Grandpa too grew up here in these same mountains to which I feel so bound.
This year, like every other, Dad came along with us on the opening day of the deer hunt. Despite being very cold, hardly any snow had touched our Wasatch Mountains. The wind that morning was out of hand, it was blowing hard up the steep canyons where we sat watching. The sun was just starting to peak from over the distant Uinta Mountain range, and the first bits of light had begun to illuminate the hills before us.
Dad was ready for action, he had been preparing as best he could for this hunt despite enduring some intense medical procedures only weeks prior. Dad has always been a strong and hard hunter, but life has taken its bites out of him, and he cant move the way he used to. So I knew we would have to find something that Dad could get to, and as the sun lit up the draw before us, just such an opportunity appeared.
With the wind howling at twenty or thirty miles an hour, we set off down a trail towards our quarry. Dad, my wife, and I all carefully made our way, trying to keep cover in the tall grass. We closed the distance until we had to crawl, and then we crawled carefully through the dry and yellow June grass. The one good thing about the wind was that we didn’t have to be quiet, nor did we have to worry about our scent. It blew from left to right, and uphill, giving us all the advantage . We finally found a spot that gave us a clear view of the hillside, and therein stood a lone young buck, feeding voraciously on the brush. It was still just after shooting light, and he must have missed the opening day memo because his guard was clearly down. But we decided to capitalize on his mistake, and we moved in for the kill.
My wife had come along to be a sort of backup-shooter, should another buck appear, or this one try and escape. But the terrain gave room for only one shooter to get in line, so Dad was up. He lay still as he could in the ice-cold and blustery wind, waiting for the best shot to present itself. We watched through our perspective optics, as the young buck continued to feed. When the time was right, Dad pressed the trigger, lighting the fire of his 264 Winchester Magnum. This time it was loaded with something new, the Hornady 135 grain A-Tip which was there before you heard the shot break. It hit the buck with an impressive sound, knocking the wind right out of him, and sending him to the ground. There he struggled for a second, trying to get up, but instead he expired and rolled down the steep hill a few yards.
Dad rolled over and looked at us, a bit of a smile on his face. The wind made our eyes water, and it was even hard to breathe looking into it, but I could hear the satisfaction in Dad’s voice as he spoke. My Brother approached as we went over the details, and after a few minutes, he and I went after the buck.
We’ve savored the taste of that little buck, and several others since. It seems to be so much better when paired with the memories of the day, and warmed with retelling the events that got us there. One of my earliest hunting memories was helping Dad and Grandpa drag a deer back to the truck, no more than a mile or so from where Dad dropped this little buck in the wind. I think back to that day, probably some thirty years ago, and I’m initially surprised that Dad would have shot that scrawny little buck. But looking back now, as both an adult, and a Father myself, I think I can see his reasoning.
It was the only time Dad shot a deer with my Brother and I, and my Grandfather. Might not have meant much to me then, but it certainly does now. It gives me a tie to where I’m from, and where I get my love of hunting. A familiar memory of events and people long gone. This little buck may not look like much, but twenty years from now, when we tell the story again, the size of his antlers wont matter any more than the buck we hauled out together with my Grandpa. And it gives me a great example of what to do for my kids, and the generations after me. With a future looking as grim as it can day to day, strong roots and firm foundations are just what we need to hold it together.
If you’ve followed me for very long at all, you must know by now that hunting is my greatest passion. Its become a way of life around my house, and sharing it with loved ones brings me the greatest satisfaction. That said, the hunting lifestyle doesn’t always enjoy the positive public reflection it once did. A great fear of mine is the loss of our hunting opportunities due to the growing anti-hunting sentiment around the world.
I have worked diligently over the years to effect what I think is the silver bullet to that argument; getting more new hunters addicted to this incredibly rewarding lifestyle.
Today’s story is about my latest efforts, and how patience and love created both a new hunter, and a whole new family bond.
Watch the video at the end of this article
Last year I convinced my wife to get her hunters safety, she grew up in a non-hunting family and environment which made it unnecessary. She made short work of the class, and last fall was her first time to ever go hunting with me carrying a rifle and a tag in her pocket. Unfortunately she never got a shot despite her valiant effort and hard work.
Fast forward to September 2020, and again we prepared for The hunt. This year she was lucky enough to draw a pair of Wyoming doe antelope tags, one of my favorite hunts precisely for new hunters like her.
We prepared all the gear we would need, and set out well before sunrise to get into a good position to spot animals as the sun came up.
Typically from experience, Pronghorn (their proper name) aren’t hard to find in Wyoming, they tend to begin activity after sunrise, keeping their sharp eyes on anything that moves on the wide open plains they inhabit.
After looking over several rolling brush covered valleys, we spotted a small group of antelope on the edge of the next rise. Trying to cover distance quietly and quickly can be a challenge with a new hunter, but Mrs. Coldboremiracle was keen to follow and do all the right things. We soon found ourselves on a windswept rise, looking in the direction the antelope had gone. The wind howled and gusted as we glassed the area, we quickly picked out the bright white sides of the herd. The smaller group had just joined a larger one, probably twenty-five animals. A few bucks, does, and a bunch of fawns.
We hunkered down, out of sight, even though they were nearly half a mile away they would easily spot us and sprint into the next county if we weren’t careful. We surveyed the whole area, and decided to try and put a stalk on the large group. Normally that many eyeballs is not a great choice to try and put a sneak on, but we had a line of cedar trees between us. We discussed the other options, and the idea of using the trees for concealment to get closer seemed like the best option.
The weapon of choice that day was my 257 Blackjack custom, a SAUM based wildcat shooting the Blackjack Bullets 131 grain Ace. It is a ballistic gem, providing extremely flat trajectories, and ignores the wind as much as any bullet can.
With rifle in her hands, we snuck down into a wash and towards the line of trees. Stopping to look at the herd every few steps to see if we’d been spotted yet. I breathed a sigh of relief as we finally made it behind the first tree, giving us the concealment the open prairie would not. The wind continued to gust, it felt like anywhere between 10 and 25 miles per hour. The noise of the wind gave us plenty of sound cover, all we had to do was stay out of sight within the trees as we worked towards a spot we could get a good shot.
We worked our way south, with the wind blowing hard in our faces. After about four hundred yards of sneaking, the trees began to thin, and we could see the herd slightly above us and four-hundred-fifty yards away. After confirming that we had not been detected, we crawled around to the shady side of the last small cedar that would give us cover. While I watched through the spotter, She crawled out onto her belly on the soft grey dirt behind the Blackjack. With the distance confirmed, and everything in position it was time to get noisy.
The sixth-sense that animals have must have been working hard that morning. First one, then several others looked straight at us, perhaps having seen some of our final movements. Their body language was concerned, but not spooked. So we focused our attention on a mature doe who stood out from the group. She was quickly obscured by the group however, a challenging aspect of these animals. They ball up in a group making it difficult To get a clean shot.
We ended up having to shift focus to another doe, who stepped slightly out of the group facing the opposite direction. It had only been maybe thirty or forty-seconds since we got into position, but the buck in the group began herding them towards the next rise. Clearly they knew something was up, I told Mrs. Miracle that it was now or never. The buck was moving towards her at the back of the group to push them over the hill and out of sight. So with her heart pounding and the wind whistling by, she pressed the trigger.
The 257 Blackjack runs just over 3200 feet per second, its blistering speed matches its flat trajectory. The 131 grain Ace zipped through the doe in less than half a second, with over 2300 pounds of energy, the bullet was probably still dry as it hit the powdered dirt behind her.
The whole herd scattered from the impact, but our doe had been pointed the opposite direction from the rest. She ran about fifty-yards, before she slowed down, and began to stumble. She laid down and her head swayed before keeling over in the dry prickly brush. The rest of the herd stood in the distance, apparently waiting for her to catch up.
Back at our shooting position it was all smiles and excitement, we quickly packed up and began the walk towards our prize.
The Ace had passed just behind the shoulders, perhaps a little higher than one might recommend, but it worked out to be perfect. It passed through without even touching a bone, so almost zero meat was lost from the shot, a perfect double lung shot.
We took pictures, and savored the moment before cleaning her up, and transporting her back to the truck. I remember on several occasions during the stalk, as well as in the final moment before the shot, I had to remind myself that this was a new hunter. The perspective of a new hunter is not the same as an old hand, it requires a little bit of discipline.
Keeping the moment fun, and trying to suspend the pressure as much as you can, will make the experience more fun for those that are new to it. Keeping calm is tough for me, I get wound up pretty tight in the heat of a hunt. But I found that staying calm, and ensuring that she was comfortable and ready made it a better experience for everyone.
As we returned home with her prize, we spoke about it. She is already excited for our Mule Deer hunt that starts in a few weeks, and next years antelope hunt. It is possible, that I’ve hooked her for life now, all according to my plan…
The fresh smell of smoke was hanging in the cool but dry air, but the early morning chill wasn’t enough to keep the sweat from running down my brow. I struggled to focus through the eyepiece of my spotting scope, breathing heavily and feeling the hard pumping of my heart.
And there he was, walking slowly along a line of the last green vegetation in the valley. He seldom held still, he hadn’t stopped since sunrise, I whispered quietly out the distance as my voice pounded in unison with my heart. His dark black horns stood out from the bright white of his rump as the sun just now reached him.
The safety was off, and my little Brother rested his finger on the trigger as the buck stopped for the last time to survey the dry desert landscape.
Watch the video at the end of the story
We had been preparing for this hunt for the last couple weeks, prepping gear, scoping out the terrain. It was early September, and the August sun had beaten nearly every plant in Utah’s West Desert into dry submission. The raging wildfires across the west had yellowed the skies and stained the sunlight.
It was the opening morning of the buck Pronghorn Antelope hunt that my Brother had beaten me to in the draw. We had spent the night listening to the distant howling of coyotes while poking at the fire.
We had spent the previous afternoon watching the inhabitants of this parched valley, several good bucks, as well as a bunch of lesser bucks roamed around.
To us their wandering seems aimless, but surely there is a reason to their constant motion. One of the several good bucks we had seen made his way to an area with a few trees and sand dunes just before night fall. And as the morning broke, we watched the dunes for signs of life.
Within minutes of observable light, we spotted one of his does standing. And as the next few minutes passed, several more appeared. As I had hoped, it was only a matter of time before he too appeared from his sandy bed.
Despite my Brothers shooting prowess, we decided to close the distance, mainly because we could. With rifle, binos, and the spotting scope, we dashed in the most covered direction towards a high point between us and the group of antelope. But perhaps to challenge our stalk, just as we reached our predetermined position, they worked over the hill.
We kicked into high gear and moved as quick as possible another six hundred yards to the top of the hill they previously occupied. Knowing they could easily make a half a mile without even having been spooked, we wanted to get them back in sight before they made it too far away.
Time passes excruciatingly slow, when your prey is out of sight. This can cloud your judgement when cresting the next hill, so we took our time, slowly glassing to make sure that we saw them before they saw us.
When we did spot them, they had made it nearly four-hundred and fifty yards further. As usual, the buck was at the back keeping the ladies moving. It was time to turn up the heat on this hunt, my Brother quickly found a good shooting position while I steadied the spotter and ranged the buck. He worked his way away from us moving to our left, as I whispered the range to my Brother. He had just chambered a round in his custom Remington, a 23” Bartlein barrel that had been chambered in 260 Remington. With Hornady 140 grain BTHP match bullets we had hand-loaded just a day prior. The rifle sat in a KRG Whiskey 3 chassis, and wore a Vortex Gen 1 Razor for a scope.
His finger rested on the Trigger Tech shoe, and we all held our stifled breathing as the buck stopped and checked his surroundings. It was a perfect broadside shot, I barely breathed as I focused hard through the spotter.
Everything came together perfectly as the trigger broke, and the near silent desert was suddenly woken by the crack of the bullet. We watched as the bullet impacted the buck, passed through, and hit the dirt behind him making a puff of grey dust envelop him as he slowly reared back. He stumbled a step or two, then made a brave effort to run forward, his offside leg clearly broken. The terrain between us quickly blocked him from our view as he ran.
We both felt the shot was good, and confident he was down just out of sight. The suppressed report of the rifle had startled the rest of the antelope, who now stood attentive to the actions of their patriarch. We watched for a few minutes to ensure he didn’t appear elsewhere, and the attitude of the does told us everything we needed to know, they stood motionless, fixated on the last known position of the buck. They watched curiously, as if waiting for him, even as we began to close the distance, they watched on.
We quietly approached the spot we’d last seen him, and looked for blood and sign. To our delight, none of it was necessary. The buck had hardly made it 50 yards, and he left a crimson trail against the moon-like dirt.
From the first sight, it was clear he had succumbed to the acute shot, hitting him low in the brisket and destroying his heart.
We quietly approached the beautiful animal, giving both space and time for the reverence due at such a moment.
We accessed the results of the shot, and took pictures. There was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, that we had done right by this beautiful buck.
We played the deadly game of predator and prey, and we had won. And his demise had been judicious and quick, sparing him the suffering that is the fate of many natural casualties.
We cleaned him up, and took him back to camp. He was skinned and prepped to be butchered after some time in the fridge. The meat harvested will surely be turned into various meals, and tasty projects that we will remember for years to come.
The next hunt for us is just days away, we’ll do it all over again. Time to resharpen knives, oil a few bolts, and re-stock my pack, the next hunt will be savored every bit the same. -CBM