Tag Archives: deer hunting

Triumph Favors the Prepared

I consider myself quite lucky when it comes to hunting, not only am I blessed to hunt frequently, but I’ve managed to become mildly proficient at it. This past season was a tough one when compared to the preceding decade, but perseverance and healthy bit of luck kept a special surprise for me waiting at the end.
I say it was a tough season, but to be more accurate, it was a season void of mule deer bucks. This came as surprise to most of us as it had been a wet year, with plenty of feed. And there seemed to be as many deer around as there always had been.

I spent several weeks scouting my traditional spots, trying to get a pattern established with them. But I was astonished with how few deer I saw, and nearly none of them were bucks, much less a good buck. So as October arrived, and friends, family and I began hunting, the outlook wasn’t too good.

Days passed before we even aimed a rifle at a buck, and even then it was nothing big enough to write home about. Everybody I spoke to both on and off the mountains described a very quiet and inactive hunt. Dad and I were lucky enough to get on to a small buck that found his way into the bed of the truck, but even after five days hunting, I could count every buck we’d seen on one hand. And not one of them was more than a fork.

On the last day of the season, we had another patch of good luck. A very cold wind had brought in a snow flurried storm, dusting the entire mountain with a white coating. I know from experience that when the weather turns off bad, the hunting gets better. The tops of the mountains were enveloped in clouds, making it almost impossible to see more than a hundred yards or so. I determined that the foothills would be a better place to try, at least there we could see for half a mile or so, depending on the snowfall. As the early-morning darkness slowly turned to light, I found myself glassing everywhere I could make out through the falling snow. And before it was even quite shooting light, I spotted three deer feeding their way up through a grassy open area on the edge of a deep river ravine. Their dark bodies contrasted greatly with the all-white surrounding, I could tell immediately that one of them was a good buck.
The deer were eight hundred and fifty yards or so away, they were feeding quietly, so I decided to close the distance to somewhere that at least had a better place to shoot from than my current position. Anybody who has hunted Mule Deer knows how tricky they can be, and this guy was no exception. He must have either sensed our closing presence or perhaps caught sight of us as we snuck through the brush. When we reached the spot I had hoped to ambush him, they had gone into the deep river draw with its thickly wooded sides. I knew that the buck was likely to have either gone down the river towards the safety of civilization, a place I surely could not shoot at him. Or he went up the river, towards the safety of the brush-covered canyons that expand for hundreds of miles. I took a gamble, expecting that if he’s gone down, he’s likely already gone and we missed our chance. So we went up, towards the top of the ravine, slowly and quietly glassing the whole way. The snow continued to fall, and the wind picked up carrying wisps of snow from the trees where it had accumulated. I prepped for the shot I hoped was coming, though I had no idea where it would be.
The flying snow made my rangefinder almost useless, still I estimated the distances to various locations where the buck might come out. I laid flat on the snowy ground, hoping to avoid further detection by either the deer, or a large group of wild turkeys that foraged about sixty-yards uphill from us. I brushed the snow off the lens of my scope, knowing that any second I would need to see through it clearly.
As I laid glassing above the opposite side of the draw my eyes caught through the fog the unmistakeable image of a white deer butt, with a broad face beside it looking back directly at me. I knew it was him, and I immediately dropped my binoculars, and shouldered my rifle, I could see him through the falling snow. He was only a step or two away from disappearing into the brush permanently, he made his last mistake by looking back to see if I was there.
I knew that there was only seconds to shoot or lose him forever, I had estimated that treeline to be about 400 yds, and with no time to dial, I held four MOA just inside his right shoulder, hoping to cross his vitals diagonally. I pressed the trigger, and the shot broke.
Everything felt right, despite my rushed shot. Steady hold on him, good clean trigger pull, and I held a good hand, full of Blackjacks. My 25 Creedmoor is quite possibly the most predictable and flat shooting rifle I own, and I had a warm feeling that the buck had succumbed like many others, to the 131 Grain Ace.
After a grueling hike across that miserable little creek canyon, I closed in on the spot where I’d last seen him. The snow continued to fall as I quietly poked into the trees, prepared for another shot, I carried my rifle at the low ready. But the tension evaporated into excitement as my eyes picked out antlers just a few yards away, already built up with a white snowy coating.

The buck was the biggest deer I or anyone I know even saw during the whole hunt

The buck had only made it a leap or two before he collapsed, the shot had hit him perfectly. It entered at the back of his rib cage on his right side, it traversed him diagonally and exited left of the side of his neck. The Ace had cut his lung in half, and detached most of its pulmonary plumbing.

I was amazed at how quickly this season had turned from bust into bounty. The sun was just coming up, though you’d never see it through all the snowy storm clouds. We could get this buck back down to town, and be home for breakfast.
It was mostly luck, but triumph favors the prepared. Turning off during the hunt just isn’t an option for me, eyes, ears, and nose are always going. Familiarity and training with my gear all year long have paid off over and over, so that one chance you might get doesn’t go to waste. Be prepared, and embrace the high speed tunnel vision that is the mind of a predator within you, it’s there for a reason…

-CBM

5 Tips For A Better Deer Hunt

I’ve been on a few deer hunts over the years, and nothing teaches you a lesson better than being unprepared. I’ve been through it before, and know how it can turn a good hunt into a mess. With that in mind lets go over a few things you can do to keep from learning things the hard way.

Preparation is key to having a successful hunt, its easy to remember the most obvious things such as camo, arrows, and your deer tag. But there’s more to hunting than just shooting the animal your after.

1. Prepare your equipment.
We’ve all seen someone show up with an un-zeroed rifle, no knife, or forgot their hunter orange. Besides having your standard checklist, it’s a good idea to have an equipment readiness checklist, not just a “do I have it” list.
Make sure your rifle is zeroed, and you have enough ammo, preferably all from the same lot. Check scope rings and action screws, any mechanical thing that could cause you issues in the field. And finally, make sure it all works properly. I always like to go test fire my hunting rifles just before the hunt, if not just to function test them, but also to foul the bore. I leave my barrels fouled before a hunt, I find they shoot more predictably that way. Make sure you have the tools necessary to service your equipment should it be needed.

2. Prepare for the kill
Sometimes we focus so hard on the hunt that we neglect prep for the kill. It may be counting chickens before the hatch, but good preparation for the kill shows diligence toward our goal. And being committed to the goal will help keep us in the right state of mind.
When I hunt antelope on the warm windy plains of Wyoming, I have a cooler full of ice ready to drop the carcass into.
I always carry several knives, rope, and other tools needed to properly care for a downed animal. Every precaution should be taken to ensure meat doesn’t spoil, and nothing gets wasted.
Depending on the terrain you hunt, you may want to have alternative strategies to extract your quarry such as handcarts, or sleds. You dont want to find yourself alone and five miles in, with a downed bull elk and nothing but your hands and money-maker to get him out.

3.Backup gear, guns ammo, etc.
For many hunts, there is no second chance, always bring backup equipment.
I always bring at least two guns, and enough ammo for both of them to fight my way home if needs be. A broken firing pin could end a once in a lifetime hunt, bringing a second rifle (equally trained upon and prepared per step 1 above) could be a hunt-saver. Extra clothes, backpacks, cold-weather and rain gear can all be the last thread keeping you from folding.
Make sure you have two of everything that is vital to the hunt and your survival, some of us hunt in rugged country where things can go south pretty quick. And you can always count on one of your partners to be unprepared, so maybe have a backup for your backup too.

4. Prepare to make yourself comfortable
So many hunts can be miserable due to a lack of simple preparation. Things like a foam pad to sit on in the snow, or a mosquito net to keep from being eaten alive à la spring in Montana.
A good trekking pole could save your knees from exhaustion, and good boots are a must! As are a comfy pair of sneakers to change into back at camp.
It’s hard enough to hunt when you are tired, hungry, and cold. Spend the time preparing every little thing you can to be comfortable in the wild, if you aren’t successful in your hunt, at least be comfortable.

5. Prepare your body
I am terribly guilty of not doing this one, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
The exhaustive labor involved in hunting can tax the human body like few other things. Do yourself a favor and get the ham chassis in shape before the season starts.
Good nutrition and sleep have always been helpful to me during and prior to hunting season. And I usually find myself in the best shape of the year right at the end of my hunts.
I try and get plenty of hiking in, so my legs and back are ready for the rigors of pursuit.
Everybody’s body is different and needs its own care regimen prior to exerting the load of a big hunt. Find out what works best for you, whether its diet, exercise, or any other thing you can do to be in your best shape. It not only will make your hunt better, but it will also keep you safer in the wilderness.

Those of us who grew up in the Scouting program learned to be prepared. For at least this hunter, it is the best time of the year and deserves attention to detail preparing for every eventuality we may encounter.

-CBM

A bucket full of Bucks

We all have heard it before; “he’s no trophy” or “you can’t eat the horns”. For some reason, the hunting public feels the need to justify themselves when a small or young buck is taken. Whether it be because of declining herd numbers, bad timing, or even just pure old fashioned laziness. Most times we end up filling our tag with an animal that won’t make the cover of Eastman’s, or Field & Stream. Why do we do it? I’m as guilty as anyone else on the subject, so in this piece, I’d like to address it directly.

I got what some might call a delayed start in big game hunting, sure I went hunting as a child with my Father and Grandfathers, but my own engagement with big game took place many years later. I had always had a passion for hunting, and like most I had dreams of stalking a big buck or bull using only my skills and tackle. I still remember vividly the first time I went hunting with a tag in my pocket, it was a doe tag due to my not being in-country at the time of our states draw period. A doe tag was my only option, and I was so excited to go I jumped at the chance. Green as can be, and completely unprepared I went with my younger brother and some friends. I was the only one to draw blood that trip, probably more due to my doe tag than any hunting prowess. But I can still remember the rush of the chase, sneaking through the brush, getting into a shooting position and making a shot as my young heart pounded. The excitement and participation in this millennia-old practice touched me so deeply that it sparked a passion that at times seems to overshadow almost everything else in my life.

I hunt for many reasons, to eat, to enjoy time afield with family and friends, and to take my place as an active participant in the circle of life. The size of our quarry holds no bearing on those aspects of hunting.

Of course, we all want to shoot the biggest buck, we all want to lay hands on a monster bull. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter to me. But why do we somehow find shame, or at least a lack of pride when the animal we tag is not as big as we had hoped? It’s a complicated question I suppose, I think it is partially because of our perception; all we see on hunting shows and in the magazines are pictures of huge bucks and bulls. We naturally aspire for the same thing, we all want to be the guy with a monster bull rack affixed to our pack. Surely there is nothing wrong with a goal like that, but a large set of antlers is not the only way to judge a trophy. For those of us who hunt to eat, a full cooler of meat can be a trophy. I haven’t had to buy meat for years, and I’m not about to start,that too is a prize I take pride in.

I have been lucky to take a mule deer buck almost every year since I started, as well as several does, cows, and other animals. For the longest time, we have had a joke in my family about a five-gallon bucket, a joke at my expense. The first decade or so of my hunting career, not only could you fit all my buck antlers in a five-gallon bucket, you could fit them all in there together, at the same time. I wasn’t particularly proud of it, because I wanted bigger, but I didn’t feel bad about it either. I go deer hunting because I enjoy it, as mentioned above. I like hunting, and I like getting what I’m after, the act of taking an animal is the climax of the hunt and I don’t like to give that up. Others in my hunting party are far pickier, their sights are set for bigger and more mature bucks, which is fine. But they haven’t gotten to feel that rush of engagement or the satisfaction as often, nor have they eaten as well as I have

This particularly puny buck stepped out on the last day of my hunt, the only thing I killed that year.

There are many reasons put forth to not shoot young bucks, many people say let them get older and more mature. That’s fine I guess, nothing wrong with it. As I’ve matured I have come to understand and come closer to that perspective, and I too have let plenty a young buck walk. But is doing the opposite actually a bad thing? As much distrust as I have in state-run wildlife agencies, I have to assume they are mildly competent in their regulations regarding wildlife populations. If shooting two points was actually detrimental to the population, then my state of Utah would be barren. A trigger happy pumpkin patch is standard for any general season here, and anything with antlers is almost sure to be gunned down by everyone who catches a glimpse of him.

There are also many reasons put forth to shoot small bucks, though I don’t subscribe to or even know them all. But I do know this; if you have a child or other first-time hunter, one of these small and inexperienced animals can be the difference between a heartbroken aspiring hunter, and a future addicted sportsman or conservationist.

It also can make a huge difference for a seasoned hunter. Imagine packing out the last animal ever with a loved one like your Father, cousin, or Grandparent, imagine savoring that last memory together in the forest, the size of the animal you hauled out together is likely not the part you will tell your own Grandchildren about. Many times its the journey that matters, not the destination.

If chasing and taking mature animals is your thing that’s great, I wish you luck. And if you are hunting just to hunt, and to get something you can take home to share with your loved ones, I wish you luck as well. I don’t think we need to make excuses for shooting small or immature animals though. If you show up to a game check station, be as proud as you want of your animal. Don’t make excuses like “he’ll taste better” or some other qualifying justification. Don’t dishonor the sacrifice of an animal’s life by consigning him to just a tag filled. We never know which hunt will be our last, so take pride in what you do, savor every moment you are given. Eat what you kill with pride and honor the sacrifice that it took to get it there.

-CBM

Two Many First’s, the 25 Creedmoor goes Deer Hunting

A young man’s first deer is a memory that lasts a lifetime, but this story has more than one first time.

The 25 Creedmoor project that I named Operation Quarter Lord, has taken down its first big game animal. But it doesn’t stop there either, it is also the first time a Blackjack bullets ace 131 has been used on a deer.

It started late one afternoon, after a heavy rain storm had passed through the dry desert canyons of Utah. Myself, my Brother, and a good friend of ours headed up into the hills to see if we could get on to a deer or two. Also in tow was my friends son Aiden, who was eager to fill his first deer tag.

Can you spot the buck?

Only a few minutes after setting up the spotting scope, we had eyes on a fine little buck who would fill the tag nicely. The gun obviously was new to him, it was still new to me for that matter but I was very confident in its potential due to much practice.

Aiden was quickly voluntold to get in position for a shot, and after a few moments he more or less said “shooter ready”. We all focused through our perspective optics, and waited for the buck to give us a good broadside shot. When he did, just a moment later, everything went quiet, and we all concentrated on the small buck, six hundred and ten yards away.
Thats no short poke, but this wasn’t Aiden’s first rodeo either. He has practiced all summer shooting further distances with a custom .223 Remington his father built.

Excitement was in the air, and even my own heart pounded. We waited silently as Aiden took his time to get a good hold, and calmly broke the trigger.

I watched as the ultra flat shooting Ace flew through the cool evening air, barely arching above the target due to the uphill angle. It found its mark, as I have found it always does, impacting the young buck behind his left shoulder. He staggered forward a few steps, looking as though he was going to take a dive, but since he didn’t, Aiden sent round two. Running the bolt on the Tikka like some kind of pro. The second bullet also impacted the bucks chest, and after a couple more staggers, and coughing up much blood, he rolled over and died.

The excitement was thick in the air, a Boy’s first deer, a Father’s first successful hunt with his Son, and ontop of that, my excitement for a project perfectly executed.

The deer was dragged back down to the truck, cleaned and inspected, then back home where he was summarily skinned and washed for butchering.

The excitement never dims, be it the first, or just another hunt. These adventures bring so much flavor to our lives, and tables. I can only hope it stays so.

-CBM

Exit wound on the offside

A Twilight Death Dance

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.

-CBM

Winning is hard work