Tag Archives: Deer

2020 Doom and Gloom

The year Twenty-twenty has claimed plenty of fame both in good things and bad, the year prior having been less than plentiful when it came to deer hunting, I was cautiously optimistic about 2020. It was in that mindset that my Son and I headed up into the cold and cloudy Rocky Mountains well before sunrise. It was six or so days into a ten day deer hunt, and neither of us had fired a shot. We shared many things that morning, we both had a buck tag in our pocket, and we’d only brought one gun, the 257 Blackjack that I call Pitboss. But even the tainted doom of 2020 couldn’t keep us from sharing the adventure that awaited us at nine-thousand feet.

As the days of the deer hunt waned, I felt a familiar feeling that things were going to work out. Everything that morning had come together as though it was meant to be, so my optimism was at overdrive as the cold wind blew over our backs, and the first slivers of orange light began to peak over the horizon.

Junior and I were looking over a steep alpine valley high at the top of the Wasatch Mountains, its a place we are very familiar with, having spent countless hours hunting Marmots, squirrels and other varmints during the brief summer there. The last bits of snow from the previous winter had only just melted a month or two prior. We watched over this well known to us valley, looking for the faint signs of movement in the early pre-dawn light. The ice-cold wind was making my fingers stiff, and biting at my nose and ears while I peered furiously through my binoculars hoping to see motion. We had seen several deer in this valley in days prior to this, so I was working on a hunch that a good buck or two had moved in with them.

I wish I had the power to stop time, that magical ten to twenty minutes immediately following first light, seems to be the most productive time of day where we hunt. As I watched my son hunker over trying to keep warm, it reminded me of the other reason I wished I could control time. The time we spend together has never been enough for me, and as he has grown into a young man, that time seems even more fleeting and precious.


As we both resisted the wind, the sunlight advanced, and in just a few moments I had picked out a couple white rumps of a few mule deer does on a rise down in our little valley. I had my spotting scope setup, prepared to investigate any potential prey, so I switched over to it and began to pick them out one by one. In almost no time at all, I had found just what I was looking for, a handsome little buck casually feeding alongside a few does. I say little, but he was actually the best buck we had seen since the hunt began.


I pointed him out to my son, who quickly got into position behind the Blackjack. We waited as the buck calmly moved along, the sunlight brightening almost by the second it seemed. The range to the buck was just shy of five hundred yards, a chip-shot for the rifle, and Junior had been well trained for a shot like that. Everything was lining up just as I had felt it would that morning, Junior lay still behind the rifle, slowly following the buck as we waited for a perfect broadside shot. I had dialed the elevation into the US Optics Foundation 25X, and it was just a matter of time now.

As the buck noticed the orange light growing around him, I’d like to think that he too was admiring the beauty that lay all around us. He stood there motionless, looking into the sunlight with his stocky body in clear view. I told Junior to drop him, and in a sudden rush of excitement it was all over. It may have been the excitement, buck fever, or maybe his fingers were numb from the biting cold wind, but Junior just plain missed. And for an excruciating thirty-seconds, I had to sit there and watch this buck look around, wondering what had happened. Junior couldn’t get the buck back in the scope, and I watched as he casually trotted off into the forest below.

All my positive expectations and hope seemed to trot off into the trees as well. I was a bit distrustful of what had just happened, how could it all come together like that, and fall apart in a matter of seconds? All I had wanted was to pull off a bit of success with my son. We walked back out the way we had come in, all the deer had moved into the trees, spooked by our shot. I did my best to stay positive, and we moved on to another one of my hides. I’m sure that I was more upset about the miss than my son was, his excitement for hunting isn’t what it used to be. We stopped to look into another deep canyon, one we had also seen deer in the past.

I peered into the wind swept canyon, spotting a few does feeding away from us. I was determined that we weren’t leaving empty-handed. I looked harder and harder trying to make out either antlers or additional deer, and after a few minutes I spotted three more working uphill from below the others. As soon as I laid eyes on the very last deer, I knew that we were going home heavy. He wasn’t a big buck, but he was exactly what we needed that day, a chance to be successful. It was my turn to take a shot, so I scrambled into a good shooting position, and began my procedure. First I hit him with the rangefinder, to cross reference with my drop. The 257 Blackjack is extremely flat-shooting, and with the slight down angle of the slope, my corrected elevation was 2.1 MRAD for the 715 yard shot. The distant buck had no idea we were there, but he was still making his way towards the ridge-line that would allow him to slip away forever. Junior spotted for me through the spotting scope as I prepped for the shot, the deer made his way through the brush until he stopped hard, giving me a good broadside shot. The Blackjack had never let me down, and today wasn’t going to be that day.

As the buck stood there taking his last look, I watched through the scope having already broke the trigger. As the intensity of the moment seemed to slow time, I watched the 131 grain Ace fly downrange, boiling the air around it. The trace continued down the canyon, and disappeared into the left side of the deer, breaking through one of his ribs low in the brisket. The buck reared back, and turned back downhill the way he had come. After just a few strides he disappeared into the brush, as we both watched through our scopes. It was time to pack up. We left everything that we didn’t need, and started down the canyon into the prickly and noisy brush. At times it was shoulder deep.


Following his blood trail

My wind call wasn’t perfect, and I’d hit him a little further back than I would have liked to. But in the end it worked just fine, the buck left a vivid trail into some deep brush, leaving bits and pieces of himself along the way. I made it to the buck first, and Junior followed me. We sat down next to him, and appreciated the moment. My despair about the mornings events had been in vain, our doubt swallowed up by the excitement and satisfaction. As I laid hands on this beautiful little buck I was again as always overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation.


Above: Junior and I / Below: The 257 Blackjack

As luck would have it, a good friend and his sons were hunting that day as well, and after a quick call, they headed our way. Junior and I began working on the meat, the trophy we’d take home. We carefully broke him down, keeping the pieces clean, and hanging them in a nearby tree so it could cool in the icy mountain breeze. After a couple hours, with help from our friends, we strapped all the pieces of the buck to our packs and began making our way back up the canyon.

Meat cooling in the breeze, and Junior going full carnivore



I love whatever it is that drives me to this autumn challenge every year, is it the carnivore deep inside me? Is it instinct? The challenge that we embrace every time we go after these and other animals seems to be programmed into my soul, I often wonder if its possible to get enough. If it is, I hope I never get there, but if I do, I hope its not by myself.

-CBM


A Successful Plan Built in Brotherhood

One sign that you are getting better at hunting, is when your plans start ending successfully instead of watching deer run off. Twenty-something years ago, my little Brother Spence invited me to come along on a deer hunt with some friends. It was the beginning of a crazy addiction filled with challenges and adventure, and every year since, we do it again. Several things have changed quite a bit since that fateful first hunt together, we’re both a bit rounder in the middle, and we both have less hair, but we sure have gotten better at killing deer and elk. Todays story is about hunting plans, and how years of hunting and hard work can turn into valuable achievement and happy memories.


My Brothers and I
You may have gathered by now that I’m not much of a trophy hunter, of course I’d love to shoot a monster but I’m more about having a good time and involving loved ones and friends than anything else. To me, any animal that presents a challenge and a delicious reward that we can share is a trophy. The practice of hunting, year after year, shot after shot, and stalk after stalk, has sharpened all of us.

An adventure from long ago
Spence and I have shared adventures our whole lives, but today was an especially sweet one. It was the final day of the deer hunt here in our home state of Utah, and Spence still had an uncut tag, and had yet to point his gun at anything. Our plan was to take advantage of an active snow storm that had moved in overnight, the weather always brings out the deer. Experience told me we wouldn’t be able to see much of anything way up high, the thick and fluffy snow fall was building fast. So instead, we decided to hunt the foothills of the mountains.

The snow was still falling, as shooting light came and passed. We hadn’t seen more than a few tracks, but one set of tracks that we’d cut was clearly a buck and he was headed the right direction. We looked as hard as we could through binos, searching every crevasse and brush patch. The patience that comes with age and experience seems to let you know when to take your time, and when you need to hurry. We kept moving to avail ourselves of different angles of the mountain above us. I knew it was only a matter of time before we spotted something, and sure enough, after about 30 minutes of glassing, we finally picked two does out. They were working around in some very deep brush, the six-hundred yards between us made glassing them difficult through the thick snow falling all around us. I could tell there was another deer in the brush behind them, I told Spence that it had to be a buck. Spence is used to me aggressively proposing suggestions as facts, the poor kid has had to listen to me his whole life so I’m sure he has grown accustomed to just nodding in agreement as a response. But after putting my spotting scope on the third deer, I could clearly see antlers. I told Spence if he wanted a last day of the hunt deer, then this was it. The brush and snow obscured the buck from good viewing, but I could tell he had at least three points on his left side. My Brother is more of a trophy hunter than I, but I figured if he knew it wasn’t some fork from this past spring it would get him a little more excited.

He grabbed his rifle, and found a good spot to setup on the buck. But after several minutes of looking, he couldn’t find the buck in the deep snowy brush. We watched the does make their way to a thicket, and caught a glimpse of him as he followed them into what looked like a very small shelf on a very steep and rocky hillside. We continued to watch, hoping for them to come out into one of the few openings, but after twenty and then thirty minutes passed we could see one of the does bedded down. We watched patiently as the snow slowed its fall, watching fervently to see if they were going to move, or spend the day there.

It was probably near eight-o’clock by this point, and we were confident these deer were not planning on moving. So like many times before, we started to devise a plan. The terrain the deer had bedded in was extremely steep, and if it wasn’t shoulder deep thick brush, it was loose and slippery scree in long slides down the mountain. The steep slope ran north/south, and we were looking east up the precipitous grade. There was another high point about halfway to the deer on the north side of them, that would give a commanding view of the area were they lay bedded. The plan that we came up with, was for him to climb slowly and covertly to that high spot, after which I would make a wide loop far to their south. This would put the deer almost squarely between us, I could then slowly sneak close enough to them, and like every mule deer, they would smell or hear me and try to sneak away not knowing that Spence lay waiting for exactly that.
We split up, after going over the plan to ensure we both had it down. I waited til he was about halfway to his new hide, and then started my climb. There was a ridge spine that ran uphill, about a hundred yards south of the deer’s thicket, I decided to stay on the other side as long as possible in order to avoid detection.

The thick brush and rock was hard to keep quiet in as I climbed, every branch I grabbed to steady myself would drop snow down my neck. But I pushed on, my plan was to actually get above the deer, so that I would have a better view of them should they bust. Experience has also showed me that if you don’t put in the work, its almost as though you disrupt the balance of nature, and success is hard-won. There was about a fifteen-minute window where I couldn’t see the thicket, or my brother. But I finally hit the elevation I wanted, and made my way north over the ridge spine, and towards a rock outcropping that would give me the perfect view. I quietly snuck to the rock, testing every step. I wasn’t sure how close I was just yet, so barely breathing and with all four points of contact I climbed onto the wet rock, the snow having melted off, and just recently stopped falling from the grey sky.


I could now see my Brother, a mere 230 yards away. He had setup behind a rock, which gave him a solid shooting rest, as well as some obscurity should the deer look his way. I sat there stinking, as hard as I could, hoping they would catch my scent on the breeze. But the wind had changed direction, and was moving uphill fast enough that they’d never catch my drift. I had snuck into inside seventy-yards from where the three deer lay on the shelf, and the steep incline of the hill made them feel even closer. So I did what every deer hunter does when things get tough and not going your way, I started rolling rocks. Small rocks, that I pitched into the trees near the deer, hoping the repetitive noise would make them uncomfortable enough to get up.

By this time, Spence was freezing in his cold and wet hiding spot. Watching me toss rocks from high above. At one point one of the does stood up, which triggered an exciting rush as perhaps it was about to go down. But it would take a few more minutes of rock rolling before the two does would finally appear, and stepped out of the thicket. My perspective wouldn’t let me see them, but Spence watched quietly through his Vortex Razor as the does slowly moved a dozen yards into the open. After about ten minutes, the buck stood up. He had been laying right next to the does but hidden from sight, but he moved slowly, in the direction of the does. He finally cleared out of the thicket, and stood quartered away, just below the thicket of trees. It was his last move, Spence had been waiting patiently with a hot chamber, and now he pressed the trigger as crosshair met ribcage.

Several hundred yards away, I stood oblivious to all the happenings below. Standing on my rock trying to stink and be conspicuous. The clouds had just begun to burn off, and the sun was peaking through. The silence of a snowy mountain was soothing, but suddenly cut short. The report of Spence’s .260 Remington was unlike any shot Ive ever heard, the blast suppressed by his Thunderbeast suppressor. The sound I heard was amazing, it sounded like a ricocheting 22lr mixed with a rising whistle sound, and of course, at the end was the THWAP! Sounds like a baseball bat swung hard into a wet roll of carpet. Upon hearing the sound, I perked up, and saw the two does bounding off through the steep brush south of the thicket. Just as I got my glass up, I saw the buck bounce into view, and no sooner had I seen him, he keeled over and toppled down the hill, sliding nearly a hundred yards down the steep hillside directly below me. I may have heard a victory call from down the hill, as we both quickly headed for the downed buck.




As we arrived at the buck, I couldn’t get over how handsome he looked. He actually looked like a younger version of the buck I shot the year before, perhaps his offspring. Spence sat down next to his buck, and soaked it up. The sun was now full on shining, and we sat on the steep hill digging our heels in to keep from sliding down. It was a beautiful moment, and we couldn’t have been happier with how our plan worked out.


We had a little discussion about how things seem to have worked out, and how it would have been nice to have all this experience on that first hunt long ago. But isn’t that the beauty of hunting? So much of what we learn, is taught by sacrifice, and loss. The one that got away seems to be the toughest lesson of all. Until we eventually get to the point that we actually let one go by choice instead of him getting away unscathed because we weren’t good enough. The experiences that got us to where we stood, are in their own way a trophy, and one I love to share whether it be here in words or around a campfire waiting for the next hunt to start.

We drug the deer down the mountain towards the truck, where we took some more pictures, before heading to a champions breakfast. The only thing better than making good memories like these, is making them with loved ones. Sometimes the best planned hunt, is being with the right people. I’m thankful I got to be there, but even more thankful for that invite twenty years ago.

CBM

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

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