Tag Archives: Deer

Is .223 good for hunting deer sized game?

Who doesn’t love a good cartridge debate? Whether its sitting around a campfire in the cold autumn woods or typing furiously back and forth on internet forums, we seem to revel in the pros and cons of different approaches to hunting. I’ve sat through several of these types of debates, and have prepared some thoughts for today’s topic; Is a .223 Remington suitable for hunting deer?

The .223 Remington

The 223 has been around for a long time now, and it has seen use in nearly every shooting application people can find. The small case Remington shoots .224 caliber bullets typically in weights between 40 and 75 grains. Though recent bullet developments have broadened that spectrum to include bullets as large as 90 grains as well. Many rifles chambered in .223 Remington feature a 1-9 twist which allows for shooting most bullets that fit in the traditional 40 to 69 grain category. While many of the newer rifles chambered thus utilize faster twists like a 1-8 or 1-7 twist barrel, which allows to shoot seventy-five and eighty grain bullets. The more specialized eighty-plus grain bullets likely need a 1-6.5 twist in order to stabilize the long and heavy for caliber bullets.
The .223 has enjoyed a great deal of attention in the varmint, predator, and small game hunting circles, shooting the typical 50-55 grain bullets it achieves fantastic velocities in the neighborhood of 3200 to 3400 fps depending on load. As bullet weight increases, the velocity decreases generally speaking. But the larger and more efficient bullets often carry their energy better, and further. These heavier bullets are ideal for shooting further, and delivering higher energy on target. (remember that, we’ll come back to it later)

Deer Hunting
Perhaps the oldest and most celebrated hobby of American’s is that of pursuing deer to feed their families. Every year we all prepare with excitement for the annual event, even as I type this there is dried deer blood on the backs of my hand from earlier this morning. The smaller members of the deer family typically pursued by American hunters consist almost entirely of the two most prolific species found in North America; the Mule deer, and the Whitetail deer. Even a large deer of either species can be handily put down if enough energy is put in the right place, countless deer have been killed by a diminutive .22LR to the head. (though I wouldn’t recommend it)

Deer are typically targeted in their vital organs which are mainly the heart, lungs, and liver as a distant third. Deer are certainly not bulletproof, even the meatiest and ‘big-boned’ of deer can be penetrated by modern bullets fired at reasonable velocities. The bone structure surrounding their vital organs can either be perforated by powerful bullet impacts, or circumvented by cunning shot placement. Continue Reading Here…

Seasons Change

Many was the time that I woke up early in the morning, grabbing boots and other gear as I fumbled out the doorway into the winter cold. Though I was not the exceptional scholar my parents had hoped for, I eventually made it to school hours later but not after shooting up a limit of ducks in the muddy marshes near my home. Hunting has always been a passion of mine, but there came a time as a young man that I often chose other things over my beloved waterfowl. Life often has a way of distracting us from passions and responsibilities, and teenage boys seem to catch the lot of it.
Years later I returned to my old ways, and it seems the absence had only increased my passion for the outdoors and being a part of it. A whole generation later, it would seem that my son is in the same haze of youth we all passed through. He has hunted by my side since he was three years old, and even as a toddler he was always excited to do anything that involved the mountains. But the past few years he has been so busy with the life of a teen, friends and other activities to spend much time glassing the mountains with me. It’s natural I suppose that everyone chooses their own path and eventually decides where to focus their efforts and time, but it warmed my heart when several of my kids voiced a desire to spend the hunting season with me in the high country.

My Ridley on one of his first deer hunts.

Despite their busy schedules and school, we managed to spend a few days enjoying the beauty of these Rocky Mountains. My son Ridley shew great interest in tagging along to fish, ride ATV’s, and shoot both pictures with his camera and his little Remington that I put together for him years ago.
Being an astute father with a taste for venison, I had ensured my kids would have at least one tag in their pockets this fall. Just incase the freezer got light. We spent a week in the High Uintas chasing after elk and Brook Trout, we celebrated Ridley’s eighteenth birthday up there at 10,000 feet. I could see the excitement of adventure even through the smug teenage faces he would make, and though getting up early was a challenge he still did it most days.

The country was just too beautiful to not have a good time, even though the elk hunting was pretty high pressure and not successful we still came home happy as could be. And laden with fish for the smoker, to be canned and put into storage for a rainy day.

As the deer hunt quickly approached, we prepared our gear and plotted our plans. Ridley ended up missing the first weekend of the hunt as he participated in his High School mountain bike team final race, which ended up being ok, as I had my hands full with my other son’s first deer. Mid-week Ridley caught back up with us, and he was excited as ever. I could see the competitive desire to outdo his friends who might also be deer hunting with their family.

I have found that consistency is what gets me within striking distance of animals. Not necessarily consistently going to the same place or anything, but consistently working hard to be in the best places I can be as often as I can. Furiously glassing and peering over every blade of grass to take advantage of every opportunity we might get.
Taking new and/or young hunters along is often a roll of the dice. I saw deer and bucks every day of the hunt, but it was often when my “pupils” were busy with something else. I passed more bucks this year than any year prior if I’m not mistaken, hoping they would still be there when I came back with my children.

It was a Tuesday afternoon when Ridley, my wife, and I returned up a canyon draw where I had seen several bucks earlier that morning. I carried my gun because I can’t be without it, but I was really there trying to get both of them on a buck. As we climbed steadily I pointed out a knob on a ridge to Ridley, and explained how I had seen a deer disappear there earlier that day. My hope was that him or any other buck was still hiding out in this little canyon, but when I told Ridley of my hopes he quickly shot down the idea saying “that was three hours ago Dad.” As we carried on up the ridge spine before us, the sun poured down over us making it nearly uncomfortably hot. Only a few hours earlier I sat on this same ridge uncontrollably shivering in the ice cold wind of a storm front, driving snow sideways across the mountains and blanketing the whole of it in white.

The contrast was incredible, but my hope for a buck was still high so we carried on. In a simple stop to catch our breath, everything changed quite rapidly. Incapable of turning off, my eyes peered through my binoculars combing the ridges for the sign of a deer. I froze as I turned and looked behind us, as my eyes made out the obvious outline of a buck laying in his afternoon bed. The same knob that I had indicated to Ridley earlier was now the complete focus of all three sets of our eyes. I was astounded that the young buck had simply laid there and watched while we walked right under him on the opposing ridge, and another set of hunters had followed the same path only a few minutes before us. Yet there he lay, confident in his hide. Obviously he didn’t know who he was dealing with, but he would very soon.

With as little excitement as we could manage, both Ridley and my wife lay their rifles across their backpacks to get the right angle for a shot. I feigned disinterest and avoided looking at him, as he was studying our movement. Ridley was in a good shooting position and watched the buck through his little TS8X riflescope while I helped my wife build a solid shooting position on the steep hillside.
Despite my disinterested attitude and the minimal movement, way up on that knob where the buck lay quietly three-hundred and thirty yards away, I think he was starting to get worried. I often think that deer can feel a rifle bearing down on them, like the all seeing eye of Sauron looking into the heart of whoever wears the ring. And with it comes the accompanying discomfort.
I wasn’t looking his direction when he stood up, but Ridley was on his scope and announced it to the rest of us. I immediately raised my binos to my eyes, and not wanting to lose our opportunity I told him; if he is standing up shoot him. As I said those words he was already starting his press. My wife and I watched through our optics as the first shot broke, and the buck jumped as if startled by the noise. Ridley ran his bolt as I told him he had shot just under him, the deer took a few steps towards the other side of the ridge but he stopped to give us one last look. By then Ridley had already sent a second bullet his way, and this one was perfect. I watched through my binos as the bullet impacted, sending a patch of hair into the air and the buck dropped from sight.

Ridley’s rifle with the Yankee Hill Machine R9 suppressor

We hugged with excitement, and then we quickly made our way up the ridge to the downed buck. I am not one to trust a deer that I can’t see, so we snuck up on the buck who had died almost instantly but looked suspiciously alive. We gave him a moment of reverence, and then spent a few minutes examining what a fine example of a Rocky Mountain mule deer he was. He’d already had a close call during the season, someone had taken a shot at him nicking one of his antlers, but his luck had run out.

Ridley pulled out his knife, a knife my brother had given to him several years ago but he had yet to use it for its intended purpose. As we enjoyed the beautiful afternoon, Ridley did his best to clean the deer and fill his phone up with pictures of it. We didn’t kill any other deer that day, but not for a lack of effort.

I have watched my son grow up, and though he has his own plans it warms my heart to see his success and be a part of it. My greatest hope is that we can continue to share our passions with each other, and if at all possible continue to hunt together for as long as we’re able to. We make a pretty good team.

-CBM


Deer Hunting Heritage

New hunters come into our midst all the time. Much like generations of deer come and go over the seasons, old hunters slowly fade from our camps every year and are replaced by newer and younger faces.
As sad as it is not seeing old friends and loved ones, the new possibilities of teaching the next generation is the only suitable substitute.

One of the newer faces around my fire this year was Leonardo, my wife’s oldest son. His very first hunting adventure happened only a few months ago. He was lucky enough to draw a pair of doe antelope tags, and we made an adventure out of the opportunity. If you haven’t read that story, click here to read it after this one.

After thoroughly enjoying his first big game hunting experience, Leo was even more excited for the mule deer hunt that would follow. We spend a few trips into the mountains during the summer to practice shooting techniques and prepare for what was ahead. Leo is a level-headed kid, responsible and astute. So I was quite confident we would see success as the sun began to rise that cold October morning.

In a stroke of luck, a storm front passed through our mountains in the early hours of opening morning. It brought rain and snow which was a good thing, but it also brought a fierce wind with it as well. Storm fronts like this one typically get the deer out of their hiding spots, and I was hoping to see them as the first rays of light began to cut through the cold and dark clouds.

My little brother, Leo and I hiked noisily up a steep and rocky hillside. Hoping to sneak into a good shooting position on the downwind side of the ridge. I say noisily because the wind blew so hard it pushed us uphill. None of the breaking of sticks or tumbling stones could be heard over the winds howl.
Just as official shooting light arrived, we had crested the peak nine-thousand feet above sea level. We found some solace from the wind, and we were immediately into spotting deer. A small group made their way over the next ridge a mere two-hundred yards away. After confirming that they were our only prospect, we slowly and as quietly as could be given the conditions, made our way towards the ridge they had crossed. Obviously not where they had crossed, but uphill from there hoping to have a better view of them from above.
My brother would stay and cover other vistas while Leo and I pursued the group.

We cautiously crossed over the crest of the ridge, keeping low and looking over the very tips of the brush as we went. I was very surprised to find the deer only a few hundred yards away from us. And I was also concerned as two of the group seemed to already be aware of our presence. I don’t know how, as it was still too noisy to hear us, and the wind carried our scent another direction, but none the less we seemed to be nearly busted on arrival. As I studied the group cautiously through my binoculars, one of the deer was quite conspicuous as he carried a white face and headgear much bonier than the rest. I whispered to Leo that there was a buck watching us, but it seemed as we had the time to get a rifle up and on him. I say seemed because we had been looking at them for over a minute and they still stood there, many of them eating.
As soon as we lifted our eyes back above the brushline however, they had vanished into the thickly wooded canyon below.
As we hiked back towards my brother, I explained to Leo about one of the rules of hunting.
Oftentimes you gotta screw up one opportunity in order to get in the right state of mind for a proper opportunity. So we chalked this one up to our practice run, and we searched out another stalk.

Only a hour or so later, we sat perched on another high point glassing a draw that we had spotted a few does feed across.
Upon closer inspection, we noticed that one of the deer in that opening was a spike. Being his first hunt, Leo was not exactly particular about antlers.
After a few goings on that ended up moving the deer into thicker brush, we spent almost an hour trying to pick him out in the fall colored cover he was hiding in. Even knowing exactly where he was, it was nearly impossible to make him out. I think Leo perhaps felt a little out of sorts not being able to see or make out the deer. But when another hunter spooked him from his hide, he hopped uphill into an opening.
As several of us struggled to keep eyes on the deer, Leo announced that he had him in his scope. Having previously dialed the proper elevation for the three-hundred yard shot, I told him if you’ve got a shot, go a head and take it.

I watched the hillside through my binoculars excitedly waiting to see how it would go. The chamber of Leo’s rifle carried a 122 grain Cayuga solid copper bullet loaded in a 6.5 Creedmoor case. The rifle itself was a Ruger American that he had practiced with earlier that year. On top of the rifle was a US Optics TS25X riflescope that Leo now had centered on the buck across the draw.

When his shot broke, the blast had been tamed by the Yankee Hill Machine Nitro N20. We both watched intently as the bullet cut the distance and hit the deer.
We kept watching him until he went down, where Leo and a friend closed in on him.

From there, we all followed their path to the thorny and burr covered thicket where Leo was already elbow deep in guts. We took pictures and shared congratulations and a hug.

After putting in the work, Leo had his very first buck in hand. We stumbled back down the way we’d come in, dragging the little buck towards our vehicle. I am quite sure that Leo enjoyed his experience and will likely return next season for round two. After hanging the buck in my skinning tree at home, we cleaned him up and made a delicious meal with deer tenderloins as the center-piece. Garden vegetables made it even more delectable.

As Leo and I sat at the table, chewing on the tasty spoils of our days work, I contemplated the conundrum we all find ourselves in. We are destined to spend the first half of our hunting career learning and sharing with familiar old faces of fathers, uncles, and other family and friends. And at some point in our life, it switches to being the familiar old face. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, I can only hope that someday my children will think back to the old days when I taught them and led them through these steep Rocky Mountains. And with any luck they will harbor the same warm feelings I do remembering the great men who showed them to me.

-CBM

Spicy Venison Skewers

Every now and then a brilliant idea comes to me, nothing earth shattering or anything, just a plain good idea. As I was coming down off of the mountains the other day, my stomach made me quite aware that we’d skipped breakfast several hours earlier. So as my thoughts wandered about the delicious meal I needed to make upon arriving at the house, I put this together.

CLICK HERE for more great information on better venison prep.

It’s probably been a million years since the first dude stuck a piece of meat on a stick over a fire, so I surely wont make any claims to that idea. But today I was going to try something a little different, and it started with a two year old deer backstrap that had been resting quietly in the freezer. I thawed it out, but before it lost its stiff composure I sliced it into thin quarter-inch sized slices. From there it went into a bowl where it was seasoned with soy sauce, salt & pepper, garlic salt, a touch of paprika and some avocado oil. As the mixture lay resting and soaking on the counter coming to room temp, I finely chopped some beef suet that I had left over from making burgers. I rendered the fat down until I had a half-cup or so of liquid fat, which I also left to cool to near room temp. Just before the fat began to lose it’s liquid flow, I dumped it in on top of the meat, and rolled everything around so it was evenly coated.

Once the meat was fully coated, I sliced white onion and green chilis to roughly the same size and thickness as the meat. Then it all was skewered onto two sticks (to keep everything from spinning), I stacked them: meat, chili, meat onion, meat chili, meat onion and so on.


As I stacked them up, I was careful to spread as much of the liquid marinade running off the meat onto the veggies, and when I was done, I had two heavy kabobs of spicy delicious venison. I gave them one last dusting of course salt, and set them onto a scorching hot grill.

After a few minutes or so, I rolled them to keep the oil from all running off the kabob. Just enough to keep both sides evenly cooked I would rotate them until the meat was just about done. The veggies were mostly soft and a little roasted, but still had a bit of crisp in the middle. And the meat was still rare in the middle. I took them off and let them rest for a few minutes before pulling out the skewers and digging in.

Despite being older deer from the freezer, there was nothing but a delicious flavor from this recipe. The meat tasted like a rib eye cap, and was so tender you could cut it with your fork. Together with the spiciness of the green chilis and the mild sweet flavor of the onions it was the perfect treat after a long day in the woods. Give it a try and see for yourself.
-CBM

My Wife’s First Buck

Women are perhaps the fastest growing group of hunters, and they makeup a large subculture in the gun community overall. Being myself a staunch advocate for the hunting lifestyle, I always embrace the opportunity to add another hunter to our community. But in today’s case it was part of my own family that would join the fold.

My wife grew up in a family where hunting was not the norm, but it was common enough for her to be familiar with the idea and even a little excited to try it. The 2020 hunting season was her very first opportunity to take her first big game animal, together we made it an adventure that was nothing short of a perfect introduction to hunting as a lifestyle. She has since been preparing delicious meals for our children with meat that she took herself.

This year was her first time going after a Mule deer buck, and our goal was to make it as fun and meaningful as possible. A large part of this plan was to make her a self sufficient hunter, able to accomplish the task on her own merits. Since she has used my rifle in the past, a rifle of her own would be fundamental. And as it happens, the perfect rifle just happened to join our collection. My wife is quite petite, so a rifle small enough to manipulate and carry would be crucial for her.


The Browning X Bolt Hells Canyon Speed

The Browning X bolt is a fine rifle, and the Hells Canyon (HC) model is a fancier version of the base rifle. The X Bolt HC Speed came to us in a twenty-two inch 6.5 Creedmoor, in a composite ATACS camo stock and burnt bronze Cerakote. It is a very refined hunting rifle, with many great features such as a detachable rotary box magazine, recoil reducing muzzle brake, and a soft recoil pad at the rear. It’s quite a handsome little rifle, and it functions as good as it looks. The sixty-degree bolt throw is shorter and faster to run, and the adjustable trigger breaks like glass rod. There is much more to say about the X Bolt, click here to read all about it.

In order to match the rifle to it’s new owner, I mounted a Crimson Trace Hardline 3-12 scope in a set of low Warne rings. I wanted the rifle to fit her as best it could, I would have liked to chop a couple more inches off the barrel but time wouldn’t allow. Using a thread adaptor from Xcaliber Firearms I was able to mount a suppressor to the rifle, which is also another advantage for someone new to hunting. I mounted the very lightweight Yankee Hill Machine Nitro N20 suppressor built from all titanium, the recoil reduction and comfort far outweighed the ounces added to the rifle.

Practice Practice Practice

Despite having spent a fair amount of time behind a riflescope, I wanted to make sure she was comfortable as possible with her own rifle. So we spent a few trips going into the mountains to ensure she was familiar with every aspect of the rifle, and how to operate it quickly and under pressure. We took shots at targets out to five-hundred yards, and once she was comfortably hitting them with predictability, we added a time crunch. Putting a ten-second time limit to get on the rifle and make a good shot became a fun and useful game. With both rifle and shooter working in harmony, we counted down the days till the deer hunt started. Continue Reading Here…

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