Tag Archives: first deer

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

A First Deer for Junior: Mule Deer Hunting

An incredible day

The sun set no more than a few hours ago, the closing day of the Utah general season deer hunt. This marks the first year since I began hunting, that I have gone without killing a deer. For years I have anticipated it, not knowing when or why it would come. Every year I would tell myself; maybe this is the year I go without. But through some kind of blind luck, I have always managed to get a tag, as well as a deer to go with it. I wouldn’t have guessed that it would take so many years for it to finally happen, but the beautiful memories that took its place are even better.
2016 was a special year for me, for the first time in my life, I would be hunting with both my Father, and my Son. Surely we had been together many times, but this was the first time that all three of us would be carrying a rifle. I thought for sure we could find three bucks, and what a special hunt it would be, that three generations of my family could once again draw blood. If you read the first part of this story, you are likely to remember the handy little rifle that my son is lucky to have. A pieced together Remington 700, with a 16” .260 barrel, I had loaded it with some PVRI 120 Grain Match hollow points. And whenever the squeeze was good, this little rifle hammered.
After a few adjustments, to make the rifle fit him better, we spent as much time as we could practicing. I would have liked to have him shoot it a lot more, but keeping a twelve year old’s attention for more than a few minutes proved difficult.
But the calendar waits for no one, and so the practice we got, was all I had to work with. Because before I knew it, the deer hunt opener was upon us. I drove up the dark and winding canyon roads, my Brother and I discussing the plan for the day, while my Son sat quietly in the back. The day was as usual on public land general season, armies of orange covered every vantage point. But despite the state wildlife agency’s prognostication of a great season, we never got to put eyes on a deer with antlers. It did however give Jr. plenty of opportunity to practice his trigger pulls, and prepare himself for the moment that would surely come.
Practice, practice, and more practice.

Day after day went by, miles and miles of hiking, glassing, and chasing. But we still never got to put our eyes on a buck through a rifle scope. I had on several occasions had the opportunity to shoot a buck, but I had promised myself that I would do so only after my son had his chance. It was really starting to weigh heavy on my conscience, it had never seemed so hard to get on a buck, even the little ones seemed to be out of our reach.

Though the hunting wasn’t going as well as I had hoped, we certainly enjoyed good company. Like always, we hunt together as family, and for good reason.

After five days of fruitless efforts, I was beginning to loose my cool. As the weather finally turned sour, my hopes for success were peaking. But when even that didn’t provide us a good opportunity, I was quite frustrated. Luckily my Father was there to help me see the big picture, as well as the little guy who was watching me.
Ready to conquer the mountain

Just when I had lost hope, and the dreaded sun came out, threatening to send all the deer to bed, things changed. My good friend signaled me from the opposite side of the ridge we had straddled, and I wasted no time getting to him.

He quickly pointed out a deer he had spotted across the canyon, and for the first time in a few days, the fire inside me was lit. I hustled back to where my son was waiting, we scrambled our gear together, and made our way back to a good shooting position across the canyon from the young buck.

His antlers shining in the mid-morning sun, picking his way down the steep mountain, the deer had no idea what was being planned for him. I helped Jr. get into a good shooting position, and pointed the deer out to him. One of the reasons I opted for the Minox 1-6 optic, was because of the often difficult task of getting inexperienced shooters on target. Less magnification helps easily spot distant targets by not taking away the big picture.
Jr. had on many occasions used the 6X to engage targets at 500 yds, and I had used it on targets to 800yds. Contrary to popular belief, huge magnification is not as big a deal as some people would make it.
After a few moments, Jr. picked out the distant buck. He steadied his little rifle, and I had him dry fire a couple more times, just to make sure it felt right. When I was convinced he was ready, a round was chambered, the bolt closed up tight. I watched as close as I could, barely breathing, listening, waiting. The deer turned broadside, giving us a perfect shot. My mind raced over all the steps we had worked on, steady the rifle, breathe out, squeeze. I could only wait now to see if it all stuck.

As I heard his breathing pause, the rifle pulsed into his shoulder, and the subdued report of the rifle hissed across the dry grass before us. I watched in suspense as the trace peaked across the 490 yards that separated us from our prey. The bullet struck the deer, right behind his left shoulder, perfect elevation. I watched the rippling waves of energy as they were soaked up by his body. His rear legs collapsed, and he fell immediately to the ground, and slowly slid down the steep slope. As he slid, I saw blood pour from the exit wound, flowing down his side. He slid some 20 yards into a large brush pile, where we lost sight of him.


The satisfaction of a perfect shot, that was so long in the waiting, a shot that I alone had been anticipating since the day he made me a Father. As I hugged my boy, I was reminded what made this year so special. It wasn’t filling three tags that made it special. It was standing next to my Dad, holding my son, having just made a perfect shot, on his very first deer.
After some high fives, and a congratulatory hug from Dad and Grandpa, we decided to empty our backpacks, and head down after him. I could see a different attitude now, Jr. had been along on who knows how many recoveries. But this one was his. He had been dying to try his brand new virgin skinning knife that his uncle gave him for his birthday last year, and finally the moment had arrived.
As we hiked into the brush filled draw, I happened on the blood trail where the deer had slid down. I stopped there to see what my Son would do. He quickly followed the trail down hill to the buck, I had already spotted it, but I followed behind to let him find it on his own, and feel that rush and sense of accomplishment.
Perfect shot placement, should be the goal of every hunter.

He was very excited, but I took a moment to remind him, the importance of respect and reverence for such a beautiful animal. We took pictures, and admired him for a time. Then quartered him up, and put him into our backpacks.
I was certain that there would be significant whining as we hiked the half mile back to the four wheeler. But to my surprise, he quietly followed me, he rested when I rested. When he did mention how hard it was, and how his legs hurt, I told him the truth; A week from now, you might remember how hard it was, and how much it hurts. But by next year, you’ll have forgotten, and want to do it all over again. And the memories, of all the fun we’ve had, are ours to keep forever.
So I sit here, listening to the thunder, and the winds blowing outside my door, as the storm I needed finally arrives. My melancholy has turned to a feeling of satisfaction, sharing one of life’s exciting moments with two of the most important guys in my life. What more could I ask for?

-CBM