Tag Archives: hunting

Blessings in Disguise: A deer hunting story

This was originally written in October 2011

As some of you may or may not recall, after a lot of health problems and a Kidney transplant, I took my Dad hunting with us this year. He drew a cow elk tag, and a Buck tag, myself and my brothers had similar tags to go along.
Well, this year things were a bit off. Everything that has ever worked for me in the past didn’t work, we were always in the wrong place or something else happened to screw it up. My elk hunting honey hole seemed to have plenty of elk, but never any close enough for Dad to feel comfortable with. We usually get a bull or two, and always the cows. But this year we didn’t get a thing, I felt horrible because Dad was so excited to go, and there was simply nothing that could be done. We still had as good a time as we could, and enjoyed the time out.

After a dismal elk hunt, the deer hunt started. I had high hopes, but I was worried after the elk hunt turned out to be a bust.
The deer hunt turned out to be quite the same, the first four days we didn’t even see a buck. I gave up on that spot and we left and headed home, I asked Dad if he wanted to try another spot a little closer to home. The next day we went to another of my old standby hunting spots, that was a bad move. Not only did we not see a single deer but on our way out, we were climbing up an ugly hill on the 4wheelers and Dad hit a rock just right and knocked his machine over. His pride and joy Grizzly rolled over the top of him and end over end for a hundred yards or so until it luckily stopped in a tree. Had it not it would have been gone forever. I stopped to see what was keeping him, and I thought for sure he was dead when I heard his bike rolling down the mountain behind me. He wasn’t hurt too bad, just scratched up and a bit bloody. I was working in a panic to get his bike out, gather his stuff that was scattered all over the hillside, including his broken rifle, just in case he needed medical attention, but by the time we got out it was pretty clear that he was gonna be ok. After that mess, Dad was pretty much out of excitement for hunting, and I had pretty much given up as well.
My brother in law called me Friday night and asked me if I wanted to go out with him Saturday morning, I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I’d never get a deer sitting home doing honey do’s.

So I went out with him, we saw a lot of this kinda stuff:

But we kept after it, and went on looking. After a couple hours and a good nap, we found a bunch of does out on a brushy flat. Several more kept appearing in the distance. I kept watching, and at the end of the flat I saw a deer that was too heavy to be a doe, I looked hard and quickly put antlers on him. I couldn’t tell how big he was, only that he was a buck, and that was good enough for me at this point in the game.
I hit him with my rangefinder, and he was around six-hundred and fifty yards moving just fast enough in the wrong direction. I watched him go into some deep and tall sagebrush, my brother in law sat and watched, while I sprinted towards the brush patch. On my way there, four more doe’s jumped out and started running towards the buck’s last known position. I knew they would tattle on me as soon as they got there so I kept running. The fleeing does seemed perplexed that I continued running but not after them. As I moved, I scanned the terrain ahead for a good shooting position. I found one, a clear spot in the grass slightly elevated with a good view of the patch where the buck was still hidden. I laid down and ranged the doe’s as they began emerging on the far side of the brush patch, just shy of four-hundred yards, one after another they came out, I figured he would be last. He came out of the brush like a ghost, he just appeared, I had already dialed my elevation, I was doping the wind which was left to right. I held my wind correction and pressed the trigger, the buck reared up on his hind legs as though I’d hit him, I listened for the familiar smack sound to return to me, but it never did. I settled back upon him and to my surprise he was still there, I ran the bolt fast and sent a second shot. I watched through the recoil and saw only his shape settle in the tall grass, his feet up in the air. My brother in law was still four-hundred yards or so behind me, and didn’t even know I had taken a shot. I had to do a victory dance with my hat in the air for him to start making his way down.

I made my way to the buck, still unsure of how big or small he was. I was quite surprised when I saw this:

He was definitely past his prime, his teeth were about to fall out. I was nonetheless happy to have found him, and we took him home happy as we’d been in weeks. It was a rough hunting season, and he is perhaps the ugliest buck I’ve ever seen, but he was a blessing in a very ugly disguise.

-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…

Hard Effort and Elk Hunting

As hunters, we seem to revel in the challenge and frequent suffering that accompanies the efforts of hunting. I believe this comes from deep in our DNA handed down from our ancestry, from generations of exceptionally hard people that lived on the edge of survival. Pushing ourselves to that same absolute edge of our abilities during a hunt seems to tap into the very root of our hunting heritage, and the feeling intensifies the closer we get to the precipice of danger and complete collapse.

I was lucky enough to refine this discourse with a partner during one of my most recent hunts. Hard labor and putting in the time are a must when hunting Rocky Mountain Elk, and we were already deeply committed to a stalk high into the snowy mountains at seventy-five hundred feet. Nick and I have been friends for years, but this was his first time with me hunting elk, his first elk hunt period in fact. He had only taken his very first big game animal a few months prior during the Utah general season mule deer hunt, so this hunt was as much a learning experience as anything else.
The weather that day was brutal to say the least, a winter storm had been producing freezing rain all night as the wind howled across the mountain range stacking the snow anywhere it could. Our time to hunt was short, so we’d decided to go for it since success favors the brave.

As the light of day continued to brighten around us, we climbed a ridge spine that promised to put us in shooting range of a small group of cow elk spotted from the bottom of the canyon. The wind seemed to increase with every step, at times causing us to lose balance and slip in the deep snow. We took the opportunity to talk, as the noise of the wind could cover up a Peterbilt at fast-idle. I regaled Nick with hunting stories of the past, hardships endured, triumphs after failures and so on. Nick being quite eager to learn and be successful as a hunter was happy to discuss all the fine points that make for a fortunate hunt. The wind battered our faces with bits of hail and snow as we lumbered up the ridge, and our discussion turned to a different subject. “At what point does the suffering endured during a hunt cease to be fun” in the traditional sense. After all, most of us hunt because we enjoy it despite the difficulty.

My inquisitive colleague also asked how this hunt stacked up against other difficult hunts I’ve been lucky to endure. If I recall correctly he asked; on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst hunt I’d ever been on, how are we doing today?

Like a veteran of some awful war, my eyes glazed over and immediately took me back to a freezing cold evening on a slippery mountain deep in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest. For days we had hiked countless miles through clouds and freezing rain, taken several spills down rocky scree-piles and still had nothing to show yet. I found myself clawing up an incredibly steep and treacherous mountain, slipping and sliding grabbing at sticks to gain traction. I would have given up long ago but we’d taken a shot, and I swore to myself that I would either find it or confirm the fear that it was a miss. My heart pounded like I’d never felt before, rain and sweat both ran freely down my face. I couldn’t have cared less since the point of full soak had passed hours before. My patience and exhaustion threshold had been reached, and using my rifle as a crutch I dug into the hillside for every taxing step. After what seemed an eternity, I finally reached the landmark only to find that the better part of the day had all been a waste of effort. I was ready for complete surrender, ready to throw my rifle down the hill and leave my tag hanging in the nearest tree.

I flashed back to the windswept ridge where Nick stood awaiting my answer, I quickly evaluated the labor and suffering we had seen already that morning. And I multiplied it as I looked at what lay ahead, compounded by the unknown that was sure to stand out later. I told Nick, right now we’re at about a six. And we carried on.
The snow got deeper, and we found ourselves moving from one hole to another, digging our feet out with each step. I found myself looking for small trees and bushes protruding from the snow, and stepping on them to use like a natural snowshoe. If only I’d been smart enough to bring a pair I could use for every step.

It was early afternoon when we finally neared the ridge-top where I expected we might have a shot, and it was time to make ready. The wind had only gotten worse, and our condition hadn’t improved, but Nick prepared his rifle for the shot we hoped would come. Removing ice from the rifle to ensure everything was ready, Nick dry fired it several times to make sure we wouldn’t have a malfunction, and then finally chambered a 338 Lapua Magnum cartridge. He backed of his riflescope to six power, and we crept across the crunchy snow between the scrubby trees.

Everything moved with the wind and blowing snow, so I cant be sure when it happened, but almost without any indication, there stood a cow elk a mere forty-yards in front of us behind a small tree. I motioned Nick who was in the process of raising his rifle to bare, but before he could, she bolted from view. We followed her with our eyes as more elk appeared from behind the trees, and moved in a huddled mass away from us. As clouds blew in between us, we used the cover to move below the tree-line where we might have a clear shot at them. We found a tree trunk that provided a solid shooting position and peered into the cloudy breeze waiting for an opening. As Nick continually wiped the snow accumulating in the objective of his scope, I peered through binoculars to where I’d last seen the elk. Through several courses of clouds we waited, getting ghostly glimpses of them but nothing long enough to make a shot. The wind was now blowing at us directly from twelve o’clock, and pelting our eyes and faces with every look. But just as we had nearly reached our threshold for the bone-chilling cold, the wind blew another patch of clear air into our canyon, exposing a few of the elk that stood among the trees. Nick spotted them through his scope, and I watched through my binoculars. When both of us were ready, he finally let the Lapua off the chain. The muffled shot wasn’t particularly loud with the roaring wind around us, but my ears were focused downrange. Among the sounds of ice bouncing down my ear canal, I over heard the old familiar whap come back a second or so after the shot. Both Nick and I watched through our respective optics as the cow stumbled backwards then faceplanted into the snow before her. The three-hundred grain Scenar had broken one shoulder and perforated her heart, and she slid down the steep slope leaving bright red snow patches along the way.

It took us another grueling trek through the deep snow to get to where we last saw her, the whole way we spoke of the excitement and our individual perspectives. As we laid eyes on our prize finally, we went in for a high-five that turned into a bro-hug halfway through. And like we had hundreds of times that morning, we again fell over, finally able to laugh at our hardships.
“Now it was all fun” Nick said as he descended towards his first elk, up until that point it had been indeterminate extreme effort and endurance. That magical act of laying your hands on a prize that you’ve worked your ass off to get, the one you’ve daydreamed about since last season, when you finally have a tangible trophy you can take home and justify all the effort you put in seems to tie it all together into an adventure you will never forget. In spite of the overwhelming imbalance between exertion, suffering, and the few minutes of celebration, that simple act of winning seems to atone for every negative challenge endured to get there.

Our frozen hands were soon warmed as we again set to work on dressing the animal, and the even harder work of getting her out began. Luckily I have some good friends who volunteered to help us get her out, and as I write this she is quietly aging out in my woodshed.
There are few things I enjoy more than sharing this incredibly rewarding and at times crazy lifestyle of hunting, watching Nick take his first elk was the ice cold icing on the cake for me. Watching him dig deep into the snow and pushing beyond what may have seemed rational. I’d like to think he reached his roots down in that deep snow, and felt the same connection I often do when we join the circle of life around us.

I expect Nick will hunt again, I think the affliction of big game hunting has grabbed ahold of him. And he surely has become too accustomed to the taste of venison to stop now.

I too will be back next year, by then all the aches and pains will have been forgotten. And I’ll again be ready to make seemingly poor choices that will put me in range of my objectives, and I look forward to sharing it with new friends and family.

-CBM

WHAT GEAR DO I NEED FOR AN ELK HUNT?

Elk hunting is a dream hunt for many of us and I am lucky enough to have had the chance over and over throughout the years. If an elk hunt is on your list of must-do hunts, I have put together my thoughts on the gear you won’t want to be without when you go. Of course, a good gun and the right ammo are always the right start, but there’s other gear you’ll also want to have on hand.

The Rocky Mountains are a bountiful and impressive place to hunt, whether you are after monster mulies, elk, or one of the other beautiful species herein, it can be quite a job. Today we’ll speak specifically about the elk hunting side of it and the differences you should know between elk hunting and smaller animals like deer. Continue Reading here…

Elusive Rifles for More Elusive Prey

Many of those reading this story probably have some experience hunting, whether it be whitetail deer, black bear, or another one of the incredible game animals available to hunt in North America. But what you hunt every year, could be somebody else’s unicorn. I am lucky to hunt elk every year, spotting them, tracking them, eating them, watching them through a scope and so on. But if you’re a guy from Florida, the idea of seeing an elk or even hunting one may be just a pipe dream of the distant future. Today we’ll embrace the dream, and jump down the rabbit hole with both feet, how far we go depends only on your ambition.

A ghost in the clouds
My dream hunt might be different than yours, but I’ll bet it shares some of the same attributes. It begins at the very end of the world, up around the tree line where the air is thin and weather uncertain. High country strewn with dark wet clouds filled with sinister motives, and country so remote you may question the safety of every step. And yet so beautiful nothing can keep you from cresting the next hill to see what lies ahead. I dream of a Dall Sheep hunt up north, the romantic draw to such a wild place consumes the dreams I still have left. I’ve been lucky to experience some of the wildest country the lower forty-eight has, and just enough of Alaska to want everything it has to offer.Continue Reading Here…

The Arc of the Pronghorn

You probably read my last story about pronghorn antelope hunting, but if you didn’t I recommend you read Pronghorns and Prodigy Hunting after you finish this one. My wife had two doe pronghorn tags in her possession, and this is the story of one of those two. The day started out on the wrong foot, but who knew things would come back around our way.

It was September, and the cool air that covered the desert prairie was heavy with anticipation. The sun had just crested over the distant hills and as we had planned, we lay there looking over the sagebrush covered flats watching antelope roam. With her shivering hands cupping a warm drink, she smiled an eager smile. She is no stranger to the trigger, but just to make her feel extra confident, we took a few minutes to ensure she was comfortable shooting. The weapon of choice that day was the Desert Tech MDRX, ‘ol meat in the pot as its come to be known. Today the MDRX carried the newest conversion kit I had put together, with the help of ES Tactical I had fashioned a bolt and barrel in Hornady’s Six-millimeter ARC. You can read more about the caliber conversion kit here.
With the MDRX in her hands, and a magazine full of Hornady 105 BTHP ammunition, she lay down on the dusty ground. We had picked out a couple targets in the hillside opposite, where she now placed her aim. She fired a couple shots at three and four-hundred yards, all of which hit deadly close to her point of aim. With just the confidence she needed, we gathered up our gear, and set out to find a group of pronghorn we could hunt.

The MDRX with the 6mm ARC conversion kit

As the day would progress, we would face defeat after defeat. The wind never slowed down, and the jumpy antelope were ready to clear the county at the first sign of attention. But we pressed on, missing several opportunities for a kill. We made our way around the valley, trying to find a small secluded group that were tucked in somewhere. The wind would nearly peel open your eyelids on the open prairie, so we focused on the deep draws that offered some protection. We were doing great at finding antelope, but they were all nice bucks for which we didn’t have a tag. As the afternoon turned over to evening, clouds began to cover the landscape. The wind that had blown hard all day had brought us in a cold front, and with it was a bit of a calm. As rain drops began to lightly fall around us, we continued our search for a group of does.

We finally spotted a small group at the top of a steep draw, probably four or five does with a nice little buck. I had that feeling, you know the feeling when you just know its going to work out? We scrambled in the direction of a good shooting position, getting our gear out as we moved. While she got behind the rifle, I got my spotting scope up, and ranged the group. The distance was just under four-hundred and fifty yards if I remember right. While I watched the antelope feed on the hillside, she loaded the rifle and prepared for the shot. I could tell she was excited, her hands shook as she moved.
Once she was ready, we focused on the group, and picked the best target and waited for a good broadside shot. The excitement grew as the seconds passed and rainfall continued to escalate. The shot found its mark, hitting the doe and breaking the off-side shoulder. We watched as she stumbled across the hillside, startling the rest of the group who then followed her escape. She didn’t make it far, and we headed down, then up the draw to claim our prize. The Arc had done a fine job, as did the shooter, and we were going to make the best of it.

After dragging the doe to the truck, we cleaner her out and filled her with ice for the ride home. Where she would be skinned and washed before a long and cold rest until it was time to hit the butcher table.

We enjoyed every piece of that antelope, whether its steaks, roasts, or ground into burger. My wife has even taken to finding her own burger in the freezer to make into lovely dinner dishes for the family like meaty lasagna. It is truly a great way to live, sharing the experiences and the tasty prize with family. Thanks for coming along, we’ll see you on the next hunt.

-CBM

A Dynasty in Deer Country

The year 2020 has left us with what seems like one tragedy after another, but we managed to pull one gem out of the darkness in October. A decent deer hunt that would make some great memories.
We hunt as a family, and those in our hunting party who aren’t family are close enough they may as well be. Mine is a family with a long cherished practice of hunting, farming, and raising our own food, and the primary origin for these handed down practices and skills comes from my Father, and his Father before him. I have fond childhood memories of helping butcher sheep at my Grandfathers humble little farmhouse, where my Father and three brothers were raised. Whether it was lambchops wrapped in thick paper with familiar handwriting on the top, or a massive head of cabbage grown carefully and pulled from a deep underground cold-storage, Grandpa always was sharing what he’d grown. As a child I watched the interactions between my Father, his Brothers, Grandpa and the whole rest of our family. There was always something to share, whether it was a bushel of corn, or a fresh loaf of home-made bread. It was a beautiful example to behold even as a young child, and it has stuck with me my whole life thankfully.

My Grandfather circa 1940

But the time that passes is no trifling thing, and every year there are fewer of the old familiar faces, and more new ones with whom to share. Memories are all I have now of my Grandparents, and I have resolved to make as many memories as I can with the generation before me, and the one after. Part of that plan involves taking my Father hunting every fall, it brings great joy to all of us, and I feel like it gives him the same exciting rush it always has since he was a boy. Dad has hunted these exact same hills and canyons since his Father first showed them to him, and Grandpa too grew up here in these same mountains to which I feel so bound.

Grandpa and his four boys 1970

This year, like every other, Dad came along with us on the opening day of the deer hunt. Despite being very cold, hardly any snow had touched our Wasatch Mountains. The wind that morning was out of hand, it was blowing hard up the steep canyons where we sat watching. The sun was just starting to peak from over the distant Uinta Mountain range, and the first bits of light had begun to illuminate the hills before us.

Dad was ready for action, he had been preparing as best he could for this hunt despite enduring some intense medical procedures only weeks prior. Dad has always been a strong and hard hunter, but life has taken its bites out of him, and he cant move the way he used to. So I knew we would have to find something that Dad could get to, and as the sun lit up the draw before us, just such an opportunity appeared.

With the wind howling at twenty or thirty miles an hour, we set off down a trail towards our quarry. Dad, my wife, and I all carefully made our way, trying to keep cover in the tall grass. We closed the distance until we had to crawl, and then we crawled carefully through the dry and yellow June grass. The one good thing about the wind was that we didn’t have to be quiet, nor did we have to worry about our scent. It blew from left to right, and uphill, giving us all the advantage . We finally found a spot that gave us a clear view of the hillside, and therein stood a lone young buck, feeding voraciously on the brush. It was still just after shooting light, and he must have missed the opening day memo because his guard was clearly down. But we decided to capitalize on his mistake, and we moved in for the kill.

My wife had come along to be a sort of backup-shooter, should another buck appear, or this one try and escape. But the terrain gave room for only one shooter to get in line, so Dad was up. He lay still as he could in the ice-cold and blustery wind, waiting for the best shot to present itself. We watched through our perspective optics, as the young buck continued to feed.
When the time was right, Dad pressed the trigger, lighting the fire of his 264 Winchester Magnum. This time it was loaded with something new, the Hornady 135 grain A-Tip which was there before you heard the shot break. It hit the buck with an impressive sound, knocking the wind right out of him, and sending him to the ground. There he struggled for a second, trying to get up, but instead he expired and rolled down the steep hill a few yards.

Dad rolled over and looked at us, a bit of a smile on his face. The wind made our eyes water, and it was even hard to breathe looking into it, but I could hear the satisfaction in Dad’s voice as he spoke. My Brother approached as we went over the details, and after a few minutes, he and I went after the buck.

We’ve savored the taste of that little buck, and several others since. It seems to be so much better when paired with the memories of the day, and warmed with retelling the events that got us there.
One of my earliest hunting memories was helping Dad and Grandpa drag a deer back to the truck, no more than a mile or so from where Dad dropped this little buck in the wind. I think back to that day, probably some thirty years ago, and I’m initially surprised that Dad would have shot that scrawny little buck. But looking back now, as both an adult, and a Father myself, I think I can see his reasoning.

It was the only time Dad shot a deer with my Brother and I, and my Grandfather. Might not have meant much to me then, but it certainly does now. It gives me a tie to where I’m from, and where I get my love of hunting. A familiar memory of events and people long gone. This little buck may not look like much, but twenty years from now, when we tell the story again, the size of his antlers wont matter any more than the buck we hauled out together with my Grandpa. And it gives me a great example of what to do for my kids, and the generations after me. With a future looking as grim as it can day to day, strong roots and firm foundations are just what we need to hold it together.

-CBM

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