Tag Archives: mule deer

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

A Buck Called Chance

I love to see the first signs of spring, the early dawn and the warming rays of the sun. The songs of birds and smell of grass racing out from under the grip of winter. But it also brings with it a touch of sadness, a sense of loss, of a season gone. The coming of spring is the official end of the normal hunting season for us, an end for old opportunities, and the start of fresh ones. This past season was one of change, challenge, and a mule deer buck that I fondly called Chance.

If you’ve followed me for long, you may be familiar with my adventures with my Father. As years go by, I treasure every adventure we share knowing any one of them could be the last. None of us will make it out of here alive, so make those memories, and make them hard.

Dad had come to stay at my house for the deer hunt, we had the week to spend chasing mulies in the familiar Rocky Mountains that are enticingly close to my home. It was late October, and despite an early touchdown of snow, our mountains were uncommonly dry. My focus this year, as it usually is, was to get both my Father and Son to fill their tag. The sooner they do, the sooner I get to focus on the huge monster bucks that I never, ever, see.

Opening day had come and gone, our high mountain canyons were much quieter than normal. Barely a shot was heard all day, and at 9,000 feet ASL the clouds had packed in. Visibility was terribly short, and the cold bit so hard that after a short time we figured the deer were smarter than us, so we moved out.

Two days had passed since the opener, and we were getting anxious for success.
As it often does, our plan changed last minute on a Wednesday morning. We decided to go high, instead of going low as planned. In the darkness we drove up the steep and winding road, rattling the whole way. The sun was just peaking through the distant clouds as we settled at the spot I had hoped would bring us luck.

The always present breeze was waiting for us there, it brought tears to the eye, and shudders to the legs. But I like to tell people Im a tough guy, so I stood out there in the icy breeze, glassing the ever brightening ridges.

I knew that for Dad to get a shot, we would have to find something moderately close to the trail. I didn’t like the idea of packing out two bodies by myself, one is bad enough. I scoured the brushy hillsides as the suns rays brought out their details, looking for the tell-tail sign of deer. And almost as if on cue, I spotted a patch of white in a small open pasture below us. I checked it out… squinted through my wet eyes… then I checked again.

This had to be it, a lone deer, casually strolling through an open pasture only a few hundred yards or so from our glassing point. I quickly signaled Dad to grab his gear, and make his way over to me.
Nobody gets as wound up as I do upon spotting a buck, and the only thing that will wind me up even more is for people to casually saunter around while shootable deer stand there, unawares and vulnerable. My Dad seems to take great pride in maintaining the opposite composure in these tense and exciting situations. By the time he put down his hot chocolate, picked up his rifle, and sauntered over, I had the spotting scope setup on the buck, and was in the process of explaining to Dad the old routine; “see that tree? And the one behind it? And follow that line to the green bush…” Dad’s calm demeanor didn’t seem to help my tension, all the bushes are green, and there is hundreds of damn trees it’s a forest.

As Dad got into position on the edge of a steep drop-off, he aimed his rifle down into the pasture below. I often think that deer have a sixth or even seventh sense, to them it must feel like a hot ray of sunshine as a rifle comes to bear on them. This buck surely was blessed with that sense, no sooner had Dad aimed his rifle, than this buck began a hasty quickstep towards the edge of the treeline. If only he had the same saunter that Dad brought with him this morning, we might have been able to get a shot. But unfortunately, I watched him work his way into the trees, and into thin air.
My excitement soured a little, as I wiped the cold tears welling in my eyes from that icy breeze. Dad lay there, still behind his rifle, rolled on his side he gave me the “oh well” look. I kept looking into the trees, frustrated by our increasingly shorter time.

When your looking for deer, everything looks like a deer. As I stood there, over my Dad, ravaging the hillside with my eager eyes, a flash of movement caught my attention. A doe jumped from behind one of the hundred trees, but I quickly identified her as a non-combatant. Then out of nowhere, there was Chance.

Dad was shooting the 264 Winchester Magnum, sub 1/2 MOA groups are normal for this rifle

He followed the doe downhill for a dozen or so yards, and stood there, with his twitchy tail pointed our direction. Using my brilliant landscape identification techniques, I again pointed out the buck to my Dad. Who quickly had a bead drawn on the handsome little buck. Chance continued to follow the doe, making his way a few more yards downhill. Our position on the ridge seemed perfect, there was no way for him to get away without us getting a shot off. But almost as though he had a hoof on my pulse, when my stress level was peaked, he decides to step behind one of the few little trees.
We both took a deep breath, and I knew that as soon as he cleared that small tree, Dad would light the fire that would strike him down.

Seconds seemed like minutes, and he finally came out of the tree, his young face looked on into the west. That is when Chance had run out, the hot breath of Dad’s .264 Magnum was already on its way. The shriek of the report was muffled by the Silencerco Harvester, the 140 grain Barnes Match Burner ripped through his left shoulder, he stumbled a few steps, then went down.

Dad slowly got up from his shooting position, and I told him what I had seen through the spotting scope. His excitement was hard to hide now.
I made my way down the steep hill, and Dad guided me into the Buck. He was a very handsome little four point, just the right kind of deer. After a few minutes of relaxing Dad slowly made his way down, and we set to work.

By the time Dad had made it to the deer, the sun was almost on us, and the morning had come alive with the sound of birds and the rustling of the breeze. The thin cold air that had enveloped the mountain all night long was finally carried away. Dad, and I sat there on the hillside, enjoying the beauty, cutting away the tender and savory flesh of this dapper little deer.

We took our time, finally warm in the sunshine. I watched my Dad as he sat on the hillside, snacking on a granola bar, sipping his water, it was hard for me to imagine him in a more happy place. I knew how much he loved being up here in these mountains, I knew he relished the time. He has been coming up in these mountains for sixty years now, and today was as good a trip as ever. His hands were crusted with the blood of another fine buck that would feed our family, shot with my Grandfather’s old model 70. Im sure I was smiling too, but inside I was ecstatic about the great luck we had, and grateful again for another cherished adventure with my Father.

We finished cutting up the deer, and let him cool in the still drifting breeze in the shade of the pine trees. Then we slowly made our way back up the ridge, resting as needed, until we got back to the top. As we drove home, tired and satisfied with our hunt, I realized that momentous Chance had made all the difference, and some incredible memories.

-CBM