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.