There's this weird thing that happens when you find deer. It is very hard to stop looking at them. Over the next 90 minutes we watched as 1 turned into 2, turned into 4, then 5, then 7. All bucks, ranging from tiny to pretty good. There were no "monsters" but there was a ~26" wide 3x3 with huge backs that looked real good to me (second one from the top) and a very pretty 4x4 that FireTiger was pushing me to go for (top of photo), assuming we could back on these bucks the next day.
I thought we got better photos, but I guess not. Oh well!
Opening morning arrives and we arrive on time to the parking area, but it takes about 15 minutes longer than I wanted to get to our glassing position. Its already light and we immediately spot deer where we left the bucks last night, but its not the same deer. It took 10 minutes to locate the bachelor group and they were half a mile from where we had seen them, and right on the property line.
Here is where I made a big mistake. I determined I needed to move fast while conditions were in my favor with the sun position, and before they potentially crossed the fence. It would take at least 15-20 minutes to get in position as I had to cross a willow-lined creek and climb above them, but there was a good knob I could use for cover. I grabbed the minimum gear and high tailed it. This probably would have worked except I forgot a cardinal rule of spot and stalk...
KNOW THE LOCATIONS OF ALL THE DEER
I was closing in on the group of bucks with everything going perfectly. They were right around 300 yards away, with the hump about 150 yards between us, when I made the mistake. There was a group of 4 does on my side of the hump. To make matters worse, I had noticed one of them and decided to move forward anyway. When 1 turned to 4, I didn't abort, and of course they pushed over the hill right into the bucks, and immediately took the bucks across the fence with them.
I got to spend the next hour watching them from 300 yards away, paralleling them up the ridge but them only drifting further from legal grounds. As a twist in the wound, and something we hadn't noticed from a distance, two of the bucks had changed from little skippers to BIG deer, either of which I would have been delighted to shoot.
I waited awhile hoping FireTiger would find me another nice buck on the same ridge, then made the walk of shame back down to our glassing location...
I have some great photos from this section. Unfortunately, due to this being the internet, I can't post them. Sorry.
After the flub, I slowly circled my way back down, glassing under the canopy of aspens as I made my way back to the glassing knob.
FireTiger was alternating between scoping and knitting, but hadn't see any more deer since I left. We spotted a bull moose slipping across the hillside. This is the third time we've seen one in a past few days. Not sure if it was the same one each time or not, as there was never enough time to get the scope on him.
After eating some snacks and re-energizing, FireTiger thought I should go still hunt some of the aspen clumps. With the wind being so high, we didn't really expect much daytime movement, and it would probably be 6-7 hours before anything appeared on our ridge. So, at 10:30 I headed off towards a different area to look.
I'm not sure still hunting was the right word. I didn't have to move all that slowly with the conditions as they were. The first group of deer I came upon had no idea I was there at a mere 30 yards. Three does and a spike. Easy pickins but I was looking for something bigger.
Over the course of the next 3 hours, I covered about 2.5 miles and only found does. Probably 20 of them. I settled back down with FireTiger around 2:00.
After downing some more water and eating a couple snack packs, its back to glassing. There was some sort of raptor riding the thermals at the top of the ridge. He was holding almost perfectly still in the air. It was pretty cool to watch. Every once in awhile, he would fold his wings up completely and just dive bomb straight into the hill. As I was pulling my binos up to watch him, I happened scan the skyline and caught a buck slipping over the top into some aspens. I can say with certainty that 3 seconds on either side and I would never have seen him. Talk about lucky!
FireTiger pulled the scope over and we got to looking. It was about 900 yards.
I wasn't sure whether I should go for these deer. It was hard to really judge them as they were bedded and not moving around, and the branches were blowing in front of their heads constantly. FireTiger kept saying that the buck on the right was really nice looking, and that I should stalk them.
There would be two options for the stalk. The direct route, which would come from below and just off wind, or the long route, which would circle half a mile to the side, up to the "visible top" of the ridge, over above the deer, and then come out over a slight lip above and to the side of them. I determined the direct route was too risky for the wind swirling and visibility exposure, as well as I preferred the shot angle of coming from above. This would mean about a mile and a half stalk with 800 feet of elevation gain. I was hoping the lip would put me at 200 yards from the deer, but I wouldn't know for sure until I got up there.
My final words were, "When I get close, I don't have to shoot." ... never trust anyone who says that.
It took about 40 minutes for me to make the bulk of the stalk. As I approached the lip, I started ranging and could tell I was going to be closer than I wanted. It was 100 yards to the lip, and only 200 to the aspens. There was no chance of a shot until I got to the lip, which meant I'd only be 100 yards or so from the bucks. To complicate matters further, the sage was very tall and I was going to have a hard time setting up for the shot.
I was able to cut off 90 of the 100 yards quite easily. I don't know if it was necessary, but I butt scooted my way for the last 10. There was a small gap between two bushes where I had hoped I could set up my bipod at full sitting height. I peaked a tiny bit and could see one of the bucks up feeding. Easing into position, there was actually 3 bucks, not the 2 we had spotted from below. The third was smaller. The buck I was looking for was standing there broadside, and I dropped him in place. It was just after 4pm.
FireTiger packed up all the gear and stashed it at the bottom of the ridge, then came up to take my excess gear and help butcher.
We fit the entire bone-in buck in my Seek Outside Peregrine. The steep downhill section was not fun. My knees did not appreciate it. Thank goodness for trekking poles.
We made it back to the truck right at dark.
Heading back to camp, we hung him up for the evening.
My dad had started off the day with us, but he was more interested in still hunting than spot and stalk, so he had headed the opposite direction after we had shown him where I was planning to hunt. He's taken two bucks in the area he headed to, including one very nice buck a couple years ago.
We didn't see or hear from him again until we bumped into him right near the truck at dark. He'd had a very disappointing day buck wise, only turning up does, especially considering he estimated he'd covered at least 8 miles.
We headed back to camp and cooked up some venison chowder for dinner, and for the morning we decided I would go with him and glass nearby areas while he stayed in the timber. He was a bit beat from all the walking the day before, and didn't feel like pushing it again. FireTiger would hang back, get some sleep, and clean up around camp.
I left him on a trail where he's seen deer travel before, and climbed up on a knob 100 yards or so away. I had accidentally left our walkie talkies in the other truck, so I would have to climb down and get him if I did spot something.
Glassing wasn't turning up much, with only 4 does and a bunch of pronghorn spotted. I was just started to scratch my head when I turned up a buck right near us in the closest opening! Dashing down the hill, I grabbed my dad and we started to maneuver through the timber towards the buck.
As we closed the distance, I started glassing the area where I had seen him, but he wasn't there. The sun had gotten higher and I figured he must have moved around the hill to stay in the shade.
The buck had actually moved the opposite direction I was looking, and was standing in the wide open, sun shining right on him. In the above photo, you can see a single pine in the clearing. The buck was just to the left of it. I don't think my dad's eyesight is too great these days, as he just couldn't pick him out. Finally, he was on him, but the buck had moved a bit, and now my Dad didn't have a shot due to that big dead tree. I know how Marcus feels when he's standing a few feet to the side with a perfectly clear lane, but Randy is obscured.
The buck walked into the aspens away from us, and we were deflated, expecting to have missed our chance. Suddenly, a buck walked out the exact opposite direction, heading back to where he'd been standing in the open before! My dad was on him, but wait... that's not the same buck, this one is smaller. Do you care? As he's thinking on that answer, the bigger buck comes back out of the timber and the answer is irrelevant.
I mention to him to make sure I know when he's going to shoot, so I can watch the shot, but a BANG goes off with me completely unprepared. It appears total miss and the deer bounce a little bit, but return to feeding. The shot is 170 yards, and my dad grew up in shotgun country, so this is actually the longest shot he's ever taken.
He regroups and ... BANG! At least I was on the buck this time. Again, it appears a miss again. The bucks don't even seem to notice, but disappear behind the lone pine. After a minute, the larger buck feeds out, but there is no sign of the smaller. An anxious couple of minutes go by as we're wondering if he shot the wrong buck? Finally, the smaller buck appears and we know its safe to shoot again. Dad decides he must be hitting low and aims 5 inches higher this time. BANG! FLOP. The deal is done.
I took most of the photos on his phone, but I did get a timer shot of the two of us on mine. We broke him down and I took the quarters while he packed the loose meat and skull.
Last weekend we were supposed to head East our first chance for FireTiger's whitetail and my turkey hunt when a friend of ours invited us to the duck opener. Knowing this person's success with ducks, and our complete lack of it, we decided the opportunity could not be passed up.
Our arrival to the camp spot was a bit of a cluster, as we first went down the wrong road in the Subaru and added some new pinstripes, then parked in the wrong area and when our friend showed up, he was missing his headlamps from his recent elk hunt. We went to grab ours, and ours were dead! We did have some flashlights, but knew the hike in and blind building would be interesting.
There were a LOT of ducks. We weren't very good shots, but the count was adding up. After a couple hours, air movement slowed down, and I got to jump the rest of my limit in little nooks around the lake while FireTiger got her two last ones from those flying away from me jumping them. I seemed to be particularly inclined to hit teal, also managed a snipe. Hank was happy to play along and did his first duck retrieves.