We got clearance to hunt this weekend. Now we have to decide between mediocre 4th rifle e/s elk in a unit we've never been to before ( we originally had all 5 days available and planned to be out there right now ), and plains whitetail. Firetiger holds both tags. Pretty warm weekend in either unit. No snow around. I'm betting she picks whitetail as her preferred elk hunting method is glassing them in the snow, but I couldn't say yet.
Saturday morning, we were first in the parking lot again. Sweet, the guy who was hunting within 100 yards of us was not there. It was supposed to be a crisp mid-20s morning, but heating up to mid-60s by midday.
The first action was a doe coming through at 6:50am on the "low trail". Sure enough, a buck moved through two minutes later. Unfortunately, he was 36 yards out and not slowing down. He looked to be a young 3x4, but at this point any buck was vulnerable as we're running out of days where we can get in the field.
20 minutes later (7:10am), what appeared to be a very similar looking doe heading back the other way came through on the "high trail", only 14 yards away. FireTiger was determined to hold out for a buck at least one more day, so we watched her ease on by. We eagerly awaited the buck following, but after several minutes passed we started to wonder. Suddenly, we were caught off guard by a noise behind us. Indeed, it was the same young buck from before, but this time instead of being hot on her heels, he was following a parallel trail in the wide open behind us 20 yards (7:18am). FireTiger tried to get turned around, but as he was over her right shoulder, it was too much movement and he busted us.
Things settled down for a bit when I caught movement again on the low trail to our left (7:50am). This time, it was the heavy short tined 8 point I posted a camera pic of earlier this year. I ranged him at 48 yards, which surprised the heck out of me considering how much bigger he was than the first deer to come through. He moved behind the same olive trees as the other deer, and we prepped for possibilities. FireTiger drew as he stepped out, but he was still 48 yards away, which is beyond her effective range. We may have made too much commotion at this point, as Hank started to wonder what was going on and began to stand to look out of the blind. The buck didn't run off but he ducked into the cover.
Shortly thereafter, FireTiger realized she left her medication in the truck, so she sent Hank and I back the two mile round trip to fetch it for her. Upon my return, I could tell something had happened. Apparently, she had decided to try a grunt sequence. Nothing happened immediately, so she put her bow down and started to do something, and next she looked up and there was a large buck 15 yards away staring right at her. He gave her the stomping and huffing business before heading back into the cover. She never even picked up her bow.
Just before noon, a young doe came ambling in on the low trail. We were all pumped up, ready for the buck to follow, but none ever showed. Additionally, the doe never appeared on the other side of the olives. Live bait? We figured she bedded right in front of us.
Things were quiet for a long time. We had our picnic and exchanged taking naps.
Around 3:00pm, Hank started sticking his nose up in the air and inhaling. He even began shaking. This is the first time I've seen this happen, and unintentionally I think crosses into that gray area of having the dog with you while deer hunting. We couldn't see anything, but I had a feeling something was up, so I eased up and sure enough, that little doe was only 20 yards away, standing in the ditch in front of us. It was just enough height difference to conceal her.
I had a feeling I knew exactly where she would appear, and I had watched half a dozen deer climb the bank in the same spot over time. A few minutes later, she walked out from behind that olive. FireTiger had a hard time resisting the shot, as she stood broadside feeding there for several minutes, but with the movement of the morning and this being a young deer she decided to just watch.
Wide angle lens makes this look so much farther! You can just make out the doe at the end of the log to the right of center.
Oh, I forgot to mention. Right around 1:30pm we saw the hunter from the weekend prior walk by us and set up ~100 yards away. This was a bit depressing as I would have thought since he knew our vehicle and where we were the weekend before he would stay out. It was like getting low-holed on the river. We decided there was enough trails that deer might slip by him anyway.
It was an excellent decision to pass on that doe as well as stay in the blind, as at 4:05pm I happened to stand for a stretch and spot a deer along the fence line behind and to our right. It was at least 120 yards away, and I lost sight of it while reaching for my binos. By the time I got them and found her again, we were in trouble. Sure enough it was a doe, and she was moving fast because an enormous buck was head down coming on like a steamroller. He was probably 20 inches wide, but his main tines were pushing 20 inches long. I'd never seen anything like him.
We may have panicked a bit.
It might help to understand the blind a bit better. It is a bunch of dead wood stacked in a spiral starting from a large main tree, and behind us is the wide open prairie while in front is a dry creek bed. When you're in the middle of the blind you have coverage on all sides. I was sitting on the left hand side near the entrance, though, not the middle, so there is a gap. This is right where the doe was coming toward us. I was caught in a half standing stance, not daring to move as the doe is wide open to me. Hank was right next to me, and he can hear movement, so now he's starting to get interested. FireTiger is on the right side of the blind, and the buck is going to pass right behind her. A right handed shooter can't shoot a bow over their right shoulder, and she can't turn left and shoot because the tree is right there. Oh, also, the wind is blowing straight behind us.
Somehow, I ease down as the doe passes by at 20 yards. I put my right arm on Hank to hold him down. He's very submissive so if you push him he'll belly up. Firetiger rotates around the tree, still on her knees and draws over top of me. I don't know if the buck caught movement or our scent, as the instant he hit our scent cone he whirled 180 degrees. What I very much didn't expect was him stopping completely broadside at 30 yards, looking straight away from us. FireTiger gets a bead on him and let's fly ... but her lower cam hits me in the back, torquing the bow down. The arrow plows into the grass at the bucks feet and he bounces out of sight.
End of shooting light was 5:02pm. With the light fading, we were on the edge of our seats. The wind had died down but was still in a perfect direction. Once again, at 4:50pm on the low trail to our left, a doe passed through. Yes, there's a buck! He's a good one. I can't tell exactly through the olives but he's definitely mature. As he was going to pass out of range, I grunted at him. He moved into an opening at 42 yards and stood stock still for several minutes. Come on, gotta come closer! I was just thinking maybe this is the time for a snort wheeze, but as he was in the open I wanted him to obscure his vision when PF FF FFFFFZZZZZZ, he hit US with one!
Oh, this could be good! He finally moved into the olives so I hit him back with my own snort wheeze. He proceeded to thrash a bush for a couple minutes. CLOCK IS TICKING... We did some of our own thrashing, stomping and one last snort wheeze ... 4:58pm... We could hear movement but not see him due to the ditch and olives.
At 5:01pm he stepped out from behind the olives at 17 yards. I could see his rack from the front this time, and he was even better looking than I thought. Twng, thud! It was light enough to shoot, but neither of us could see the hit. He dumped off bank and crashed away and to the left about 60 yards and stopped. We could not see in the olives at this point. After another 10 seconds, a deer crashed off to the right from that area for a few seconds, then all was quiet. I say a deer because there had been a doe in the area and neither of us could see that it was this buck.
At this point we're excited but I've been here before so I try to keep us calm. It sure sounded like a good hit but since we couldn't see the impact, it was nerve racking. We sit for 10 minutes debating the best course of action as there are a LOT of coyotes in the area when I spot the other hunter heading out. He had been exactly where the deer moving right had headed. After getting on the same page, he said he hadn't seen or heard anything in the last hour ... curious! He did have a very bright led with him, and had the same concern about coyotes, so he offered to help us look.
We moved over towards where the deer had been standing and found ... nothing. No blood, no hair, no arrow. The grass here is thick and matted, so no tracks are visible. We didn't want to potentially bump him, so we were cautious, but we did push deeper. Still no sign of anything. After two hours, we decided we needed to wait for daylight. The other hunter asked where we were camping, and informed us of a place 20 minutes closer. A bit of happiness on an otherwise stressful end to the day.
The next morning we slept in a little to allow the other hunter some time to hunt his stand before we came in to tromp around the place. We had a great whitetail buck trot right through camp ( no hunting here ). On the drive, we saw 3 different mulie bucks hounding does.
We got to our blind and spent an hour close by looking for sign of a hit or an arrow tucked under grass to no avail. For 3 hours after that we gridded the creek bottom. I even walked up some of the open drainages just in case. Nothing.
I think this situation might have made me feel even worse than a knowingly bad hit. We literally have no idea what happened. I'm seriously reconsidering the viability of hunting to the last minute, and absolutely considering lighted knocks for the future.
If it was a shoulder hit, I would have expected some sign and probably a broken arrow.
If it was a non-lethal hit, I still would have expected some sort of blood.
In either case, if it was the buck that ran right, why didn't the other hunter notice, unless the deer climbed out of the creek bottom, but once again I checked those drainages.
If it was a miss, I don't know why we heard that nice sound. I can understand not finding the arrow in this situation due to the grass.
Possibly an upwards deflection, but I checked the bushes near the deer and saw no evidence of this, plus the sound again.
We've arrange for tomorrow and Saturday for one last hurrah. We head to Arizona on Sunday for family Thanksgiving.
The conditions look good with a cold front in place and even potential snow on the ground, except for the predicted wind directions which seems pretty unstable. NNE tonight, SSE tomorrow, WNW tomorrow night. Not sure how we're going to deal with that.
We had high expectations for Friday morning. I took the day off and we began our drive at 2:30am, making it to the blind only a little late. It was in the teens and we had brought lots of layers. The sky was still cloudy and it would stay that way all day. The wind direction was perfect. It was dead quiet and seemed like a perfect day for bucks to cruise. Well, the morning was slow. Around 8am we finally heard footsteps and were presented with some entertainment.
This would be our second to last day to hunt for the season, and FireTiger continued to pass on the young bucks, opting instead to video him. Broadside at 14 yards he sure looked tempting to me.
We finally couldn't hold out around 11am, though we had packed for an all day sit, the early morning drive was getting to me and I was becoming cranky. We headed back to the truck for a couple hour nap in the warm bed.
About half an hour after our return, the wind started to become unstable. We didn't have a lot of good options so we decided to hold in place, but after the second doe group came through and busted us, we decided we were not helping ourselves. We took a chance and crossed to the other side of the creekbed, right near the "low" deer trails, setting up between two olives and using a couple of tumbleweeds for cover. It felt quite good and we hadn't been there 5 minutes when something tipped me off. There was a buck RIGHT THERE at 20ish yards!
As FireTiger maneuvered into position ( we weren't expecting a deer at this angle ), I saw the split back forks and opened my eyes - MULE DEER. DON'T SHOOT.
I had seen a couple young forky mule deer bucks at this property before, but this was the first time I had seen one in this funnel, and 2.5+ as well. I almost wonder if he had been napping right there, with us moving in quietly enough that we caught him off guard.
That ended up being the last of the excitement for the evening, though I quite liked our little hidey hole in the olives and almost hoped the wind would hold.