Sunday, December 23, 2018

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

A friend of mine from Kansas arrived in town this fall to try and shoot his first Mule Deer. This was Bill's second hunting trip to Utah in 18 years and he was hoping to make the most of it in the northern part of the state. He drew a general season deer permit for October and was granted access to hunt some property leased by a great friend of mine who was acquainted with Bill as well. A few of us spent quite some time looking for a buck on his behalf beginning in early September.

I told Bill that the shots can be on the long side so it would be a good idea to get in some extended range practice beforehand. Bill lives in the Kansas country side and shoots as often as he changes his shoes. Varmints of his property have a very limited warranty and as expected he showed up in good form.

We hung a target and he fired a fouler, made a minor windage correction then shot a single group. His comment at the target frame was "if you want it any better than that you're going to have to get another shooter". We picked up and left the range.

We then spent the next couple days glassing bucks and trying to decide which one to try and hunt and then how to get in range if the opportunity presented itself. Bill has a set of self articulating knees that operate solely on their own and the severity of the slope in much of this terrain was going to be make things a bit more complicated then Bret or I had figured into the equation.

A couple of times we spotted a buck way above of way below us and when asked if he thought he could make it close enough to that buck to shoot he'd say "get'n there's no problem, getting back isn't going to happen boys"we needed to change up our strategy.

Rather than spot and stalk we decided set up an ambush and had spent time noting the route of a group of bucks that fed low in some agricultural fields then slowly make their way up canyon to bed as the morning progressed. The problem now was the number of other deer, lots of other deer that would be moving uphill at the same time as well into the falling canyon winds. We would have to be above all these deer to begin with. Nothing is ever perfect but this was not our first rodeo either.

Opening morning of the deer season had us sneaking onto a bench above a canyon well before daylight. Our original chosen destination just didn't feel right to me so protesting knees and all Bill and I climbed higher up the slope. Does and young bucks could be seen feeding towards us as soon as the light permitted. The larger Bucks had been coming up the south side of the canyon rim which is were we had finally settled in. The wind wasn't great but at the moment was blowing high enough over the approaching herds to at least allow them to come into range without detecting us. When the thermals began to change it would be a crap shoot at best. Buck after buck came into view but not the mature bucks we'd seen earlier scouting.  Then from across the canyon to the north they made an appearance. Two of the larger bucks could be seen slowly walking through a patch of cedars looking for and finally finding a place to bed down.

We had the wind in our favor but from our current position we could not make a move towards those bedded bucks without being picked off instantly. The line of sight to the bedded bucks was right at 800 yards. Now some today would consider that short range and set up to attempt a shot. I'd rather actually hunt than plink so we weighed the options. As we watched more and more deer funneled past us. At 10 O Clock we decided to slip out of sight to the south with some terrain to conceal our retreat then meet Bret and discuss the options. Undisturbed those bucks were going to be tucked in tight for the day.

We ate an early lunch and came up with an alternate plan that might work. Bill and his knee's sat tight while Bret and I made a wide loop out of sight and under the hillside that was now covered with bedded deer. Because of the topography if the prevailing wind blowing out of the south-west held during the day it would keep our scent under and away from the bedded deer and then blow down the canyon from the deer to us during the thermal reversal later on in the afternoon. We might be able to slip within range of where I thought the bucks would emerge from the cedars around dusk to feed. It all sounded good but there's always a risk and we darn sure didn't want to let those bucks know they were being hunted.

Bill and I then retraced my foots steps only this time we planned on getting closer. We hugged as much cover as we could slipping tighter up the canyons southern bench. Does and fawns across the canyon stood up when they saw us and picked they're way further up the draw spooked but not overly panicked. Each time a group got up I wanted to loose my lunch but we let them walk out of sight before continuing the stalk. The bucks were still completely out of sight as we eased up the draw to a spot that put us 300 yards from the edge of cedars that held the sleeping bucks. This was the end of the road any closer we'd risk a complete bust. The time was twelve noon, our wind was still favorable so we settled into what little ground cover we could scrape together.

Did I mention Bill was deaf ?

He has a set of hearing aids but I know for a fact they're only for decoration. Rocks have better hearing capability than Bill. Did I say I'm deaf ? Yep and I don't have hearing aids. What happened next is what some of us can expect in our golden years. For three hours we sat in the sun working on our tans, Pamela Anderson would have been envious and about the time my rear end had completely gone to ground when a pair of does walked into the upper edge of the cut wheat field. Soon a pair of young bucks joined them. Bill shifted around a bit and tried to get his shooting sticks set up more to his liking. I was not prepared to see one of the larger bucks we were after step out of the cedars and walk into the field. I softly said "Bill there's one of the mature bucks we want, he's 298 yards away you might want to get ready while I look him over".

Bill thought I said " there is a piece of pigs liver in that canyon please send a post man down there to paint it".

I was pretty engrossed in trying to look the bucks horns over and decide if we should take him now or wait for the other mature buck to show up as well. While I was looking through the spotting scope it sounded to me like Bill was erecting an oil derrick to my left. The buck was looking around still unconcerned as Bill continued to wrestle with his shooting sticks. Bill being stone deaf kept looking for the perfect stick position and making enough noise to almost wake the dead. The buck now content he was in safe spot lay done with all but his horns visible to Bill. I could see him clearly but that didn't help at all. The construction project to my left kept going and soon the buck looked right at us finally having detected Bill swinging a shovel. I whispered something to the effect of "Bill damn it quit moving he's looking right at us" and got "what ? " for a reply. The next couple of minutes the buck stayed bedded but the down canyon racket finally took its toll. He stood up look at us one last time and slowly made his way towards the trees.

I mumbled something bright like "when he turns broadside shoot him, he's now at 307 yards" I was looking at the deer while Bill was looking at me wondering what to do ???? I again gave another  range call as the buck slipped from view. I looked at Bill with a confused glare.  Bill looked at me said " What did you want me to do ? I couldn't tell, shoot or not shoot? "

Bill wanting to record every pivotal moment of his hunt got untangled from his construction project just long enough to take this pic of me just after the buck walked in to the trees. I must have been thinking how in the hell are we going to make that happen again. To quote Toby Keith "I'm not as good as I once was, that's just the cold hard truth".

Time of death, well lets call it 3:11 pm.

With the mature buck now back in the trees we got real close to one another and had a discussion. Later on people in the valley below would comment on hearing an argument far off in the distance that Saturday afternoon. Using finger puppets and crayons we mutually decided that if any other large bucks were to walk back out of the trees that I would give the thumbs up and Bill would shoot at one. Bill then took some more time to get his sticks set up just right. Once settled in, he gave me the thumbs up, we were now back in business.

As the hours went by more deer fed out into the wheat, young bucks sparred with one another while the rest of the growing herd fed. Then the same mature buck stepped into the corner of the wheat. Bill and I saw him at the same time, he looked at me and I gave the sign. I heard the safely disengaged while I peered through the spotting scope. The 300 Wtby Legend barked and the buck dropped into the stubble where he had stood. I heard the ping of the spent case leaving the rifle and then heard Bill say "I think I hit him". Yes Bill you did, damn dead center right on the shoulder, nice shot !

Bret had been watching the whole affair far below us from his truck and soon we were all admiring Bills first Mule deer. Even during a period of drought years he carried a solid 4x4 frame, good eye guards and few dingers added on the frame, he was very nice first attempt and a buck to be proud of anywhere. We paid out respects quietly, took pictures and began to dress him out. This buck was in extremely good physical condition and marbled with thick layers of fat and was going to be excellent eating as well.

On the ride home we were almost in tears laughing and wondering why the general public would allow crippled and deaf senior citizens to be turned loose unchaperoned in the hills with firearms.

All in all it had been quite a day that had come together slowly over the last couple months. Lots of scouting, being allowed on a well managed piece of property doesn't hurt, throw in a little skill a little luck, put a steady finger on the trigger and memorable things just might happen.

Bill was able to stick around long enough to make sure I wasn't slacking off at the shop and that Bret was paying attention at his business. He was then kind enough to help Lexi put a mature doe in our freezer a day later on the same property. The two of them are now planning a hunt together back in Kansas.

This should be interesting as Lexi, like her mom, talks pretty softly, I can't wait for this hunt to unfold.

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