Saturday, October 8, 2011

Buck Hunt Opening Day

DIY Public Land

We have had a really busy fall.  In September Mia was working full time doing habitat restoration and spawning surveys in the upper Sandy River Basin full time. I was doing my annual Deschutes camp trips with Brian Silvey pretty much back, to back, to back for the whole month. We had planned our mule deer hunting trip for over a year now and we needed to find time to sight in our guns. We finally had a free day to get together with Bart, who would be our hunting partner on this year’s trip, and head to the range. Mia had her gun sited in first by putting three shots in a row right through heart of the target at 100 yards. Bart had his rifle dialed in soon after and mine took some time but at least I started finding the target!

We all had hunted the same unit last year and we decided to find a much more remote location to get away from people and try to find some nice river bucks. We love rivers and water and it is hard for us to imagine not being situated along a running river while glassing the hills in search of a twitching ear bedded down behind a sagebrush. We planned our trip, which would be a long float, and scouted enough Mule deer bucks to sit down and study maps that would tell us which areas where public land or private. We planned on our almost 4 year old daughter Tegan joining us too! We even planned one hunt sitting at the dining table just after siting in the guns that day in September that would be the defining moments of our trip.

Sept 30th we launched. We floated for 3 or 4 hours and came around a corner when Mia said, “there’s one!” It was a nice spike with two long curved single antlers. Being, we are not trophy hunters and really interested in the hunt itself and the table fare it could provide, if we were to get so lucky, we decided to watch this buck. We pulled off the river and watched as two other does played hide and seek along with the buck. They became quite comfortable with us at about 500 yards away and resumed feeding and bedding down. We decided to stay put for the night and see if they would be around, come first light, opening day. As dark settled in they came right down to the river, across from camp and lapped water. We could only hear it happen in the pitch black of night. We went to bed with great anticipation!
Bart scouting the spike the day before the opener

In the morning we could not find the buck. After glassing the hillside for over an hour, we decided he couldn’t have gone far and a better vantage point from higher terrain would be best. Just as we looked up, the buck was in plain site, right behind us, we couldn’t hunt him. Our issue was, in the hunt we drew tags for, the boundary line was the river itself and we could only hunt a deer from the west side of the river. We packed camp and headed downstream.

We took our routine of notching our heads to the left  side of the river and completely ignoring the east side of the river. Our heads would be stuck in this position for six days.

 A few miles down river we came around a corner and three does were feeding 50 yards from the river. We stopped the boats to keep a watch and see if they had a boyfriend. They seemed fine with us being there until our boat hit a rock and made a hollow deep sound. Then a bunch of other does jumped up out of a line of thick willows.  With them was a nice forked horn buck, and they headed straight up the hill well out of dangers way.

The last deer to get up and run was a big 4x4 buck, our jaws dropped.  He probable would have stayed bedded down if we had continued to float on, without a sound.  We watched this magnificent buck run up the hill, with his chest pumped out and proudly displaying his perfect symmetrical rack. When he arrived at the top of the hill we watched as he put his nose in the air and took a huge sniff of air. Then, he disappeared over the ridge. The other side of the ridge went back down to the river 2 miles below where our location was and precisely where we planned to pitch camp that night.

I looked at Mia and Bart and told them “they went exactly where we wanted them to go!” This is the hunt we had planned out a month earlier while sitting at the dinning table. After taking out our maps and checking for private land vs. public lands we had our plan set. Bart would hike the ridge a ways upstream and Mia, Tegan, and I would float down to camp. We had 4 hours of light left.
Tegan gets out of the rain.

An hour later we got a call from Bart, he had located the group of does but had not seen anything with antlers. We started to unload the boat for our night’s camp. Within 5 minutes Bart radioed in “I have the forked horn in my sites. “ We knew the bigger buck was bedded somewhere near his herum .  With three hours of light left,  I headed up a steep shale rock shoot, like a waterfall between 100-foot basalt cliffs. I had followed a Bighorn Sheep Ram that was down at the river leading the way. I hoped he wouldn’t spook  the deer.  Deer use all of their senses and with the herd having all of those eyes, huge ears, and keen noses that made us deliberant on every move I made.

As I pushed uphill Bart radioed in “ I see the big boy now!” I knew at the top it would level out into a small bench.  If I were far enough downstream below them, Bart and I would have the herd pinched because they could not go uphill or downhill due to the steep terrain. There only escape would upstream or downstream.

When I reached the platform above the river, Bart could see me. He radioed in where I should go to and to let me know if they got wind of me. Bart was holed up in a very good vantage point of the whole area and a great place to get a solid and safe shot if they retreated from me. This gave me comfort, as I was sure they would catch my scent with the wind blowing at my back as he guided me in.  What seemed like five minutes later, Bart called saying that I should  be able to see them. I saw a group of does and Bart let me know the bucks were together 200 yards above them.

 I came over a little hump in the landscape and I was in plain view of the big buck. I dropped to the ground in an instance. I was hidden and gave him a peek. He was looking right at me from around 175 yards. To my surprise he scanned in my direction and calmly went back to feeding while slowing coming in my direction. I put the rifle to my shoulder and looked through the scope. The deer was frozen and in my cross hairs, but my beating heart was making the view through my scope shaky. I needed to calm down and find a place to stabilize the gun. I took a drink of water, found a rock that I could get to, and checked my watch, two hours of light left.

It took 10 minutes, but felt like 45 minutes to move five feet to the rock that would make a perfect place to rest the rifle.  I radioed Bart to tell him I had a clean shot and I was going to take it. With  better stabilization, the view through the scope was perfect. I only needed to wait for the doe behind the buck to clear out. When it did, I realized it was the forked buck shadowing his bigger comrade. A few seconds later everything was finally set. I pulled the trigger.
My first Mule Deer Buck up on the bench

By dark we were in camp eating a wonderful meal Mia had made, had a nice buck hanging in a tree, and reliving stories of this opening day and my first deer.
Tegan and i after getting him to the river.

We had  four more days and saw many deer and three more bucks. Mia was able to get a shot  on a nice 2 point, with a frantic split second decision as Bart once again set the stage, with a quick plan that pushed the buck right to Mia.  We had a moral decision too as we floated up to another buck on the “wrong” side of the river. Mia decided she would hunt it, without a rifle and take Tegan to see if she could get into a good position and learn a  bit more about the behavior of these nervous critters. She was able to get within 50 yards, when it ran off and stopped to look back at an easy 75 yards.

Bart has a nickname, “the Jeweler” from his profession. After this trip I have my own nickname for him because of his fine teaching and doing of the dirty work once the buck was down. I now call him, “the Butcher” because he is that good!

It was great to spend time in the wilderness with friends and family.

 Did I mention I have an Elk tag too for next month?
The road home