My brother's first mule deer buck

EastHumboldt

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Nov 14, 2020
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This is a long story, because the point of having adventures is to make stories... and I like to tell stories, and I wanted to savor the details. If you want the short version, my brother Mark shot his first buck at 60 years of age on a fairly arduous wilderness hunt. 230 yards, a decent little 3x4. If you like stories, read on.

For all of my adult life I’ve never lived in the same town as any of my brothers. We grew up Army brats and we were dropped like seeds all around the country. About five years ago my baby brother Mark moved to the same small town in northern NV where I live, and it’s been great to have him and his family around. Two years ago I drew a NV bull elk tag and we put together a wilderness adventure. I’ll write about that in a separate post. The point is he watched through a spotting scope from an adjoining ridge 3/4 of a mile off as I stalked a herd of 40 elk and took a satellite bull. He was so excited by the experience he decided he wanted to hunt, at 58 years of age. It took him two years to get a tag, but once again we headed into the NV mountains to hunt.

We spent a lot of time over the summer at the range and in non-range situations getting him comfortable with handling a rifle, acquiring a target, and getting off an accurate shot in reasonable amount of time. He did very well and by the week before the hunt he’s shooting 1” groups at 100 yds. I still had to razz him about being a poor student because you know... he’s my baby brother.

My oldest brother Howie flew out from PA, and we arranged for my son Dave to get a week off, so we had a party of four with Mark and Dave having buck tags. I played the role of cook, guide, and Sherpa this year. We hired an outfitter to pack us in to a drop camp in a wilderness area that I’ve hunted since 2012. Howie and I went in October 23, two days before the hunters arrived to set up camp. It’s about a 7 mile trip from the trailhead, mostly uphill of course since big muleys don’t live downhill. For the first time in many years I chose to ride instead of walk into camp. It was nice to be relatively rested for the chores of setting up tents and lean-tos, unpacking, and cutting firewood.

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The two hunters arrived in camp late on Saturday and we set the alarm for 4:00 the next morning. We usually camp along a creek at about 8,000 feet and hike up to the ridges before dawn. When the alarm went off Mark groaned and mumbled something about being tired (for reasons I won’t get into he’s been working two full time jobs for the last year or so) I said “there’s no law saying you have to get up.“ ... so we didn’t.

So day 1 was kind of a relaxing bust. Weather was pretty warm and sunny and we didn’t head up the hill until 11 ish. Nice hike and we didn’t see anything but does until late in the afternoon. About 3 pm we spotted a buck on an adjoining ridge about 7-800 yards across a canyon. We continued up to a saddle where we could approach him. Dave went after him and Mark and I staked out the saddle. We saw a few more does in the saddle, no bucks. After about 1-1/2 hours Dave came back and said the buck was a smallish 3 pointer, bedded on a promontory, and was even further away than our first estimate. At this point Mark wanted to go after him, but I cautioned “too early in the hunt, too small, too far from camp” So we sat the saddle ‘til just before dark. A front was coming in and It was getting pretty cold by the time we headed back.



Day 2 was exceptionally cold for NV. The thermometer was at 5 degrees when we got up and it took us forever to get out of camp because we had to warm our hands by the fire every ten minutes. Dave and Howie slept in. Mark and I still managed to arrive well up on the ridge just as it was getting light enough to see. We were on the main trail just emerging from an aspen grove when we stopped to glass. I checked out a creamy white spot across a draw, and it turned out to be muley ass. There was a very nice 4x4 buck quartering away and looking back over his shoulder in our direction at about 250 yds. He was already suspicious and when Mark moved for a better view, we were busted. He took a few hops, then stotted up the hill, skylined against the pale dawn sky. That got the blood pumping. He was right off the trail where it switchbacked above us so we kept going in hopes of seeing him again.

When we got up there our attention was drawn to a forky on the downhill side of the trail. We watched him for a couple minutes hoping our big buck was with him or maybe another. While Mark was glassing him, I swept my gaze above the trail again. 170 yards above and to the right there was a BIG buck, just below the crest, his rack skylined, staring, ...broadside. His head was turned toward us and the rack was tall wide and thick. Mark was still glassing and I was nearly pissing myself with excitement because he was REALLY BIIIGGG!! I was trying to get his attention and all I could come up with was “Oh my God... Oh my God... Oh my God”. Finally Mark turned and saw him too. As he pulled the rifle sling from his shoulder, the big buck turned his head into profile... and morphed into a bull elk. That explained why he was so goddamned big. He trotted up the ridge like a train heading for a distant town. It was kind of a Bevis and Butthead moment, but also an adrenaline filled treat. In my defense it was still kind of dark and I only thought he was a muley for about 10 seconds. Once in a similar situation I saw a muley so big I thought he might be an elk.

We continued up the ridge, excited hopeful and encouraged by these close encounters of the deer kind. Long story short we saw no more bucks that day but jumped a few does and had a long tiring gorgeous hike.

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Day 3 was another late riser. Howie is just here for the fun and scenery, and has expressly stated that 4 am is for the birds. Dave is also low on motivation and high on tired factor. He and his wife own two restaurants and he’s been working his ass off trying to keep them afloat the last year. After a big breakfast, about noon it is decided that the two hunters and I will bivouac at the head of the canyon, and hunt hard the following morning. Howie begs off. We pack up sleeping bags, pads, a small tent and some food and hit the trail about 2ish. It’s almost 3 hours to the head of the canyon and pushing on dusk when we arrive. My job is to set up the tent while the other two get water and firewood. I’m looking for a handy size rock to pound tent stakes when I find a big arrowhead. Actually I think it’s a spear point. I get all excited and cuss a little, show it to Mark and Dave. Awesome they say. Then I go back to looking for a stone hammer, and I find another one... spear point that is. Better than the first one.. this one is a nice shiny orange brown flint. I give it to my son and slip the first one in my pocket. We drop our camp chores and spend the next 20 minutes combing the ground for more arrowheads. No luck but two of them in 90 seconds seems like plenty of luck for one day. We take it as a good omen and go to bed dreaming of Stone Age hunters pursuing deer and elk with spears and clubs.
 

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EastHumboldt

EastHumboldt

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Day4. The next morning we are climbing the ridge in the freezing dark (the very soul of mule deer hunting IMO). We reach our destination saddle right at dawn and split up. Dave goes right by himself, I accompany Mark the newbie to the left. After a few minutes of hiking we sit down to glass, and with the naked eye I see a dark shape in the sage way down below us, tiny and grey like a tick in a tuft of dog hair. In the glasses it’s clearly a deer, but head down in the foliage... I can’t tell buck or doe. Finally he lifts his head and he’s the biggest buck I’ve seen on this trip. No field and stream cover but 4x4, thick and very decent. Rangefinder says 370 but with the steep angle compensation we figure it closer to 500 yards. We watch him for a few and I’m hoping he’ll bed where we can stalk him. He disappears behind a big clump of willow in a little draw, and we don’t see him for 1/2 hour. Mark wants to try and sneak down on him but I advise patience. Meanwhile we see Dave coming in from our left and below us. We’re both OK with that since we’re kind of exposed and pretty sure we’ll spook him if we move. Also Dave is ex-Army... a scout/sniper much more capable of a long shot than Mark. About the time Dave disappears under the crest of the mountainside, the buck re-appears closer up and a little more to the right. He beds down in the shade of a big willow in plain view, but nearly impossible to see for the unpracticed eye. Now he’s only 250 on the rangefinder, but we’re not set up to shoot (foolish I know) and in the windless chilled air he’ll hear us if we fart, let alone snap a twig. We wait tensely for the report of Dave’s rifle. After another 20 minutes we decide to risk getting Mark stalking a little further down the ridge and behind a good shooting rock. Right about then Dave snaps a twig or rustles, maybe the wind shifts. I don’t know. What I do know is we’re busted. The big buck stands up and starts trotting away, then in three strides he’s full tilt hauling ass. He gives us the spectacle of thirty and forty foot strides bounding through the sage down and away from us at thirty miles and hour. He covers a 1/2 mile in 60 seconds, gone from sight very shortly.

We meet up for a post-action report. After some laughter and a snack it’s decided Dave and Mark will still hunt the ridge top all the way back down the canyon and descend the canyon wall when they are right above camp. I give them all my spare water cuz it’s pretty dry up there, and no snow to speak of for melting.

I tell them I’ll go back down and carry the bivy back to the main camp. Three sleeping bags, three pads, the tent and all my personal gear. I have a brand new Mystery Ranch Metcalf, and I want to see exactly how much crap you can strap to this thing. Turns out quite a lot for a mid size pack. I pack it all up and walk down the creek back to the main camp, where it’s sunny calm and pushing 60 degrees. Time for stretching out in the sun with a book and a bag of cheez -its, which soon turns into a nap.
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Howie and I start dinner... rib-eye steaks and home fries with onions. (One of the best things about horse packing is you can go fairly deluxe on the food). Long about dusk we hear voices on the slope above us and a few minutes later they return. Tired thirsty and buck-less. They did see a huge Rocky Mountain Goat, A billy , white as snow and looking like 400 lbs or so. Dinner, campfire, and generous dollops of bourbon finish the day.

Day 5 was another lazy one. Howie and Dave took a walk above camp in the afternoon. Mark and I went back up the trail towards the trailhead to glass the fields and aspen groves above camp. No hard hunting. What a bunch of slobs.

That night before we went to bed Mark said ”Me and my Sherpa, we’re getting up early and getting out of camp quickly. We’re gonna go back up to Crossroads Rock where we saw the big buck and the elk, and we’re gonna sit there while the sun comes up.”

Day 6. Dawn finds the two of us sitting on cold rocks, huddled out of the wind and trying to stay warm. Mark takes the east side of the rock, watching the main trail where it intersects a game trail coming down to us from the east. I take the other side looking down the ridge into the canyon. Spread below me is a large open field of gorse which slopes into an even bigger expanse of sagebrush. Our hides are separated by a thick slab of rock about 3-4 feet high, so we’re about ten feet apart and can’t see each other unless we stand up. It’s getting lighter and lighter and just before the sun actually appears, I notice what looks like a weathered fallen tree carcass straight downhill from me. In the back of my mind something says “Wait a minute...that wasn’t there before”.

I bring up my glass to find a buck staring straight up the hill at us. I can see his face, a middling rack, and his backline. There’s a magpie standing on his back. I’ve never seen this before that I can recall, and I wonder if he’s injured. Then the magpie jumps up to his antlers. I don’t like the shot for a couple reasons. For starters it looks a fair amount farther than 200 yards which we’ve agreed is a good distance for a noob shooter. Second, His back is just barely skylined, and the terrain below him falls away. If he doesn’t go down right away he’ll turn and run downhill out of sight and possibly be very hard to find. I debate for a minute whether to even tell Mark about him. In the end I take the magpie as an omen. “This is the buck you’re looking for.“ he says.

I make a quiet clicking noise to get Mark’s attention... I hear my brother’s clothes rustling and soon his inquisitive face peers over the rocks. I motion to keep his head down and I give the international sign for buck deer, a peace sign held vertically at the temple. I’m trying not to move much cuz I know he can see us. I hold up fingers in sequence... 2-5-0. He gives me the international sign for “what?” (Furrowed eyebrows and a generally confused look). I whisper “two-five-zero”. Comprehension dawns. He disappears, and re-appears moments later with his rifle and small shooting pad. He starts to draw down. I hiss “250 was just a guess!...rangefinder!!” He fumbles through pockets for 45 seconds that seem like an hour. Finally he pops out his rangefinder, takes a reading and announces “204”. I lean away from the muzzle and cover my ears with both hands since I’m gonna be kind of in the blast cone. I focus on the buck because it’s real important to see what happens at the shot.

There’s a few seconds of shuffling above and behind me, then total quiet as I wait for the shot. There are those steely nerved, rock solid people who can keep their eyes open when a rifle goes off. I’m not one of them. There’s the loud crack and I blink. And he’s gone. We both stand up as if that might help.

Mark asks if I think he hit him. Yes I say... I didn’t see him run at all... just gone. We quickly throw everything in our packs, get a detailed survey on the terrain where he was last seen, and head down there holding our breath. Mark is ready for a follow up if needed. It always amazes me how long it can take to find a deer in sagebrush, especially if you don’t locate the”point last seen” adequately. But not this time.



I’m laser focused on a particular bush and walking a straight line towards it. Sure enough, we find him piled up right in front of it, five minutes after we started walking. I don’t think he even took a step. There’s not a drop of blood so it looks like he just went to sleep. Turns out the bullet entered about neck-high in front of the left shoulder and exited through the right shoulder. I think it took out the aorta so he dropped in his tracks. A great result to a week’s effort.

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That night in camp we relive the shot around the fire. Mark is as pleased as a teenage kid, and he should be. It was a perfect shot. He remarks several times “I can’t believe I got him in one shot.” Oldest brother Howie sheds his typical brusque humor on the discussion... “Hey... One Shot Dick... pass the whiskey, wouldja?”
 
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Extrapale

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Thanks for sharing. Great write up.

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Jake”0”

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That’s awesome there buddy time spent with friends and famdamly I. The field is always special I appreciate it more every year so thanks for the story man!!!
 
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EastHumboldt

EastHumboldt

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Nov 14, 2020
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Thanks for the kind words. It's a pleasure to write and share theses stories. It's a chance to re-live it, think closely about what happened, look at the pictures again. Or as Yogi Berra said "It's deja-vu... all over again!!" I'll be writing another on my 2018 elk hunt in a week or so. Meanwhile i'll be living vicariously through others stories on this forum.
 

KCMuley

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Dec 3, 2020
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SD
Great story! You can teach old dogs new tricks!


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