A Near Miss - A Perfect Shot

Not all of our family had deer tags for the same area this year, so we adapted our hunting plans accordingly. You might think that we’d all apply for the same hunt area, but the draw odds for a youth versus an adult are much different and is much too complicated to explain here. So we prioritized the odds of getting a tag over the chance to all hunt the same area.

 backpacking deer hunt 

                             3 miles to our destination  

This year Carson drew a youth tag which meant that he has the opportunity to hunt all three deer seasons, e.g. archery, muzzleloader and rifle. So for the archery hunt we figured water would be the key to finding deer on his west desert hunt. Our preseason scouting led us to an area where we could hike into a water source several miles from the nearest road.

 cold mountain spring water  filtering drinking water from spring

       Moved rocks to let silt clear for about 2 hours                      Filtering some nice cold spring water

But after hunting for 1 ½ days without ever seeing a single deer and enduring the blistering 90 degree mid-day heat, we relocated to a new spot.

 deer hunting waterhole 

              Sitting behind makeshift blind at surprisingly unproductive waterhole  

And the new site quickly proved to be a positive move. Just one hour before dusk, Carson spotted a bedded buck and excitedly began to stalk in on the unsuspecting deer. Not wanting to add to the inevitable noise that one pair of boots would make crossing the dry parched summer ground, I decided to stay put and watch the event unfold. Ten minutes after I last saw Carson circling back behind the deer, I saw the buck stand and then slowly move off.

 deer hunting breakfast  The buck knew something was up

             Luxury morning breakfast before relocating                              The buck knew something was up

It wasn’t until Carson returned that I learned that the first time he saw the buck, the deer was already standing and looking at him about 60 yards off. With no time to range the distance to the already nervous buck, Carson drew his bow and let an arrow fly. On this day the buck caught a lucky break as Carson misjudged the distance and watched as his arrow whizzed right over the top of the deer’s back. Even though we wouldn’t go home with a deer, Carson was happy with his successful stalk. The huge smile on his face was the perfect ending to the only opportunity we’d have to archery hunt this season.

My turn to hunt deer would be next as I held a muzzleloader tag in my pocket. But when the time came for my hunt, I’d have to go solo since my oldest son could not break away from work and my youngest was too busy with school. In fact, my youngest wasn’t going to have the opportunity to take advantage of hunting all three seasons as afforded to youth deer tag holders because of his school grades. Consequently I gathered my gear and headed out alone.

 deer hunting sunset in the pine trees 

                           Sunset on the first evening of the muzzle loader hunt  

Opening morning was busy with hunters. Vehicle lights flashed in the dark like fireflies as they weaved their way through the distant trees heading toward their final destinations. I too left camp at dark and barely arrived at daybreak near the edge of the meadow where I planned to start my hunt. I hadn’t been set for more than a couple of minutes when I looked to my right and saw a few deer nearing the top of a small rise. Almost instantly a 4 point buck skylined himself 120 yards away. But before I could react, the buck disappeared over the hill. I scrambled as fast as I could to the top of the incline and spotted the buck on the opposite side of the small valley that separated us. I quickly grabbed my range finder and ranged the buck at 265 yards. As I contemplated the somewhat long shot, considering the fact that my muzzleloader was zeroed in for 100 yards, the buck moved off and vanished.

 couple of mule deer does  aspen leaves bright yellow

       Saw quite a few does, couldn't turn up a buck            Within a mile of previous pic, leaves were bright yellow

I continued to hunt that same general area for three consecutive days. I logged an average of 7 hiking miles each day, figuring that the buck must be hanging out in the same general vicinity. I glassed hillsides, meadows and ridge tops but during the entirety of those three days, I never turned up a single buck. On the last night as I lay in my sleeping bag looking up at the clear bright starlit sky, I couldn’t help but feel a bit dejected. With only one more day to hunt, it seemed that there were more hunters than deer; but having seen that 4 point buck days earlier gave me hope.

 deer hunting sleeping under stars  pic of starlit sky

 Sleeping under stars in back of truck                        Best pic of stars with phone

The next morning I awoke to the sound of vehicles passing by my camp, something I hadn’t experienced to this point. I counted just over ten vehicles before I crawled out of my sleeping bag. The hills were abuzz with a swarm of weekend hunters. Slightly concerned, I continued with my plan. As I had every morning, I left camp well before dark but on this morning I was passing hunters at every turn. The sheer number of people I encountered was troubling. Then to top it off, I wasn’t the first person to arrive at my hunting spot -- a group of hunters had beaten me to the punch. I was completely dejected and didn’t know what to do next. There were hunters on every ridge surrounding the entire area. As a last ditch effort, I decided to drop down a couple of hundred yards into the small valley below the hunters. Once I reached the bottom I stopped to glass the relatively barren hillside opposite me. Certain that a deer couldn’t have possibly escaped the eyes of the hunters above, I glassed the slope anyway. Abruptly my heart skipped a beat, I glassed up a buck! Without hesitation I shouldered my .50 caliber Thompson/Center as the buck began to amble across the hillside. I eked out a squeaking sound with my mouth, the buck stopped to look. Without delay I fired! The customary black powder cloud of smoke momentarily obstructed my view, but not without my seeing the buck drop dead in his tracks!

 4 point mule deer 4x4 buck 

                                                     Got 'er done with the ol' smoke pole  

The only way I could have been happier is if my family could have been with me to experience the moment. So now I’m hoping that with the upcoming rifle season just a few short weeks away, schedules will work out such that we can get out and hunt together.