To Rut or Not To Rut

When I received a deer tag where the season lined up with the beginning of the rut (late October - early November) I had some expectations of what action I might see during the hunt. However, a couple of things totally surprised me.

 deer hunt early fall  deer hunt late fall

             Just arrived at camp - bright fall colors                       Quite a seasonal change since I first arrived

First of all, the weather was cold so I expected to see some serious rut activity by the end of my hunt, but that never happened. Secondly, it was cold so I never expected to see a tarantula out on a walk-about, let alone two different tarantulas making their way to who knows where!

 tarantula  tarantula

            Surprised to see this 1st tarantula                         Mid-morning boredom following 2nd tarantula

A few days before the start of the deer hunt I headed into the mountains to get a jump start on finding deer. The only animals I found were several elk, a couple of small bucks and few doe deer. But I did discover several places where I could glass in hopes of spotting roaming bucks as they either attempted to locate a doe to breed or to find that buck that was already in hot pursuit of a doe.

 bull elk  mule deer bucks

                    Fun to see a couple of bull elk                                      But where are the big rutting bucks?

Day after day I hunted, moving from location to location. My excursions took me from the high country where early snow storms dusted the mountaintops and then all the way down to the lower rain soaked country where cedar trees blanketed the rolling hills. Not every day was rife with bad weather, but there were days where it was impossible to hunt due to the inclement weather.

 deer hunt dusting of snow  deer hunt rain

    Was hoping for a bigger storm to push bucks lower               RZR cover kept me dry from the deluge

As the days passed I became more anxious as I wasn’t seeing many deer. Before the hunt I had told myself that I would not shoot anything smaller than a 4 point, just a goal that I had set for myself. But with only a few days left in the hunt, I started to contemplate shooting a 3 point given the chance. Especially since I had talked to many hunters and it seemed everyone had the same story, not many deer and the bucks they were seeing were small without displaying any rut activity.

It was Thursday night and I only had until Saturday morning before the hunt was over for me. The past week being afield had flown by and the remaining hours were ticking by quickly. Lying in bed I made up my mind that I would shoot a decent 3 point if I could find one and would shoot a 4 point no matter the size. Morning came quickly and I began my usual routine. I was again heading down the two-track road at dark, but today was different in that I came across a 4 point buck standing right in the middle of the road. Semi-blinded by my headlights the buck stood frozen as I stopped to look at him and wished he could somehow be five miles further up the mountain to where I was headed. Off I went.

 big 3 point mule deer 

        Would've shot this buck had I found him on my last day

Well before dawn I was positioned on a knob overlooking a clear-cut where cedar trees lined the area. At twilight I spotted a couple of deer, both does. Six minutes later I turned up five more does and then a few minutes later three more does. I was somewhat in disbelief that no buck was pushing these does. While it was only the first week of November, I still thought that a buck should have hooked up with these deer by now. And for the next thirty minutes all was still until I picked up movement in my binoculars some 800 yards away, a deer! I quickly moved to my spotting scope and noticed antlers – a decent buck with a rack! The deer was all alone and was on a deliberate march right along the edge of the cedar trees. It wouldn’t be long before he came to a ravine which transitioned into a dense thicket of cedar trees.

 cedar tree lined clear-cut 

   Luckily buck walked along edge of clear-cut without slipping into cedar patch

As quickly as I could I plopped to the ground and got into a prone position and attempted to get the buck in my sights. Had someone been watching me from afar, the act would have looked quite comical. Because by the time the buck had traveled some 200 yards, I must have gone back and forth from my binoculars to my rifle scope 5-7 times. I struggled to find the moving buck in my narrow-field-of-view rifle scope as he blended against the cedar trees. To be honest, I was frantic and frustrated! The buck finally reached the end of the ridge and dropped into a small ravine and I thought my chances were over. I grabbed my binos and again spotted the deer stationary within the shadows of the cedars. Quickly I moved back to my gun and found the buck just as he started moving again. This was my chance, he was now walking slowly and I had a shot. I fired and heard the thwop of a hit but didn’t see any indication of such due to the kick of the gun. Again I reached for my binos and pressed them firmly against my face and spotted the buck slipping through the cedars several yards ahead. Suddenly the buck stopped in a small opening. Back to the 7 PRC I went and soon had eyes on him. Unsure about the effectiveness of my first shot I wasted no time and fired again.

But by the time I was able to again get my sights on the buck’s last location, he was gone. Had he dropped in his tracks or had he run off -- those were the thoughts racing through my mind. For the next thirty minutes I searched every nook and cranny to see if I could locate the buck somewhere within the dense thicket of trees but never saw any sign of him. At that point I knew that my best chance for finding this buck, if he was hit, was to wait him out. I decided to wait until noon before pursuing, knowing that giving him four hours should be more than enough time for him to have either expired or for him to have stiffened to the point where no amount of adrenaline would be enough for him to bolt and get away.

 high country sunset hunting deer 

                     One of the evenings spent hunting up in the high country

Time passed slowly (this is when I followed the tarantula for just over an hour) until at 11:00 I saw two ravens circling down near where I last saw my buck. I watch until both landed in the tree exactly above the spot where my buck might be. Suddenly I was excited thinking they had found my dead deer. They sat there for 5 minutes until the first raven flew off. Sixty seconds later the second raven flew straight away, no circling or any other indication that something dead lay nearby. My heart sank, I waited. Finally my phone read 12 o’clock; I grabbed my gun and headed toward the spot 547 yards away. As I neared my ground zero, I strained my eyes to see anything that appeared out of the ordinary. At 50 yards from the landmark tree I eased over a small mound and there exposed in the wide open next to the cedar tree lay my buck! It was apparent that the buck had dropped in its tracks on the final shot, but the scrub brush was just high enough to obscure the buck from my view from where I had been perched. I was absolutely ecstatic and wasted no time in quartering the buck and hauling it back to my RZR!

 4 point mule deer buck  mule deer backstraps loin

        1st shot would’ve been fatal, took out lungs                           Steaks are going to be delicious!


Deer steak recipe/instructions on how I cook up the meat:

  • Cut meat into strips (to desired thickness)
  • Put about 1/2 cup flour on a plate
  • Add salt, pepper and whatever other spices to your liking
  • Dust meat, then put in frying pan with a little LOW heat where meat is barley sizzling in order to keep tender
  • Cook on one side until it starts to change color on top...then flip it over and it will be done in about 2 minutes
  • Important - LOW HEAT...don't overcook or it will become dry