The Plan Buck

By Justin McLaughlin
Oregon, 2010, DIY, Public Land
The Plan BuckMar/Apr 2011 EBJ (Issue 64) - As I ran down the dirt road to my pickup, I felt as if I could have given the late track star Steve Prefontaine a run for his money. My mind was racing even faster, trying to register what had just taken place. It was now 11:15 a.m. and two hours prior I was sitting on a hillside glassing two unapproachable bedded bucks lying near the top of an open side draw over 500 yards away.

One of the bucks appeared to be significantly larger. However, at that range, I still wasn’t quite sure how nice he really was. As I sat and waited for them to make a move, I took several pictures of him. I zoomed all the way, but still could not get a grasp on the exact size of the buck.

After an hour of watching and waiting, with temperatures on the rise, the smaller buck decided to move to a cooler, more secluded spot to nap. Moments later, the larger buck followed suit. From my vantage point, which was also on a bare hillside from across the main canyon, I could see the entire length of the side draw that the bucks had been bedded in. Midway up the side draw stood one big oak tree with half a dozen game trails dumping out of the side draw and into the main canyon.

As the two bucks made their way down the draw, a single doe appeared between the two bucks and the oak tree. As the doe turned and walked toward the oak, it was as if she gave them the all-clear sign telling them to join her for a siesta.

While this was going on, I snapped more photos. While weighing my options, I remembered an article I had just read by South Cox in the September/October issue of Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal titled, “10 Steps to Becoming a More Effective Bowhunter”. One step South wrote about was to always have a plan B. With this in mind and still uncertain whether the bucks were going to bed in the shade of the oak tree or head out of the side draw into the main canyon, I ran different scenarios through my mind and had a different plan of action to account for each.

With the wind in my favor, plan A was to move quickly to the bottom of the main canyon and over to the base of the side draw. I had picked out a tree on the downwind side of the draw that I would sit by and try to intercept the bucks as they entered the main canyon. Knowing that I would be cutting it close to beating the bucks to the bottom, if they did choose to leave the side draw, I would need to act fast. If the bucks chose to stay and bed under the oak, it would be time for plan B, attempting a stalk.

I crept away from my perch, slipped deeper into the main draw and hustled to the canyon floor. I discarded all unnecessary gear near a log in the bottom of the canyon, leaving me with my bow and rangefinder.

I quickly made my way up the main canyon to the tree I had chosen and hid in the shadows. I began ranging various trails that would be likely exits for the bucks to choose. To my surprise, the closest trail was 80 yards from me - from my glassing position it looked so much closer than that. Feeling the thermals starting to lift my scent up into the side draw, I knew instantly that it was time to abort plan A.

With no deer exiting the draw yet, I felt confident that the bucks had in fact chosen to bed near the oak tree. Now that I was in the bottom of the canyon, everything felt and looked steeper than I thought it to be while glassing from above. This gave me a renewed sense of hope for a successful outcome to plan B.

I jogged back down the main canyon away from the side draw that held the bucks. Once I found the route I had picked, I ascended the grassy area between two rockslides and began heading straight for a rock outcropping, which would put me above the oak tree. With a strong, gusting wind in my face, I was able to pick my way through the boulder field quietly and with ease. As I approached the side draw, I was shocked at how steep and cut out it was. I ranged the opposite hillside every ten steps to within 110 yards and still could not see the top of the oak tree. After a few steps, the top branches began to appear. At that moment I realized that I had picked the perfect approach.

Justin McLaughlin

For a full account of Justin's adventure, go to page 24 in the March/April 2011 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.