Heavy Duty

By Douglas Dreher
California, 2010, DIY, Public Land
Heavy DutyMay/June 2011 EBJ (Issue 65)The flat terrain made it tough to see; I needed to get elevated - and quickly - before he got out of sight. Luckily, the giant pine that he had bedded under for over six hours had massive limbs that reached down and touched the ground. I quickly ran for the tree and began to climb. At 25 feet in the air, I finally had a good view. I found a stable seat in the limbs and started glassing. Some quick glassing revealed that he had bedded under the next closest pine, 175 yards away.

This was two years in a row I had been blessed with an X-zone tag and I was determined to make the best of it. My dad, his friends, and my brother have hunted this zone for decades, but I was somewhat of a newcomer. Some of my earliest hunting memories came from this area, all the way back to when I had to be carried to the kill site to join in the fun. But it was just two years ago that I became serious about hunting here. I decided to put in for the archery tag, despite the previous year ending emptyhanded. I found several good bucks that year, but one in particular commanded all my attention. He was a huge 30-inchplus 5x4 that was nothing like I had seen before in the Golden State. He was hanging out on a large sage flat near a spring with several other bucks. I named him ‘the Camel Buck” because he always seemed to avoid the waterhole.

I hunted for that buck and that buck only every weekend of the season. I made two stalks on him; once he vanished before I could reach him and the other time I managed to blow the stalk at 40 yards.

Dry conditions the previous winter and spring had the deer hanging close to the few water sources that year. This year was totally different; we had an extremely wet spring and the deer were spread out. We made several scouting trips looking for the Camel Buck but he was nowhere to be found. Slightly disappointed, I started searching elsewhere. I found plenty of bucks, including some good ones, but nothing that compared to my goal.

My cousin Tim had applied with me this season and we couldn’t wait for opening day. I guess we should have watched the weather a little more closely, because we nearly got blown off the mountain that day. With crazy winds blowing all directions, I didn’t want to take a chance on spooking the bigger bucks, so we focused on some of the smaller bucks in an attempt to get Tim his first buck with a bow. We made two stalks that day and came close, but the wind switched on us both times just as we got into range.

The second day we tried a new area and spotted some bucks right off, but something spooked them over the hill. We followed and when we peeked over the edge there was one of the better bucks I had seen - a heavy 7x4 that I had seen once on a scouting trip. I attempted a stalk, but the wind wouldn’t cooperate, so I backed out. Tim had to return to work, so we left for home.

After a brief reprieve, I was ready to get back out. The forecast was calling for a heat wave of nearly 100 degrees, and I was optimistic that the winds would be better.

After a couple of uneventful days, my brother Ken, who had a rifle tag, offered to give some help for a day since I was hunting solo and he wanted to do some scouting. I really wanted to look for the 7x4, but Ken’s foot was bothering him and it was too far of a hike. Instead, we decided to head for the sage flats where I hunted the Camel Buck the previous year.

Early that morning we settled into one of our favorite glassing perches and an hour later I spotted two bucks feeding out on the flat. It was hard to tell exactly what they were, because they were over a mile away and the heat waves were bad already. We could finally see enough to tell they were two bucks my brother had seen earlier while scouting. One was tall and heavy; the other was a small forked horn.

With the temperatures rising quickly, the bucks made their way to a huge lone pine in search of shade. At 8 o’clock I left the perch, headed for the bucks. Not knowing what the wind was going to do, I monitored it frequently. If I could get within 50 yards of the tree on the north side, the shade would eventually swing my way, hopefully bringing the bucks with it. Now only 200 yards from the tree, I felt the wind was steady enough to make my move. I looked back to the glassing spot with my binos and Ken gave me the all-good sign, so I dropped my pack in a little depression and worked my way out until I could see their antlers tips.

Douglas Dreher

For a full account of Douglas' adventure, go to page 36 in the May/June 2011 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.