Shine In The Sage

By Craig Mitchell
Washington, 2009, DIY, Public Land
Shine In The SageMay/June 2011 EBJ (Issue 65) - We spent 15-hour days behind the glass, to the point that when I went to sleep at night, all I saw was sage. Very few deer were seen even after much hiking, hundreds of miles of shale roads driven, and running from spring to spring only to find many of the drainages dry from a long summer. The several flat tires we dealt with and a clay washout that proved to be narrower than predicted slowed our momentum in the vast landscape. Every morning, it became more difficult to get up and morale became lower as hours of glassing turned up nothing but jackrabbits, sage grouse, and sunburn. But the promise of shining white antlers fresh out of velvet in the sage was enough to keep me going. Extreme heat in the desert atmosphere drove the deer out of view and heat waves made glassing the barren hillsides seem as if finding a buck would be nothing but a mirage.

I had been religiously checking the draw results, as it gave me something to look forward to during the long days of working on the job site. I didn’t expect much since I had been previously drawn for both deer and elk tags in the past, but I really wanted a certain eastern Washington archery deer tag that I felt could potentially produce the deer of a lifetime. I had accompanied others out there in the past and each time we had taken big bucks out of the basalt cliffs and dry cheatgrass that covers the area.

To my disbelief, I learned that I had finally drawn the deer tag I had always wanted. I knew it would be a tough hunt since I had drawn an archery tag for early September in an area known for blistering temperatures and dry landscapes, but I had one of the best tags in the state; now I just had to fill it with the deer of my dreams.

I was happy that my dad would accompany me on the hunt. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him. He’s the one who taught me how to hunt and is an avid mule deer hunter, taking several a year over the course of several states and seasons in a year’s time. He would be a valuable asset to my hunt. We hunted hard for several days and soon learned that we had a large task on our hands in order to arrow the buck I had my mind set on. I passed on several respectable bucks, each time questioning my decision.

We arrived at a creek where we knew deer would be at just before light. At 5:45 a.m. it was light enough for my Swarovskis to pick out a group of bucks that the previous days of tough hunting had convinced me didn’t exist. “I got ‘em,” I said to my dad.

It was obvious the buck I was seeing was far better than anything we had seen in all the hours behind the glass. Even in the dim light, my heart skipped a couple beats - this was what I had been waiting for!

There were five other bucks with him, and we watched them as they slowly worked their way up from the creek to their daytime bedding area in the sage. We observed the bucks for four hours, both of us silently mapping out a plan of attack in our minds. The group of bucks moved over a mile into a large basin, where my buck began rubbing his antlers in some buckbrush. Finally they all disappeared, signaling they had bedded down for the day. The stalk was on!

We had waited for perfect conditions and there was not a breath of prevailing wind. Blowing the stalk and spooking the bucks was not an option. Unfortunately, the draw was deeper than we thought and at 10 a.m. the bucks were up feeding. We bumped them out of the draw, with the deer of my dreams bringing up the rear as the whole group trotted up the mountain and out of sight. My heart sank lower than ever before.

They moved off into a bigger drainage where they would spend the hot afternoon. Meanwhile, my dad struggled to keep my hopes up, as I had given up on ever seeing the buck again. As we topped the ridge the deer had disappeared in, my dad stressed that we start glassing the immense drainage, hoping to catch a shine of antler in the thick sage we predicted the would deer be in. Sure enough, Dad spotted the monster’s white antlers sticking up in the sage. As long as I live, I will never forget the sight of those antlers shining far below our position.

Craig Mitchell

For a full account of Craig's adventure, go to page 22 in the May/June 2011 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.