Within Striking Distance

By Lee Blankenship
Idaho, DIY, Public Land

Within Striking Distance - Lee BlankenshipNovember/December 2012 EBJ (Issue 74) - Scouting in July and August in 100-degree heat for "THE ONE” is tough. On this hunt the usual bachelor herds were almost nonexistent. The deer were spread out and the bucks were in tiny little groups and sometimes solo. I had three weeks to find a buck, pattern his daily routine, figure out his watering areas, and find his bedding area. I was getting nervous.

On my tenth scouting trip, my father-in-law Duane and I were sitting on a ridge glassing a small bachelor herd of bucks and for some reason I got the urge to turn around. On the ridge behind us, about 1,000 yards away right on the skyline were two bucks; one of them didn’t need a second look. He was almost 36 inches wide, with a few extras. I scrambled to get my scope on him and got a short video as he went over the top. We picked our jaws up off the ground and headed in that direction.

It took us a couple hours to locate the buck, but when we did we were not disappointed. He was without a doubt a buck that I was going to hunt. My father-in-law nicknamed him "Lefty” because of the trash on his left antler.

The next three weeks were very disappointing. I couldn’t find Lefty anywhere. With only a week left I was starting to get really nervous. I was sitting in front of my computer looking at trail camera pictures when my wife, Chelsea, came in and put her hand on my shoulder and said, "He’s there…he’s just camera shy.” My wife’s support is one of the reasons I have success bowhunting year after year. I know all the early mornings and the late nights, coming home exhausted with sweaty clothes and dirt rings around my nose and eyes have tested her patience, but she knows hunting mule deer is my passion and that is what gives me peace. Needless to say, she is the reason for most of the success in my life.

One week before opening day I was glassing for Lefty when I found another great buck that was 26 inches wide. He was tall, with awesome mass and deep forks. His running mate was no slouch either. I would’ve been happy with either of them this late in the game. I felt a little better with three potential shooters in a three-mile area.

Opening day, my wife, brother-inlaw, Dusty, father-in-law Duane and I were glassing the area where the tall buck lived. After a couple hours, Dusty spotted the big buck’s running mate. We quickly put together a plan and I was off. I snuck across a shale slife to within 23 yards of the buck, but had no shot because of the thick brush. He had two more steps to take and I had a shot. I could see his awesome antlers and neck now and just started to draw my bow when he jerked his head up and looked down the hill towards a two-track road. As luck would have it, another hunter was driving up the road and spooked the deer to cover. At that point I backed out.

Lee Blankenship - Within Striking Distance

On day two, I snuck in to 36 yards of the buck’s bed and waited for him. He came just as planned and I drew, aimed and released, only to hit a limb on the huge tree he liked to bed under. He trotted off unharmed and not sure of what happened.

On day three I snuck to the same spot, but he beat me to his bed. This time, he was a little more cautious and bedded on the other side of the tree. I sat there for seven hours, only 18 yards from the buck, cooking in the 100-degree heat, only to have him walk out on the wrong side of the tree and wind me.

Three days later, it was just Dusty and I. I snuck back in on the buck bedded under a different tree. I got to within 16 yards of the bedded buck and waited the most punishing 12 hours of my life, again with no water or food, only to have another buck stand between us and blow the whole deal. Needless to say, close calls like these with no success can take a toll on you mentally.

The next day, we headed to a new area 27 miles from our camp. When we got there, I felt a sense of relief and peace of mind. I was showing Dusty a couple of spots where we had seen deer bedded in the past - one bed in particular where a buck was bedded two years before. We nicknamed him "Wally” because it looked like he ran into a wall with his main beams and bent them up. He was just a heavy 4x5 back then.

A few minutes later Dusty said, "I see a deer down in that green stuff.” Being with someone in the desert for eight days can make you a little edgy. I looked at him and said, "In the green stuff? Could you narrow that down a touch?” He looked at me and said, "By that tree.” At that point I wanted to push him off the rim rock we were sitting on, but just then, he pointed down the hill only 400 yards away and I found the deer.

One look was all it took. I knew the deer and was blown away at how big he got in just two years. I quickly grabbed my camera and told Dusty to take as many pictures and video as he could.

On my way down the hill, I looked up at the sun and realized I only had two hours of daylight left. I had to make a half-mile circle around the buck to get the wind right. When I got to where I could see Dusty up on the rim, I stopped to glass. I was much closer to the deer than I thought. As I snuck up the draw I finally caught a glimpse of the giant buck feeding straight away from me with his right antler bobbing back and forth showing off nine super heavy points. I was only 86 yards from him and he didn’t have a clue I was there. I snuck closer and closer.

At 50 yards I got myself ready for a broadside shot. Just then I caught some movement to the right. There was a mountain lion sneaking up on the buck I was going to shoot! You have got to be kidding me! The buck of my dreams is in bow range and a lion is going to run him off!

A lot of scenarios were running through my mind. Do I shoot the lion? Do I shoot the buck? Before I could act on either, the lion jumped on the buck. They rolled around for about five or six seconds, but the big-bodied buck was able to get away, dragging the lion by his hindquarters. The buck pulled away, but the lion was hot on his heels and they were running right at me! At 30 yards I drew my bow. I think the lion saw me at this point and stopped dead in his tracks. The buck on the other hand didn’t, and ran full speed right at me. I held my ground at full draw and watched as he got closer. Just when I thought he was going to run me over, the buck jumped right over the top of me and landed about five yards on the other side. I quickly spun around, only to see the buck stopped in the trail and looking at me. I centered my pin and took the shot. Knowing there was a lion behind me, I quickly turned and got another arrow ready. The big mountain lion was nowhere to be found.

I took the shot quartering away hard and I was sure I caught a lung on the opposite side. I followed the blood trail for about 60 yards and decided I’d better back out. When I got back to Dusty, he was white as a ghost, as he thought I was lion food for sure. We were both very excited about the buck, but very nervous about leaving him there with the lion. We decided to head back to camp to give the buck some time.

When we pulled into camp my two good friends, Tim and Mike, were waiting for us. They had just dropped by to see how the hunt was going. I think Tim knew something big had happened as soon as he saw my face. I told him I had just shot the buck of my dreams, but wanted to give him some time.

I don’t think Tim and Mike were prepared for the story we told them because they just sat there with their mouths open in awe. As I sat there listening to them talk about what had happened the "what ifs” started to set in. I just knew that lion was feeding on my deer. They all assured me that we were going to find my buck in one piece.

Lee Blankenship - Within Striking Distance

A few hours later we picked up the blood trail and excitedly went down the hill. My heart began to sink as I saw the blood trail had thinned to almost nothing. I was starting to assume the worst. Tim pulled us all together and told us to stay close and stay on this blood trail. We did just that and we started finding drops here and there. As we were going down a steep hill, Mike found some really good blood and lots of it! The downhill walk must have opened the wound up again. Tim didn’t want to say anything at first, but I don’t think he could hold it in any longer. He said, "What is that? Give me your binoculars.” Before I could get them off, Dusty saw the buck and said, "It’s him!”

Holding that buck in my hands for the first time was a feeling that I cannot describe with words. He was more than I could ever ask for as a bowhunter. His awesome rack was 33-1/4 inches wide with just a touch over 44 inches of mass. As far as the rest of the measurements go, they will remain a mystery until all of this sinks in. The score really doesn’t matter to me. A buck like this has been a dream for me my whole life. Having three buddies there to share it with me made it that much better.

To Tim and Mike, thank you for your help packing my deer out. To Dusty, a very special thanks for being there every step of the way and experiencing the unthinkable with me. It truly was the hunt of my lifetime.