March/April 2013 EBJ (Issue 76) - YES! He’s still there, I thought to myself. I had just ranged the boulder the two bucks were bedded behind at 40 yards. I had been trying to keep calm by telling myself that the bucks were still there, but the pessimistic side of me kept saying they had snuck out. I couldn’t believe that they were still there, going about their day, with no idea this predator was so close.
This was day two of my first true solo archery backpacking hunting trip. My youngest brother, Corey, who is also my hunting partner and best friend, drew a fantastic Washington elk tag, so he had to back out of our hunt this year. Honestly, it took the wind out of my sails, but I was still excited to hunt and thought that packing camp in and hunting alone for several days would be a good personal challenge.
On the opening day I’d watched four bucks bed by this large boulder underneath a couple pine trees. I wanted to try to sneak in on them, but with four heads pointed in different directions I just didn’t stand a chance! Their spot was like an island surrounded by small rocks, bushes, and grass, so there wasn’t much cover to conceal my approach. I just watched them shift beds to stay in the shade throughout the day. But today, I watched two new bucks bed there, and they both bedded on the same side of that boulder, so I had a chance.
As I was coming off the ridge about 1,000 yards away and above the bucks, I kept a close eye on them. I could see their antlers at the top, but when I got about halfway down off the ridge I lost sight. For the next two hours I wasn’t able to see them, and kept imagining that the bucks would get spooked and leave and I wouldn’t even know it.
I dropped down to their elevation and started side-hilling. I was still 600 yards out, but it was painfully slow because it was very calm, dry, and extremely noisy! Every step was painstaking. When you’re making such small movements and requiring so much control over every muscle, it’s physically exhausting! Add in some dehydration and adrenaline, and you end up making mistakes. I kept on having to tell myself to stay calm, take my time, and have faith that the deer would still be there; if I rushed it, I’d lose.
About 300 yards away, I took one last big drink of water and dropped my pack. I didn’t want the extra weight or bulk. As I did it, I saw a pair of antlers protrude above the boulder! It was the one I was after – he had matching cheaters on his back forks. He was just getting up to stretch, at least I hoped, and his antlers disappeared below the rock after a couple minutes. I couldn’t see his head at all, but by the movement it just appeared that he was looking around and shifting his bed a few feet back into the shade.
From this point on, it was game-on. When I got close I started ranging everything in front of me in case they came up at a different spot than expected. I would range their boulder at 100 yards, then range some cover in front of me and think to myself, if you can get to that rock quietly, you’ll only be 80 yards out. Then I’d get to that point and set a new goal. I did this, picking what looked like the quietest route possible until I found myself at 40 yards. To conceal my sound, I’d wait for the crickets to pick up their noise or the wind to pick up or an airplane to fly over… anything to give me a little extra cover sound.
For a full account of Dan's adventure, go to page 22 in the March/April 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.