September/October 2013 EBJ (Issue 79) - Getting married on the opening day of the Montana general season is no serious hunter’s first choice for a date. But, it just made my season that much sweeter. Our wedding was surrounded by successful hunts, resulting in my largest Montana trifecta, including a heck of a big deer.
There was no time to make the trip to elk country one weekend in early September when work was demanding. I made the best of it and hunted near home.
My soon-to-be sister-in-law had gotten married opening weekend of antelope archery season so I had not spent much time hunting speed goats yet, either. After a few hours in a blind next to a fence crossing, the buck I had been watching finally moved in from the sagebrush to chow down some alfalfa. He stopped before ducking under the fence and I released the successful shot.
Soon it was just one week before our big day and also the last weekend of the archery elk season. I still had not tagged an elk and was now making the fifth four-hour drive of the season to my favorite elk hunting spot to try to take advantage of my elk permits that were about to expire.
On Saturday, the second-to-last night, I hiked a mile from camp and spotted a nice bull a mile farther away. I raced as fast as I could to close the distance but he had disappeared by the time I got there. I quickly found a new vantage point and started glassing again. Luckily I found another bull lying on an open hillside above a dry creek bed. I didn’t hesitate, and covered yet another mile to get near him.
As I got close, the bull stood up and started to move. I hopped into the crooked creek bed of the valley floor to try closing the gap. Trotting the zigzag pattern with my head ducked down got me within shooting distance and the bull expired less the 200 yards away. He was huge, grossing 340 P&Y points! I was alone and three steep miles from camp, an hour’s hike without a load.
After several excruciating trips back and forth, I finally got all the meat back to the truck Monday morning. On the drive back home I thought about the great trophies I had taken over the last 10 years bowhunting and wondered what it would take to get a trophy deer.
Wedding weekend finally came and we enjoyed our special day with family and friends. Jokes and scenarios were enjoyed with groomsmen about the opening day event. We joked about going deer hunting in our tuxes the morning before the wedding – "bucks and tuxes,” and going on a "hunt’n’moon” after the wedding! Really, though, that day I punched my once-in-lifetime tag.
A week later my bride and I were back home and settling in. I snuck away on Sunday afternoon to set up some treestands for the upcoming rut. There was fresh snow on the ground and I found a funnel where two trails came together. There were plenty of deer tracks and a grizzly’s.
The best place to set up was thirty yards away where the main trail led through a large opening. From the perch of the stand I noticed that the second trail and the junction were blocked by branches. Anything on that trail, unfortunately, would be able to pass by freely. I was still excited about the setup though.
The following Saturday morning I was in the stand and excited to see what would come down the path. It was a calm and quiet; the only sound was the creek 150 yards away. Daylight had just kissed the sky when suddenly I heard antlers raking a tree in the woods in front of me. A few minutes later I heard raking again and closer. Then there was more raking from another buck. Unbelievably, it sounded like three bucks or more were all raking trees less than 60 yards away.
A youngster appeared in front of me and skipped back into the brush. As the sky brightened I stood up to be ready for a shot. I could see the bucks moving around in the brush and then a 4x5 stepped onto the side trail and pawed the ground. He was followed by two others. They moved towards me and into the opening while licking up leaves.
Behind them were two larger bucks. One looked much different from the others. Even through the tree branches I could see he was unbelievably massive. My heart pounded as he moved closer to the intersection of the two trails. The other deer were moving in and the 4x5 was now only 15 yards away. As I held as still as possible in the skinny, shaky tree, hoping the big guy would follow, I cursed the branches that I had left on the trees.
A six and seventh deer fought just out of sight, rattling their horns together. The loser made a loud getaway. This caught all of their attention. They stuck their heads and noses into the air and stood still. My heart pounded because I swore they were all looking right at me and about to bolt. I remained as motionless as the bucks.
The two biggest bucks had had enough and moseyed up the trail, staying behind the branches the entire time. The three smaller ones went back to feeding directly below me for 10 minutes or more before moving off to find their beds.
I stayed in stand for two more hours, eyeballing all the branches I was going to slash off the trees that prevented the shot on the monster buck. Then I shimmied up each tree trunk and scrapped them clean. Now I had shooting lanes to the junction of the two trails where the heavy buck had stood broadside for a few minutes that morning.
During the afternoon break I shared what I had called my best day in the stand to date with friends who were working cattle on the ranch. It had been an amazing morning even though I had not shot a thing. I described a buck you sometimes see in the magazines, with palmation and the mass like an elk. Unfortunately, I had not really gotten a great look at him.
The next morning I drove back to the area and parked my truck well away from the stand so I would not spook any deer. The wind threw gusts into my face as I trekked across an open field. The tree holding my stand swayed in the dark before sunrise. But, Montana’s predictable wind pattern held true and it calmed to a light breeze at daybreak. Unfortunately, there were no antlers raking trees that morning. But, I did hear the sound of deer crossing the creek in the distance as the sky turned from gray to blue.
Suddenly, a buck appeared by the scrape made the day before. I could see others moving in the brush behind him too. It appeared to be the same group of five bucks doing exactly the same thing as the previous morning. I scanned the brush for the unmistakable massive horns. They belonged to the third buck in the group and I didn’t have to look twice. I put the binoculars down and focused on an opportunity.
He slowly moved to the intersection of the trails and I grinned because there were no branches in the way. He put his head down to suck up a leaf in almost the exact spot as he did 24 hours earlier. I pulled back and placed the pin behind his shoulder. He spun fast at the sound of the release, but the thunk of a solid hit bounced back to me. All five bucks bolted into the brush where they came from.
I settled back into the seat of my stand to give the buck some time. Within five minutes, three of the smaller bucks walked back into the opening in a confused, comfortable manner. I just knew it meant their leader was down! I continued my thirty-minute wait as a doe moved towards me on the main trail. I placed the thirty-yard pin carefully and after the shot she dropped within sight.
After crawling down, I easily found the big buck too. He had expired less than 100 yards from the shot. The buck was more then I could have imagined. According to the record books, it is the largest whitetail ever shot in the county by any weapon and is a top-10 Montana archery buck, grossing 188 3/8 P&Y. No longer will I have to wonder what it would take to shoot a big buck. Luck and the right situation got me the trophy I never dreamed I would have a chance at.