This year I decided to apply for an area close to home, making it possible to do some thorough preseason scouting. The plan didn't leave me with many options for monster bucks, but I did find two or three that met my expectations of a 'great buck'.
During the first two days of the hunt, I tried in a last-ditch effort to run into something 'big' that I had not previously seen. I spent time hunting areas that I had not previously scouted. After a couple days with no success, it was time to fall back onto my scouting knowledge. I focused on my first choice buck; a deep-forked bruiser that just looked great to me.
While hunting closer to my target buck's area, I bumped into a willow-horned four point. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I was in range for a marginal shot; the buck was moving past my location. The closer he came, the better he started to look. I figured I could get a better opportunity at him with a little effort. Then I lost sight of him at about 100 yards. Assuming I was still out of sight, I tried to close the gap. At about 75 yards, I got busted! It turns out that there was more than one deer in the tall sagebrush, watching me. So that ended the game of cat and mouse. Still, it was not a big deal that buck wasn't my first choice and I had plenty of hunting left to do.
After seeing other hunters scouring the tops of the mountains, I figured the deer were holding out a little lower. So the following morning I intended to go directly to the place where I had found the deep-forked buck. I was running late and daylight was coming fast. As the black eastern horizon turned blue, I realized I would not make my destination in time. So, instead of crossing two ridges and going up, I crossed only one ridge and went up. (Don't know if that was fate or not, but in hindsight, the success of Friday might very well have hinged on me being 30 minutes late. Go figure!)
I hiked as long as I dared in the morning light. There was already enough light to allow glassing. So I set down on a rocky ridge and started looking. I saw nothing but does and fawns. I decided to continue south over to the next ridge, which was my original destination.
Before I moved, I thought I'd better take one last look around. I scanned the skyline first to try and catch anything coming or going. As I scanned I came to a small bush that had a killer set of antlers behind it, outlined with dark blue morning sky. It wasn't just any set of antlers, but THE antlers of the very buck I had been looking for!
I quickly put the spotting scope on him to confirm I wasn't suffering some kind of deer-hunter-affliction. It was absolutely the buck in question. He looked back my way for a bit and then continued feeding into the next draw. Now what? I couldn't chase him because there were three does in the head of the draw. If I busted them out, it would probably ruin my chance. So I waited.
It didn't take long, perhaps 15 minutes, for the does to feed the same direction as the buck. So I began to make my move too. I headed straight to the bottom of the draw, where there would be cover and good wind. About then a different buck busted out of the draw and ran up the hill. He hit the skyline, looked up the mountain, and then headed straight up. I knew he had seen the big buck and was joining him. The second buck didn't seem terribly alarmed, but still I hoped he wouldn't blow the big buck out with him. So I kicked it in gear and climbed straight up the draw. There were some mahoganies that would give me cover as I crossed over the ridgeline and into the same draw with the bucks. I would also be at a higher elevation than where the bucks had been when they crossed. If they were watching their back trail, I might have the advantage of showing up somewhere they didn't expect me to be.
I climbed over the ridgeline, using the mahogany trees as cover, and found myself on a cliff. I scanned for deer everywhere but saw nothing. After looking for a few minutes, I concluded that there were only three possibilities: They were already gone, they had bedded down in one of the narrow quakie patches or they were below the cliff and out of my view.
I crept out to the edge of the cliff and saw four deer below me. I put up my binoculars and spotted my quarry. He and the others were on alert, watching the saddle below me.
From my position, I would basically be shooting down into the deer's back. I checked the cap on my muzzleloader, cocked the hammer and lined up.
'Hold still, breathe easy, exhale, hold it and nudge the trigger,' I told myself.
I didn't hear the 'thud' of my bullet on deer hide, so I knew I'd missed. The bucks moved up the draw, unknowingly getting closer to my position. Not long after I'd reloaded the deer stopped. I took another look through my binoculars to confirm which of the bucks was the one I'd been seeking. The dark shade made the antlers difficult to see against the sagebrush and I didn't want to make a mistake. I lined up my sights just under the buck and squeezed off another shot. This time the report of my bullet told me what I wanted to hear. The buck hit the dirt and after a short struggle to regain his feet, he expired.
I always feel fortunate to find and harvest a buck I recognize from my scouting efforts - especially one that's a little better than the rest I've seen. I found my buck while scouting with my brother in law, Scott. Thanks, Scott, for the 'lucky find.'