Wow Factor

By Jim McElley

Wow FactorJim McElley
Colorado, 2008, DIY, Public Land

As I stood there looking through my binoculars, all I could see was mass. It appeared as though the buck packing this spectacular headgear had baseball bats for main beams. Have you ever seen a buck that you knew was a shooter before even attempting a guess at width or score; one that you just know you have to figure out a way to get a shot? That’s what I call a “wow factor” buck.

On a scouting trip, I spotted an amazing typical that looked to be heavy and deepforked. My hunt started on Labor Day weekend, and I was happy I had found one exceptional buck that I could now try to keep tabs on.

I worked until noon the day before the opener, and like a coffee drinker without his coffee, I was jittery with anticipation. Opening morning came fast, but produced little. The following morning’s hunt turned up dry yet again. That evening my friend Barrett and I decided to drop down in elevation to see if we could locate some deer off the beaten path. Just before dark, we came out of the trees and saw three bucks near a pond. We watched until dark but no shooters appeared, so we made the hike back to the truck.

On Monday morning, I went for a hike up a draw where I’d seen a few bucks during summer scouting trips. I had stopped to readjust my pack and rifle when I looked up to see antlers and ears silhouetted by predawn light on the skyline. Not knowing if the buck had heard or seen me I decided to hold tight and let him make the first move. It was still too dark to get a reading with the rangefinder but I was guessing he was 300 yards away. He started heading for the aspens, so I stayed put until he disappeared. He looked good and I figured he had to be pushing 30 inches! His fronts were on the small side but he had good backs and looked big.

Wow Factor

Over the top of the ridge was a sagebrush draw I wanted to check out, so I let the buck go for now. I found five more bucks while glassing the next draw but nothing I wanted to chase.

I decided I’d go back and work my way into the aspens where the silhouetted buck had disappeared. Reaching the edge of the trees, I picked up my binoculars and saw a buck feeding on a snowberry bush 100 yards away with only a few aspen trees separating us. I was preparing for a shot when I realized there was more than one buck, so I had to revaluate the situation. I now counted three bucks but knew the first two weren’t what I wanted. The third buck was the one I’d seen skylined. All I had to do was wait and he’d be mine.

Ten yards to the left was an opening that he was feeding toward. As he stepped into the lane, he turned straight away. I thought, “No shot, no shot; he’s turning; okay, he’s quartered away at a fairly steep angle. I can make the shot!”

I settled the pins and...Bang! Smoke went everywhere. Deer scattered, including my buck, which went bouncing away. I checked over and over again, but it was just a flat-out miss.

I went back to my pack and sat down to think. What next? With frustration and desperation settling in, I happened to notice a perfectly round hole in an aspen log right next to where I was sitting. I dug out my saw and knife and went to work. Thirty minutes later I had my prize - a .50 caliber, 245-grain PowerBelt; a clean miss! As I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t think of anything else except how I’d missed my opportunity at a thirty-inch buck.

The next three days all I could think about was getting back to the mountain and hoping things had calmed down. I left work at noon on Friday so that I could get to the cabin and hunt the evening. My wife Brittney and son Colter came with me, along with our good friends Justin, his girlfriend Nicole, and a friend Jason. Jason wanted to do some elk scouting and a little bit of bear hunting.

Saturday morning we saw one of the biggest bulls I’ve ever seen on the mountain, but no deer. My Uncle Don made it back and we formulated a plan. I decided that Justin and I would go back to my original spot and hike along the bottom end of the canyon where Barrett and I had seen the bucks the weekend before. Don and Jason were going to look for a cow elk for Don and a bear for Jason.

Justin and I took the pickup and four-wheeler to the ending location and then rode the four-wheeler back to the starting point to begin the evening hunt. It would be a still-hunt all the way back to the pickup.

We made our way along an aspencovered bench atop a pine and oakbrushcovered canyon as a bull bugled across the canyon. An old cattle trail made for easy walking and seemed to lead us toward the clearing from the previous week. About 200 yards before coming into a sagebrush opening, I spotted a little buck and a doe feeding at the edge of the clearing. We talked it over and decided to push forward to see what else might be in the opening.

“There’s another buck in the trees to the left!” Justin whispered.

“Where at?” I asked. I was so focused on the buck and doe in front of us that I almost spooked all the deer.

“It’s a shooter; it’s a shooter. Get your gun out!” He replied, as he threw his shooting sticks at me.

I had no doubt it was a good deer by the way Justin was acting. When I saw him through my binoculars at less than 100 yards, all I could think was, “Wow, that’s the heaviest antlered deer I’ve ever seen; don’t screw this up!”

Wow Factor

Time seemed to stand still as we locked eyes on each other. Justin still had his eyes glued to his binos, not wanting to move a muscle. I still had no shot. My mind raced. “Wait him out; he’ll move a couple steps and give me a clear lane. What if he just bolts? He didn’t get this big by being stupid.”

Ten feet away looking and with binoculars glued to his face like a statue, Justin whispered, “Are you going to shoot?”

“I don’t have a shot.”

“Move over here. I have a clear lane.” I didn’t dare move, though. Looking through my peep sight, I saw a twelveinch window between the branches and trees that I could get a good shot through.

BOOM! The gun echoed through the trees and smoke filled my view. I looked at Justin, who was jumping up and down, hooting and hollering, and saying, “You just killed a monster! Holy cow; you just killed a monster!”

I knew then that the shot was true. I reloaded and asked him again if he was positive the buck was down. “Sure is; let’s go take a look.”

I approached cautiously, but he was down. I couldn’t believe this was real. I was stunned. Finally snapping out of it, I started yelling, jumping around, and giving high fives.

We took pictures and then caped and quartered the buck, hanging the meat from branches in the trees. Taking all of our gear and the head and cape, we proceeded on our hike back to the truck in the dark. That was the easiest walk back to the pickup I’ve ever done. Floating on cloud nine sure makes you light on your feet.

Back at the cabin, nobody could believe the size of the buck. My son Colter said, “Daddy got a big buck deer.” I can’t wait until he can truck along behind me on our own adventures.

The next day we loaded packs and gear to hike back in to get the rest of the meat. Thanks to my pack mules Justin and Jason, my pack was a lot lighter than it would have been. If it weren’t for great family and friends, none of this would have been possible. Hunting and being outdoors makes for a lifetime of memories with good friends. What else could you ask for?