To Miss a Monster... And Find a Redeemer
One of my brother-in-laws teaches English at a local high school. One of the advantages to teaching where he does, are the ranch families he comes in contact with. One of these families has graciously invited him to harvest a deer on their ranch the last few years. The first year he took a nice fat doe, he got shut out the second time but two years ago he got the green light to chase one of their abundant large bucks.
This is a private land hunt over an 800 acre ranch that ranges from high prairies to a deep canyon and bottom. It is private land and there are monsters that use the ranch but in no way would I describe it as shooting fish in a barrel.
He was really excited when he found out that he'd be the first one allowed to chase bucks on the property for the season. The season rolled around and he was pretty darn revved up but he didn't feel rushed to get out to the ranch. He'd been waiting for the weather to turn a bit and it finally did. The 3 inches of snow prior to the weekend promised good hunting for the next couple days. He called and told the owner that he and I would be out Saturday at first light and to make sure that we wouldn't interfere with anyone's plans. We had the green light. I would be running the binoculars and calling the shots for him. And as things would turn out... the shots would need to be called.
We woke at 5 am Saturday and grabbed a cup of coffee and a little breakfast and headed out. We hit the ranch gate around 6:00 AM and were out of the truck by 6:30 AM. We got up high on a ridge and didn't see much movement and figured we wouldn't until about 8:00 AM. It was a brisk 17 degrees with about 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground but it had dropped below zero overnight. We checked the wind and knew we had to change locations. As we did, we came across a flock of turkeys and stopped to count the toms in preparation for next spring. As we did, the ranch owner was making his rounds feeding horses and said he'd seen a "monster" back the way we had come from. We cursed our luck but hightailed it to the location. We got in the truck and headed back the way that we came and that's when I saw him. He was HUGE!
This is where the story gets tough to tell. It was the largest non-typical mule deer I have ever seen in the wild. He was at least 30 inches wide and had stickers and kickers all over the place. The bucks in the area were all rutted up and this one's neck looked about as thick as a 150 year old ponderosa. He was moving across a pasture and I knew my brother-in-law had to get ready and shoot in a hurry. The deer was only 150 yards away. Instead of taking his time, he rushed a shot from a kneeling position... clean miss over his back. I called the shot and told him to take a breath and calm down. The deer didn't move an inch after the first miss. It pains me to say this, but my bro-in-law lost all focus and missed another three shots. I couldn't believe what I was seeing but it's something that can happen to all of us. It was hard watching a deer like that saunter out of view.
It took about 30 minutes to get him calmed down after looking for blood with no success. I decided that it would at least be worth following the bucks tracks for a little while since he didn't seem all that stressed over the situation. Good thing we did! It wasn't our monster but out in another field, about 600 yards away, was another buck coming straight at us. I told him to sit his butt down and get settled. He listened and just settled in. I couldn't believe it. This deer was coming in on a string. We improved our position as he jumped a fence then lost sight of him for about two minutes as he went into a creek bottom. He popped up again at only about 125 yards. We could see that he wasn't going to give us a good broad side shot as he had picked up doe scent and began heading to our left. I asked if my brother-in-law was on him. He said, "Yes" and I grunted to stop the buck. The buck took one more stride and stopped and my then the shot rang out. We were too close to hear a "thud," but we knew it was a good shot. He took about three slow steps forward and disappeared into the creek bottom. I checked my watch and said let's wait 10 minutes. Two minutes later we heard thrashing then one hollow grunt and I knew it was over. The 150 gr. Core-Lokt out of his .270 Winchester had shattered through the near side ribs, taken out the top of the front lung and shocked his spine before exiting the aft side hip.
We headed down to to find the buck and it wasn't a couple minutes before we laid eyes on him. What a relief! My bro-in-law had missed an opportunity on a buck of a lifetime an hour earlier and now we were standing over a giant bodied, mature 3x3 (with aging eye guards). He was over 200 lbs. on the hoof and hung at about 140 pounds. His teeth were worn down smooth.
My brother-in-law says he's glad we didn't see that buck again, as he was destined to walk a little longer and spread those genes a little wider. Pretty philisophical but kind of hard to believe. The land owner felt bad he'd missed, but was happy we had harvested one of the older and declining bucks.
We couldn't thank the landowner (one of his student's dad) enough for the opportunity to hunt there. All he asks of my bro-in-law is that he doesn't reveal the location to those that might trespass, leave the land better than he found it, harvest a doe every now and then and to bring him a cold Coors or 12 when he heads out that way. In this age of selling leases and vouchers, he's an old school man who enjoys someone else's success. Here's to him... and the one that walked away.