Hunting hard does pay off!

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

by Brian Richter

Found First On

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The lowlight of day break and excessive distance made his trophy status difficult to judge.  Nevertheless, I was certain he was the one.  All I needed was for him to lie down and I would make my move.  He had been courting a doe since daybreak; but suddenly, and without notice, Romeo left Juliet and disappeared into a nasty basalt canyon.  With two miles and multiple rocky canyons between us, he might as well have flown to the moon.  A knot grew in my stomach.

There are three periods of emotional charge in big game hunting:

Anticipation: Everything leading up to the adrenaline rush.

High Noon: This is the climax.

Descent: The feeling of remorse, or disappointment that it’s over.

It was September 1, 1990, and it was my first year carrying a gun.  The gun was a 20ga Remington 870, wingmaster express.  My father and I were hunting sage grouse with our yellow lab, Pal, in a remote area of the Idaho desert.  Early in the day I had my first close encounter with a rattlesnake.  I barely made it back to the truck with my dignity (or my bladder).  But now, after having shot my first grouse and recovering my pride, we took an afternoon break.  Our resting spot gave us a view of the valley we had crossed in the morning.  Hidden amongst the sea of sage and bitter brush in the valley below something white caught my eye.  After focusing my binos, I determined the prize was an elk antler.  I bounded down the slope with Pal at my heels.  When we had reached the clearing were the sun bleached elk antler was lying, I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t an elk antler at all… It was a matched set of mule deer antlers.  Antlers that would score around 200 gross inches and inspire my hunting imagination for years to come.

Anticipation

The maturation of this hunt was nothing out of the ordinary for those of us living in Idaho, a state that has yet to adopt a preference point system.  After nineteen years of application, my father and I had finally drawn a much coveted desert mule deer tag.  It was now late August, and we were slowly bouncing and weaving down a brutal lava and sand two-track.   Despite the season opener being more than a month off, my excitement was soaring!

I had been watching a buck for several weekends that I was certain would go two hundred inches, and like any long distance relationship, my heart was brimming with excitement to make contact once again.  I had named him the Burgundy Buck, after Will Farrell’s character in the movie Anchorman, as they both shared a proclivity for showing off.  Sadly, I was not the only one to affix him a nickname, there was another who affectionately referred to him as Lefty.

Jason and I met each other, and the Burgundy Buck, at nearly the exact same moment.   “You wouldn’t shoot that little buck would you,” came a quite voice behind me.  I nearly leapt out of my skin, there, in the middle of an uninhabited desert, was a man in full camo staring down at me.  It was a happenstance encounter considering the seemingly endless miles of country lying within the unit’s boundaries. The season opener was still months away, and I was perched on a mound of dirt watching a bachelor herd of bucks I had just spotted, among them, was Lefty.  Jason’s calm smile easily revealed his intentions; he too had just seen the size of that rack!  Two men lusting over the same trophy was nothing new to history, and we cordially exchanged numbers and agreed if either of us were lucky enough to harvest the magnificent animal we would inform the other.

First light on opening morning found my father and I glassing from atop a small rocky bluff near Lefty’s preferred bed, however, I had not seen him there in weeks.  Our location offered a perfect 360-degree view of the landscape and several bucks were spotted from his original bachelor group, but not Lefty.  That afternoon we relocated to a higher vantage point enabling us to glass adjacent drainages, but still no Lefty.

On day three, the afternoon turned gray in the west, which precisely mirrored my spirits; Lefty, was nowhere to be found.  That evening it began to spit snow and we awoke on day four to nearly a foot of wet, heavy snow and zero visibility.  Adding insult to injury, our forty-year-old wall tent collapsed on top of me during the night, no longer able to bear the heavy load.

By day five, melting snow had turned the roads into a greasy mess.  My hunt was going from bad to worse, and we determined a retreat to lower elevation was in order.  Aided by a hard freeze and a 6 A.M. departure, we narrowly made the pavement the following morning.  Despite our harrowing escape, there was one casualty.  My sweet mother, our camp cook, had had enough.  She announced her resignation the moment our truck tires gripped the solid asphalt, leaving Dad and I to feed ourselves.

While choking down breakfast at a roadside pull-off, my cell phone beeped indicating I had service and messages waiting.  One was from Jason; he called to inform me he had harvested Lefty on the second day of the hunt!  He had clocked in a lot of hours with that buck.  He deserved it I reckoned.

It was hard to leave camp that morning without my father.  He had been my hunting partner for twenty years. We had relocated to the opposite corner of the hunt, a region that can be extremely rocky and treacherous.  I would be going alone.  No words of explanation were needed.

On day nine of the hunt I crossed his path, there, in the damp clay at the edge of a small creek were long hoof prints with due claws pressed deep into the soft soil; the telltale indication of a mature mule deer buck.  There were a couple of doe groups frequenting the water source as well, and I resolved to keep a vigilant eye on the ladies, gambling that he would eventually show up.

The next day brought extreme heat upon the desert.  Only days ago I felt I was in Antarctica, and now, I felt as though I just de-boarded a plane in the Sahara.  By eleven it was in the high sixty’s, and realizing the chances of seeing a big buck in these conditions were poor, I elected to head back to camp and savor my tenth P.B.&J. lunch in a row.  Following lunch and a short nap, I gathered my gear and began a long ascent into the sage.  The lava beds acted like thousands of black solar panels and I made it only a few hundred yards before being forced to stop and remove layers.  With antlers on the brain, I failed to consider other desert inhabitants who actually prefer this type of weather.

Holy @#$%!!!  RATTLER!!!  My distaste for the little bastards is exasperated immensely by my inability to hear them, which is due, I believe, to repeated unprotected exposure to gunfire as a boy.  The nasty little creature had rolled himself into the classic, “come get some” defensive coil.  Slowly, I circled around him while trying to keep my composure.  Nervous but undaunted, I marched on.  Minutes later, however, I saw another, now I was truly a mess.  I froze and began examining the area.  There, against a break in the rocks, the grass moved in waves and a serpentine ball undulated against the black curtain of lava.  I had been told of large groups of rattlers coming out of their dens to sun themselves in the fall, but these far-flung stories were cataloged in the abstract corner of my brain reserved for mermaids, big foot, and the Lock Ness monster.

It took the better part of the day to complete the remaining half-mile climb to my vantage point.  Despite not seeing another snake, the entire hike I felt as though I was trekking across a freshly laid minefield.  I spent the afternoon and evening glassing, but saw nothing.  Another evening had passed without finding the buck; I had only four days left to hunt.

High Noon

Like any other morning, day eleven found me impatiently setting up my spotting scope twenty minutes before there was enough light to see.  As soon as dawn broke, I knelt to go to work. Immediately I spotted a deer up against the lava rock rim.  There was so little light that I would not have known he was a buck had he not been raking his antlers so violently.  Then a doe appeared not more than twenty yards below him.  He immediately turned to pursue her.  When he intercepted her path, he extended his neck and raised his nose.  He alternated between this flehmen position and raking his antlers while the doe fed.  He disappeared into a small patch of high sage and I watched for five minutes as the brush shook violently.  By the time he reappeared the light had improved enough that I could see sage hanging from his head.  When he shook the sage off, I could see that he was really tall with deep backs and long main beams.   I couldn’t count points but I knew he was the one.  After about ten minutes they bedded down right out in the open.  As a younger hunter I would have tried to close the gap right then.  But something wasn’t right.  They were too exposed here.  And I didn’t believe that he would stay with a doe this early in the season.   They remained bedded for about ten minutes, and then the doe stood up and started back the way she came.  I remember saying out loud, “follow your girlfriend.”  Sure enough he got up and followed.  Then it happened…she squatted to urinate.  As soon as she moved on, the buck came and put his nose to the ground.   That was all he needed to confirm that this little honey wasn’t in the shag’n mood. Without so much as blowing her a kiss, he was gone.  He walked straight down into the basalt canyon and out of sight.  The doe didn’t seem to mind a bit.  Me on the other hand…well, I freaked out.

There was only one thing to do.  I strapped my scope to my pack and ran.  The pack I use has a scabbard that my muzzleloader fits perfectly into.  If you’re a musket hunter with a gun short enough to fit into the scabbard, this style of pack is invaluable.  It keeps your nipple clean and dry, and in the off chance you need to run like hell through rough terrain, your hands are free.  After scrambling down countless rockslides and ascending narrow paths between basalt spires I had reached the canyon he had descended into.  I had covered nearly two miles at a dead run without stopping and now I was coughing up lactic acid something fierce.  It would be several minutes before I would be steady enough to start glassing.  After catching my breath I belly crawled to the edge and quickly scanned to make sure he wasn’t out in the open.  From this vantage point I could see three patches of high sage and a portion of the creek bottom bellow.  Unfortunately there was a lot that I couldn’t see because the canyon was a labyrinth of giant basalt spires.  After carefully scanning the high sage for about forty-five minutes my heart began to sink.  Finding him here would be next to impossible.

I would spend the next eight hours playing the wind.  I crept through the stone maze, peeking around corners and peering over ledges.  As the hours passed I began to lose hope.  As evening approached I came to grips with the reality that I would have to return tomorrow.  Maybe I could catch him making another house call.  I had walked about a quarter mile towards camp when something white caught my eye.  There was a three-foot gap between two of the basalt spires that created a window.  Through this opening I could see a lone deer bedded on an open ledge. It was the buck!  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  He had been right there hidden amongst the countless folds in the landscape.  I zapped him at 267 yards.  The waning light gave the situation a sense of urgency.  I quickly adorned my face and hands with camo garments and slid my smoke pole out of the scabbard.  With my windicater in one hand and shooting sticks in the other I was off. After closing the gap to two hundred yards I found myself atop a 15 ft ledge.  I removed my boots and found a gap that I could chimney down.  Once I had reached the ground below I sprinted straight at the buck.  He was lazily staring the other way.  Most likely in a love induced trance.  The ground beneath my feet was gravel that had been compacted into the dry clay below.  This firm surface made it possible to run the last 100 yards without making a sound.  Every few seconds I sent a puff of chalk into the air, insuring the wind was on my side.  The buck was oblivious to my presence.  With trembling hands I lowered my shooting sticks.  As I crouched to get into position my foot slid across the gravel!  The buck was on his feet immediately.  I tried to slow my erratic breathing and squeezed.

Descent

When the smoke cleared he was lying with his back toward me.  I reached into my essentials bag for a quick loader and prepared for a second shot, but it would be unnecessary.  My arms were tingling and my tongue felt swollen.  I had taken many big game animals before this one.  But this was a sensation entirely new to me.  Over the course of the last eleven days I had endured the broadest spectrum of conditions the Idaho desert had ever thrown at me.  Not to mention an emotional roller coaster ride that took me from nauseas lows to heart pounding highs.  Just minutes ago I was convinced I had blown it.  And now I was standing in stocking feet beside the buck that rewarded my efforts.    My 214inch buck was lying less than a mile away from the clearing where I had found my deer hunting inspiration nineteen years earlier.

The buck would gross 214 3/8 inches with 19 inch G2s and 27 inch main beams.


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Comments

7 Responses to “Hunting hard does pay off!”
  1. That is quite a rack! Nice work!

  2. YBO says:

    Congrats on a heck of a buck and a great story. Your story telling yarns are awesome.

  3. paul says:

    loved this

  4. Jason says:

    If anyone deserves and buck like this its Brian. I know first hand he hunted his tail off for this deer. Congrats Brian

  5. Amy says:

    Congrats on a heck of a buck and a great story. Your story telling yarns are awesome.

  6. Bone says:

    Thats a great buck! So when we gonna hear Jason”s story?

  7. Johnston says:

    Nice story. BTW—Great job Idaho on the muzzleloader mule deer management. Also—how about changing the background color so I c can tell what I’m typing?

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