Hunting for Lefty!

November 11, 2010 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

Story by Jason Wright

I first located the buck that I nicknamed “Lefty” in mid August.  The name came from his incredible left side and his horribly split left ear.  Unfortunately I wasn’t the only person watching him that day.  Brian, (who I came to know during the course of the hunt) was also laying eyes on Lefty for the first time that day.  As I approached him he was bent over a spotting scope taking a closer look.    After a long chat, we exchanged phone numbers and promised that we’d contact each other if either one of us were lucky enough to take him.  I was able to keep tabs on Lefty for the next 4 weekends in the same location.  I admit that most of my obsession with checking on Lefty was to see if there were any other hunters watching as well.  I envisioned opening day being a mad house of hunters all pursuing the same buck.  To my surprise I never saw another person the entire season.

On the fourth weekend while scouting a different area I located a tall narrow 5 x 5 that I thought would go 195”.  He looked like a high 180’s four point with 7-8 inches in extras.  I figured he would be a great back-up buck and that no one would find him in the remote desert he called home.  Minutes later I stumbled upon a great 85 inch shed antler.  While searching for the match I realized this shed was Lefty’s left antler; further reinforcing the name. That evening I went back to check on Lefty.  He was up and feeding for the evening so I watched him until dark.  His newly polished white antlers seemed to glow in the dark, and I have to admit it was pretty cool watching him as I was holding one of his sheds.  Confident that he wasn’t going far I left to scout another area, not knowing today was the last day I would see him for awhile.

The next weekend started like every other; I got off work early Friday night with hopes of getting up on the mountain in time to see Lefty.   After glassing until dark with no sign of him I returned to the truck for the night.  I had resorted to sleeping in the cab of my Tacoma because it was easier to stay mobile, without setting up camp every weekend.  Saturday morning I was able to locate all the young bucks of the bachelor group with ease, but no sign of Lefty or the other mature buck in the group, a 30” wide 4 by 3.  I returned home disappointed but confident I would relocate Lefty before the opener.

Two weeks went by and still no sign of him.  I searched for the 195”  back-up buck as well with no luck.  My confidence was fading until the Sunday night before opening day I located the 30 inch 4 by 3.  He had moved 1.5 miles away, to a steeper more secluded location giving me hope that his buddy, Lefty, was nearby.  The hunt opened on a Thursday, so I decided take off the first part of the week to continue scouting and set up camp for the remainder of the hunt.  The winds were howling all week and I returned to camp one evening to find my tent lying in a pile on top of my ATV about 20 feet from its original location.  Despite being full of gear and completely staked down, the tent still took flight in the powerful winds.  That night I anchored the tent to my pickup, ATV, and every nearby rock and tried to get some sleep.  But after 8 hours of listening to the rain fly flapping in the wind dealing with the walls caving in my head, I gave up on the tent and decided to go back to the passenger seat of my pickup.

On Wednesday, a good friend Dan offered to come and help me glass and I jumped at the offer.  I met Dan and his buddy Tom in town and we drove out the area I’d been living in for the past week.  We split up and glassed separate areas that night with no luck. Dan and Tom weren’t so keen on sleeping in their truck so we drove into town to find a cheap motel, not knowing that we would find the cheapest, dirtiest motel in the state.  But it did meet the requirements, cheap, dry, warm, and no wind.

With no other bright ideas, my plan for opening day was to glass from a point where I had last seen the big 4 by 3 in hopes that Lefty would be close by.  We saw 10 young bucks that morning but nothing nice.  By the end of opening day, I was frustrated and wished I would have spent more time looking for my back-up buck.  Dan and Tom were equally frustrated and recommended that I try another area of the unit with more bucks and they drove back home that night.  Another good friend Ryan offered up the use of his camper for the night.  It was forecasted to get down to into the teens that night so I was happy to have a warm camper and the chance to clean-up.

Day 2 of the hunt, I decided that after 48 days of scouting for Lefty I owed it to myself to devote a few more days actually hunting the area.  My plan was to check an area about a mile from where I had last seen him.  On the hike in I spooked a young buck and decided to follow him into the drainage to see if he would kick up anything for me.  As I circled the ridge following his tracks, I caught a white muzzle out of the corner of my eye.  I knew it was a buck but I couldn’t tell what he was in the early morning shadows.  I quickly sat down and put the scope on him.  As soon as I saw the split left ear my heart started racing.  During those 26 days remember I thinking how relieving it would feel (after glassing the same bucks over and over) to finally put the scope on a buck and utter those words to myself “It’s him”.  Since I had almost convinced myself that Lefty had been poached, it was just cool to see him again.

Of course the buck had me pegged at just over 300 yards, and stupidly I was sitting on an open hillside with the rising sun about to expose me even more.  We sat there watching each other for the next half hour.  Finally he decided that everything was okay and bedded down for the morning.  He was bedded in bottom of a small drainage and all I had to do was get to the ridge above him undetected, and I should be within muzzleloader range.  I essentially “crab walked” across the hillside with my gun on my lap.  It took me 30 minutes to go 100 yards.  Finally I was out of Lefty’s sight and was able to stand up, stretch, and start closing in on him.

About 20 yards from topping the small ridge, I decide to take off my boots and backpack.  As I crawled over the ridge I caught a glimpse of his antlers and ranged him at 78 yards.  He was still bedded and looking straight away.  There was a small rock pile a couple steps further that looked like the best place to set up for a shot.  The rocky hillside made socks a requirement, and each step seemed to take minutes as I was doing my best not to kick loose any rocks.  When I finally reached the rock pile it became apparent that it did not offer the elevation needed for a clear shot at his vitals.  I thought about standing up and taking an offhand shot but opted to wait for a shot off my knee.  So I sat there with my rifle propped up on my knee just waiting for him to stand up so I could put him back down.  An hour went by and I was starting to worry about the wind shifting and ruining the whole stalk. A few minutes later he started to get restless and move his head around a little.  I was more than ready for the shot but when he stood up he took an immediate step forward blocking his vitals behind a sage brush.  He stretched for awhile then started to feed up the hill towards me; which due to the contour of the hill put him more out of view.  At this point I was standing on tip toes trying to keep an eye on where he was heading.  He started to rake some brush and I took the opportunity to move and get a better look.  I then realized he was feeding up the draw and more out of sight and I had no choice but to give chase.  Pretty soon I was 50 yards and I could see his horns moving through the sage brush.  I raised the gun for an offhand shot and waited for him to clear the sage brush.  But before he did, he realized something wasn’t right and started to bound across the other side of the small drainage.  I fell to my butt and started tracing him with the iron sights and a good rest off my knee.  I considered a bounding shot for about a millisecond but just then he started to slow to a trot.  I knew from ranging earlier that it would be just over 100 yards.  He stopped facing uphill almost straight away but slightly quartering, offering a shot through the top of the back and down through the heart and lungs.  I thought about it for about a second and squeezed the trigger. The smoke cleared pretty fast and I could see him struggling to climb up the hill.  He went about 20 yards before his legs gave out on him and he started tumbling down the hill.  I leaned back on the hillside behind me and closed my eyes for a second to let it all soak in.  This may sound weird but it was a little difficult to watch the last moments of the life of an animal that I respected so much and enjoyed watching all summer.  I had accomplished what I had set out to do and the feeling was a little overwhelming.   It was a mix of excitement, remorse, relief, adrenaline, and accomplishment that I can’t really describe but I’m sure many can relate to.

I walked back to gather my boots and backpack still trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened.  After pictures and taking care of the animal it was time to get to work; fortunately I was able to get my ATV close enough to load him whole (which never happens for me).  Since I was hunting by myself I could hardly wait to get back to my truck and make a few phone calls.  One of which was to good friends Ryan and Dallas who helped me take a few more field photos.  Followed by some calls to friends back home who had been calling for daily updates on the hunt; I wish they could have been there.  Thanks guys for the pictures and thanks to Dan and Tom for helping me glass.  I might not have found him without your help eliminating some spots to check.

After hours of watching him and studying video I was confident that I knew about what he would score.  I was figuring a 180 frame with 22” of extras, 9 by 7 about 30” wide kicker to kicker.   Thanks to that horribly conservative judgment, I was able to experience the rare but incredible “ground growage” phenomenon. He ended up being 33” wide and 25” tall with 10 points on his left and 8 on his right.  His typical frame officially grossed 191 2/8” and all those extras added up to 28 7/8” putting him at 220 1/8” gross non-typical and 216 4/8” net.


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