How I Missed My Dream Buck — Three Times

March 15, 2011

Getting There

trophy deer huntingIt was the most snow I had seen in years. Drifts so deep that access was limited and walking was the only real viable option. The deep snow had kept the road warriors at bay and I was determined to go back to an area I knew few people hunted about let alone would attempt if it meant walking.

I made my way through the darkness as the cold pierced my face. The wind tore through me as I surveyed the landscape for any sign of life. Nothing was moving, at least not up here but I knew this was not an indicator for what lies back in the hills and deep draws. Most of this area can not be seen through binoculars or a spotting scope, the lay of the land dictates that you must visit it to reveal all of her secrets. The seclusion and remoteness of this region has always drawn me and once again it was calling my name.

Being pelted by tiny ice crystals had me convinced it was time to move on. We were at the tail end of a blizzard and it was apparent this storm was going to be miserable until the end.

Deer Sign

Five miles had passed behind me and each step had proved more laborious than the last. The snow had drifted deep and I had not come across any living creature. I contemplated going back to the warmth of the ranch but decided to press on, this was a decision I would not regret. I soon came to a hidden draw and discovered it had been providing shelter from the storm and the solitude from human encounters all wild animals enjoy.

Marked heavily by the sign of deer my optimism grew by the minute. I had been to this draw many years ago and now I was back. Movement caught my eye as I settled in to take a better look through my binoculars, there were deer everywhere. I had been fortunate enough to approach this area down wind and although the deer had seen me they showed little interest. The storm had kept them from feeding for several days and they were in no hurry to expend unnecessary energy.

As I glassed the area I saw many bucks, most were small to medium size game eager to spar but with no hope of gaining the top position. With this many does around and being at the tail end of the rut there would be at least one buck that would dominate this harem. There was little chance another hunter had been this far back. I knew my likelihood of success was better than average and it would just be up to me to make the shot when it counted.

Then I spotted them, two bucks. Champions of the herd these two had not survived to maturity by taking chances. My unrecognizable presence soon alerted the pair as they headed south at a speed unwarranted by the pressure I had placed on them. They would live to see another day and I would have a long walk ahead of me.

The Second Day Hunting

deer hunting signThe next day found me thinking about the two bucks I had encountered the day before. The morning had been slow. The spot I had chosen was easily accessible and had been full of leery does, not even a spike buck had been in the group to entertain my binoculars. There were still many smaller bucks back in the area I had been the day before that had not fled and the thoughts of returning crossed my mind. The day was shaping up to be unproductive at best and I decided to take my chances and go back. I couldn’t shake the feeling this area was where I was suppose to be.

The storm was over now and any tracks in the snow would be fresh. The ground was littered with sign and I knew deer had been out all night feeding. I slowly approached the draw I had come to the day before. A gentle breeze met my face, down wind again I had the lay of the land and the deer had returned. My presence was undetected and a quick survey of the draw soon revealed there was no sign of the two bucks I had encountered the day before. Deciding to leave the rest of the herd alone I resigned to leave the area once again.

It was not thirty yards down the trail when I spotted them! The pair had been high up on the draw. Unaware of my presence the bucks remained still as if frozen in time, bedded down and motionless. I began my stalk, the snow deep and blown hard made every step resonate. The rolling hills, knee deep snow and the ever present does soon turned this from a stalk into being pinned down in an awkward position with no clear shot opportunity. An eternity passed before the bucks finally rose from their vantage point. Checking the does one last time to see if they had come into heat had stirred the bucks. Each would walk a few steps sniff and then move on. Finally I had it a clear shot broadside and no more than 30 yards. The bucks had been too concerned with the last remaining does to notice me. I slowly took off the safety and applied the crosshairs. My breathing was calm and my hand was steady as I squeezed the trigger. The sound of my rifle filled the air and the distinct sound of a tumbling bullet immediately followed. A ricochet! Both bucks were now gone, how could this have happened? I had been fortunate enough to come across them twice only to have this encounter blown by a missed shot opportunity. How could I have missed? A ricochet? Did I knock my rifle throwing the scope out? All of these thoughts ran through my head as I played out the scenario over and over. It’s at moments like these a man starts doubting his equipment, shooting ability and rationalizing to himself why he missed.

Day Three

The next morning found me defeated from the day before. I had missed an easy shot opportunity and my confidence had been shattered. For me there was no option I needed to find this buck again. Not knowing where to start I went back to the same draw. Once again I found it full of does and young bucks. Then I saw it, antlers sticking high out of the grass. I knew this was the same buck!

Shocked at seeing him again I assessed the situation. I could not see his body or the direction he was facing. Although the buck was only 80 yards away I had no shot and I knew it. There was little chance of getting into better position as his harem was bedded close by. After what seemed like an eternity of watching and waiting the ancient creature got up and decided it was time to wander to the next ridge. Taking his does with him I was now able to move in closer undetected.

The stalk lasted for hours and these deer were on the move. Every time I thought I had gained a little ground I would continuously find them that much further away. Finally able to get into position with the bi-pod on my rifle and in prone position, my breathing calm I placed the cross hairs on his shoulder. It had been a long stalk and now would be when it all paid off. I squeezed the trigger and thunder roared from the barrel. I missed again! Chambering another round I put the crosshairs on him again and squeezed the trigger a second time. This time I saw the bullet kick up dust and snow, the shot was well low of its mark.

Not knowing where the shots had come from the deer had finally had enough and running in any direction was better than staying put and taking fire from an unseen predator. I quickly checked the area for any sign of blood. There was none to be found. I did learn one truth though; I had been shooting at well over 500 yards! The crisp clear air and my scope zoomed in combined with the flat prairie had all conspired to deceive me into believing the distance was half of what it was.

One Last Time

At this point I knew it was over. I had not only had two shots at the same buck I had also educated him. Heading back to the truck with only a mile to go it was the last fence I had to cross. I glanced south as I made my way over the fence, there they were! Two miles down the fence line I saw them. The buck I had shot at as well as the other brute witnessed the day before!

trophy buckThis time I vowed I would not make any more mistakes. Renewed optimism in hand I quickly surveyed the situation and made my plan. A draw leading to a hill not 50 yards from where they were bedded down was close by. A rock pile crowned the top of this hill and in the past couple hours the wind had changed directions. I was down wind again and in perfect position for a stalk! Taking my time through the draw I slowly made my way to the hill that concealed my approach. I climbed slowly making my accent as quiet as possible careful to avoid anything that might emit unnecessary noise. Seeing the rock pile I crawled the last few yards into it.

The soft prairie breeze greeted my face as I slowly crawled into position. Unaware of my presence I had invaded their world again. With my pulse and breathing finally under control I found the buck I had pursued for so long in the crosshairs once again. I knew he was the one that had evaded me as his unique rack stood out from all the others. This time I was taking no chances. I set the scope to four power, calmed myself and I made several final references to landmarks to ensure the shot would be well within range.

Once again I squeezed the trigger and the report of my rifle filled the air. He was down. There was no doubt now this would be the last time I would have to stalk this buck. I made my way to his lifeless body reflecting on the past few days. So many chances, so many shot opportunities and finally I had him down.

Once I reached him I quickly realized the ricochet I had heard the day before was the bullet striking both main beams! I had been looking at his antlers and not his chest when I had taken the shot. Although I would have sworn this was not the case there is no other explanation.

I had several blown shot opportunities on this hunt but I did learn a valuable truth, persistence pays!