In the pre-dawn chill of opening morning, October 3, outfitter Taylor Thorp of 4×4 Outfitters maneuvered us quietly into position on a ranch just outside Roseburg, Oregon.
“I’ve been watching these bucks for a week now and they always seem to be along the base of those trees at first light,” he had told us early on.
With us were booking agent Wade Derby and his 14-year old son, Cody. Wade and I have been friends for decades and I have been able to watch Cody grow up in hunting camps around the country.
As the false dawn began to illuminate the eastern horizon Thorp tensed.
“I have deer,” he hissed.
Slowly the light increased to the point where we could see all we needed to see from a quarter of a mile away — big antlers outlined against the wheat-colored grasses below the oaks.
“Let’s go,” Thorp said.
We slipped in closer, I took a solid rest, and not five minutes into the season I had crosshairs on the largest buck. I was shooting a Weatherby Vanguard Sub-MOA rifle chambered in .257 Wby. Mag. topped with a Nikon Monarch 4-14X scope and loaded with Nosler Custom Ammunition featuring the 115-grain Ballistic Tip bullet. At 250 yards the shot was almost a chip shot and just like that, a hunt I had dreamed about for a near-decade gave to me a beautiful 8-point buck on the ground. Later we taped his antlers at 102 3/8 Safari Club International points, which would put him in the top 20 in the SCI record book.
Thorp outfits on the ranch that has produced the majority of the Columbian whitetail bucks in the record book. In fact, Douglas County, Oregon is currently the only place where these deer can be legally hunted.
Thorp grew up in the area, has known the rancher all his life and knows the ground he hunts like the back of his hand. Hunters are required to possess a valid Oregon hunting license and deer tag, and obtain a LOP (Land Owner Preference) voucher to be able to hunt there. This combination makes it possible to harvest either a Columbian whitetail or Columbian blacktail buck. The area is also loaded with blacktails. Blacktail deer can be hunted on the ranch with just a state deer tag.
The next day the Derbys rounded our bag out, with Cody taking a fat-management blacktail buck and Wade a dandy 4×3 blacktail.
The fact that we were successful so quickly and efficiently is a testament to the skills of Thorp, a 28-year-old go-getter who also guides fishermen both in Oregon and Alaska. He had a plan based on his knowledge of the property and a solid week of everyday scouting. Wade and I had been trying to put this hunt together for several years, but one thing or another always seemed to put the kibosh on it. Wade is one of the most knowledgeable men I know when it comes to the ins and outs of big-game hunting.
“Less than 100 tags are issued annually for Columbian whitetails,” he told me. “The season is short, extending over two weekends in early October. You can hunt with any weapon, and it is mostly a spot and stalk game.”
These deer might be small — the world record typical buck scores just 130 1/8 points, and there are only 18 bucks in the current SCI record book scoring over 100 points — but both they and the habitat in which they live, are big in my eyes. This hunt just proved when the planets line up and a plan all comes together, success is all the sweeter.