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High Country Mule Deer, Chapter Two

jtred

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Creston BC
Chapter Two,

The following weekend our youngest daughter wanted to and actually had time to go hunting Saturday morning with me. The quarry being turkey, grouse, rabbits, and possibly a whitetail buck. The hunting gods did not smile on us that day, due to me missing twice on grouse we came home empty handed. We did however have a wonderfully relaxing mid-morning tea break, an extended one. We picked a spot with a great view to the south and just sat leaned back against a log and basked in the sun. I love hunting with my girls. On Sunday a good friend wanted to go out for turkey while I packed a rifle for deer and elk. Spotted a couple of whitetail but not much else. It was a nice day to be out and about.

I decided to take Friday October 11th off and spend a few days up on my favourite mountain hunting mule deer mainly, elk if the opportunity arose. So I packed my bag, loaded up my cart and managed to get away pretty early. By 9:30 give or take, I had camp squared away, including pumping 10+litres of water at the last creek crossing before camp. Once again this past summer I had hiked in and spent a couple of hours cutting and collecting firewood, enough for 4-5nights, 6 if it was warm and I was frugal. Sure is nice not to get dirty before I start hunting. I brewed a cup of tea and contemplated what to do for the day. The weather was incredible, not a cloud to be seen, cold in the shade but warm in the sun.

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The perfect day to slowly hunt my way across the mountain, sitting and glassing. I decided to let the wind dictate the day. I headed north with a steady breeze out of the west to a block where I could sit and have my lunch while glassing a couple different cuts. The same block as the grizzly was spotted on during the previous hunt.

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I sat there the better part of three hours, I could see a long way up and nearly as far down and across. I drank some more tea, had my lunch and just picked apart the landscape with my binoculars. I may have dozed off once or twice, every time I do that I just know, I'm completely positive that a big mature buck walks across right there. Every time. Eventually I felt the wind begin to tickle the back of my neck, the thermals were switching. It was time to make a move. I had been somewhat expecting what the winds were doing so I had already decided on what my next move would be, depending on the wind of course.

I headed perpendicular to the wind with the intention of cutting across the bottom of one block and the top of another. The wind would not be ideal for the first but it would be absolutely perfect for the second. As I cut down onto the second block the wind is very steady upslope, not too strong, just very steady. The first part took an hour or more, I sat and glassed for a bit I didn't see anything at all. As I eased down the slope of the next ridge I was constantly pausing and glassing as the block unfolded around me. On one of these pauses a two point stepped into an opening maybe 40m to the east and we did the mule deer stare down until he slowly moved off, thankfully upslope. I slowed down even more now because I knew that soon I would be able to see over onto the favourite bedding spot for deer on this block.

An impenetrable thicket of alders blocking the prevailing wind, a wide bench covered by huckleberries and long grasses, full in the afternoon sun. As the first glimpse of the bench came into view I immediately spotted antlers. Binoculars up, it's a four point, younger, definitely not an old deer. Still though it's a legal four point asleep less than 80m away. The slope is such that I just lean back into the hill and quietly slip off my pack, keeping my rifle in one hand and my shooting stick in the other. I ease back over the ridge and take another look, definitely legal but not in the ideal place for a shot. All I can see is the back of his head and a small portion of his left front shoulder. I think if I can carefully shimmy downslope keeping below the ridge top I would come to the point of the ridge I was on. From there I could peek around a small fir tree and a rock. I would be more or less the same elevation as the deer but since the ridge curled towards him he should now be broadside.

Thankfully the brush is still damp from the recent snow and pretty quiet to move through. I must admit I can't resist the urge to check up on him as I'm moving down the ridge. Twice I checked on him and both times he was in the exact same position as the first time except the angle of shooting kept getting better. I get to the point of the finger ridge I'm on and for the final time ease up and over keeping a small fir tree between the deer and I, now is when I'll decide whether I'm going to shoot or not. I still have almost two full days up there and almost a month in the season left. He's moved! He's now bedded farther to the west and he looks bigger. His head looks bigger and his antlers definitely look thicker from this angle. You've probably guessed what was up but in my adrenaline flooded brain it did not occur to me that he wasn't alone.

This is actually quite a nice buck not a giant but a heavy, dark mountain mule deer and he's asleep less than 60m away. It's been such a perfect day I see no reason not to make it a perfect hunt. Using my shooting stick I get set up using the small fir tree, I'm laying in a twisted prone position comfortably looking through my scope, it's as good as the range. Maybe better. Since he's facing straight away and this is mostly about the meat I wait a while to see if he will stand. I've always cautioned against neck or head shots, and have never purposefully attempted either on big game, but in this one instance I came to the conclusion a neck shot was not only ethical but the absolute best shot I would ever get on this deer. The buck is asleep with his head up facing away. I placed my crosshairs half way down the neck, he never rose from his bed. Then there's another buck standing and I'm instantly panicked that I shot the wrong deer. No he was four point, now I get it, the first deer I saw is actually the smaller of the two and I wasn't able to see him from the point of the ridge. He sticks around for a few minutes before heading off uphill at a good clip.

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You can see the buck I first sighted in the upper right hand quarter, with the deer I shot in the lower left.

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As I walked up to him it just looked like he was sleeping.

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He's just your average mule deer, not a giant by any measure. Except maybe experience itself. I find the hunt itself to be the memory that gets brought out more often. I'm at a place where any mule deer buck taken on a solo backpack hunt is a trophy. The day could not have been any better.

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A little more time before dark would have been nice. Better yet would have been if my hunting partner and friend for the past 44years could have been there. It was 3:30pm I had until 6:30 maybe before it would be pretty dark. I didn't like the idea of spending the night on the mountain with a hundred pounds of meat and me smelling like meat. Now it was a race. I quickly gutted him and had him dragged down to an access point I could get my cart into. By now I'm feeling every hour since I woke up, the hike in all uphill, hunting since 9:30 or so, and I just dragged a mule deer 500-600m downhill. I'm sore and I'm tired. I get back to camp as fast as I can and proceed to break it down and pack it all up in record time, no strategic placement in the pack just get it in there and get going. I'd rigged up an elaborate flagging pole braced by the deer itself so that I'd be able to tell if something came along while I was away. As I round the last corner heading into the straight were my deer was laying I stopped and using my binoculars scanned the deer and the road beyond. Nothing.

I'm at the deer right around 6:15, the shadows are really getting long now. Just on moon rise I had the deer somewhat precariously tied onto the game cart. Threw on my pack, shouldered my rifle, checked my bear spray, made sure both headlamps were accessible along with a spare set of batteries and started singing.

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My singing is my best first line of bear defence, cougar, and wolf as well. I have never seen a bear while I was singing in fact I've never seen any wildlife while I'm singing. In my head it sounds like Bruce or Mellencamp are in the house, apparently I'm tone deaf. This according to my wife and two girls and well pretty much everyone who's ever had the pleasure to hear me sing. Solely because of my singing I survive the hike down the mountain. The full moon was a really nice touch, I even turned my headlamp off a few times just to admire it. Then I could feel the bears, cougars, and wolves moving in so I'd turn my headlamp back on and banished them, at least moved them back a little further. Just out of reach of the headlamp?

I was home by shortly before 10:00pm much to the surprise of my wife and youngest daughter. I had the deer broken down and cooling in the shed by midnight. The next morning was spent cleaning up the meat before getting it all into the old cotton pillowcases I use for game bags and rehung in the shed. Ready for butchering on Monday. We got 89lbs of boned out meat including the heart.

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For those who are curious some of the gear I was using included; rifle Tikka t3 270win shooting 150gr Federal Fusions, tent MEC Spark2, sleeping bag MEC Draco -9C down, gaitors MEC Gortex, binoculars by Vortex, spotting scope Leupold compact 15x30, knife by Havalon, game cart Cabella's, sleeping pad Thermarest Trail Lite, pack by Serratus(an old Canadian made pack I've had for over twenty years). Clothes and rain gear are just a mish mash of good quality hiking gear and some sale item hunting stuff, some camo most not.

I hope you enjoyed the telling of the tale I know I thoroughly enjoyed the making of it. A hunt that will be hard to top in so many ways, the weather, the views, the smells, even the Nervous Nelly walk out in the dark. The full moon was something to behold. Every minute of every hour added to the perfection of this day. Stay safe and best of luck with the rest of your season.


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