Seventy-seven grains of RL-25 powder in this rifle pushes a Hornady A-max, 162-grain bullet at 3,200 fps. This bullet was selected for its accuracy and its high ballistic coefficient of .625, essential in taming the winds of Montana. In a 10 mph sideways wind at an elevation of 2,800 feet, this bullet will drift only 22 inches over 700 yards. I will plan to shoot this far only if the sideways component of the wind is in the range of 3 to 5 mph. My hand-held windmeter is a Kestrel. I use a Lasertech brand rangefinder that works even in bright sun out past 1,500 yards. My spotting scope is a Swarovski HD model with 20 to 60 power.
The next morning as I walked from the bunkhouse to the breakfast table in the ranch house at 4 am, I noticed a million bright stars and felt a very light wind on my face. This would be a good day.
My guide would be Donny Mawyer, aged 44, with tons of experience. After breakfast we drove together through the dark to one of Tracy’s 4 leased ranches. Last year my son, Andy, shot a nice buck on this same property. We had first seen it at 700 yards, bedded in the early snow, watching us. Andy stalked to within 260 yards and shot it. Our hunting partner, Jack, also started his successful stalk last year 700 yards from a buck that saw us but which had felt safe at that distance. Jack shot him at 82 yards, complaining facetiously that the guide had been unable to get him to 50 yards as Jack had requested.
As I dreamed of this year’s hunt I pictured a buck at 700 yards. Last year, lightly falling snow on our first hunt day had limited my rangefinder’s function and I had first passed up a buck at somewhere around 600 yards, unsure of the distance. Minutes later I took him with a hurried but successful shot from a seated, bipod position at 400 yards. As part of my long-term, long range hunting training program I hoped for a longer shot in good conditions this year.
Donny and I arrived at our destination, parked the truck and headed out in the pre-dawn light towards our spot. Tracy had decided to experiment by putting us in a Double-Bull brand tent blind for the first day. We would be perched on the very tip of a high ridge overlooking a network of draws. He knew I wanted a long shot and felt this setup would work well for me. I wasn’t crazy about sitting in a blind since this was too much like hunting whitetails at home in Wisconsin. But…I decided to cooperate in trying it for a while.
The wind was still light, the sky clear and as dawn broke we peered through openings in the blind at the beautiful vista in front of us. This is truly spectacular country. Donny explained that the deer would be moving from grassy fields to the east, down into the fingers and draws below us to spend the day bedded down in the trees and brush just south of us.
Within an hour several does moved behind and past our blind. While we watched for bucks I ranged various points out on the ridges ahead and to the sides. This gave me an idea of shot feasibility should a buck present itself there. Then 2 bucks appeared to my left along the side of one of the ridges. They were unaware of us as they moved slowly, dallying on their way to bed. My rangefinder said 643 yards and the wind was still below 5 mph. The larger of the bucks was only a 3 by 3 and the smaller was a fork-horn. I passed on them. But it was encouraging.
An hour later Donny spotted 2 bucks way out on the edge of a farm field, working their way into our network of ridges. We decided to leave the blind for the morning and head out in the direction that the bucks seemed to be heading when we had lost sight of them. Donny had been able to see antlers on one of them at over 2 miles with just 8 power binoculars and this made him think it may be a shooter. We spent an hour or so working our way closer but decided to quit for fear of disturbing the area too much for our evening hunt.
Back at the truck we ate lunch and I took an hour nap, awaking refreshed and ready to head back with Donny to the ridge. The wind had been picking up since around 10 am and by now, 2:30 pm, it was up to 10 or 12. I was disappointed. Sitting in the blind, the wind shook the tent and made it hard for us to hold our binoculars steady through the viewing ports. We decided to leave the blind and sit among some evergreen trees and shrubs just off to our left.
From here we had much more viewing area and could move around the top of the ridge, carefully screened by brush and trees. We were usually separated from each other by 10 yards or so, looking in slightly different directions. Over the next hour or so the wind diminished somewhat. Things were looking better. At 10 to 12 mph I hadn’t expected to take a shot even if a buck appeared. But now it could work.
It had turned slightly overcast earlier in the afternoon. The sun, in its lowered position just above the horizon, now started to peak out from under clouds in the west. Just then 2 bucks appeared off to my left. They were standing on top of a part of a ridge on what I would describe as the smooth top of a loaf of home-baked bread. The texture and color of this bit of turf contrasted strongly with that around it. Bathed now in the last rays of a golden sun, the composition containing the two smoothly sculpted bucks was quite a beautiful sight.
I assumed they were the first 2 we had seen that morning. I was seated and decided I didn’t want the bigger one but I would practice my sitting, Stoney Point shooting sticks, firing position without taking a shot. Just then I saw Donny returning behind me with an anxious look on his face. He wanted to tell me he saw the bucks but the bucks were now looking right at me and I motioned for Donny to get down quickly, and I indicated that I had already seen the bucks.