Maybe an hour later I was working my way slowly down the ridge and I noticed some movement through the trees. I couldn’t make anything out through the binoculars, so I slowly crept forward. Eventually, I made out a deer. It was a buck and although his body was very stout and broad his rack was quite compact. A true 4x4 with short tines, he was easy to pass up because the other two bucks I’d seen before were clearly nicer. I decided to hang out with this buck and see if he’d lead me to something better. I followed him a couple hundred yards through the woods but then he eventually slipped away. I’m sure I could have circled around and found him again but I didn’t think it would be worth the effort.
I had a cross wind with the ridge so I decided to turn around and head in the opposite direction. As I worked my way up the ridge I realized I was having my single best day of black-tail hunting ever, and it wasn’t over. Passing on nice bucks gives the opportunity to have days like these. I took a break above a bowl filled with snow and trees. I glassed hard into the trees. There were substantial tracks going in and out so I figured the deer were not too far. I changed positions several times to get a better perspective into the trees. Sure enough, I found a nice buck bedded down in the shadows. I looked him over closely, he wasn’t very wide (maybe 16”) but he was fairly tall and had decent tines. He was a 4x4 and had brow tines as well. I really didn‘t want to let this buck go, but I still had three days left and he wasn’t the big one I was looking for.
The next morning my confidence was at an all-time high. I was in one of the most beautiful areas of the Cascade range, and I was finding mature bucks. I headed into a different area than I hunted the day before. I found a couple sets of big tracks and a couple more rubs. I worked up to a pass and into the next canyon. I’d seen nice bucks there in years past. I enjoyed the scenery and exercise, but was dying to see another buck. I felt as though I was doing everything right but I only saw ten does all day. This was the first day I had seen any deer come out into a meadow and feed. I knew better than to doubt myself too much. Some days you just don’t find those bucks (or at least I don’t)! I was beginning to wonder if I would end up regretting passing on nice bucks the day before.
It was now the fifth day since I’d left. I was starting to feel the pressure of my deadline. I headed toward where I’d seen the 20” buck in the woods two days before. While crossing the open area of meadow I glassed to the far side and saw the white face of a buck looking into the meadow from the tree line. I was able to use the roll of the terrain to get out of his sight and moved down to a large rock just above the tree line. He was still there looking out. I could see he had a good frame, I figured he was about 18” wide. A doe moved past him out into the meadow, followed by another. He let them feed alone for several minutes before he came out. He was coming my way and I could tell he was no 4x4. I was quite disappointed. He had everything I wanted in a black-tail except tines! He was just a 2x3 with one brow tine, but he was quite heavy! Anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for heavy antlered deer. I decided I’d pass on him.
I got out my camera and started taking pictures of him through the scope. He was even more tempting as he got closer but I continued taking pictures. He chased his does around for a bit then bedded down with them out of my sight. This is the first buck I’d seen that had does with him. I wanted to look him over some more so I got out a “can call” I’d borrowed and gave it a bleat. He lifted his head above the brush and tempted me once again with his heavy rack. His head went down again. I waited a few minutes and gave another bleat. Without hesitation the two does followed closely by the buck made a beeline for the woods. They were heading straight away from me. As I watched him running away I had an intense feeling of disappointment. It was at this time I realized I actually wanted that heavy 2x3. I watched helplessly as he disappeared into the tree line on the far side. He was one of the heaviest horned black-tails I’d ever seen. I decided I’d wait there, and if the buck showed himself again, I’d promptly range him, dial the scope and shoot. I had brought my “super accurate” Benchmark 7wsm, so I had confidence in spades.
I scanned the treeline with resolve. About ten minutes later I see a doe emerging from the woods. I was hoping it was one of his does. A few minutes later another doe shows. Finally after what felt like an hour (probably about five minutes) I see another deer but it’s back in the trees. Sure enough it was the buck. He would disappear for minutes at a time and refused to clear the trees. Finally he shows up in a perfect window between two trees. I range him at 530yds. I then ranged the tree line to make sure I had not hit a tree in front of him. The tree line was 502yds… it was time to drop the hammer. I quickly referenced my drop chart and dialed the scope. I couldn’t rest off the bipod due to the configuration of the rock so I’d rested the rifle about mid-stock on my sand sock. I steadied the crosshairs on his shoulder holding just a ¼ mil into the wind. I slowly pressed the trigger. I had good sight picture all the way through recoil as the 140gr berger VLD made its way. I saw him lunge behind the trees after the bullet hit. The shot felt good and I was confident I’d hammered him.
I was quite pleased as I gathered my things and hiked across the meadow. I was looking forward to getting my hands on him. The does didn’t even run off after the shot was fired and one stayed in the meadow until I was about 150 yards from her. I first hiked straight to where the buck was when I’d shot. I looked down the hill and he’d piled up in a thicket of trees less than ten yards from where I’d shot him. When I got my hands on his rack I was pleased there was no ground shrinkage. He was every bit as heavy as he looked and he turned out to be 19.25” wide (outside spread of main beam). I took some pictures, and got to work. His body was quite large and I had a pack full of de-boned meat in no time. As I carried my pack back to camp I decided I would have to make two trips out, one for the deer and another for my gear. I left all my gear in my tent where it would be safe until the next weekend.
That night I got a couple inches of snow. I got up early to make myself a cup of coffee and do a little glassing. Nothing showed up. I packed up all the meat, shook the snow off the tent, pulled the guy lines taut, and was on my way. Dropping down a couple thousand feet or so in elevation, the snow turned to rain. It was steep, slippery country, but I had crampons on and only slid when a patch of compacted fir and hemlock needles filled my crampons and turned into a natural alpine roller skate. Avoiding slipping and falling is very important when you’re alone. When you have no trails to follow you have to be more aware of your general route so you don’t get too far off course. I had to cross several creeks to get out.
On the hike in I felt like I’d found some fairly good spots to cross. On the way out I missed one of my crossings by a few hundred feet in elevation which costs time, but it was only a minor setback. As I became more wet and fatigued I forced myself to slow down and be more deliberate about my steps. I had to go through miles of blowdowns through a “dead forest”. Although the wind wasn’t particularly strong I watched several large trees come down. I’d hear popping and cracking before one would fall so there was a little bit of warning. Luckily, I never had to move to get out of the way.