On another morning Joe and I worked our way across the lower face of some ridges and bowls carefully. Sometimes we were on foot with me going just ahead of him and our mounts. We saw both elk and deer but nothing to shoot.
That evening we sat at the same spot where Jacob and I had seen so much game. Early on Joe briefly saw a shooter buck heading away from us at 700 yards but we never saw him again that evening. The wind was not our friend. A bull elk (a different one) and his cows that appeared 450 yards away became nervous, proving that our scent had somehow worked its way down to them – and any deer that may have been about to show themselves. Mountain winds are very tricky!
Tom and Len with mules.
On the fourth morning Joe and I headed out to hunt the area just past the spot that I solo hunted a couple days earlier. We rode in the pre-dawn darkness lit by a sliver of moon and a gazillion stars. We planned to reach the far end of my prior solo hunt spot as legal shooting light appeared. We would then start hunting, working our way further than I had gone. At that point we’d be able to look down on both sides of this mountain ridge.
We reached the far end of the bowl 5 or 10 minutes into shootable light as we rounded a curve in the trail. Joe, just ahead of me, said, “Does” in a quiet but urgent voice as he stopped his horse. Then he quickly said, “One buck -- I think.”
While mounted I could see them, too. There were three does and one larger body of a buck. They had seen us but were unconcerned at well over 200 yards in the dim light. And what light there was came from behind us. So we smoothly but quickly dismounted and Joe took the reins of my mule and stepped off to the side to tie them up.
By now I knew it was at least a decent buck and quickly assumed a prone position and determined that the buck was indeed a shooter. The buck continued to purposefully move away from us until it was just over 300 yards away where it stopped to look back at us.
Joe had finished tying our mounts and was now standing just off to my side. I think he was a little surprised at how quickly I got off my 308 yard, quartering-away shot. I am primarily a white tail hunter from Wisconsin and they don’t hang around like these western mule deer often do.
Jacob and Joe recovering Len's buck. Click picture to enlarge.
The buck reacted to the shot the way you like them to. But he didn’t go down. Instead he hobbled unsteadily forward another 10 yards and stopped again where I finished the job with a second quartering-away shot.
He was on quite a steep side slope and at my second shot he tumbled, rolling about 20 yards down the hill where he came to a final stop. Had he rolled another 25 yards he would have dropped over an even steeper slope, making for a difficult recovery.
My cartridge is the 6.5x284, pretty similar to Jack O’Connor’s favorite -- the .270. We found both 140 grain Berger VLD’s just under the hide on the far shoulder after fully penetrating the large body transversely.
I spent a very sweet hour and a half waiting for Joe to return from camp with Jacob and a pack mule. While waiting for their arrival I sat on the steep slope next to my deer. I savored the moment in the soft morning sun and snapped pictures of the deer and the spectacular scenery. This was my most memorable western deer hunt ever.
I have a pretty busy hunt schedule “dance card” these next couple of years but I was thinking I may just have to open up a spot so I can come back to Jack O’Connor land soon!
Mule Creek Outfitting offers hunts for mule deer, elk, antelope, moose and black bear. A mule deer tag in Region H can be drawn with one point and the regular cost deer license or no points with the $200 higher priced “Special” deer license.
Len Backus is the owner of www.LongRangeHunting.com. He has been a long range hunter since the 1990's and is as likely to bag his game with a camera as with a rifle or a specialty handgun. His outdoor photography can be seen at LenBackus.com.
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