The Family Package
By Nicholas Gebhardt
“I wonder what that is,” I thought to myself as I raised my Leupold Wind River 10X42 binoculars to my eyes. I only had a few hours to hunt and I was looking for a decent buck, or a doe if that was all I could find. I was fortunate enough to be home with my wife’s family and only had a few hours before returning to Bozeman, MT for the remainder of the college semester. My wife and her family were rounding up cattle for branding that morning and I was turned loose on their property for a few hours before the long drive back.
The early morning was calm and the sun was at my back as I worked my way up the wide valley to the west that also had multiple draws branching to all directions. I had been lying on a small hilltop for the past five minutes enjoying the brisk November air of eastern Montana, diligently scanning the surrounding terrain all around me, when I noticed a silhouetted shape on the horizon to the west. I could barely make out antlers on the skyline through my binoculars, and I estimated the deer to be somewhere around 1000 yards away. The ridge was high above my location and I immediately started looking for a route up to the top in pursuit of the deer that was now my target.
As I planned my route to intercept, the buck slowly turned and began picking his way down what appeared to be a near vertical cliff in my direction. I decided to stay in my location and continued watching the buck to see which direction he would go after reaching the bottom of the cliff. The buck could take multiple routes after getting to the bottom so I didn’t want to move until I knew which direction he would eventually turn. After only a couple short minutes the mule deer buck had reached the bottom and stood on a small bench looking down the draw that was to my immediate front. As I gazed through my binoculars at the deer, it stood motionless, also staring intently at something that had caught its interest. I quickly scanned the draw to my front, constantly coming back to the buck to ensure he was still in the same location. I could only imagine the buck was looking at a coyote, as I was on private property and there were no other hunters in the vicinity. This waiting game lasted for over ten minutes as I waited for the buck to continue his journey to wherever he was headed.
I soon realized that my patience needed improvement as I grabbed my pack and rifle and slowly back crawled down the hilltop, ever careful to stay low to the ground to avoid skylining myself to the buck which was now below my own elevation, but still must have been close to 800 yards away. As soon as I dropped out of sight of the deer, I began running to the next available hilltop a couple hundred yards up the valley in the direction of the deer. I had a good fix on the buck, and he had been standing still for such a long time that I was confident he would still be there another couple minutes later. Imagine my surprise when I peered over the next hill that was to be my firing position and found that the deer was no longer where he had been.
My binoculars were up to my eyes as I frantically scanned the terrain looking for the buck. I was afraid he had caught a glimpse of me as I backed down off the previous hill. I had pulled down the bipod legs on my rifle and had set it immediately to my right side. My backpack was still on and my heavy breathing tried to fog up the lenses on my optics. What seemed like a couple minutes of searching was probably only less than one as I found the buck. He had simply dropped down into a shallow gully below the bench he had been standing on and was now coming up the far side. I was in luck. The buck had absolutely no clue I was in the area watching every move he made. The buck now seemed intent on going somewhere as I easily reached over and grabbed my rifle, pulling it in front of me and snuggling in behind the Leupold 3.5-10X40 VX III scope. I had already reached forward and flicked open the lens covers and then manipulated the well worn and butter smooth bolt.
The particular rifle I was carrying this hunt was a custom built tactical type rifle that I had fired in 1000 yard competition before. It was chambered for the hard hitting 300 Winchester Magnum and my bullet of choice was the 190 grain Sierra Matchking at 3000 feet per second. I knew this rifle very well and was confident taking a shot at more than 400 yards on an animal if I had to.