This year has been a very difficult year in the shop. Componant delays have put a severe strain on me, my customers and my family to be honest.
Because of these issues, I have been spending around 14 hour days in the shop since this spring. With the Montana big game season rolling around I was not able to put in any scounting time like I generally do. The season has been open for 9 days now and I have been out on two morning and one evening hunt total. For me, this is unheard of, generally I am out every day of the season until I kill my deer. Just not how its working out this year with trying to get out many very old projects out to customers because of late componant delivery times.
Went out opening morning and did see some good mule deer bucks, 160" class deer, 25-26" wide but just young deer, at least a year away from being shooter bucks.
The next week, I worked all week, no hunting, talk about hard to do when I am used to basically closing the shop doors for all of hunting season, not this year. Just something ya got to do.
Monday morning rolled around and I had a customers rifle I had to work on the drop chart on so I called my Dad up who also does some work for me in the shop and we drove up to the range. First we drove up to my favorite whitetail haunt to see if anything had moved off the river and may possibly come down that evening.
We walked up over the hill overlooking my favorite little creek bottom and on the far back side of the valley, roughly a mile away, there were four whitetails. Many of you know I am far more partial to big whitetails then mule deer. I will certainly shoot either but just prefer mature whitetails.
We only had our 10x binos but one of the group was obviously a mature buck. be looked to be at least 21" wide and nice and tall with good mass. He was far enough away that we could not count points with the binos but it was clear he was a shooter. We watched him until he took the two does and a smaller 4x4 into a big draw and bedded down.
Then we slipped back over the hill and headed to our shooting range to test the customers rifle.
We set up for the test. It was very windy, sustained 20 mph winds with gusts up to 30 mph. We were only testing for the drop chart so we were able to do this just fine.
Before we left, I pulled out my Raptor based 300 AX and found a target rock at 1065 yards, the max range using my TMR reticle for hold over in the Mk4 6.5-20 Leupold scope.
Took a wind measurement and plugged those numbers into exbal. Onviously I wanted to hit the rock but anything within 1/2 moa would have been great in those conditions and would have been clearly a vital hit on a mature whitetail as the rock was only about 4" in diameter.
Exbal predicted I needed 6 moa for windage with the wind speed and angle we were shooting in. Made the correction and placed the very bottom post of the reticle on the target rock and tickled the 12 oz jewell trigger. The rifle barely rocked as it spit the 240 gr SMK down range at 3150 fps. Just after the rifle settled the big SMK landed 4" to the right of the center of the rock, just off the right edge and height was perfect. Just for good measure I sent another one, same exact impact!!! Dialed the windage back to zero, we were ready.
We went back to the shop. I had some pressing work to do and Dad had to take Mom to town. I called my brother to see what he was up to and told him of the big whitetail we had seen in the valley. He said he would love to come up and try to help me get him. We left my place at 3:00 and got up to the ranch at 3:30. It was still very windy but had calmed a bit. Cloudy and with the look and smell of rain, just one of those good hunting nights. We packed up all the gear, spotters, heavy bipods, rifles, ranging equipment and cloths and headed over the hill.
Before we could even get up the hill, we jumped 4 whitetail does which ran up over the hill. Not good as they could spook the big boy of he was watching. Luckily, with the heavy wind, they had no idea what we were and stopped on the flat on the top of the hill. There were more deer then we had seen including the 4x4 that was with the big buck earlier that morning.
This had me a bit worried, if he had moved this early, the big buck may also have moved. IT was now a crap shoot where he would be. We eased up over the hill and there were a dozen or so whitetails on the flat including the 3 year old 4x4. We did not want to spook them but we NEEDED to get into position as soon as we could as things were obviously starting to move early.
We slowly walked over the flat and the whitetails moved off down into the creek bottom but did not seem overly spooked, again, the strong winds helped us here, they had no real idea what these to equipment covered masses were.
We made it across the flat and set next to my favorite clump of brush. Right on the edge of one of the creeks cut backs. The valley floor was roughly 30 yards below us and extended anywhere from 150 to 800 yards from our position depending on where the deer came out of the draws at.
The wind was still stiff, 10-12 mph coming from out right to left down the valley. Not great for longer range shooting but doable as it was a consistant wind.
I pulled the back off my back, pulled out the spotter and set up the heavy tripod which was needed in the wind. Its 25 lbs which is a pain to pack but in the nearly constant Montana wind, its a god sent for getting a good idea what the animals have on their head. Ideal for video as well.
I just got the spotter mounted on the tripod when I looked over my brothers shoulder and coming out of the mouth of one of the draws was a big whitetail buck. I swung the spotter on him just to confirm what I already knew, there was our boy!!!
I reached in the pack and threw the Swari RF to my brother and told him to get me some ranges while I set up the Raptor. He read out ranges over the next several seconds as I hurried up to get the rifle into the fight. Bipod down and locked, scope level checked. The ranges were consistant, 485, 490, 486, 488. Looked on my cheat sheet on the stock of the 300 AX. 500 yards was the first mil line down on the FFP Mk4.
I got on the rifle after sliding a round into the chamber and dropping the tactical bolt as smoothly as I could. The wind was strong against the right side of my forhead. I never really looked at the bucks rack. I knew he was a shooter, that was all that was needed.
He now turned from a perfect broadside position to now standing directly toward us and worse yet, he had us pegged. The wind felt the same as before, coming from my 2 o'clock position straight down the valley. No updrafts here, just cross wind.
I asked my brother for one more reading in range, "485 yards". I settled the first mil line on the bottom quarter of the depth of the bucks chest as he stared directly at me. I remember thinking to myself if I dope the wind correctly, he going home with us, if not, he would be getting away.
I did not have time to take a wind measurement or run the numbers but thats why we drive a .710 BC bullet to 3150 fps to help us in case we are off a bit with the dope when things get hurried at moderate ranges.
I placed the vertical stadia of the reticle on the right line of the bucks shoulder to allow roughly 1.5 moa for the wind we had.
Took a deep breath and let a bit out. From the time we spotted the deer it seemed like several minutes, in reality, it was more like 30 seconds. I pulled the rifle into my shoulder with my offhand and my trigger finger found the jewell. With just enough pressure tobe realized, a big sierra ripped across the valley. Nearly instantly, the heavy head on the buck dropped as the rifle rolled just enough to loose sight of him. An obvious solid hit that was only confirmed even more dramatically a second later when the impact "SMACK" drifted back with the wind to our position.
I recovered from the recoil and he was gone. I turned to my brother and asked where he was. He said he dropped on his nose and never moved but a couple leg kicks after the shot. He had dropped into the bottom of the draw and from my lower prone position I could not see him laying there but when I set up and looked through the spotter, to my delight, he was laying there still as could be.
We just set there for several minutes. Its always humbling for me to harvest a mature animal, any animal really, there is always a sense of sadness when you realize you are responsible for taking the life of one of the most impressive and leary big game animals on the planet. While its some what saddening, putting them down quickly is always a great thing and in not to long of a time that humility is over shadowed by greatfullness and excitement.
As we set and watched him, I spotted a very black dot on the far rim of the valley. Put the spotter on him and quickly realized it was a huge mule deer buck that my brother had been working on all week. We stayed there hoping he would come down into shooting range until dark but he never did. He is a magnificent plains mule deer. 28" wide, Huge deep forks all around, well above averge mass and great eye guards for a mule deer. Easily a +180 class mule deer and I would not be surpised if he is not 190" class as his body just seemed HUGE. Unfortunately, the big boy bedded down on the rim so we decided to not push him and head out and get my whitetail.
By the time we got the truck back to the valley rim, it was getting pretty damn dark. We unloaded the game cart and headed over to the whitetail. When we got to him, I was not unhappy at all. I was hoping he was a 5x5 as I really had no idea. Instead he was a clean 4x4 with great G-2s and good G-3s. Main beams well over 24" in length and roughly 22" spread with a 20" inside spread. Based were both just shy of 6" circumference.
Only weakness really was his eye guards as one was broken off nearly completely and the other was very short at less then 3" in length. Still, he was a very mature whitetail. We aged him at 5 1/2 years old and his body was simply huge. Had my brother not been there I would have never gotten him back to the truck whole. He was easily one of my three largest bodied whitetails and I have no doubt he was pushing 300 lb live weight.
It took about an hour and a half to get him carted across the valley, through the creek and back up the other side to the truck. We were both pretty whooped by then and it was quite dark.
I was very happy to have had the chance to take this buck. Not an overly long shot but in the windy conditions, it was plenty long. The big 240 gr SMK had entered at the base of the neck and took out the bottom of the neck spine which caused him to drop in his tracks. Could not be happier with the results. Hit exactly where I wanted it to.
Because of the very low light we were concerned about the pics but they seemed to turn out pretty good.
This picture really puts into perspective the size of the body of this deer. I am 6'3" and weight in at 215 lbs. He makes me look pretty small, his neck was absolutely huge for this time of year which is a solid week to 10 days pre-hard rut.
This pic shows the bucks great G-2 length and good crab claws.
He had very good G-2s as both were well over 11". His net score was 142" B&C which is pretty respectable for a clean 4x4 with no real eyeguards to speak of. Had he even had average eyeguards, he would have easily been a 150" 4x4 which is a pretty rare beast to harvest.
Even as he is, I am very happy to have been able to harvest this great buck. There are bigger out there but he will be on my wall and I am very happy. Plus, I can not get back to the shop work without worrying about if I am going to be able to fill my tag this season or not!!!
I apologize for the zoned out look on my face. It was pretty much totally dark out and the camera really was catching me off guard. See, just as ugly in the dark as in the light!!!
Hope everyone else has a great season as well. Good luck and good hunting.