Bucks, Bears, and Blizzards
By Troy Adams
Even though Montana's deer season had been open for a couple days, I wasn't able to get out until after work on Monday (Oct. 22). I only had a short window of time to hunt before darkness would fall. I had a specific place in mind I wanted to go, and actually a specific buck I wanted to shoot. The previous week I had seen a great whitetail buck that had me fantasizing about hanging him on my wall.
As I arrived where I wanted to start my hunt it began to spit a little snow. The buck I wanted was hanging out along creek bottom at the base of a steep mountain. The foliage was too thick to hunt him one on one in the bottom. I decided the best way to hunt him would to be to get above him on the mountain. That way I could side hill along the mountain and look down into the trees below, giving me a much better chance of spotting him. I had also heard a rumor about a fairly wide muley in the area but had yet to lay eyes on him.
I made quick time to gain elevation and then started my side hilling while hiking high above and parallel to the creek below. I spotted a few whitetail does and fawns and then nearly walked headlong into a herd of muley does. I stopped just in time and the does did not see me. As I sat there looking at them I began to see more and more does popping up here and there out of their beds. I also spotted a small whitetail buck along the creek. I decided I was in a pretty good spot and just settled in for a few minutes to see if a buck would show up.
After about 20 minutes I couldn't take sitting still anymore (I was getting cold). I decided to work my way a little further along, but I knew I might blow the muley does out. As I stood up they went on high alert. I noted that a couple of them looked uphill from me and that caused me to do the same. There I spotted a lone doe coming across the top of the ridge above me. I decided to just sink back to the ground and see if anyone else was with her. The deer that were on alert actually started to settle back down as they never really got a good look at me. Then another doe appeared with a couple fawns, followed by 10 more does and fawns.
Now remember, I was looking for a big whitey and these muleys had me side tracked. What I didn't know at the time is that the only other guy that had permission to hunt this property (he is also one of my better friends and hunting partners) had killed the whitetail buck I was after earlier that morning. Here he is with the buck I was hoping to find:
The reason he cut it off at the head is that he'd made a bad shot. By the time he caught up to the buck and found it, a black bear had found it first. The bear had eaten most of the deer, wrecked the cape, and basically just left the head unmolested.
Okay, back to the muley does on the mountain. As I watched them, I wondered if the wide buck I had heard about would show up with them. Just about as quickly as I wondered this I dismissed the thought, thinking, “I'm not that lucky, and besides the rut is still a couple weeks away.” I had no sooner finished this negative thought when lo and behold, guess who brings up the end of the herd? Yep, Mr. Wide.
He was right at the top of the ridge and on the wrong side of the fence, meaning he was on property I didn't have permission to hunt. However he was heading toward the fence and all the does had crossed on to my side. Oddly, he was in full rut mode. I looked him over and decided that as much as I wanted the whitetail I couldn't pass this muley if he gave me a shot.
Sure enough, he hopped the fence and stopped quartering hard away from me. He was right next to the fence and looking back at the fence like he was thinking about jumping back over it. I learned a long time ago that once you make up your mind to kill an animal, it's best to take the first shot opportunity and not fart around waiting for a better angle or some other type of convenience. I use quality bullets (165 gr Hornady Interbonds), so shot angle wouldn't be an issue. While I would have rather had a broadside shot, I wasn't willing to wait for it. I placed my crosshairs towards the back of his rib cage anticipating the exit would be close to his off side shoulder. Kaboom! Thwap! the sound of a solid hit echoed back. (Looks like the old 30.06 is still getting it done).
Surprisingly he didn't go right down. He turned and started to run downhill. This is good, because it's away from the property I cannot hunt. However, it’s also bad because it's super steep and if he goes too far and starts to tumble. There wouldn't be much of him left by the time he hit the bottom. He makes it about 50 yards and folds up, but starts to roll, and roll, and roll. I'm hitting red line panic mode as there isn't anything I can do. I'm having visions of shattered antlers. Fortunately he hangs up on a brush pile and halts his decent.
I make my way over to him and spot a tiny level cut in the side of the mountain about 100 yards below. I get him unstuck from the brush and try my best to hang on to him as he pulls me down the mountain to the little level spot. There I shed my coat in anticipation of gutting him out. It occurs to me I should probably take a picture or two despite starting to freeze my nay-nays off. I take a couple photographs and then get to field dressing him.
Upon finishing the job at hand I stand up, look around, and realize there is no way I'm getting him out whole and that it's getting dark fast. Add to that there is a major storm front coming right at me. I mean it looks like an ominous dark wall reaching from the heavens to the ground. With a foreboding sense of concern starting to come over me, I reach for my cell phone. Happily I discover I have cell service. I start making calls as fast as I can. Seems nobody is home. Finally, I get ahold of a good friend, and he agrees to come help me pack him out. He even gave up his men’s league basketball game to come help me out. Man, I love having friends that are as crazy as me when it comes to hunting!
I have to go back to town and meet my friend. So I hike out and by the time we return, it’s dark and snowing hard. We hike back in and I can't find the freaking buck! Between the darkness and the snow it's nearly impossible to get oriented. We look for an hour in the dark, and I start to worry that I won’t find him until the next morning. I didn't want to leave him overnight because I knew there were a couple bears in the area and I didn't want to donate my buck to them. I mean, one deer meal courtesy of my friend’s whitetail was enough for that day.
Finally, through a stroke of luck my partner finds the buck. I quickly get to work on quartering, deboning, and caping the buck out. Not my favorite thing to do in the dark, but you gotta do what ya gotta do. After that chore was taken care of, we loaded our packs and head out. By now there was enough snow on the ground that the walking was treacherous. We are side hilling a very steep mountain, it's super slippery, and if either of us fall with the full packs, it is most likely to end in a fatality. The snow conditions had deteriorated into an all out blizzard and visibility was limited in our head lamps. We picked our way along very carefully. Finally, a little after 10 pm we arrive back at my pickup truck. Seeing those tail lights reflect back at me as we approached the truck has never looked so good.
The following morning I learned of my friend's success in killing the whitetail buck I was initially after. He was excited and I was excited for him. He brings his buck over and we place our bucks on the tail gate of my pickup for a photo op. So in the end everything ended well for all involved. Two great bucks, two happy hunters, and a bear with a full belly.
An avid big game hunter, Troy Adams has been hunting big game for nearly 30 years. Combining hunting and photography has helped him preserve many great memories. When not hunting, photographing, writing, or spending time with his family, Troy is usually found working on his wildlife art drawings.