While recovering from shoulder surgery, I was getting pretty grumpy sitting at home with a hunting license, deer and elk tags yearning to be filled. I had drawn a deer tag for a very coveted area here. It’s 98% private land. Fortunately though, I have permission from many of the farmers around Grass Valley, Oregon to hunt. This is the area I didn’t draw last year, but accompanied my friends on their harvest of several deer . . .
It was three generations, hunting on a fifth-generation wheat farmer’s land. (I did come away with some of the jerky)
The last day of this year’s deer season dawned with a work crew paving my driveway. As I watched the guys work, I got a call from my buddy Sean. He had the day off and would be willing to drive me the two hours in hopes of bagging a buck to partially re-stock my freezer. I had two elk steaks left that I was saving up for an all-natural Thanksgiving dinner.
Still having my arm in a sling, I semi-jumped at the opportunity, making several trips from the shop to Sean’s rig, throwing in my day pack and my loaded .308 FN PBR. We arrived in the unit area with two hours of shooting light left and saw 60-70 does standing around chomping on wheat and alfalfa just staring at us.
Finally, with maybe five minutes of shooting light left, we put the stalk on a nice 4×4 buck. The stalk started out around a thousand yards with some minor hills between Mr. Buck and me. I’m practiced out to 800 yards, but I know bullet performance would be severely degraded at that point so we approached in roundabout ways to get closer.
Afternoon winds are tricky out in those wheat fields. As I came to what I knew would be my final little rise I extended my bi-pod and checked for a round in the chamber. Good to go with 168 grains of SMKHP speeding along at 2,650 feet per second.
As I crouch-walked to the top of the rise, I spied him hopping in that “mule deer way”, straight away from my position. I laid down and waited for him to slow or stop. Nope. He was on a mission to get the heck away from the danger smell. Oh well. The day wasn’t a waste. It ended with this:
Fast forward a month and a half. The Doc has told me to ditch the sling, and I’ve been released to go back to work full time. Physical therapy is going great and I’m a bit ahead of schedule…maybe due to my pig-headedness, maybe just because I take it seriously.
This is both good and bad. Good because I get to earn a paycheck again.Bad because Elk season is upon me and I’d sure like some time off. In good conscience, I can’t ask for that so it’s a weekend hunt for me.
Not drawing a tag for the unit with the best chance of success means I’m back to the hellish coast range where the ghosts of the woods can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. I’ve heard that the native Indian word for elk is “wapiti” which means “elusive wanderer.” I have purposely not looked up that factoid to confirm if that’s true. I don’t want to, because I know it is. Or should be.
Friday night means I’m back at my buddy Mike’s man cave (which has electricity and wi-fi. Ahh…manly men doing manly things in a manly manner! That means total relaxation before a total workout.
The next morning finds us driving to where a herd was last reportedly seen, to no avail. The only elk we saw was was a pretty nice 5×5 standing in the front yard of someone’s home munching on their unkempt lawn. I ask Mike if it’s worth asking them to hunt their five-acre property. He laughs and says, “No, they’re California transplant animal-lovers.” Crap. He was a nice “freezer bull.”
Mike suggests a few light hikes off logging roads in search of signs of the beasts to fill the day while we wait for an evening hunt. Light hikes? Mike is a power pole-hiking, heavy equipment-operating, hiking machine. I have got to get in better shape. Oh yeah. I keep forgetting. I’m in my 57th year. He’s in his 44th.
Then I notice during a hill hump. He’s below me with Pilot Mike. Now Pilot Mike has a bit of an excuse. He was Air Force and currently flies long range for United, so he sits a lot. Ha! I’m above those guys.
After a few “light hikes” (OMG, my legs are burning), we retreat to the truck. All is not lost, at least so far. We found a few pounds of chanterelle mushrooms. Nature’s golden goodness.
We work out a game plan. Knowing that the 5X5 bull was probably a satellite bull from a bigger herd, we find a trail on public land that loops around and behind the California animal lover’s land, so we begin the hike. OK, now I’m feeling my age. The younger guys are ahead of me. A check of the Fitbit later shows that in less than a mile, we hiked upwards a little over 300 vertical feet. About 3.5 miles into the hike, I find a nice spot in the elbow of a wide trail to sit. I’ve got a great field of fire in three directions with somewhat fresh signs of deer and elk.
Mike and Pilot Mike decide to forge ahead to a known meadow another three miles out. I’m beat. I’ll sit my camo-ass right here and hope for the best.
An hour later I’m peering to my left at my only shooting light that remains. It was also where we saw the freshest elk tracks. I’m seriously thinking about ripping open an MRE for some hot food when movement to my right catches my eye. Mind you, I’m in camo, sitting against a blackened stump in double canopy, at 5:15 PM. It’s pretty darn dark, but still shootable.
My mind’s going at 80 miles per hour thinking of cougars jumping on suspecting food when movement to my right catches my eye.
I shift my head only, as my rifle is already pointing that direction, resting on my right leg. A nice fork horned black-tailed deer comes up out of the game trail and we lock eyes. He is staring. I’m staring. My breath is coming back under control as its not a cougar. It’s also not a Cape Buffalo coming to stomp my ass in to dirt jelly.
He stares, but can’t figure me out. The wind is blowing a perfect crosswind. He can’t smell me. He sniffs the wind…nothing. He looks back at me. Nothing. Then he goes to grazing, but not for long as I try not to stare directly. He sniffs the wind and looks towards me again. Nothing. Then he calmly turns around and walks back down the game trail. After a bit, I pace it off — 21 feet.
I’ve got perma-grin as I realize a wild black-tailed deer has walked the forest, sniffing for predators, looking for food, and stood next to me. I thought seriously about my phone camera, but to turn it on would have illuminated me and likely spoiled the moment.
I was, and am still, completely spoiled by a couple of minutes with a wild animal. An animal that has a brain that tells it that it’s prey, not a predator.
Sunday, I left the coast a bit early because I knew of a few clear-cut spots that I could sit and watch the evening and my hunting season end. I found a nice place to rest my legs, sit and hunt.
My farthest shot from this vantage point was 600 yards. I had a nice easy-on-the-legs “hunt” on my last day.
So I wasn’t successful in bagging a freezer filler. But it was still hunting. I knew my rifle and my ammo. I knew others’ boundaries and my own. It’s why it’s called hunting, and not “harvesting”.
Oh, and I had a dinner cooked by Mike.
Grilled ribeye steaks with fresh chanterelles and glazed onions for toppers, baked beans on the side. I may have gained a pound or so.
I hope your weekend was successful, too.