Reader Tom in Oregon writes:
This year, my hunting buddies Sean, Lee and I had an uninvited guest tag along for the weekend. His name is Murphy but I’m still not sure if that’s his first or last name. Suffice to say, none of us ever want this idiot to come along with us again. EVER!
This year’s hunt was otherwise minus one regular. Sean’s dad, Doctor Dave, had passed away last year just after our last hunt together. RIP, Toad. We learned a lot from the Colonel over the years.
Sean and I both drew tags for the Maupin hunting unit. It comprises a few hundred thousand acres of rolling wheat fields that are private property. Oregon Fish and Wildlife warn most hunters not to apply for a tag in this unit as it’s 98% privately owned land. Therefore, you must know someone and have permission to hunt on their land.
Sean and I, however, are fortunate to know an extended family of fifth generation wheat farmers that own and lease a few thousand acres, so we’re privileged to be able to hunt there.
Buck deer season opened on September 29th. We drove over on the day before, filled with anticipation of a great hunt, connecting with good friends, and enjoying the company and friendship of our extended “family.” I use the word family due to how close we’ve become to these fine folks that are near and dear to our hearts. They are like favored brothers and uncles.
We awoke Saturday morning eager with anticipation. Would it be like last year when I was the only one to fill my tag? Or the year before when it was “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am” and the deer came fast and furious? Or even like years past where the bucks were all but invisible? You never know until you get up and get out there.
Coffee in cups, (thank you, Merry!), we headed out to a favorite area that has been frequented by many deer in past years. After parking the truck, we went into quiet mode. It was in that effort that I managed to quietly force the truck door closed on my pinky finger.
Oh. F#(k. Pain.
After hiking a bit, we spotted a small herd a couple of hundred yards out. I went to a spot where I could go prone and flip my bipod down.
I’m still not sure what I caught my index finger on, but I managed to tear up my left one. More pain.
Sure, it’s not debilitating pain, but adding that to the pinky pinch, my left hand was close to being worthless as it screamed at me every time I used it to steady my rifle. I was sporting my usual Stainless Savage Model 16, .300 Winchester Short Mag topped with a Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20×50 LRP. That smoke pole shoots sub half-minute groups all day long.
I was shooting Hornady 200 grain ELD-X bullets at just under 2,800 FPS. My buddy Sean was shooting his Weatherby custom shop .300 Win Mag. His 180 grain Swift Sciroccos are pushing 3,100 FPS. Our host, Lee, was shooting his custom .25-06.
Lee is a rifleman’s rifleman. He recently competed in an iron sight competition using his ancient Rolling Block in .45-70 out to 800 yards and took third place. Lee doesn’t miss. Sean doesn’t miss. I rarely miss.
Today? We all missed.
I missed at 200 yards. Lee missed at 200 yards. Sean missed at 100 yards. Twice.
We drove back to Lee and Merry’s place feeling like newbies with buck fever. Before lunch, we all took shots at Lee’s 400 yard gong plate and felt somewhat satisfied that our rifles were “on,” but were scratching our heads as to why we were missing such “gimme” shots. We are all experienced hunters and shooters.
After lunch, we ventured back out to a different part of the county.
From there we got a look at some of the wildfire burn area from this summer’s fires. Thousands upon thousands of acres went up in smoke. Lee helped contain the fires by creating fire breaks using a tractor and harrow discs. He showed us where the fire jumped over the line twice before being contained.
As I continued to miss easy shots, Lee and Sean were able to finally put two bucks down despite my efforts to run them off with errant rounds. I missed six times!
In one instance, Lee and I hiked around a knoll in hopes of flanking a small herd that had three bucks in it, one of which was a really nice 4×4. As we almost got to where we thought the herd would appear, they got there first.
Lee and I dropped to the ground. I turned my scope down to 6.5 power and watched as the lead buck, the 4×4, walked from my left to my right. An easy shot at 250 yards. I was zero’ed at 300.
Due to the lay of the land, all I could see was his head for the first 10 seconds. As the ground or their path changed, his big body appeared. I lead at the front of his shoulder and squeezed off a shot.
I saw dirt puff up five feet low. WTF? I have never been one to suffer from “buck fever.” The herd took off at a fast clip, never to be seen again.
On another stalk, l missed again. Not sure where my bullet went into the next thousand acres of rolling wheat stubble. I was totally perplexed.
As I got up from my prone position, I folded up my bipod and went to sling my rifle for the hike back to the truck. Then I heard and felt a rattle. I grabbed the barrel in my right hand and the stock in my left. Everything was loose.
Not a single screw on the whole rifle was tight. I looked through the scope again and saw about a 10 degree cant clockwise.
Well f#(k me. Apparently, after my last range session, I took everything apart to clean and treat it for rust (it rains a bit here in western Oregon…gotta watch out for that). I must have been distracted somehow and put my rifle away without tightening any of the screws to spec.
When we got back to Lee and Merry’s place, we got out his bit driver kit and torqued things down. Another hit at the 400 yard plate was a calming assurance that I was back in the game.
Later, we got the tractor fired up and raised the two bucks out of the truck. They were gutted, skinned, and bagged with care in Lee’s barn.
When gutting, we’re careful to save the livers and hearts as we have friends who love some organ meat. Me? Not so much.
Something we all found odd: Sean’s buck was still in velvet. That’s the furry coating on the horns that’s normally scraped off, rubbed off, fought off or just plain dropped by late August or early September.
We finished the evening by washing out the back of Lee’s truck.
Then we saddled up to tri-tip steaks for dinner and gigged each other over being such poor shots. Sean commented that he has never seen Lee or I ever miss. If nothing else, this year will be remembered as the year of the miss.
Sunday morning came early and brought more strong coffee (thanks again, Merry!). We decided to go back to the area where we saw the smallish herd with the three bucks, including that 4×4. After a bit of hiking, we were split up. Sean and Lee saw the herd, but due to the lay of the land, the deer went slightly out of view for them, down into a draw. They were trying to push the deer towards me for a shot as my tag was still unfilled.
I could clearly see Lee and Sean, binos up, trying to see which way the herd went. They looked toward me. From my vantage point, the herd was going to go directly away from me if Sean and Lee moved just a few more yards forward to my left. They were at my nine o’clock. The deer were at my 12 o’clock.
I steadied up on a fence post and had good concealment. The light breeze was in my face. A no value wind.
I used my Bushnell laser ranging binoculars…349 yards. A dead-on hold.
The 4×4 buck wasn’t standing in the best of positions. He was quartering away, his head left, rear right, staring in the direction of Lee and Sean. If Sean and Lee moved forward, it’s likely the herd would spook left, directly away from me. If Lee and Sean were another 100 yards to my left, the deer would bolt right, kind of toward me.
My confidence bolstered by that gong hit after tightening up my gun, I decided to take the shot. With a rock-solid rest, I squeezed the 2 1/2 pound trigger.
The last thing I saw was a perfect alignment, aiming an imaginary line towards the bucks heart. A second after hearing the boom, I hear that distinctive sound of bullet hitting meat. If you’ve hunted larger game, you know that sound. A “meat slap.”
As I was racking another round in, I heard Lee and Sean yell, “Great shot Tom, he’s down!” They were just cresting the small rise and just in sight of the majestic buck.
Boy, I was relieved. I looked through the scope and the buck was most certainly down.
I walked out the 349 yards to this beautiful creature and give thanks for a successful harvest. He’s a beauty. He will provide table fare in the months to come. From bacon-wrapped backstrap to deer burgers, it’s all going to be eaten. Pure organic protein.
The only thing better than deer venison, is elk. That hunt is coming up at the end of October. Five of us are going into the Snake River Wilderness in search of the ever-elusive Wapiti, or Rocky Mountain Elk. I hope to fill the ever-increasing empty parts of my freezer with more delicious sustenance.
May your hunts be as rewarding as this one was. And if a guy named Murphy asks to tag along…run.
Aim small, miss small.