Two months ago, I lost a friend, mentor, and hunting partner. He taught me the fundamentals of shooting starting at around age six. He also taught me many other things that would make my life easier. He was my dad and he passed away August 10th.
We didn’t get to hunt together as often as either of us wanted. Life just kept getting in the way.
Among the things that I inherited from him is the Winchester model 70 you see above. It’s chambered in .243 and its a beautiful rifle. By the serial number, it appears to have been made around 1965. I remember shooting it at a military range across from Mirimar Naval Air Station in San Diego as a kid. The last time I shot the rifle was about 1978 when I was developing hand loads for it for Dad to hunt deer.
After Mom gave me everything that was in dad’s safe and a few ammo cans, I inspected the contents. In one can was a box of my reloads from almost 40 years ago. As my deer hunting season was coming on fast, I took her to the range to check the zero.
Yup, still on after many years and a few different scopes. So I decided to take it on this year’s fall deer harvest.
As I dipped back into the can for a box of ammo, I came across an unfilled deer tag that dad had saved. Not nearly the oldest, but certainly one of the earliest of our joint hunts. Back then, I got to tag along with dad and a couple of the coolest uncles a kid could have the privilege to be related to.
This year I drew a tag for the central part of the state surrounding the small town of Grass Valley. It’s thousands of acres of rolling wheat fields. My hunting buddy Sean and I have been privileged to know a few of the local ranchers. We not only have permission to hunt their land, but get to stay in their homes and break bread with them.
After arriving at Lee’s place, we set up our cots, sleeping bags and gear, readying it for the next morning. (My cot is next to the pellet stove, I hate being cold. ) I’m glad I checked, I forgot to let the sling out for easy carrying.
The next morning, we were blessed with a gorgeous sun rise.
After a short drive from Lee’s house, we parked the truck and rucked up. Sean was carrying his custom .300 win mag and a GLOCK 20.
I was carrying my Dad’s .243, my GLOCK 40 MOS, my laser range finder/binoculars and my camera. On our way to one of the more promising fields, we spotted our quarry. The only problem: they were on land we don’t have permission to hunt on. So I just shot them with my camera, long lens style. These boys were out at about 600 yards.
We parked near a scab in the land. This is an area that’s too rocky to till, so it stays natural sage brush. These scabs can harbor all sorts of wildlife, including the buck deer we seek. The wheat had been harvested, so the fields were all stubble.
Walking with a light breeze in our faces, we made it almost all the way through a half-mile deep scab when two bucks spotted us. They started trotting diagonally away and we froze. They were about 120 yards out. No time to laser or photo. It was point blank time.
Sean and I have hunted enough that if I’m right and he’s to my left, he shoots left and I shoot right.
This worked to perfection as Sean shot the left buck. I watched it drop like a sack of concrete. I got the slow hopping buck in my cross hairs and squeezed off a shot. Two bucks down!
Dang, we are all smiles as we walk to our harvest. Two nice mule deer bucks.
Now the work begins.
First, we gutted the deer in the field, removing intestines, lungs, wind pipe, kidneys…. Everything from the belly and chest area. The only thing we save are the livers and hearts.
Oops, my buck’s heart is kind of in tatters.
Oh well. At least the liver was saved. Those go to friends of ours back in the Portland area.
We hauled the deer back to the ranch for a quick skinning and hang the to air dry. We also trimned off some of the excess fat and any meat that’s blood shot. They then get a thorough wash down.
After a couple of hours, the meat had a nice glaze to it. We cover them in cloth game bags and hung them high in the nice, cool, dark barn.
After a nice lunch of barbecued brats and rib-eye steaks, we headed back out for an afternoon hunt. We saw lots of does and some gorgeous country, but no shooter bucks. Even in the area called “Buck Hollow”:
While opening morning was a success for Sean and me, Lee still had an unfilled tag. We headed out toward some fields that we hadn’t glassed yet for our afternoon hunt. Since Sean and I filled had our tags, we went along as spotters and support for Lee. I had my rangefinding binos and my camera. And a good knife.
We make it about a mile south of the ranch and spotted a buck, backing up the truck a good half mile so we weren’t in view.
Crawling low, the buck was on a slight rise, and appeared to be close to the top so he could see everywhere. I’m still getting used to video, so what I got was useless. But I did take photos.
Here’s the unlucky buck, bedded down on a rise. He appeared to be in a great position to oversee all of his domain.
I followed Lee and Sean as we walked in a crouch and then low crawled to get to a point where the wheat stubble wouldn’t interfere with Lee’s muzzle.
As Lee got settled in, I lazed the big boy, telling Lee he was at 491 yards. Lee said something and dialed in the elevation turret on his Leupold scope. He settled back down and took a shot. Nothing.
The buck didn’t move. There was no dirt splash…nothing. I told Lee that he must have shot over his back. Lee dialed in a little less elevation and settled back in behind his custom .25-06. After what seems like an eternity, he pulled the trigger.
The deer didn’t get up and run…his head just flopped to the ground like he had a sudden attack of narcolepsy.
Sean and I will be turning ours into steaks and burgers. Lee will spend the better part of a day processing his into a killer batch of jerky.
I almost forgot to do one last thing. Something dad didn’t get to do 45 seasons ago.
Aim small, miss small.