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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.

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  1. As I’ve gotten older my hands tend to just start bleeding. I bump, brush or snag against something and the blood starts. I carry a group of bandaids in my wallet for just such moments.

    As for murphy. I’d gut shoot that bastard and leave him screaming if I could.

    • It ain’t fair, we out to get tougher like an old rooster, my skin tears like paper anymore, seems like.

    • I have the same problem. Starting in my late sixties, the skin on my hands became very soft and loose. It bruises and tears easily. The best solution is to wear gloves. It won’t stop the bruising but does cut down on cuts that require a band aid.

      • I’m only 5 years behind you, Tom. A few months back, took a tumble on a bike ride. Cracked some ribs. Falling on *grass*. I’m upping my calcium intake by popping Tums a few times a day.

        Aging *sucks*…

        • No shit on the aging. I turn 58 tomorrow. This bow season is the first time I’ve felt significant vertigo climbing up into the stands, swinging from ladder to seat on the hang-ons, or arranging stuff on the ladder stands. Nothing that will keep me OUT of the trees, I just noticed it this year after over 40 years of climbing into the trees like a squirrel. I use the harness all the time now, used to only use it for the trickier stands.
          BTW, I have that rifle, Savage Model 16 in .300 WSM, just not the stainless barrel (though wish I did, Tennessee humidity is a constant battle). It is indeed a shooter, but I only use it when I’m hunting my larger fields. Normally it’s the Browning Medallion in 30-06 or the .44 lever brush gun in the woods. Mostly bow, these days, though, I’ve found that the most rewarding challenge. These day I do more watching and teaching the son-in-law and grandson than shooting myself, I find it easier and easier to pass (once the freezer’s full). Good story, I’ll probably get up in a tree this afternoon, and I always hunt on my birthday.

  2. That’s why on hunts I drive to I take at least two rifles. A friend of friend on his first trip somehow dropped my rifle into sand from top of vehicle one night when we were spotlighting foxes. No more shooting for either of us until major strip and clean.

    Have had crosshairs on scope break and other problems over the years.

    Flying trips have hard side, locked cases over airline spec.

  3. Good story Tom. My oldest son works for the F&G out there, he says that’s where I should be living. I don’t know, if it’s fighting for a place to hunt, not much different then around here.

    • I think you’ve mentioned your son before.
      Oregon F&W folks are pretty squared away.

      Where we go elk hunting along the Snake River Wilderness, it’s rare to see or hear another person.
      The west side of the state is another story. Lots of drive around road hunters.

  4. Tom, if this was 50 years ago you would have been the lead feature writer for Outdoor Life, Field & Stream or Sports Afield.

    Kudos, my man. You write as well as you shoot. And I mean that in a good way.

    • Thanks Ralph.
      I really appreciate that.
      I grew up on guys like Jack O’Connor, Skeeter Skelton, et al.

      • lol good story mate and the reason you were having probs is exactly why if i take anything off a rifle for any reason it either stays off or when put back on is tightened down properly. You write well too BTW

  5. I have had a similar experience. One of my children (who is probably a better marksman than me — and I am no slouch) had a decent opportunity to shoot a doe at 110 yards and somehow missed. The next time I tried shooting that rifle to verify that the scope was still zeroed, it was shooting 12 inches high at 100 yards. I checked all the screws and everything was still tight. I checked my notebook and verified that I had, indeed, zeroed that rifle for 200 yards (and even recorded the lot number of the ammunition that I was shooting). I cannot explain it.

    On a different trip, I had an okay shot at a buck that was quartering away at 80 yards — and missed. I went back for lunch to my friend’s home and shot at a target at 50 yards to verify that my scope was still zeroed for 100 yards. The bullet hit about 8 inches high which means it would have been about 12 inches high at 80 yards. Again, all the screws were tight and my notebook showed that I had zeroed that rifle. Again, I cannot explain it.

    Sometimes, for reasons that I do not understand, nothing works no matter how much you have prepared.

    • I lined up on a bob cat with a shotgun. Range was good and I had a load of #3 buck, 41 pellets. Missed completely.

      Sometimes, it just ain’t your day.

    • I whiffed on a 10 pt. whitetail on Nov. 12 last year at 40 yards during muzzle loader. No idea why, I immediately went to shoot the gong at a similar distance, dead center. That was a first for me and I still don’t know why. I’ve missed before when my scope was off (banged it getting out of the tree the night before), I have no excuse for that one.

  6. Beautiful photo at the top of the article. I’m not a hunter (too lazy) and I really enjoyed that story.

    • Thanks. I appreciate it.
      All the photos were taken with my phone. I didn’t bring my good camera this year.
      The sun rises and sun sets, (the photo at the lead), were very noteworthy.

  7. Oh man, this makes me really miss my grandfather.

    We used to go out in the Haper/Vale/Malheur River area. Me being the youngest of the grandchildren, I didn’t get to go too many years before he was too old to go, and my uncle we also went with, that lived in the area, moved.

    Now I’m across the border in Idaho and 15 years later I keep trying to find someone to go with around here who but not much luck.

    Get to to a little bird hunting, but it’s never really been my thing.

  8. Looks like you can still shoot, Tom. Although I would have expected nothing less. Excellent article. Sounds like you’ll be eating well this winter. I happen to be sporting one of those decorative fingernails at the moment too. Something to do with a hammer.

    Give me a shout sometime and we’ll discuss Murphy. The subject of rifles might even come up. Sean has my email, and probably my phone number. I think you probably know who this is. You might recognize the avatar.

  9. Ive learned just like the writer did that bipods will take a chunk out of u if not careful. Also, sometimes it not the gun, u just miss. Lots of variables.

  10. Hey Tom, I’m not lucky enough to have friends in the Maupin unit, but wouldn’t mind hunting out there as it’s pretty country and I like fishing the Deschutes. The Criterion Ranch is BLM land that runs from up by the big microwave tower on 197 down to the river. Do you know anything about that land and whether it’d be worth hunting? Thanks!

    • Good area. We’ve seen plenty of good shooter bucks down there.
      It’s just one heck of a long drive for us from where we are at.

      The Deschutes river area is fantastic. You just gotta be sure you aren’t on park land.

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