Thursday, January 30, 2014

Black-tails (well sort of) In The Rut.

It was November 1st, 2013, the final Friday of the General Deer season in D3-5. I arrived on time as planned, and was planning on meeting my buddy Roger at the parking spot to finalize our PLAN for the morning. It was plenty dark, I could see any sign of light for a great distance, but it just so happened that the vehicular activity on this morning was null to say the least and my hope of meeting Roger was quickly dwindling as I was readying my gear. To Roger's credit, the night before was Halloween and we had a block party in my neighborhood to which he and his lovely fiancĂ©e attended, there were plenty of libations and for some reason we decided to form our plan for the morning hunt in the wee hours of that all hallows evening. Hey, at least we tried. My only regret as I pulled my mountain bike out of the bed of my pickup was that I decided to leave my quartering bags behind, thinking I would have a companion to help pack out a deer if it were to come to that. My only regret, but I decided to push on regardless and set my mind frame on the morning being a solo hunt.
This area we hunt requires wheels to effectively get in and out, due to the fact that the entire area is closed to vehicles off or on road, the best option is a mountain bike. So there I was, alone in the dark, with nothing but a headlamp for slight comfort and about a 2.5 mile bike ride ahead of me and about 30 minutes to get there before legal shooting hours. Thankfully the ride in really is an easy one, straight shot on a pretty flat surface. It took me about 15-20 minutes to get to where I like to dump my bike and after a quick restroom stop and a sip of water, the sun was beginning to just peak over the Sierra Nevadas. It was shoot time, and I still had a good ways to go get to the area I wanted to be in. I decided to take my time and still hunt in, I could see decently but if I were able to get a shot off it would have to be a close one as my scope wasn't able to gather much light at the moment. It was about 300 yards in, when I caught movement to my left and out in front of me a good ways. The dark silhouette that caught my eye must have seen me at the same time because it froze, staring in my direction. Knowing that I did not have much time I pulled my rifle up and put my crosshairs on it's mid section. Hoping to be able to see legal antlers on top of whatever it was I was looking at, just wasn't meant to be, even though I was certain it was a deer. There simply was not enough light to judge exactly what the animal was, even though my instincts told me it was a buck just by it's body size, there was no way I could be sure... so put down my rifle and glassed it with my bino's for a few more seconds before it decided to make it's escape. Then it happened again, and I'm not sure if it was that exact moment or a few steps later when I caught more movement off to my left, but this time it was behind me by about 15 yards. I knew right away that it was not animal, in fact the thing was able to speak, it said, "Hey buddy, did you see something?" I'll admit, I was slightly startled and to my knowledge they had not invented time travel or any kind of special capsule that could transport one to a specific location within seconds, but there he stood, my buddy Roger. (Author's note: I was pleased to see him and was completely unaware that he possessed such ninja like skills to sneak in on me like that).
After we said our hellos and after giving him some hell for being late, we made it to our spot. Quickly put a plan together and decided to sit about 30 yards a part, I was to watch a long narrow stretch of land (for the sake of this article, we'll call it a trail) that is only about 12 feet wide and he was going to sit above me, keeping his eye on a tighter area that the deer like to cross between. So this 12 foot wide nature trail that I am watching has a row of trees following the length of it on the left side and brush so high it wants to swallow you up once you get a few steps in, and to the right of the trail, it immediately drops off into a ditch that leads to more thick brush and trees. The window of opportunity in this spot is slim, but it is a heavy traffic area and the deer like to use it.

It was a rather chilly November morning, mid 30's if I do recall, clear skies and as the night was transforming into the day a hazy fog began to sit in. It wasn't enough to distort my line of sight completely but it did propose a challenge the farther out I looked. I sat directly on the ground, with my pack in front of me, this particular pack has a notch cut out in it specifically to steady your rifle, so that's what I did. It wasn't more than ten minutes, when I saw movement way down there at the end of the trail. With my naked eye I could see multiple deer, so I put my scope on them. 3 does and a huge deer that was facing me, directly behind the does. The does didn't spend much time on the trail, moving from left to right they hit the ditch and went straight into the wooded area on the right, and now I had a clear view of the deer that was behind them. He was such a ghostly figure, massive body and I could see he had heavy and wide antlers. When you see a deer this big, even though it is somewhat hard to see a fork when they are facing you, you know right away that it is a legal buck. There was no question in mind, that I was looking at one of the biggest bucks that I had ever seen out there, but still, I was not 100% certain from the angle, but I'll never forget that image of him peering out of the fog, completely motionless, like a statue, staring in my direction. It seemed like an eternity, but in reality it was only seconds before he quickly followed his does, never to be seen again. I took my eyes off my scope, and began to watch the area again and not more than a minute or two later, another deer steps out from the left. This time, closer to me, still out there a ways, probably 40-50 yards closer to me from where the first group of deer stood. Pull my scope again and immediately, without question, I knew it was a legal buck. Big buck too, not as big as the first but a real nice one, he took a few steps and stopped, sniffed the direction of the first group of deer and then a few more steps to the edge of the ditch, standing broadside. With my crosshairs right behind the shoulder, I squeezed off a round. By the time I was able to jack another round in and put my scope on where he stood, he was just... gone. I never saw any reaction from the deer at all, just gone. Roger came hurrying over and I said, "I think I just shot a buck, he was down there towards the end of the trail, standing broadside, crosshairs right behind the shoulder and now he's gone." Something just did not seem right to me, I wanted to find blood, so we took off to see if there was any trace of some where he stood. I remember as we were walking down the trail thinking to myself, "Wow, this is taking awhile to get down there", I had convinced myself that the buck was only about 200-250 yards away. So we get down there, and I am confident I am standing where that buck was and there is no trace of blood anywhere, and Roger goes, "You know how far that shot was?", confidently and passively I say, "Yeah, about 200-250 yards". I think the smirk said it all, but just to be sure, Roger pulled out his range finder and hit the spot where I took the shot from... 480 or 490 yards I believe is what it was. I wasn't even close. I would have had better luck digging for the bullet in the dirt than finding any blood. It also made a whole lot of sense to me at this time what that first buck was doing, he knew that second buck was there, he had no idea I was looking at him, he was waiting, but like any fine man would do, he chased the women.
The thrill of the shot was now gone, we were at the other end of the trail and found ourselves in a situation to where we needed to, yet again, put another game plan together. We decided to sit off the trail where we were, we had plenty of shade and a nice background to conceal us and since that's where the deer seemed to be crossing, it seemed like the best option. We also decided that we would "rattle" from this position and see what happens. It was minutes before we saw more deer. This time, they were now at the opposite end of where we sat, I'd say about the exact spot where I took that first shot from, about 480-490 yards away. It looked like another group of about 2-3 does and a decent buck, no shot was provided and on their way they went. So I say to Roge, "Just start rattling man, let's see what happens." So Roge grabs his antlers and starts laying into them, sounded good to me! Roger knows his rattling, I know this, because after he made a ruckus and put the antlers down, about 350 yards down the trail, a doe appears and moments later a nice shooter buck behind her. The doe spent a little time grazing around on the trail before she headed into the ditch and then into thick area where the previous deer went, with the shooter buck still on the trail. Knowing that it was a poke to where that buck was, Roger grabbed the antlers and started rattling again. It seemed like every time he would rattle, that buck would get pissed off and inch forward. What a sight that was, every movement that buck took seemed like it was calculated, and it seemed like his aggression level progressed. He would move methodically from one side of the trail to the other, with slight pauses in between, almost like he was saying, I'm here boys, come and get me. I'll never forget that, the steam coming out of his nostrils and the way he was snorting, these images rest vividly in my mind. This was a buck, in the peak of the rut, holding his ground and looking for a fight, welcoming it. After a minute or so of this, the buck lost interest and headed into the ditch to follow the doe. Roger and I looked at each other and we were both thinking to ourselves, what just happened? It was at this time that we also realized that we were losing our shade, and decided to move to the other side of the trail next a tree that provided what we were after. I think we got half way there, when about 200 yards in front of us, out comes a spike and then another doe. Frozen, stopped dead in our tracks. We watched as the doe and the spike gathered what sunshine they could before they too, hit the ditch and then into the wooded area. Obviously, we are in the right spot and just as we get to the tree we wanted to sit by in the shade, out of the ditch, here comes a doe. She hits the trail and then crosses into the other row of trees on the other side... and almost immediately after her, the shooter buck appears once again, but now he is about 270-280 yards away. Roger starts rattling, and the buck starts inching forward again, in the same exact manner. Roger, stone cold, with his eyes on the buck whispers to me, "Lay prone and get ready to shoot him." So very slowly and calmly, I lay my pack down and get into position. Roger whispers again, "Ok shoot him Aaron, shoot him." To which I replied, "Roge, I can't see him." There was a slight bend in the trail, and once I laid down, I lost sight of him and the shooter buck, once again, lost interest. He followed the doe...
I sat up, inched my way to the middle of the trail, propped my pack upright, set my rifle in the v-notch, looked at Roge and said, "Rattle him again!" and that's exactly what he did... It was seconds, almost on command before that buck came out from where he just was, only slightly closer this time, somewhere between 225-250 yards and still pissed off, but this time, I was ready, Roger and I were ready. In the same way from the times before, the buck moved back and forth on the road, in such a way, that it was almost humorous to me listening to Roger, who was now looking at the buck through binoculars calling the shot for me. It went like this, "Ok shoot, NO NO NO, ok now, no wait, wait, Ok" BOOOOOOOOM! The buck had paused for just a slight second, and slightly quartering to me. My cross hairs, were about an inch or two behind the shoulder, center mass. The recoil lifted my head from the rifle and as I was jacking in another shell, I watched that buck jump straight up and hit the ground on all fours, right before he took off into the tree line once again. I was pumped, everything that lead up to that moment, all of our hopes and fears colliding at once in such a chaotic and insane way. My adrenaline was running on all cylinders... very quietly, and very excitedly, Roger and I high fived and congratulated each other on an awesome experience. After we both calmed down a bit, we both agreed to give him about 15 minutes before we went to look for blood... our excitement got the best of us. I needed to see blood, our waiting period lasted about a minute and a half... and once I got to where that buck stood, this is what I saw.
And I saw more from that same position, for about 20 yards. We blood tracked that deer for what seemed like an eternity, he headed about 50 yards to the South, then another 30 or so to the East, and then back to the North for 40-50 yards. When Roger said, "Aaron, there's your buck! He's right there underneath a bush! He's down!"

Indeed he was.

High fives, bro hugs, you name it. We were pumped. I can honestly say, that I have never experienced deer hunting like this, ever before. My appreciation for these deer took on a whole new level. Even if, I would have never been able to get a shot off, just the fact that we were able to see that buck in the peak of the rut, that would have been enough for me, just to be able to share that experience alone. The fact that Roger and I were able to seal the deal, just made the entire experience so much sweeter and Roger, I can't thank you enough for showing up that morning.

So there we were, standing over the deer I just shot and Roger asks me if I wanted any help with gutting it, and I looked at him and said, "No! I got this, why don't you back to where we were and see if you can rattle in another one." to which he replied, "You sure?", "Of course I am sure, these deer have no idea what is going on right now, go back to the spot and see if you can get another one." I could tell that I had more faith in that plan than Roger did, but he was easily convinced and off he went.  I don't know how long it took me to get that deer opened up, but I was done and on the phone with my father telling him about the hunt when mid sentence I hear, BOOOOOOOM! "Dad, I got to go, I think roger just shot a buck." Phone Roge, "Was that you?", "YEP! I just shot a buck, he's down!"

A spectacular morning alone, with one deer down, to have two literally not more than 30 minutes apart, phenomenal. Met up with Roger and he explained to me that he had just sat down, rattled for a few minutes, when out of the brush a big bodied fork by spike came RUNNING towards him. One shot and down he went. Knowing how we would get one deer out of the area, but not two, we phoned our buddy George who had recently made an ingenious invention, we definitely needed back up. I'll never forget that hunt, never. The ups and downs, the back and forth, the entire hunt played out like a chess match. Score for the deer, slight advancement for us, another for the deer, and then check mate. Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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