Talk about the great legacy that is Jack O'Connor

Muley Buck 2003

Muley Buck 2003

Postby Phil Andresen » Tue Feb 18, 2014 9:04 pm

Over the years we have lost too many members of our family hunting party; though painful and inevitable, times change and life goes on for those of us who are left behind. We love and miss them; think of them often, can almost hear their voices, their laughter and see their faces… they live in our hearts and will always be with us as we continue our traditions.

These days I’m on top as dawn and legal shooting time arrive, after that I can be found almost anywhere. With this approach I’m often the first guy on the hill, but plenty of others come in afoot and on quads from all directions. Still, I honestly believe that if you stay out all-day, every day, you’ll eventually notch a tag… And, a good buck can pop up most anywhere.

I hunt the same north-south ridge each morning; it’s about a forty-five minute hike to get on top of the north end; from there the hunt is to the south where the main ridge rises into a timbered high-point, from there it turns west, across a saddle, and ends on a lightly timbered knob. A one-way hike to the knob is about a mile and a half.

West of the high-point, below the saddle, is a broad basin; its home away-from-home for migrating deer; bears and coyotes live there and wolves prowl it periodically. It’s one of those unique north-facing places with elevation, panoramic visibility, plenty of feed and shady cover… it provides everything deer need along with a feeling of quiet remoteness, like their summer-range. Depending on the weather, moon phase and where they’re coming from, migrating groups will lounge around feeding for several days, but with any hunting pressure they’ll bail out and won’t hole-up again for miles… later arrivals winter here.

As usual, legal shooting time found me up on top. I always hunt it in a southerly S pattern, constantly glassing down into all the small finger ridges and draws on each side of the main ridge. The migration had started; a couple groups of does and fawns were headed south and another bunch fed across the top headed east.

Watching your back-trail is a must in this wide-open country; it takes nothing at all to conceal a deer and migrators can cover miles in no time. When they’re moving, mule deer travel like caribou: they follow each other’s scent trails; the lead-doe knows where to go, where to feed, and where it’s best to hole up and rest.

It was Wednesday, the middle of our nine-day season; out of habit I turned to check my back-trail just in time to see a half-dozen does come running around the top of a hill; in the middle of the bunch was a pretty good buck. They stayed tightly grouped as they slowed to a walk; quickly I ranged them at 525 yards. Between us was a shallow swale at about 200 yards, getting to that little groove was going to be the best chance I’d have to ambush that buck.

Crawling in sagebrush is never easy; sharp rocks, old barbed-wire, dry grass, rattlesnakes, yellow-jackets… heck, there’re plenty of things that can make it very ugly to travel on your hands and knees; but none of them mattered. Immediately I was down in the brush, out of the deer’s sight and crawling to that shallow swale. Just as I crossed the bottom and started up the other side I glassed and ranged them again. Somehow they still hadn’t seen me, but something or someone must’ve jumped them, they were hot and panting, and still very skittish; the buck was a good three-point.

Crawling that last ten or fifteen yards I felt like I had this in the bag; just as I took off my pack and pushed it ahead of me to use for a rest, two does popped up from my left. All I saw was their heads… they couldn’t have been more than fifteen or twenty feet away. That’s the beauty of hunting high in the morning; the thermals lift your scent, game can’t smell you from below… But, at that close range they didn’t need to smell me… The lead-doe saw me first; we were eye-to-eye when she snorted, then swapped ends and bailed off the edge in an airborne escape. Quickly I looked back to the buck, he was fidgeting and obviously nervous; his does didn’t hesitate a second, they’d seen the other deer bail out and weren’t sticking around to find out why… one of ’em hit the panic-button and the rest followed, off they went bouncing out of sight around the hillside.

The next day my son Jeff joined me, we decided to take my usual route in, but to separate about half-way up; he would side-hill through the eastern finger-ridges and we’d meet at the base of the high-point.

I couldn’t get that buck off my mind, but didn’t really expect to see him alive again either… There’s never a shortage of hunters here, so it seemed pretty likely one of the ‘locals’ would kill him… it also seemed likely this bunch could be living here somewhere close… So I expanded my hunt further east hoping to bump them to Jeff or vice-versa. Later, before going to meet Jeff, I swung far to the west to glass down into a private ranch, there I spotted a doe and fawn feeding in the open and about eighty yards above them, sticking out of a bitterbrush was a huge deer butt. That big butt had to be a buck – it was just too big to be anything else…

Not wanting to spook them, I left to go poke around the knob where all the deer had been yesterday… A half-hour later while walking back to check on the big-butt, I remember feeling like this was just another dry run, like the deer will just disappear into their trap doors like they usually do…

That west face is very steep; it only took about ten short paces to get a good view down the hillside. As I cautiously approached the edge the buck was suddenly RIGHT THERE!! He was alone, feeding in a small depression; casually he raised his head to look at me… as he did I quickly turned and walked away: no eye contact, no scent, and no threat…
My mind was racing... Was that the buck from yesterday? Might’ve been… no time to dawdle… Dropped the pack and coat in the first couple steps, walked as close as I dared, shouldered the gun like shooting trap and took the last couple steps to him… Again he looked up; the shot took him through the upper shoulders from 30 yards; the Federal .270 BTSP dropped him where he stood.

Rather than field-dress the buck I went to fetch Jeff, this would be his first muley; he’d want to see him while he was still in one-piece… and I needed help dragging that potbellied sucker around the steep side-hill to the truck.
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Phil Andresen
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