Mid September, my friend Tom and I headed west to Montana. I had a mule deer tag in my pocket and bow in hand. Tom, was supposed to have a tag as well, unfortunately he did not draw his tag. The entire drive out we had rain and the forecast was showing rain for the 2 of the 4 days we had plan to hunt.
As we were pulling in to hunt a familiar area to me, we spotted a mature 3x4 mule deer buck in a stalk-able position. After running out of real estate at 50 yards, I had a perfect broadside shot presented to me. I drew back, settled the pin, and feeling more confident than ever, I released the arrow.
Much to my surprise, the arrow flew right over his back. After a quick look, we noticed that my sight had come loose during the drive west. The rest of the hunt was as good as we could ask for. We pursued a giant 5x5 whitetail, while we had bugling elk, coyotes and rutting antelope running between us and the buck. We were never able to get close enough for a shot. We saw tons of deer on the trip, just not another mature buck.
Immediately after leaving and heading home, I knew I wanted to go back in November with the rifle in hand. I would hunt a ranch very familiar to me, that I have antelope hunted many times. I had always wanted to hunt mule deer there and figured this was my chance to go explore a new part of the ranch during the mule deer rut.
November 14th, The truck was packed the night before for the trip west to Montana. By far the hardest part of the trip was upon me. Leaving my wife and daughter at home, even though for a few days, is always the worst part of every trip. I got up well before daylight to hit the road west.
I had plans to hunt the eastern part of Montana, not far off the South Dakota state line. A quick 7 hour drive would get me there around noon the same day. I would have 3 full days and a half day to hunt. Once I arrived, the first thing I did was set up a target and be sure the rifle was still dialed in.
I then set out to explore the part of the ranch I had never been on. This area had not been grazed yet for the year, had big sage flats with a creek running through the middle. With high winds and rain moving in I hiked a few miles getting a quick grasp at the lay of the land, property boundaries and to determine what kind of deer I could lay my eyes on.
I saw a few small bucks and does, but with the weather conditions they were not moving all that much. With the rain moving in, I headed back to the truck to get to town, grab some food and a room to get rested for the next days hunt.
As shooting light approached, I headed towards the NW corner of the ranch. This was the area that from a distance looked like the best area to hunt, and was the area I hadn't gotten a chance to look at yet. As the sun was rising I was seeing the sights that you dream about.
The flat between the creeks was full of deer. Mostly does, but from a mile away two bucks immediately stood out from the crowd. They were pushing does around, and running each other off from one side to the other. I instantly knew I would have to move quick. Being concealed by the taller vegetation and eroded ground along the creek, I was able to cover a lot of ground rather quickly.
Along the way I came across, a few small bucks heading out to find their own does. Soon I was in the area the bucks were in. As I crept to the edge of the flat I noticed ears. There was a doe standing a hundred yards out. Right behind her antlers began to rise above the horizon, while my heart rate also began to rise.
Was this the buck I came out here for? As I got a full look he was a big heavy, wide and tall 3x3 with daggers for G2's. Only front forks, a type of mule deer I have often dreamed of harvesting. He was chasing does in and out of the sage brush. Back to the creek on the other side and back out. Never presenting a great shot or a great look besides his antlers. Finally, I made a move to the other side, he came out and presented an excellent opportunity at 100 yards.
After a careful look, I flipped the safety back on. He was only a 3 year old deer. Not a deer I wanted to take, despite the nice set of antlers he carried. Soon that buck and his does worked their way off to a bedding area. I just couldn't think of what had happened to the other buck I saw at first light. I didn't see any sign of him. It was late in the morning so I decided to head back to the truck grab some lunch, study the maps and make a game plan to find him during the afternoon hunt.
For the afternoon I decided to walk another part of the ranch, with the wind in my favor, heading towards where I had saw the bucks in the morning. This area was full of deep draws and cuts with sage brush. I figured somewhere between where I was starting and where I saw them would be a good place to find that other buck or another buck.
As I made my way through I glassed diligently through each valley. Finding does and young bucks bedded throughout. As I crested the last big ridge, I stopped to glass the flat, over half mile away, where I saw the deer that morning. It didn't take long before I could see some chasing going on. It looked to be a mature buck and two does. I slowly worked my way down the draw until the deer were over the horizon from me. At this point I quickly walked to cover ground as fast as I could. I only had about an hour of daylight left. As I was about to cross the fence in the bottom and start working up the other side, one of the does ran up over the hill.
I knew he would soon be there too. As I loaded a round and set up on my shooting sticks, he came over the hill. Instantly I knew this was my shot and that he was the mature deer I was hoping to find on this trip. I calmed my breathing the best I could, flipped the safety off, settle the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. Whack!
He bolted back over the hill, after what looked and sounded like a great shot! The does came out from around the hill, but I did not see him. I quickly worked up the hill to see if I could find evidence of a fatal hit. As I crested the hill, I could see antlers laying on the ground! It was a perfect heart shot and he hadn't gone 30 yards!
I couldn't believe that it had happened so fast and on the first full day of hunting! What a great feeling accomplishing a goal that you have. It had always wanted to mule deer hunt this ranch, and missing the buck in September gave me the perfect reason to come back out and have a little adventure of the unknown. Some of my favorite hunts have come from those first hunts on a place you know little about or have only looked at one a map. They don't always pan out but when they do it is one of the greatest feelings an outdoorsman can have.
The opportunity to harvest an animal on a hunt is great. My family and I got to enjoy the meat throughout the year and the mount will be in my office for years to come as a reminder of an great adventure and to tell the story over and over when my kids or anyone else asks. But often we get too caught up in the harvest. Myself included.
Get out there and just go have an adventure. Harvest your target animal, great. If not have fun, enjoy the process and you will still have memories to share. Don't be afraid to go try new places, hunt new species, or just experience a new adventure of any kind. Live with no regrets. Finally, when it comes to hunting and well life in general, follow your gut. Often times it is more right than you would think.
Remember to hunt hard, hunt smart and hunt safe!