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Ambushing Whitetails - Not
January 2019
Gerhard Schroeder

It all looked so familiar. And it should have. After all, Ron and I had both taken whitetail deer at this same water hole two years prior. And yet, now everything was different. In October we had record rainfalls in Arizona. So this stock tank was almost full to overflow. Meaning, from our old hideout only about half the water’s edge was visible. Unacceptable! We fashioned a new blind, this one uncomfortably near the water. Even that left one tank section out of view.

I spent opening day there anyway. That not without effort. Anticipating “competition”, I got up extra early and staggered the half mile from camp in total darkness. Good move, because right then lights and motor noise neared. Two side-bys stopped and shut down. I flashed my light and informed them that I was ‘already here’. “Will you stay?” – “yes”. They turned and left. I had conquered that tank. Except that other than representatives of black angus no other beast appeared all day.

Same spiel on day two. Beat the two putt-putts again; this time they just drove on by. Around 9AM I heard those cattle drinking, right in the spot where I could not see. A deer could have visited without me even noticing. Time to move to where I could see that section, time to improvise another blind.

That almost paid off. Around 11:30, a baby doe came for a drink, at that far end. Then nothing until dark. Beat three vehicles to it on Sunday. Again, aside from those 5 black angus bovine no other critter made an appearance.

Hmm. Aside from more water in the stock tanks it was also in many canyon bottoms. Plus, it was much colder than two years prior. Covering this waterhole was not just a boring test of stubbornness, it made me shiver on many occasions. Whatever, deer seemed to not bother coming to water at these tanks. Mike and Ron reported similar observations from their selected waterholes. In fact, Mike had to return to his day job, without a whitetail. And maybe those motorized hunters also, as they drove back by around 4PM.

For Monday my plan was different. I would walk the road past my waterhole, and possibly return for more ambushing later that morning. Sure enough, no more vehicles showed up. So I walked, slowly, searching the opposite hillside as the road followed that canyon. Before sunup I noticed a deer, quite a distance off. Binoculars clarified that it was a doe, having breakfast, not paying any attention to me. She had not noticed me walking, maybe because the wind was from there.

The antlerless type seldom go solitary. I kept glassing. Minutes later another deer did materialize. That one had something shiny reflecting between its ears. A buck indeed – could not tell its size, did not care.

But how to deal with this long shot? Darn, left the rangefinder in the 4Runner. Then a little advantage; about ten steps in front was a decent size boulder. I slowly made my way to it, placed my daypack on it, and sat next to it. Soon the Tikka rested almost as if on bags, with deer in the crosshairs. But how high to aim?

It wasn’t the shooting itself that helped about a week before, nailing steel plates at 320 and 400 steps. It was the memory of how far 300 and 400 yards looked like compared now to where that little buck was feeding. Or so I thought. Anyway, I decided that he was maybe a tad over 300. That translated to between 1st and 2nd MilDot. I squeezed.

The suppressor took care of the 45.5 grains of TAC. 150 grains of Ballistic Tip took down that buck. However, with such loud kugelschlag that I knew I hit him where I really did not want to. Regardless, he was down. So, mark a dead tree, a small juniper, the general direction.

Nice. A downed agave, quickly cut to length, provided a convenient walking stick to cross the canyon with. It took some hiking before I found the forked horn, dead. I thanked the Lord for him, for the entire experience.

First of course came the red work and tagging. Then came the realization that I’m no longer the youngest. In days past I would have dragged that buck back to the road somehow. Now it seemed a better option to butcher him at a nearby tree, at least cut him into manageable portions, hang the parts in that old juniper, hike back to camp, drive the Toyota near, and finally in several trips bring the meat to my 4Runner.

And so it went, as the sun came up. The shot had gone quite a ways back and high, taking out half of one of the tender loins, breaking the pelvic bone, not doing much penetration, but luckily not ripping the guts. Oddly, I found most of the green plastic Ballistic Tip.

Hanging the meat was a challenge in itself. I mean, watching films about Africa and seeing a leopard hoist some gazelle made it look a lot easier – just saying. By the way, a good folding saw is worth its weight, and then some. By 10:45 we both were in camp. And by around 2PM, all meat was deboned and in the ice chest.

That cold wind was with us the entire four days. Here, finally, it had been helpful. All the meat was chilled to the bone just from hanging in that tree for about an hour. Now I had time for one more task, boiling off the head. Ron had brought the perfect fire ring for such job. Plus, I have a stock pot dedicated to doing this.

Due to the wind I did watch that fire, with water and shovel ready, just in case. All was finished by the time Ron returned for the day. Still no deer for him.

Due to commitments on my side, I would have had to leave camp Tuesday around noon anyway. Ron then made the decision to interrupt his hunt as well. We packed up, drove home that Monday evening, with the plan to return once more for just a day hunt on the final Thursday of the season.

So we did return, and found deer as well. But two were doe, one fled without us being able to determine its sex (or is it gender, a choice? Can we kill it, then claim the deer felt and identified as a buck? – sorry). We also watched a real antlered buck. But at over five hundred yards (I did bring the range finder) he was out of range and soon wandered out of sight. That day also gave me a chance to range my shot from the Monday before. The laser came up with about 250 yds. It in part explained why my shot had been high. And a lesson that seems to be hard to learn for me: in poorer light, distances appear further than what they really are.

It was an enjoyable and interesting day in deer country, and hunt overall. On our drive home we discussed hunting plans for 2019.

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