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Persistently After Whitetail
January 2021
Gerhard Schroeder

 
Scouting camp in September; also became hunting camp in November.
Love that big tree, the shade it throws
Tags for the second season of whitetail deer is all we got for the end of 2020. So we planned it out well, scouted about 3 weeks before our hunt. Then things started to deteriorate. Lack of rain prevented us from shooting for practice in the nearby desert. Day before open season the waterhole Steve planned to sit at was reduced to barely a mud hole. And on opening morning four side-by off-road rigs drove past, still in the dark at 5:30AM. Note that our camp was on a dead-end dirt road. So rough that getting there was at less than 2mph. In fact, Rob said he would NEVER drive back there again.

We made alternate plans. I headed off opposite to those ‘road’ hunters. Steve hoped for a buck near camp. And Ron, just as last year, accompanied by Rob and his powerful optics, headed for another canyon, to glass the opposite hills. By the end of opening day, I had seen one cow elk and one doe. Steve saw nothing. Rob had found a forked horn, some 500 yds off, with two ladies traveling further and further and soon over the opposite ridge before Ron could ever get his eyes on it, let alone aim at it.

Saturday, I joined Ron and Rob, glassing the same canyon. By noon we had seen nothing, and my PM excursion down the dirt road also came up empty.

Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Sat, except the clouds became threatening. Late in the afternoon the occasional drizzle blessed the parched land. Temperatures dropped as well, and overnight snow was in the forecast.

Sure enough, Monday morning greeted us with 2-3 inches of white. Unfortunately, Ron turned up not feeling well, so Rob and I headed out alone, this time further away, basically to the opposite side of the canyon we had studied the previous two mornings. The fresh snow did reveal several deer tracks. We were not in the wrong area.

At our first stand I spotted a deer, maybe after 30 minutes of glassing. My 10x42 showed spikes. The rangefinder displayed 403 yards. OK, Ron has a tricked-out Remington 700, calibrated to well beyond 400. Expecting longer shots with our method of hunting, I had opted to carry his rig, and leave mine in the 4Runner.

Now I wanted that spike! There was a perfect big flat boulder just a few steps away, big enough to rest my arms on. First came ear plugs. Then I placed my backpack on that boulder, rifle on top, knelt, and got onto the next opening we expected that spike to show up in. Leupold dialed to 15x (it’ll go to 24), turret dialed for 400, parallax set for a crisp view, and rifle as solid as off my bench, that spike was in serious trouble. I was comfortable, remaining in shooting position for over ten minutes. But the deer never enter the desired opening. We never saw him again. Oh well. Eventually I got up, but left the rifle on the pack.

It did not stay there long. The back of a deer showed up not fifty steps from me. Anticipating that the group of maybe four deer, whose tracks we had crossed on our way in, were in the process of now feeding towards us, I fetched his rifle again. I hastily dialed it down to 4X for a hopeful offhand opportunity. That never came either, meaning no deer came into full view. I put the Remington back onto my pack, while training my eyes were the deer had been. Again, it did not stay there for long, because soon after a pebble hit me.

Rob had spotted what for some reason I took to mean a forked horn. So I fetched his gun again, plus my Primos shooting tripod, and also my folding chair. Spotting the deer was immediate, and the Leupold lit it up quickly. Except it wasn’t a forked horn. In fact, at first it looked like a doe. So I searched for another deer. None. OK, crosshairs back on the deer, which at that moment turned and walked off. Now I saw the spikes, disappearing behind trees, no shot – lost opportunity. Darn.

By the way, the weather that Monday appeared moody, where sunshine and snow storms switched several times. During one shower I had snow building up on my shoulders. But there were stunning, captivatingly beautiful terrain features all around us. We stayed out basically all day.

That Monday night things froze good. 21°F greeted me when I got out of motel Toyota on Tuesday. Ron felt off again. Rob needed to get home, and Steve opted to stay near camp. I slowly walked the road to ‘my’ canyon.

I found a place near a juniper where I could sit in a lightweight folding chair and see much of the opposite side. I kept this up for hours while the sun lit up the hill side in front of me more and more. The wind was light and mostly in favorable directions.

After glassing the hill in front of me for the umpteenth time, around 11 AM I noticed at the crest some deer legs. When the critter stepped in the open, no obvious head gear stood out. Rangefinder said 410 yds. Oh wait, another deer. Darn, also no antlers. Of course, I kept watching them. Also, again and again the rest of the hill. Then deer #2 somehow disappeared. Bedded down, perhaps. #1 slowly fed further downhill, but also slightly away from my position. Eventually I had studied her enough with my binos that she was definitely a doe.

Lunchtime came, so I enjoyed my sandwich. Did not get to that apple, though, because now, after almost an hour had passed, deer #2 suddenly showed up again.

This one behaved differently, or maybe I wanted it to be antlered. And at one time it did look like there was small headgear. Finally, I got the great idea to use my rifle scope, to take a look at the critter with 15x. More minutes passed for him to step out as both kept slowly feeding along. Confirmed! He did have spikes. Then many more minutes passed before he was both in the open and still.

OK, the last reading quite a few trees ago came back as 372 yards. They had continued to angle away. I held for 400, confidently steady off the Primos tripod. Squeeze. The mild muzzle report lost itself in the open spaces. But the bullet went high, barely over his back. Spikey seemed confused, with the crack coming from one side and the bullet strike from the other. He had jumped, now stood still and broadside once more.

Another .308 was in the Tikka T3 chamber. I held a half deer lower, squeezed. Spikey hit the ground hard. No more movement, although I could not really see his body. It was the doe that seemed to confirm his demise. She acted all freaked out, would approach to where he had stood, then bounce away in haste, only to repeat that maneuver from a different line of approach. This went on for several minutes.

The excitement was over. Now, how to find him, over there on the other side of the canyon. No telltale signs in the form of a dead tree, etc were near him. Only one of the countless junipers had a stand-out big branch on its southern side. And halfway to the deer was a rock outcropping.

I gathered my stuff, walked up the road a little where crossing the canyon looked easier. There I stashed my chair, tripod, vest and water/windproof over-pants; sitting around can give you the shivers quickly.

The going was slow. The hill was thick with brush, often over-hip high. When I reached the rock outcropping, the doe was gone, and neither could I see that one juniper from that position. So I angled up to where I thought the deer might be, all the while not seeing that big-branch juniper. Hmm, better lucky than good, because I walked right to him, thanked God for it all. No wonder that deer had hit the ground hard. The 150 grain Ballistic Tip had gone right through the middle of his neck. So, a lucky hit. But for now, there was (red) work to be done.

It was around 1PM, so I had all afternoon to debone the deer and carry it all back to camp. Such was my plan. The wind blew cold in the land. Hanging the four legs and back straps while deboning first the ribs and neck and then the shoulders cooled even the hams out well enough. And all meat barely fit into my daypack. With gun over the shoulder, extra clothes wrapped around my waist and deer head in hand I labored back to my stashed things. Now the load got even heavier, and the long track back to camp, all uphill, ahead of me.

By a little after 4PM I got there. The meat, in plastic bags, cooled further in the last shade of the day, on the cold 4Runner hood. I put it in the ice chest before crawling into my sleeping bag.

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