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Planned Out Deer Hunt December 2022
Gerhard Schroeder  

It began with an email from Steve while I was still in Montana – “we got drawn for our second choice, whitetail in Unit 22”. Just as in 2020, 2018 and 2016. Meaning I had experience there, knew where deer would more likely be. One thing was new – the method that began last year, to hunt from a field shooting bench. Before the hunt Steve and I made one trip to our area, primarily for me to find and place such bench in a suitable location. After schlepping the darn thing for quite some distance I did stash it in a promising place, trimmed some branches and leveled the ground as best as all the rocks in that rough terrain allowed. Prior to the hunt I prepared what was needed to bring the meat and head back to camp: bigger backpack, compact saw, compact field butcher table, rope to hang a deer, string to hang the meat, etc – always be positive.

That was impossible for Ron L who was on our application this year but hurt himself so bad that he could not hunt at all. Being positive also was not so easy when the weather forecast for our hunt predicted snow the day before opening day. On the other hand, it gave me great confidence when the Tuesday prior, at out shooting spot near New River, my Mauser M18 nailed the 10” plates with my first shot at 430, 540 and 600 yards. From my table in Unit 22 the longest shot would be under 450.

It did indeed snow on Thursday. In fact, Ron P opted to wait that out and arrived midday Friday. Turns out that on Friday morning I was not quite as prepared as I thought I was. The sling for my M18 was still at home. Luckily Steve had a spare. Consequently, I left camp a lot later than I wanted to. All was forgotten when I first found my stashed bench again and was greeted by this view:

I knew that bagging a deer here would require an honest effort to get the meat back to camp. Oh well, first a critter needs to be down. Deer should really be seen easily with such white background. Except none showed up. And very soon after sunup all that white stuff began to drip and fall. I had to cut some more branches above my position to avoid such annoyance.

At lunch I checked in with Steve via radio. Nothing had happened. By 1PM the sun had consumed most of the snow on the south-facing slope, the one I was looking at. Soon after I spotted a deer. She turned out to be without headgear, accompanied by twins. I studied those and their surroundings for about two hours. Neither of the twins sported buttons, and neither daddy nor grandpa joined them.

Around 3:30PM two more deer came into view, but way to my left, on the other side of some trees which intruded into my field of view. The closer one I could not tell, its head behind some branches. The other one was a buck!

I had to pivot the table, did so by almost 90 degrees. Still a branch in the way, about eighty yards from me. Now I had to move both my chair and that table sideways by a step. After that was done the two deer were no longer there. Darn! Did they see me do all this?

The buck had been right next to a juniper that appeared almost perfectly round on top and was slightly lighter in color than its neighbors. I ranged that tree – 370 yds. Also turned my elevation turret to that distance. Then smiled internally. It had been a beautiful opening day. I had seen five deer, even one with antlers. And this day wasn’t over yet.

Just then the buck appeared again, some guestimated 30 steps further away. I did not reach for the rangefinder again. Instead, I gave the top turret a few more clicks. At 20X the reticle sucked itself behind his shoulder, oh-so-steady off that bench. There was no obvious wind. Then the suppressor did its evil hiss, which was followed by a loud Kugelschlag when the 140 grain ELD-M out of my 6.5 PRC arrived on the other side of the canyon. But the buck ran off.

Immediately memories from last year flooded into my mind, when I had lost that deer. This time I did not make the same mistake, watched for a long while the semi-open areas in the direction he had fled. At minimum I should see a glimpse of him there. I did not. It also sounded like he crashed and thrashed. Anyway, I prayed that I may find this one. To help do that I made note of several terrain features, one of them a powerline pole at the top of the opposite ridge.

First the biggest physical task, crossing the deep and steep canyon, ideally at an angle to arrive at the round juniper. And that while wearing long johns, pants and XXL pants over that – sitting in ambush is a cold affair. Plus I was wearing rubber boots. Not the attire I’d choose for crossing canyons. Also, that M18 with suppressor attached is a darling when resting on the bags on top the hunting table but is one awkward and muzzle-heavy burden when being transported. After much sweating and panting and taking breaks I made it up the other side but had no longer view of that juniper tree.

OK, plan B: All the way to the top I labored, then over to the pole, stashed both rifle and backpack under a tree there. Now traveling lighter, I descended again and eventually found what probably was that juniper. It looked different up close. But the open areas near it ‘fit’. Time to go into German No-Hair Retriever mode. Where I thought the buck stood when I fired, the search began for signs of the encounter with that Hornady bullet. Anxious minutes passed, then YES, blood, dried on a rock. A few steps further a small chunk of lung tissue. My mood made a step change. Still further, more blood, not much; then only his tracks in the soft ground, thanks to the melted snow. Then more tissue, and finally, my buck! A good hour had passed since firing the shot.

Boy, did I thank the Lord! My spirits were high indeed. Yet, barely above the horizon hung the late PM sun. The red work was quickly accomplished. Then I retrieved gun and pack. Now properly equipped I found a suitable tree nearby. Hung the deer as best I could on that and skinned him out.

Parting him out was next, after which each leg, the ribs, back, and neck were hanging in the tree separately for cooling. The easiest job was deboning, even though it was now dark and done in the beam of my head lamp. Sitting on one small three-legged aluminum chair while using another slightly taller one as table allowed butchering in comfort. I had made a lightweight butcher board from a section of foam as backing for a piece of sewing cutting mat that Mary had discarded. Even so, I opted to leave the ribs and neck hanging. Because the worst part was still awaiting me, carrying the meat back to camp, a good mile away, most of it uphill. Also left behind that evening was all my gear, except rifle and optics. Still, the pack was a bitc – I mean a challenge. Add again that Mauser and I was slowly laboring along the very rough forest road. My breathing would have put the worst pervert to shame. It was around 8:30PM when I made it to camp, utterly spent.

Saturday morning I made the trip again to recover my gear. No scavenger had molested ribs or neck, so I deboned them as well. That afternoon I trimmed and boiled out the head.

No more snow by then. This hunt had basically gone just as I had hoped for. Preparation made it the success it ended up being. It was here, back in 2016, when I began this ambush hunting. In the first years we loitered near waterholes. That of course works best when it is hot and dry out. In 2020, also a snowy hunt, I’d switched to overlooking a hillside. That turned out to be more enjoyable, more interesting, offered more country to look over. It ended up being successful as well. Shots tend to be longer, though, which in turn drove me to the 6.5PRC and using 3-leg shooting benches. That’s how I intend to go about hunting whitetails from now on.

Back to this hunt - finally time to relax. I did of course review that opening day many times in my mind, made written notes of how to improve things next time, how to hopefully lighten the equipment riding in my pack, etc. Time had come to be lazy, and watch Steve and Ron get out and back into camp. Unfortunately, each time they returned empty. By the way, the road, if you can call it that, to our camp in Unit 22 is the worst. No other hunter came by. Ron and Steve chose to stop on Tuesday, pack up and leave, because another rainstorm was on its way that night and into Wednesday. No fun at all to break camp when things are wet and soggy.

May the good Lord bless us with another deer tag in 2023.

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