“Everything Looks Like a Butt”
After watching the deer until dark Wednesday, Thursday would bring 3 close encounters with bucks. I would have two shot opportunities, and no excuses.
If you spend enough time looking for deer through binoculars, everything starts to look like a butt. Every sandy dirt mound looked like the round, white rump of a trophy Mullie. Every black yucca bloom looked like an ear tip or an eye. Mule deer blend in and camouflage themselves into their surroundings very well. But, even with the deceptive terrain on their side, we still managed to spot more than 20 deer that day. The first one, we watched feed its way out of the cornfield where it disappeared the night before.
I couldn’t sleep last night. Tossing and turning, I spent the whole night thinking about those deer we watched browsing into the field edge.
Would they still be there? Were they gone? Were they bedded out in the open? Would I be able to get close enough for a shot? Were they still be together, and have all those extra eyes to watch for danger? Again, the crickets from my alarm announced the arrival of 5am. We loaded up, fast, and were on our way.
We were able to drive to within 150-200 yards of where we’d last seen them. That’s where we waited for daybreak with binoculars in hand. Just before it was light enough to make out anything of consequence, I could see a grey silhouette easing down the corn rows, deer! The day was filled with action, right from first light.
We wrestled daybreak until we could make out what we were seeing. It was a buck, a pretty darn nice buck. Scanning the canyon tops and fields, we couldn’t spot any sign of the rest of the deer from the night before. Was this one of the 4? Did they spar and separate? Is this a whole new buck? He was a very nice 3 x 3 with “eye guards”, another point directly above the eyes. In Georgia, we’d call this an 8 point. A big, fat, 8 point. After 20 minutes or so, the deer dropped out of sight.
Did he bed down at the fence edge? Is there a drainage he could’ve dropped into? Neither of us could tell. The only thing to do was grab the bow, and get to crawling.
I lost all feeling in my fingers no more than 1/3 of the way there. With temps around 34, frost on the ground, and an aluminum bow in hand…I was cold. Luckily, Bryan was too. We stopped twice just to slip our hands into our pockets and keep them from turning blue. That deer was in no hurry and our fingers were grateful for the rest.
Getting closer to the fence corner where the deer disappeared, we could see several drainages that weren’t visible from our glassing location. These canyons continually trick and deceive. We realized he wasn’t bedded there. By now, we should’ve seen antlers, ear tips, something. He must have dropped into the canyon in one of the drainages. The only option was to fall back, and check each drainage.
We dropped back and looked in the big open canyon bottom for a minute…nothing. We had him! We saw where he’d gone in, and we knew he never came out. Unless he suddenly started running and covered a lot of ground, he had to be inside the 100 yards between us and the last drainage.We began working our way up the canyon from the ridge top, starting at one end working back up. Nothing in the first. The next, nothing. Carefully managing our wind and staying low and out of sight from the other draws, we worked to the next, again nothing. Did he vanish?
We came to the last drainage, honestly thinking he must have given us the slip. This was a steep drop, a small opening with almost no cover. What deer would be there? He would have had to bed down immediately after dropping out of sight in order to even be here. We peeked over the crest of the bank, down into the very first draw…ANTLERS!
Dropping to the ground I clipped my release to the d-loop. We didn’t think he’d see us. He was bedded tight against the steep bank, under a dead tree. I would have a shot a clear shot at his vitals, and we thought he was looking down towards the canyon. This was it!
I drew. For a split second, I just enjoyed the draw. All I could see at this point was a dirt bank, but just on the other side was a nice mule deer buck, and I was drawing on him. 20 hours of driving, 4 days of hunting, and an incredible series of events lead to this draw. I was enjoying it for all it was worth, all .0478 seconds of it.
Easing over the top of the drainage to look down into the bottom, I set my sight where his body was seconds before…FEET! All I could see was feet! The deer had stood, hiding his body behind the branches of the tree he was bedded under. I had not shot. I was 20 yards from a mule deer buck at full draw and I had no shot! A few seconds passed that felt like days, and the deer bounced across the canyon bottom, up to the opposite side and paused for a quick look back.
“56 yards”, I heard Bryan whisper. I settled my pin, confirmed my anchor, and wrapped my finger around the trigger as I looked at the ribs of the deer through my sight. Just as the pin rested, a wind gust literally blew me off target. I eased off the trigger and tried to reset my pins on the deer, only to see his white butt bounding over the ridge. Gone.
Just like that. A tree, and a wind gust, and I was done. Somewhere between the excitement, and the heartbreak, I put my arrow back into the quiver and my frozen hands back into my pockets. We walked back to the truck to re-group and start all over. That short walk was very long. Disappointment, mixed with excitement, it was sprinkled with gratefulness and seasoned with self-mockery; the emotional cocktail I was drinking wasn’t tasty.
We circled the canyon, trying to warm up and hoping to find where the buck had run off to. No luck. He wasn’t that startled, so maybe he didn’t go far? We positioned the truck on the opposite side of the property and started glassing.
It wasn’t long before we spotted two more bucks!
Just down from where we’d watched them feed into the corn fields the night before, we saw two bucks bedded together in thick yucca bushes. It looked like the group of 4 must have split up in the night. We’d found one this morning already, now 2 of the others. One of these was a distinguishable 4 x 4, a stud from the group last night. They were only 100 yards away from where we watched them the night before.
Bedded out in the open, it would be a long, low, difficult stalk on these boys. Getting down wind of them meant covering 75-100 yards with our faces in the dirt. Slinking from yucca bush to prickly, nasty, yucca bush was our only option. If they fed around this finger or down into the bottom, we wouldn’t have any way to approach. We had to move.
We drove the truck as far up one of the drainages as we could and climbed up the steep bank. Walking the fence row from downwind, I couldn’t help remember the fence from that morning. What are the chances we’d be within 100 yards on bucks twice in one morning? We eased down into the draw just above them and tried to get our bearings. They should be just over the next ridge on that long finger…peaking over on our bellies, we confirmed antler tips over the yucca’s. Crawl time.
Our first stalk of the day was over frosted grass with numb fingers. Our second, was over cactus, sand burs, and crunchy tufts of grass. As we made our way into range, I never saw the deer. We were moving off Bryan’s spot of an antler, and the points we marked from across the canyon. Low to the ground, based off earlier guesses, we should be about 40 yards away. Bryan peeked over a bush, “They’re right there.” Bedded about 35 yards up wind, behind large brush.
The big 4×4 took a couple steps and browsed some grass. I could see hind quarter! Two or three more steps and I had a perfect 35 yard broadside shot. They both whipped their heads up wind again. I heard the small one’s hooves as they pounded the dirt coming down the canyon. Then I saw the tail end of the biggest buck I’d seen all week, following right behind him. Spooked. Vanished. Gone. In an instant. All that stalking, to watch them run away.
Bryan and I sat there for a second whispering in confusion and frustration. Did they wind us? The wind was in our face the whole time. What did they keep looking at back there? We stood and looked all around. Nothing. What happened? Feeling a little jinxed, we walked our way back up the ridge we’d been getting to know so intimately a few minutes earlier.
Mere inches from where we’d crawled through Bryan stopped and pointed at the ground, “rattler.” A small prairie rattler was sunning in the dirt right beside the path we’d crawled through! He wasn’t too excited to see us and the feeling was mutual. As he slinked into his hole, I prayed a silent prayer, thanking God that we hadn’t met him under different circumstances.
As we crested the hill, we saw a big red-coated coyote cruizing the next bottom over. Did the deer smell him? Was he what blew our stalk? Bryan seemed to think so. I gained a lot of respect for the nose of a deer that could smell a coyote so far away. I also gained a little more hatred for those stupid coyotes, as if that relationship wasn’t alredy firmed up.
Brokenhearted is the only word I have to describe my emotions towards that mornings’s events. So close, back to back, and I couldn’t make it happen. What’s even more unbelievable is before the day was over, I would be at full draw again, on the same buck I’d drawn on first thing that morning. An arrow would fly today…but I’ll have to tell you more about that next time.