2012 Blacktail Buck
It hadn't rained in over 100 days, but Friday morning the rain started falling. It rained all day. There was no way I was going to skip out on hunting Saturday morning. Conditions would be perfect.
The cascades would be closed to hunting for the weekend, as elk season would be under way. The only area I would be able to hunt was the Oregon Coast Range.
On Friday night I used Google maps, trying to locate a road that travels through the Siuslaw National Forest, my best alternative to my normal hunting area.
I picked an area where I thought I would find an open road and planned to head that direction early Saturday morning.
It felt like I had driven for too long but finally I found a road I was fairly sure would take me off the highway up into the national forestland that makes up part of the Alsea Wildlife Management Unit near Newport Oregon.
The heavily timbered hills stretched on for miles. The road leveled out as it cut across the side of a steep hill. A big doe crossed the road about 35 yards in front of my car. She was headed straight down the hill into the forest on the right side of the road. This was a good sign, the deer were out moving around. The rain had been a welcome event for the wildlife.
After driving down the road for about 15 minutes, I noticed a truck was following me. I was a little disappointed as I had hoped to find a spot to hunt by myself. Then I came to a fork in the road and slowed down for a moment trying to decide which direction I should go. Finally, I decided to take the right fork.
Of course I hoped the truck behind me would take the road that forked to the left, but that was not the case. It continued following me.
All of a sudden there was a truck stopped in the middle of the road ahead of me. I had nowhere to go. So I stopped, fully expecting them to get out of my way. They can't just block the road like that, I thought.
Sure enough, they got out of my way in just a few seconds. Then, I saw what had caused them to stop. In the early morning light, I could see a round dish-shaped object hovering in the air about 30 feet above the ground, with a dazzling display of multi-colored lights . . .
Just kidding. Actually, what had prompted them to stop was a large clear-cut, probably the only one for miles. I guess they were trying to figure out if they were going to get out and watch for deer as the sun came up.
I drove past them and decided to pull over and watch the same clear-cut. I had no other options. It was getting light and I really wanted to be in a good spot to watch for deer.
The car behind me drove past me and then pulled over also. I was thinking to myself, this is turning out to be a bad situation. Too many hunters and not enough room.
I backed my car back onto the road and continued on, hoping to find another clear-cut of my own. As I traveled down the road I saw another side road that I figured headed into the bottom of the same clear-cut. So, I decided to take it.
Sure enough, it came out into the middle of the big clear-cut. I decided to pull off the road just inside the edge of the clear-cut and park. Then I would walk down the logging road and look for a buck in the bottom on the clear-cut. The conditions seemed to be perfect.
I got out of the car, loaded my gun and started walking down the logging road. When I got to the edge of the clear-cut I reached down for my binoculars to take a look around and . . . they weren't hanging around my neck as I had expected.
I had left them on the hood of my car. I had to go back and get them.
In a few minutes I was back into the clear-cut glassing around. As I walked on, I looked uphill to the left and then down hill to the right. It looked like a very deery situation, meaning I felt certain I was going to see some deer.
Down to my right there was a narrow strip of trees that had been spared by the loggers, creating a fence-like barrier to my view further downhill. As soon as I walked far enough to see past those trees, I put my optics up to my eyes and scanned the ridge down below me.
My heart started pumping when I spotted a mature deer standing broadside and motionless just below the ridgeline at about 175 yards. I could not tell for sure if it was a buck or not, but based on the white patch on his neck, I was thinking it was a buck.
I lowered my binos and looked for a stump on the side of the road in front of me. Conveniently, there was a very small stump right there.
I crept up to the stump and knelt down behind it. Then I used the stump to rest my elbows as I propped up the binoculars in front of my eyes. I spotted the deer in just a moment or two. My heart was really beating hard. In fact, it was beating so hard, that I couldn't tell for sure if the deer had horns or not.
I thought to myself, just take your time and when you can gain your composure you will be able to see if it has horns.
Luckily the deer did not seem to be alarmed, even though he was staring directly towards me.
As I calmed down a little, I starting to think I could see a nice pair of chocolate brown horns between his ears, but I still was not entirely sure.
I told myself that if I would just be patient and watch him very carefully I would see his horns if he turned his head.
Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, the buck quickly turned his head to look at something that had apparently caught his attention. I saw the movement of his antlers and knew for sure it was a nice buck. It was "go time"!
I quickly positioned my rifle on the stump and took off the safety, trying to keep my heart-rate down.
At this point I started paying more attention to the bucks body. Although he was standing broadside to me, part of his body was partially covered with some tall weeds.
I placed the reticle of my Ruger M77 Mk II at the top of the kill zone, just above the weeds. I took my time preparing to pull the trigger.
Finally, I sent a 100 grain Remington Core-Lokt flying towards him, then watched in my scope as I waited for the bullet to hit and drop my first buck in three years.
It seemed to take forever. I think I could have read the entire King James version of the Holy Bible, cover to cover before that bullet got to that deer. Or at least that's how slow time seemed to be moving. In fact, I started to get impatient. It must have been a longer shot than I had thought.
Then it dawned on me, I had totally missed the buck. Thankfully, he hadn't moved a muscle. He still didn't seem too concerned about what was happening.
I couldn't believe my luck. Where had my bullet gone? Did I flinch? Then I remembered I hadn't even checked to see if my rifle was still zeroed in from last season.
Doubt began to fill my mind as I cycled the bolt. Would this be a repeat of last season when I had blown my chance at a Halloween Ghost Buck?
I put the reticle on the buck again and pulled the trigger. This time it didn't take me nearly as long as it had the first time to realize that I had totally missed the shot. Yet there he stood. In the exact same position as he had before.
What if this was one of those stuffed robotic deer that OSP uses to trap poachers, I thought. Are they watching me now and getting ready to close in on me? But wait, I wasn't doing anything illegal. This was national forest. I knew everything was on the up and up, except that I couldn't seem to get a bullet into this deer.
Another cartridge was fed into the chamber of my .243 and what do you think happened when I did my best to steady my aim and put the round through that bucks vitals? A repeat of shot one and shot two!
Yet the deer still stood there motionless. I must be missing that thing by a mile, I thought. Surely a bullet hitting around him would have jumped him by now . . .
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Well, at this point I was beginning to feel quite insane.
Then, a simple thought popped into my head. It was a thought that would give me a little glimmer of hope. I only had two more bullets in my gun, and I figured it was pretty unlikely that the buck would actually stand there waiting as I reloaded my magazine with another four rounds. But, at this rate anything could happen.
"Squeeze the trigger." This time I would squeeze the trigger. It wasn't enough to hold the reticle as motionless as possible before pulling the trigger if you were going to yank on it and shoot three feet over the bucks back, right?
I moved the cross-hairs over to the left of where I had been aiming, just in case those weeds were part of the problem. Now the reticle rested on the base of his neck.
I held it as still as I could and gently squeezed the trigger until it broke and the rifle bucked back against my shoulder, the barrel popping up.
I quickly looked through the scope trying to see the deer. I thought I could see it falling to the ground- or was it running over the top of the ridge? I couldn't tell.
I felt pretty confident that I had him down, but based on my previous three shots, I was not entirely sure.
I decided to walk straight down the hill at him, right thought the clear-cut, even though there was a road that made a V to my left and back in the buck's direction below me.
With my thumb I pulled back on the Ruger's two position safety, which still allowed me to work the bolt, but ensuring that I couldn't accidentally pull the trigger.
I put a couple more bullets into the magazine as I walked down the hill, just in case. I fought the desire to run, not wanting to trip and fall. Also, I had to be prepared to take another shot if he popped up on the other side of the ridge.
When I got to the area where he had been standing, I was sure to look over the ridge and see if I could spot him first. Had to make that a first priority before I started looking for a downed deer.
No sign of any deer. I was hoping that I would find him right in front of the stump where he had been standing, but he wasn't there. Then I realized that it might have been another similar stump a few feet away.
When I looked through the ground cover near that stump, suddenly, I saw my buck.
It had been three long years. I had hunted hard every year since I had taken a mule deer buck in the Silver Lake unit in 2009. I had hardly seen a single deer except for the Halloween Ghost Buck in 2011.
It made me all the more grateful for this moment. I had taken one of North America's most elusive big game animals once again, a nice three point blacktail buck with eye guards. A beautiful animal. And there would be meat in the freezer for the coming months.