Saturday, November 24, 2007

In Search Of Big Bucks

© By Othmar Vohringer

Here is the long overdue report of my recent hunting trip into the wilderness of beautiful British Columbia.

This year was a very special hunt with a new rifle that I named after my wife who gave me the Weatherby Vanguard .270 as a gift. After shooting that rifle at the range for two weeks to establish a rifle/load combination that performs best I was eager to try to kill my first mule deer and the first deer with a rifle in British Columbia.

As you can tell, this hunt was a very special event in many ways. Did it end with a big buck tagged? Read on and find out.

On Friday November 9th, at 5:00 am my wife and I left home to drive to her cousin’s, who also happens to be my hunting partner.

At 6:00 am we arrived at his house and loaded all the gear into one truck and at about 6:30 I kissed my wife goodbye and off we went heading north to our hunting destination. The weatherman promised sunshine but it was not to be, we drove away from home in a light rain that turned heavier the closer we got to our final destination. Only for a brief spell the rain stopped exactly at the moment when we turned off the highway and onto the logging road that would bring us deep into the wilderness. Once we were on the logging road my hopes shot sky high when I saw six deer browsing right next to the road.

We arrived at the base camp around 11:00 am and one hour later we had unloaded all the equipment and packed it into the wall tent that would be our home for the next few days. At noon we were ready to start hunting; Ernie and I checked our radios, wished each other luck, and then headed off in opposite directions. My plan was to first check out a few cut blocks where I had seen deer on a previous scouting trip.

On my way to the first cut block I saw three does and then one buck that was safe because in this area only bucks with four points or better can be killed. I had seen the size of bucks this area produces and therefore I was determined to hold out for a very special deer. Nothing less than a true monster would do.

Just before dark I returned to the camp having seen many deer and other wildlife giving me hopes for the first full day of hunting on Saturday. In fact I was convinced that I would tag out the next day, I was that pumped. Surprisingly, I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow and woke up the next day at 5:00 am to the smell of freshly brewed coffee.

Ernie was already awake and had the old camp stove fired up. Ernie is a real pal to have around in a hunting camp and I couldn’t have a better hunting partner.
Outside of the tent was a dark frosty landscape that made me want to crawl back in bed but then I remembered the many deer I had seen yesterday. We quickly downed two cups of coffee and like the previous day went our separate ways into the wild.

Long before the sun came up I was sitting more or less comfortably behind a deadfall tree overlooking a huge 3-year-old clear-cut overgrown with young trees and plants - the perfect place for deer to fill their stomachs all night long on nutritious food. If a big buck was here there was no way he could make it back into the timber at daybreak without me not seeing him. This was a prime location. I just had to sit here and be patient – but by 9:00 am I had used up all my patience and still had not seen any deer or any other critter come to think of it. Time to move on into the timber for a spot and stalk hunt, perhaps I could surprise a buck in his bed.

The rest of the morning and afternoon I hiked about fifteen miles in very rugged country where it either goes steeply up or down over boulders or fallen trees. By evening I still had seen no deer but could feel every muscle in my legs even some I never knew I had. On the way back to camp looking forward to a hot meal I came up with the only plausible conclusion for the lack of deer sightings: the drastic cold snap over night must have moved the deer to lower elevations. Should it be that cold again in the morning Ernie and I would drive with the truck to lower elevations and try our luck there.

We awoke the next morning to even colder temperatures. We had a quick coffee and then drove down to the lowland. The terrain was still rugged and hilly but not as steep and it was a lot warmer. Once again after wishing each other good hunting luck our ways parted. Ernie headed straight for a cut block where he had seen a huge mule deer buck the previous year while I headed for a long ravine that stretched for about a mile along woodlots and open areas. The perfect travel way for big bucks searching for does in heat. The moment I arrived at the ravine I knew I had hit a hot spot. There were several trails merging into a well used one leading down to the bottom of the ravine. As luck would have it nearby was the perfect setup in the form of a huge boulder. Sitting behind it I could watch several trails at once. It didn’t take long before I saw movement in the young pine growth straight ahead of me. Cautiously, a doe came down the trail heading straight for the ravine. I got ready with the rifle in case a buck followed her, but no such luck, she was alone.

After sitting behind the boulder for two hours with no more deer movement it was time to move on. I headed to a semi open area overgrown with young aspen and poplar trees. Mule deer like such places where they browse in the leaf litter. It was back to the slow spot and stalk tactic that has proven successful many times when I hunt with bow and arrow. The idea is to walk a few steps at a time then from the cover of a tree or bush carefully observe the surrounding landscape with binoculars before moving on another two to three steps. It was not long before I saw two does and a spike buck having a breakfast snack under the aspens. I watched the deer for several minutes until they moved off and I felt safe to move on without spooking them. About an hour into the spot and stalk I caught some movement trough the binoculars behind a large deadfall tree. Looking closer and adjusting the focus several times on the binos there was no doubt in my mind that there was a big buck bedded down behind that tree trunk. How big the buck was I could not tell because I had just seen the antler tips slightly moving back and forth as he inhaled and exhaled air.

A careful stalk brought me to the other side of the tree trunk and for the first time I could see the whole deer, what a beautiful buck and he was legal too. That was not the biggest buck I had seen in that area but a good look at his head gear told me that he was, or at least was close to being a B & C deer. There was only one small but vital problem; I had no clear shot at him. This was obviously a very smart buck. Not only did he camouflage himself very well by choosing this deadfall tree but he also obviously took advantage of the fact that his breeding area was overgrown with many small bushes that made it impossible to get a bullet to him without hitting a few branches on the way.

All I could do was sit there and wait for the buck to get up and walk and hopefully give me a clear shot. After two hours of waiting the buck obviously felt very comfortable in his bed and had no inclination whatsoever to move. My posterior on the other hand began to complain from sitting for so long on a less than comfortable stone and my legs started to cramp up because I had not dared to move them for fear the buck would detect me. This was hopeless, I could sit here for another two hours or longer and it was getting late. Perhaps if I sat any longer my legs would refuse to move at all. Thoughts rushed back and forth in my head. One voice said, “Shoot him- the bullet will blow right through these branches.” Another voice, the wise one, said. “Don’t shoot, there is no such thing as a bullet that can blow through brush and still hit the target.”

The wise voice won in the end and I conceded defeat, this time the buck had won the game. Slowly I eased my way back from where I came and headed back to the truck where Ernie was waiting for me. On the way back to the camp we exchanged the days events. Ernie told me that he spotted a spike chasing a doe around in a clearing. As he watched the spike in amusement he saw from the corner of his eyes a massive buck watching Ernie from about 200 yards away. Ernie turned around raising his rifle to his shoulder but did not feel comfortable taking a frontal shot at the deer, so he waited, hoping the deer would turn broadside. Instead, the buck suddenly whirled around and in mule deer fashion bounced away waving to Ernie with the white flag. Ernie didn’t feel comfortable about a Texas heart shot either and so the buck was safe from a ride in the back of our truck.

All in all this was a very good day. We had seen plenty of deer in the lower elevations and each of us had had a big buck in our rifle sights. We decided that we would return to this area the next day. We both were pumped up and talked long into the night, laid out plans and developed strategies for the next day. During supper that night, our other hunting partner that had come along to hunt grouse, (lets just call him ‘Al’) sat in front of a large plate filled with vegetables and a very tasty smelling grilled bird that he hat shot that afternoon. Coincidently, this is the same guy that reminded Ernie and me every morning, like a broken record, “If you kill a deer bring me the heart and liver. I like deer heart and liver.” Yet there he sat, stuffing his face with grouse, never offered us a morsel of it. With the camp food being what it was I wouldn’t have said ‘no’ to the offer of a wing. Only God and my wife know how much I love to eat meat, I would walk miles to find a good steak if I had too. This was just not right.
The next morning I was ready with a very good answer when Al reminded us again that we should bring back the heart and liver if we killed a deer. I replied as politely as I could manage that early in the morning: “My wife likes heart and liver too and I promised her to bring it home.” That was not true- in fact my wife does not like liver at all. But after last night where he stuffed a whole grouse inside his gut without offering us a bite of it, I wanted to let him know that I was not about to give him anything from my deer. I fear that he somehow did not get the hint.

The weather had changed drastically from yesterday’s dry cold. It rained and it was to rain all day long. There was little hope of seeing any deer movement as mule deer tend to hole up during rain or heavy snowfall and sit the weather out. Still you can’t kill something if you’re sitting in camp and making a long face. So off we went again.
As feared the day passed without any deer sightings despite hiking for another good 15 miles. In the afternoon it started raining very hard and we were sure that the deer would seek shelter in the deepest thickets to sit the rain out. In the late evening it got worse as the winds picked up and one hour later we were faced with a severe windstorm. We heard all around us noise like gunshots but it was trees that were breaking in the wind. Quite a frightening experience to see large trees snap like matchsticks all around you. The storm lasted all night and at times our camp shook so badly that we thought it was going to collapse. I am sure that if we had set up the camp in the open rather than in the middle of young and dense pine growth the whole thing would not have survived this onslaught of natures worst.

On Monday morning we awoke to freezing temperatures but decided, with little hope, to use the morning and try one more time to tag a buck. Our plan was to leave for home at around 10 am so this gave us five hours to hunt. I decided to spot and stalk a large wooded draw where I had seen lots of deer sign on a previous scouting trip. As I had feared there was a lot of sign but no deer to be seen. Here is what I believe had happened: during the storm all the deer vacated the area as the storm approached to seek shelter in the lowland.

On my way back to camp I spooked a moose cow right in front of me; she jumped up and crashed through the woods almost giving me a heart attack. That was the only wildlife encounter that morning. Back at the camp I packed all my gear up and loaded it into the truck. The very moment we were getting ready to leave we saw big black clouds moving in fast. In the two minutes it took us to jump in the truck and drive off it started to snow and about five minutes later we found ourselves driving through a blizzard. By the time we reached the highway and civilization it dumped half a foot of snow on the landscape. Four hours later I fell into my wife’s arms tired but happy to be home safe from a long trip.

Conclusion:
Like in previous years I enjoyed this trip even if I did not tag a big buck as planned. It’s good to spend time with friends and be out in nature, it helps me to clear my mind from the everyday life and hectic schedules. I am a whitetail deer hunter at heart and each time I go out in pursuit of mule deer it’s a learning process about this animal which, while similar to the whitetail, has some very different in behaviors.

The hunting season is still open until December 10th and if the weather calms down I might return to our hunting area for a weekend and try my luck to shoot a big buck again. In the meantime I keep watching the weather forecast.

Pictures From The Trip:
















Failing to provide a picture of a hunter holding a set of antlers in his hands. I proudly present you with an image of my new Weatherby Vanguard .270 Win. loaded with Federal Power Shock 130grain. The rifle rests on homemade cross-sticks, a very inexpensive item that will give you almost bench rest accuracy in the field.
















Here I recreated the position in which I observed the buck for a solid two hours in the hope that he would move and give me a clear shot at his vitals. In the background you notice the low growing bushes were the buck was hiding out behind a deadfall tree trunk.



























This is the deer trail I wrote about in the report above leading to the bottom of a huge and very steep ravine. Looks like a deer highway.
















This is the area around our main camp and should give you a fair idea what it looks like. Very rugged country but very beautiful and home to a large variety of wildlife such as mule deer, moose, black bears, cougars, coyotes and a variety of upland birds.


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9 comments:

Phillip said...

Well Othmar,

Too bad you didn't tag out, but success isn't always measured by horns on the wall or meat on the table. It sounds like you had a great time, and had a couple of opportunities as well.

Good luck with the remainder of the season.

Arthur said...

Sounds like a great trip. Some of my best hunting memories have nothing to do with a kill! Great story.

Kristine said...

Sounds like you had a good time, and you certainly saw some beautiful country. Plus, now you know the "big guy" is out there. You'll get him next time.

robert said...

I was wondering if your new Vanguard would speak this deer season. Alas there is always next year. If it's any consolation, on opening day I was busted by a buck as I was walking to my stand. The rifle was loaded but there wasn't a cartridge in the chamber. Deer 1, Robert 0.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Phillip and Arthur – You’re so right. Some of my most memorable hunts are those that I didn’t shoot anything. Any time I am away from work and everyday life for a while is a great time where I can refresh my mind and soul.

Kristine – Not wanting to belittle anybody’s homeland but I do believe with all my heart that British Columbia is God’s country as we call it. I am totally in love with this place but not ignorant to other beautiful places I have seen around the world.

The beauty of hunting is that there is always next time. Next time I will be together with friends again, some of them I will not see all year long. Next time there will be bigger bucks. Next time the weather will hopefully be better. It’s called anticipation and this is a big part of hunting too.

Robert – The Vanguard is a wonderful rifle. These guns are perfectly balanced with a very good fit and very accurate right out of the box. These rifles are moderately priced but perform like a big dollar gun.

The very first day I got busted by a smaller, but legal buck, as I packed my equipment into the camp. I carried the rifle in case to the camp. Some years ago I snow tracked a buck and forgot to nock and arrow on the string. When I got to within archery range to the buck and wanted to pull the string back I realized there was no arrow on the string. I put this down to buck fever.

-ov-

deerPhD said...

Othmar, you're a wonderful story-teller. I'm so glad you got out, and I'm so glad I got to read about it. Wonderful pics as well. Not tagging out will give you all the more reason to go get him next time.

I'm also quite envious of your Weatherby! Nice gift...

Marian said...

Thanks for sharing your hunting story Othmar. I enjoyed reading about your adventures. Felt like I was there. I like the homemade cross-sticks...Better luck next time my friend! :)

Marc - Editor, NYBOWHUNTER.COM said...

Now that's what I call hunting, sounds like you guys had a great time! I hope to do something like that in the near future.

Albert A Rasch said...

Mr.Vohringer,

Excellent adventure! Though a deer in hand would have been nice, the time well spent was renumeration enough I think!

I find it awful that your partner, "whose name is not to be spoken", lacked the civility to offer even a morsel of his grouse.What has happened to good manners...

I am enjoying your blog very much! Your writing style appeals to me, it speaks in a voice that's both familiar and enticing.

Thanks and Regards,
Albert A Rasch
The Hunt Continues...

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