A Big Buck for Dad
Written by Jimmie Walz
This year's hunt was very successful and our clients had taken some very nice animals, but the following story is about my father, Jim Walz. My father is a very accomplished hunter, but never what you would call a trophy hunter. I have seen him pass on some tremendous deer and elk, and after I would ask, "Why did you do that?" His response was always the same, he would say, "He'll make a nice trophy for someone next year."
When we would go hunting for ourselves, he would always shoot cow elk, or take a muley buck that we felt was not going amount to a whole lot in the future. He had almost given up hunting for himself when my younger brother and I started hunting, because he didn't feel that we needed all the meat.
I suppose his thought process goes back to his youth, and hunting with his father and grandfather. My great granddad was one of those hunters that wouldn't pack the horns out, like many people in that era. My father has adopted this philosophy also. Now don't get me wrong, he hunts with clients for 5 months out of the year looking for "Mr. Big". He works hard to get his clients good animals, but he feels for his personal hunting, that horn size doesn't matter. This year things changed though.
He approached me and said that he was thinking about taking a good buck. Now, "good buck" varies from person to person, and I have seen him call some 330" plus bulls "good bulls" and 180" plus bucks, "good bucks". I was very excited to see his interest in hunting for himself again, for it had been 9 years since he has taken a buck, and has there ever been some "good bucks" in front of him!
We had just finished a 10 party elk hunt and it was going to be a week before our next group of hunter's were to arrive. I was doing some scouting for the next week's crew, when on my way back to the camp I saw some does working their way through a wheat stubble field. My brother had seen a "good buck" in this area a few days earlier. He had said that the buck he saw had some pretty impressive kickers off of his G-2's, and had a three point main frame (western count). So, I paid a little extra attention to see if I could get a look at this buck.
After watching all the does make their way through the field and bed for the day, I was somewhat disappointed that I didn't get a look at the buck he was talking about. I then started back, working my way to camp. When I got around the stubble field and took a look back, I could see that there was a single deer trotting through the field. Anybody who spends enough time around mule deer knows a buck just by how they carry themselves. He was about 600 yards away and I instantly thought that this was him.
After getting my glasses on him, the kickers that my brother spoke of stuck out like a sore thumb. I was becoming very excited watching him, even though I wasn't hunting. After watching this buck make his way into the heavy sage brush, which this ranch is mostly comprised of, I figured that he was going to bed for the day. I then hurried back to camp to get my father.
After telling him about this buck, he started in on the same story that I had heard many times over, "he'll be a good one next year". I then had to sell him on the idea that this wasn't a monster, but he was truly unique with the kickers and he was pushing 30" wide. He then said that we should go take a look at him, but he wasn't going to get as excited about him as I was.
Once the buck stood up, we had a really good chance to have a spotting scope on him, and to our good fortune he started to pick for a while. We looked at the buck for 10 minutes or so and dad determined that he was a "good buck". We figured him to be pushing the 170" mark. It was around noon and we waited for the buck to bed again, and then started to put a plan together.
With this country being so open, we've seen these bucks hold up and not move all day. I have walked within feet of deer that are bedded. This ranch gets very little deer hunting pressure, for we only take 25 bucks per year. This lets the herd, which is a couple thousand strong, have a pretty easy.
Our plan was to start walking up the draw, pretty much directly at the buck. We would go in blind for most of the stalk and then the last 100 yards would have us in view of the buck. Once we were within 100 yards of where we last saw him, we waited for him to stand up. Since the sage brush was so thick, and we were now on fairly level ground, we couldn't get a visual on the deer, but we felt that he was in there.
After an hour or so, we decided to get a little more aggressive and I was to start walking straight to him and hopefully he would get up and my Dad would be ready for the shot. As I started walking toward where we last saw him bed, I was getting very excited for my father. But the next thing I knew, I was standing right in this bucks bed! No buck!
I knew that he didn't wind us; we had it right the whole time. I was getting a sneaking suspicion that he had indeed slipped us. I started to glass the area and I then found him working the bunch of does that I had seen earlier. With this being the middle of December, there were many does that were still in estrus. From my vantage point, I could have taken the deer, he was only 300 yards away, but my Dad could not see him. I tried to give him hand signals, but once he realized what I was doing, the deer worked their way into the next draw. I walked back down to my father and we figured that we could get over to the next draw and get a look at this buck.
As we crested the ridge and peered into the next draw, we could see the deer down in the bottom. The buck was with the does and not paying us any mind, but there were several of the seasoned does that didn't like what they were seeing and started mulling around. I ranged the buck at 378 yards and when he cleared the group, dad's .270 Weatherby roared. The buck drop before I heard the bullet hit.
The high fives and congratulatory handshakes were in abundance after that. We got down to the buck and as my Dad got closer to him, his smile got bigger. I was as proud of him as he was of me when he took me hunting when I was a kid. We sat and admired the buck with his huge kickers and deep forks. No words were spoken for quite some time, none were needed, and we both knew that we were in the middle of an unforgettable father and son moment. We took a roll of film and put a tape on the buck. We realized that this deer had a small body and he looked slightly wider than he was, but he taped at 29" outside and 27" inside. He had a 7 2/8" kicker and a 6 6/8" kicker on the other side. The buck had finally taped at 171" gross. This qualified him as a "good buck".
Dad has several bucks mounted at his house that are 191", 202", and 185", but he was very happy with this buck even though it was not his biggest. Upon visiting with him and re-telling the story several times, he had said that he had seen the buck last year and his kickers were about 3" each. He then went on to say to me, "I was just letting him get bigger for me". I suppose he deserved a little bragging!
Although this wasn't the biggest deer we had taken at our camp this year, and although this wasn't the only time that I had hunted with my Dad---the hunt, the buck, and just getting a chance to be with him that day and see his obvious excitement stands out when I reflect on the past season.
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