Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

"The Four Year Hunt"
Written by Justin Paola

Justin's Big Buck
Justin's buck is a 30-inch 4x4, netting 182 1/8 B&C
My first encounter with this deer was while hunting four years ago. We were getting our four-wheelers ready and warmed up when I happened to look up on the hill and saw something move in the moonlight. It was still about 45 minutes before light, but I could still make out images from the moonlight. I put my field glasses up towards the movement and I saw it was a buck feeding on top of the mountain. I couldn't tell how big he was in the darkness because he was about 500 yards away, but I could tell he had a large set of antlers!

Once it was light enough to see, we headed up the dirt road to where we last saw the buck. We then headed over a small knoll on foot. As we reached the top, we belly crawled the last few feet and peaked over the edge and there stood four bucks looking in our direction. They were only about 75 yards away, but had us pinned! All four bucks were four points in the 22" to 26" range. We were looking for something a little bigger, so we watched them trot over the next hill. After they were gone, just as we were standing up, we spotted two more bucks at the bottom of the hill. When they spotted us, they took off running up the hill. Both were also four points, and one was definitely much larger than all the others we had just seen. I put my gun up and tried to find him in the scope, but they were moving too fast and there were too many trees. We watched him top the hill and when he was sky-lined, he looked even bigger. That was last we saw him for the rest of the season. We saw the other four, smaller bucks, but the big one had vanished.

The following two years found me scouting and hunting for that big buck, and though I saw him several times while both scouting and hunting, I was never able to connect. I did get a shot the third year, but missed high.

The fourth year found me again scouting the area weeks in advance, hoping to locate the big buck. Three weeks before the opener, he appeared. And, as in years past, he was feeding on the same hillside. Again, I was very excited for the upcoming hunt.

Opening day came and it was the same scenario as the previous years. When we got to the hill, three bucks were standing there looking at us, but not the one we were after. These were the same three bucks that were with him three weeks earlier before the season. I guess the big bucks don't get as big as they do by being dumb. We hunted the rest of the day without seeing another buck.

On day two, we found him! The problem was that they were all on top of the hill and when we stopped, they ran over without giving us a chance for a shot. Now you might be wondering why we didn't go after him after he went over the hill, well, over the hill is a steep decline down to a fence that they jump and enter a piece of property that we cannot enter. So, we usually watch them go into this land and bed down for the day in the tall sagebrush. It was like they knew we couldn't go in there.

Back at camp, Dad and I discussed the last four years of events and decided that there had to be a better way to get at these bucks. We decided to give our normal style one last chance, and then we would try something new.
The next day we again saw the big buck, but again, he escaped. We needed a different plan!
That night we discussed our options and came to the conclusion that we needed to leave real early in the morning and hike up the backside of the hill and try to ambush them from above.

For two days we did this and didn't see a thing. We thought that maybe we had pushed them out of the area. Then it happened, on the third morning of trying our new tactic, three bucks came over a small rise and began feeding below us. The big one wasn't with them though. We were sitting there wondering what we were going to do when over that same small rise appeared two more bucks. It was the big one!

Dad whistled and the buck stopped, but right behind a big sagebrush bush that was in front of me blocking my view. I could hear him whisper, "Shoot. Shoot." I couldn't see him standing 100 yards from me. The other problem was that when my Dad whistled, the buck below us that was bedded down heard it and spun around to look where it came from. We were pegged! Luckily, the big buck continued up the hill towards us. He was coming up a little ravine where he was hidden from our view and all you could see were the tops of his antlers. He kept getting closer and closer as the buck below us was getting more nervous. Something had to be done, because that smaller buck below us was going to explode at any moment.
I jumped up and ran to the top of the ravine to try and get a shot at the buck. Bucks started running all over. The big buck saw me and headed straight for the fence. He had to cross a small opening that I might be able to get a couple shots off in. I was shooting straight down hill at a distance of about 40 yards. The first shot I took kicked up dust over his back. Again, I forgot to compensate for the rise of the bullet. I calmed down a little for the second shot and pulled the trigger. The buck didn't even flinch and jumped the fence.
We went down to where he ran to the fence line, checking for any signs of blood. The second shot felt good, but there was no blood to be found. Another miss, I thought, and more education for the buck.

Tuesday morning we did the same routine of hiking up the backside of the hill and try to ambush them from above. Two bucks came up that morning and I was tempted to shoot one of them so my son, who was along for the day, could experience it with me. One was a nice 3x4 that was about 26 inches wide. Dad told to me to hold off, that the big one might be over the small rise, as he was days earlier. We watched the bucks feed for a while then they headed for the fence and jumped to the other side. We didn't see another deer that day.

The next morning, the last day of the hunt, was the same scenario as the morning before, but this time, no bucks. We sat there until 8:30 without even seeing a deer. I decided that I was going to look over the top of the hill to see if they were in the land that we couldn't hunt. I glassed for about ten minutes and found a deer that was on our land, but a long way away. I couldn't see horns from that distance, but I could tell that it had a big body. I called Dad up to see and he said that we should go take a closer look.

When we got to within 800 yards of the deer, we stopped our four-wheelers and glassed. When my glasses were focused on the deer, I couldn't believe my eyes! It was the big buck, and he wasn't hanging around very long. He was above us, headed for some steep rim rocks. We watched him go almost to the top, then bed under a tree that was about 35 yards below the ridge. If he made it to the top, we would have no chance!

After about an hour and a half of walking, we were to a point where we couldn't go any further. It was too steep and too many loose rocks. We pulled out the laser rangefinder and he was 427 yards away. The other problem was that we couldn't see him from where we were. We could see the tree that he was bedded under, but we couldn't see him. To make matters worse, it started to rain and the wind began blowing. We were huddled under a tree for protection from the rain and wind when I looked at my Dad and said, "We deserve this buck!"

After the rain and wind stopped, I asked my dad what we should do. He said we should shoot up there and try to get him out of his bed. My Dad shoots a 340 Weatherby, and he knows all the ballistics for the bullet drop and distance. I told him he should shoot, and I would watch to see where he hit.
After the first shot, nothing happened. I told him to shoot again. At the sound of the second shot, I saw that he hit a big rock just to the left of the tree, and the big buck stood up. He was behind a ledge and all we could see were his antlers. He was looking away from us trying to figure out where the noise came from. We watched him for about five minutes and he started to feed towards the top of the rim rocks. By now, my Dad and I switched spots and I was getting ready for a long shot. Dad said that I better shoot at him now, or he was going to go over the rim rocks and would be gone for another season. He told me to hold six inches over the buck's back and that should be right on. I held about ten inches over the buck's back, because if I missed, I wanted to miss over him hoping to bring him back this way. We were actually sitting where the big buck entered the rim rocks, and with any luck, he would come back this way.

I held the crosshairs steady on the buck and fired a shot. With excitement, dad told me that he thought I hit him. The buck turned and started to run towards us. He stopped at the top of the next ravine and was still looking away from us. I shot again and he turned and starting running at us again. We lost sight of him as he went into another ravine, and then reappeared right above us.
He came down the hill that we couldn't get up and stopped about 100 yards away. When we first started shooting at the buck, he was a long way away and my son was unable to see him. But now, the buck was standing 100 yards away and right out in the open. "Daddy, there he is! Daddy, there he is!" What a great feeling that was that my son was there to enjoy this hunt and he got to see me finish off the buck with one last shot.

When we walked up to admire the buck, we found that he had been hit three times. Two that were fresh, and one that was old. I had ended up hitting him with the second shot six days earlier. I had hit high on the back and he had survived those six days without even showing any signs of being hit.

It was a feeling of relief and joy that after four years we finally had him on the ground. And what a great experience it was to have three generations there to remember the hunt. It will be one that I'll never forget.

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

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