Early Birds n' Late Bucks
By Dave Wood

...Late buck ah…words of magic to deer hunters. In these two words lay the hopes and dreams of every hunter that has yet to fill his tag. When a hunter hears it his mind wanders over alpine basins, black timbered ridges, or maybe a dense vine maple bottom. Of course I have to include the endless visions of great trophies; lets face it, late buck season is a time of dreams-n-magic! Late buck; we hear it, we feel it, we dream it, we study it, we prepare for it…we wait for it! How would I describe it? Hmmm…I live for it! For many of us 'addicts' it is a favorite time to try and outwit an old buck. The wisest of bucks sometime get careless when they fall in love. Oh sure we give it a go in regular season, but in late buck we get serious!
... I find it impossible to share this tale without first giving credit and thanks to my precious bride. May God bless her for understanding the tug that hunting season has had on my heart. I love her for patiently listening to my tales of woe. For the countless times she listened as I shared an 'incredible' tale or three, or the times she has helped me to 'wake' at the sound of the alarm. The greatest of my adventures would pale without her at my side. It is only appropriate to tip my hat to all the Wives that truly endure the ranting of their 'serious deer hunter'.
... I remember when serious hunting was a drive up the hill after breakfast; cruising a few roads and looking over some early morning clear-cuts. Then serious became leaving the end of a road at daylight to hunt up some hill. Then serious really became serious, a three hour hike in the dark, up to an alpine basin, to catch the 'morning bite'! The following tale is the story of this final transition. It takes place in one of Washington State's many wilderness areas: the Buckhorn. Of coarse it is late buck season and the little Blacktails are in full rut! ...With several frustrating day trips under my belt, I was seeing deer only after I jumped them from their beds. I don't remember if it was my idea or not, but I decided to try two new methods. First, was to leave extra early; I would time the hike to put me at timberline at dawn. This would sacrifice two hours of beautiful timber hunting to target the alpine timberline. Second, I would borrow my dads spotting scope. Hopefully, this would help me to spot the deer in their beds. I know your thinking, old news, but this was many years ago, and it had the single, most awesome impact on my deer hunting!
... A sleepless night, no breakfast, a great lunch (Thanks Dear!) and I'm off to the trailhead. From the house to the parking area is an hour-plus drive, if you really hurry it only takes an hour. I met Roger at the trail, it wasn't planned but after a short visit we decided to hike together. Ahead of us was a grinding two-hour hike up hill to the meadows.
.. When we hit the timberline, just after dawn, the view was awesome! We were in about 6" of fresh powder snow, and the sky was crystal clear; any tracks would be 'smoking' hot. Roger and I made a plan, he would go high to the basin rim; I would hunt along below him in the basin. Hopefully this would give us the opportunity to cover more ground. It didn't take long to lose site of each other so we just hunted. The lay of the land was really like a 3-D picture. The first ridge in rifle shot, the second one, a long shot, the third ridge, although beautiful for spotting, was out of range. The temperature was well below freezing; making spotting a miserable chore! In spite of the bitter cold the alpine setting was breathtaking. The sharp blue sky as a backdrop for the snow covered rocky peaks; scattered with patches of stunted fir trees. Using the scope at each ridge top, I was shocked and thrilled to see so many deer! They were in every shale slide, under the alpine trees and in the snow covered meadows. With what seemed like a deer under every bush, I was amazed to find no big bucks. Can you believe it, no big bucks? There would be no problem putting meat in the freezer. Somehow I knew there were too many deer to not have a dominant buck in the mix. An excitement came over me that only another deer hunter might understand. The anticipation was making me jumpy. I covered a lot of ground, one ridge at a time. The deer, they just slowly moved ahead forming a fairly large group.

My daughters 1st buck...for this Dad the picture tells the story! She now lives in
Alaska with a family of her own...young hunters to be! The buck was a
young 3pt Blacktail taken in the above mentioned basin.

..Cresting the last ridge, there were now deer going everywhere. Crouching in the snow I watched doe and small bucks but no Mr. Big. To see animals in these numbers and not see a good buck is numbing to say the least. Frustrated, I still enjoyed the incredible view and couldn't believe what I had been missing. Scanning the basin rim, I was stunned, it was just so beautiful!
..Then there was Mr. Big! Yes right there in the wide open walked a very nice buck! He was moving up a shallow draw and nearing the basin rim; I'll never know how he got so far without being spotted. What a site, silhouetted by the fresh snow, I could see his black antlers with ease. In just a minute he would be over the top and gone. Quickly setting up for a shot, I took a rest over my pack. Admittedly he was too far away, but Dad always said; you won't get him if you don't shoot. I had to try and had purposely sited my 30-06 in for just such an opportunity. Taking a deep breath…squeezing… the pre 64 Winchester barked and snow flew up at the buck's feet; OK, just a little more, boom! The buck jumped at the sound of the shot. Turning, he headed down the mountain. Going about twenty yards, he then laid down. I knew the pattern; the buck was hard hit! Without hesitation I grabbed my pack and headed up the hill. In twenty minutes I was within range for a finishing shot. Before I could get a good rest, the buck jumped to his feet and headed down the mountain! On my second shot I put a bullet through his heart and down he went into an alpine thicket. What a rush! I had to chuckle; I had just climbed twenty minutes only to climb back down. The jokes on me!
...Shaking with excitement I headed around the hill to the downed deer. Soon I was looking at a magnificent Blacktail! No not a 'record' just a fine, fine buck! His antlers were coal black and very heavy beamed! Three points per side and about 19" wide, a real trophy. Roger showed up and we built a nice fire. 'Hooping' it up, telling it and retelling it, not too long after we had the 'old boy' packed up and were headed down the mountain. ...In following years we made some great camps in that remote basin. We used it as a staging area for other hunts in even more remote areas. That old favorite spot taught me a lot about the spot and stalk we read so much about today. On a couple of my favorite trips I was blessed with the company of my two daughters. The oldest took her first two bucks in that little basin. We still get a chuckle remembering those grueling hikes in the dark. It is great to know the mountain still produces some awesome deer. Lets face it the early bird gets the late buck!

March 10, 2001
Dave Wood, Ketchikan, AK.
Date of hunt: November 1979......................
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