Birds n' Late Bucks
By Dave Wood
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.
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
...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!
Dave Wood, Ketchikan, AK.
Date of hunt: November 1979......................