Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Another Epic Hike and a Miss

When I moved out to Montana in 2001, I was surprised to see moose. Coming from Minnesota and traveling quite a bit in Alaska and Canada, I just thought of moose as being from wet, lowland type country. This guy is a pretty good specimen of what we have out here in Montana. It's a Shiras moose. They aren't as big as what I would see in Minnesota or what you'd find in Alaska but big animals, none-the-less.

I spotted him yesterday on my way back into the mountains to finish what had become an epic hunt/hike. The hunt started at around 4:30 am with the alarm going off, making coffee, driving about 50 minutes, and hiking for another 50 minutes or so to the rim of bowl I'd been hunting the past couple days. I'm after a mule deer--a good mule deer that I can hang on the wall. I just want one to add to a collection of animals I've hunted out here and then I'll go back to strictly meat hunting and shooting whitetails. I've seen some really good bucks up in the bowl so I pushed myself to make the 2 mile hike before shooting light. 

I cross a park to get to a treeline above the bowl. I'm sweating, which isn't good. The temps are around 15 degrees and a little moisture on the skin, a little wind and those temps can make sitting for more than a few minutes kind of miserable. As I get to the treeline, I see another hunter...kind of bums me out but that's the way public hunting goes. He's set up on the park so I pass him and head to the rim.

As I get to my perch to have a seat and look down into the bowl, I notice a few elk up above me in the park as is stretches up to the top of a big bald mountain. I scan the heard and there are no bulls. I don't have a cow tag so I don't pay much more attention to them--cool to see but not what I'm after. I look down and there are a few mulie does wandering around and then steps out a big buck.

He literally gives me about 2 seconds to see how big he is and then disappears. I'm looking hard through my binos but can't pick him up. The does are milling around but he's gone. The same thing has happened now in this spot two days in a row. A great buck steps out and disappears and that's all she wrote. 

As I keep looking I hear what sounds like a plastic clave behind me. I turn and look and it's the hunter I had passed about a hundred yards back. He got up and moved in right behind me and he's wearing something to clacks every time he moves. 

"What the..." I think and actually mouth the words as I look back at him.

He's just standing there watching but every time he moves, "clack, clack." 

I bring my attention back to the bowl and then up and through the park to the next treeline. Another big mule deer is coming. 

As the deer gets into the bowl I get ready and again, "clack, clack..."

I managed to take a shot and missed. At the distance these deer were and the typography, they had no idea where the shot was coming from. They spun and looked around but went right back to going about their business so I racked another shell and shot again...and again. 

Hunts don't always go the way you want and this year has been about close calls and failures. I hit the buck and watched it run off the park on the opposite side of the bowl and into the trees. I kept thinking, the way it was running, it has to topple over. It never did.

I got up and "addressed" the hunter standing 20 yards behind me.

Trying to be civil, I actually wound up talking to the gentleman for about 20 minutes before going after the buck. He was looking for a cow-elk and did see the same elk I did but couldn't get on them before they fed into the trees so he decided to hang out and watch the action. 

"What the heck is on your belt that's making that cow-bell sound," I asked.

It was his loose buckle on his pack swinging and clanking against his binos. He couldn't hear it. He was in his mid-seventies and maybe a little hard of hearing so I give him credit for even being up in this spot but holy crap, how could you not hear that? 

I thought the deer was hit pretty hard so I figured it's time to go after him. We say our "good-lucks" and I take off. 

I get across the bowl and hear, "Russ!! Russ!!"

I turn back and the gentleman on the other side of the bowl is yelling at me. I wave and he yell's, "Your bi-pod! Bi-pod! Bi-pod!"

"For f!@#'s sake!" I say to myself. I guess I'm down a set of shooting sticks because I'm not walking back for them. I wave and continue on to find the blood trail.

I tracked that deer for about 3 1/2 miles. He led me to the opposite side of the mountain and then doubled back. When I decided to let him lay down and hopefully expire, I was about four miles from the truck. The plan was to drive back to where I left the trail and get permission to park there and go after him again. I grabbed some lunch and water and headed back and tracked him another 3/4 of a mile. He stopped bleeding and got in with a group of deer so I couldn't make his tracks out from the others. I had to quit. 

These kinds of things bum me out just like any other hunter. In the moment, you ask yourself, "Should I keep tracking or let him sit?" 

I kept tracking because I jumped him twice and thought I could get a shot on him. At some point I changed my approach and was pretty confident that he'd lay down and die. He did lay down. He laid down three times after I left him and the final time, he got up and moved on and the bleeding had stopped. So now, you rationalize. 

I just didn't hit him very well. There was enough snow on the ground to make the tracking easier and to make it look like a lot of blood but the reality is, he wasn't hit in the vitals. Pushing him was my only chance. I had one opportunity to shoot him as he got up out of his bed but I couldn't get him through trees. Letting him sit let the wound clot. It bums me out to miss the opportunity and it definitely bums me out that I wounded a deer and couldn't recover him but I believe he'll probably be chasing does before you know it. 

I feel guilty but I also know I worked my butt off to try to recover that deer. I had my tracker going on my OnX Hunt App and after it was all said and done, I had hiked over ten miles yesterday. Almost half of that was tracking that deer. A good portion was hiking back to my truck after tracking him. The terrain was not easy. I'm wore out and feel beat down. 

I'm also a little embarrassed to have not put a good shot on him. So here's the deal. I've taken a few diggers this year, hiking around with my rifle and there is a chance I knocked my scope off a bit. So today, I'm going to go to the range and find out for sure. If nothing else, it will confirm that it's not the gun...

Keep 'em where they live...

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