of bearded men and mountain bucks

A year ago my dad and I hunted Oregon's Great Basin for 5 days and Dad shot a buck on day 5 - it was only the 3rd deer we saw the entire trip. When I drew the same tag this spring, I quickly negotiated seven October days off with my wife and invited my friend Andy to fly in from Texas. With two dedicated sherpas and a full week of protected man-time, I knew this would be a special hunt. My goal for this hunt was to locate and kill a mature mule deer up in the rocks - way away from people. I spent more time talking to bios, BLM staff, hunters and ranchers for this trip than any trip before.

Dad is 59 and still in better mountain shape than most 20 year olds. Andy grew a beard just for this trip after I had pitched it in January as "epic, dangerous, with a high chance for post-hunt fly fishing". Soon as his flight hit the ground at PDX his sherpa duties began. 

The three of us arrived at the mountain Thursday afternoon, with a day and a half to hike in and scout. Conditions were dry and sunny - so we elected to glass ridges and shade. Most guys hunt down lower...plenty of deer, but plenty of hunters, too.

Once we arrived at camp, we glassed Thursday evening till dark.

Saw nothing but rocks and flora. But part of me was In Search of Nothing - so it was good. Friday morning was a different story. We glassed a large buck on a hillside - with great width and mass - herding 13 does and two smaller bucks around. We watched him for several hours until he bedded in a willow thicket by himself and left the others to fend for themselves. I was prepared to shoot him on Saturday but wanted to keep scouting to see if we could find a better buck. A few hours later I spotted a mature buck across the canyon, bedded on a bench below the rimrock, with a grand view below him. Just seeing him in THIS spot was special, as it was just like you read in the books: bedded high, in the shade, against a rock, with a commanding view of any fool trying to approach him.

Here's a close-up: he's in the middle left.

After watching him stay bedded all day, I decided either buck would be great and was thrilled to have two options. Saturday morning rolled around and we sent Dad up on a high ridge where he could see both bucks. Andy and I snuck the half mile from camp to where the first buck was the day before. After belly crawling into position we located all 14 does - but no bucks. Hours passed and neither the big buck nor his smaller cousins made an appearance. 

Dad called us on the walkie talkie and confirmed the cliff buck was bedded in the same spot. At noon we decided to put a game plan together to pursue him.

We decided the only way to get to him was to come from directly on top of him. He was about 100 yards below the crest of the mountain - and it was the kind of descent where you just don't fall. Once we stood comfortably above him another hunter named Chris just happened to be coming up the hill. He was unaware of the buck but was planning on "dropping in" near him. Chris was a nice guy, knew the area and had calloused hands - that was enough for me to be willing to toss a coin and bring him in on the mission. He and I dropped in from directly above, descending slowly and quietly. I said whoever sees the buck shoots, long as they have a good shot. Chris, being a class act, insisted on sneaking up on the buck and scaring him out towards me. 

I sat perched on a boulder 70 yards above where the buck would come out. I was aiming about 35 degrees downhill...it was STEEP! Dad and Andy were just above me, watching this all unfold. We waited 20 minutes until Chris was finally close to the buck. Turns out, he snuck to within 10 FEET of the animal. Chris was on the same bench as the buck and only saw his antlers. Chris threw 10 rocks, one at a time, until the buck finally stood up. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for something to happen, not knowing the buck is getting pelted with pebbles. From where I sat, overlooking this eerily quiet and massive canyon carved by God's fingernail, I was startled when the silence was then broken by the abrupt sound of a what I can only describe as a baritone turkey gobble. That was Chris scaring the beast up.

I then saw a big wide-antlered rack and big-bodied mule deer trot out - and the buck seemed confused. I shot a few times and he was down. He died instantly just feet from a huge dropoff. Had he gone any further, the meat would have been "tenderized".

We boned the meat out and made our way back to camp, stopping occassionally to catch our breathe and look back at the mountain we had descended. My sherpas did a great job, but I still beared much weight!

That night at camp, we laid on our backs under God's great canopy - and just sat there, fulfilled.

By Sunday, we were all packed out with pre-negotiated days ahead of us in the high desert. 

What is a man to do with such time??