By Brian Patterson
I finally drew a late season muzzle loader tag in my home state of Nevada. Season dates were Nov 10-30, 2011. I would start my solo week long adventure on the 12th. I was hunting alone, so I decided to camp in an accessible area in case a bad snow storm blew in. I picked a spot near the highway as the wind was howling 40-50 mph when I was trying to set camp. I got camp set up and then connected the borrowed propane heater which would end up being an essential piece of gear on this trip and then I headed out to scout close to camp.
The area I had targeted in my map research was just like I expected, great deer country. It was hunting season, but in reality I was getting familiar with the area and roads more than I was actually looking for deer. There were several places I wanted to lay eyes on before I got serious. I took the quad on a 10-11 mile loop around camp. Just as I made the last turn into camp, a nice 3×3 buck scooted across the road in front of me. A nice solo buck out trolling for does, man the rut must be on! I then jumped in the truck to head down the highway and up another creek drainage. It was getting late and would be dark soon, so I had to hurry. Light was fading and I was about to turn back, when I slowed down and caught a flash of white on the opposite hillside; A doe and in hot pursuit was a buck! A good wide buck. I quickly pulled off the 2-track and was looking through my bino’s and boy was one wide, but they all look wide going away. I confirmed he was a solid 4×4 before he faded into the junipers with his doe.
Quick decision time, 400-500 yards across the creek and light was fading; should I come back in the morning or make a rushed play now? What the heck, lets roll. I grabbed my gun and shooting sticks, but no flashlight or pack because I needed to move fast. I raced across the creek to the base of the ridge. I decided to go to the toe of the ridge and look up the small draw behind it, hoping the pair would be there. Sure enough, there they were at 240 yards, but I needed to be closer and I needed to get there fast. Down a small cut and up the other side, now I’m really racing daylight more than anything. I’m out of breath and as I come up out of the cut, they spot me. I am now only 114 yards, but the sky is pretty gray by now. I’m panting and putting the shooting sticks up, gun on, doe moving toward the top, buck right behind her. There he is just below the ridgeline, broad-side so I hit the trigger, dang safety still on! I switch it off and still panting, I get the sight picture just right and I’m easing into the trigger and the buck turns and all I have is a rear end look as he goes over the ridge. Game over. Well, at least I know where I’ll be at first light for sure. It was pitch black by the time I walked the 500 yards back to the truck, wishing I had grabbed my flashlight. I was also a bit glad I did not take the shot and have to track and pack a deer in the dark, since I had left most of my gear when I left the truck in a hurry.
The next day I was in position before sunrise and glassed and glassed and scoured the area of my encounter from the evening before. Nothing. I was unable to turn up any deer in a full day of glassing, hiking and scouting. Day three had me back in the same area at sun up, thinking I just had to give this buck another look. That image of him cresting the hill was burned in my mind. After half a day, still no deer and actually very little deer sign around, soI headed to town for some lunch.
After lunch, I set off toward the Great Basin Park. I always spot deer on this drive and I needed to see some deer. It was mid-day, so the thought was just a cruise and in a couple hours the deer would be up and moving. At Baker Creek I stopped and was looking into a pool, deciding if I should spend an hour or two fishing. I always have my binos around my neck, so I glassed the flats past the creek. I spotted two does near a juniper, hmm better keep looking. Ten minutes later, about 200 yards west of the does, I locate a bedded buck and doe under another juniper. The buck was facing away. He looked like a decent 4×4, heavy mass and the wind is in my favor. Should I go back and get the gun or fish a bit then go in for a closer look? It’s mid-day and he seems like he might be bedded for the day. I decide to get the gun and take a closer look, after all, this is a hunting trip, not a fishing trip.
I got my gear and crept across the creek,up the steep bank on the other side. This was perfect cover. I popped my head up to glass. The two does had covered the distance to the bedded buck and doe and had them up on their feet. They were all four on alert, but no way had they seen, smelled or even heard me? I ranged them at just over 300 yards, too far for a black powder shot. The buck was solid with a small kicker on one side, but pretty short G2’s on both sides, but his fronts were good though. Then without much warning, they all took off at a trot in the opposite direction. What happened? I quickly got on the move myself, wanting to watch them and see where they were headed.
When a buck seems to be getting away, it always seems to make you want him that much more. I wanted to get a shot at this buck. I scampered over toward the juniper where they had been bedded, but before I got there I noticed very fresh mountain lion tracks in the soft sandy dirt. Ah, that’s what had spooked them. I never saw the elusive cat, but I’m certain that is what busted them. I set up my scope and watched as the deer kept moving up the valley and then up and over a ridge into the next valley. They traveled at least a mile until they were out of sight.
What the heck, forget the fishing. So, I crossed the valley and hiked up the opposite ridge to get a view east and west for a couple miles. This was a great vantage point. As it got later in the day, I glassed hundreds of deer way down the valley on private ground and of course, closed to hunting. I planned to be in this same spot at first light in the morning. Maybe that 4×4 and his girls would work their way back down the valley and I’d be in position for making a play.
I was in my perch about 10-15 minutes later than I wanted, but it wasn’t quite shooting light yet. Quickly I spotted a nice 3×4 on the move looking for hot does. He was in range just the way I had scripted it, but he wasn’t big enough. I watched him move down the valley about 150 yards out when all of a sudden he jumped straight in the air and about 10 feet to his right. Was the mountain lion out hunting too? No, he had cut my fresh trail in the morning frost when I crossed the valley. He was on high alert, but had no idea where I was. Eventually he calmed down and headed on down the valley. I glassed up other deer, but no shooters. I even watched a small 2×2 jump the fence and walk within 10 feet of my parked truck across the valley, but he didn’t spook at my scent around the truck!
After three hours of glassing, I decided to work my way up the valley and peek over the ridge where the buck and three does had gone the day before. As soon as I eased over the top and got settled next to the only cover around (a big boulder) I spotted the bedded buck and his three does. They were only 320 yards out, but they were roughly 50 yards beyond a fence line. I glassed down the fence line and found a posted “No Hunting” sign attached to one of the wires. Further to the west was a cabin and more private property with a barn and a couple of horses.
I didn’t have many options but to just sit tight and watch and wait. If the deer got up and went west they were deeper into private, no hunting ground. If they went north more of the same. If they went east they would have to go 600-800 yards and jump the fence to be on open BLM ground, but if they came just 50 yards south and jump the fence they would be fair game. I had no cover and they would have to walk right into my lap if I was to have a chance, but I am on a bare hillside!
The spotting scope was up and I was dissecting this buck. I calculated his score 15 or 20 times adding the numbers up in the dirt. His G2’s were just weak and no matter how I added it I just couldn’t get him over 155 inches. This muzzleloader game was new to me and I really thought I should wait this buck out and see what might happen. Any buck my first year with a muzzleloader would be a trophy. After all, I would have shot him the day before given the chance. Two hours had passed and I was getting bored. I had a game plan for every possible scenario and most likely when he got up to feed it would be away from me. Only one of the four options gave me a shot.
The does were up first, with the hot doe scampering straight away to the north about 400-500 yards. The buck was up and after her, so this was turning into a bust. I watched awhile, then they settled down and started feeding in the middle of the pasture. It is now 11am as I thought, mid- November and these deer are out in the most open place for miles? I decided to put my gear into the backpack and be ready just in case I needed to move. Just like that, as soon as I was packed the hot doe trots back toward me on the fence line, but headed to the east a bit, no doubt the BEST possible option for me. The others soon followed her.
I peeled back over the ridgeline and moved down the ridge to intercept the deer. I kept peeking over to keep the deer located. All of them had followed the doe to the edge of the field and down the ridge from me about 400-500 yards. I got some cover behind a lone juniper and watched as they fed nearer to the fence. I still needed to close the distance to 200 yards or less. I had practiced quite a bit out to 200 yards, but really felt best at 100 or less.
I backed off the ridge and down to the creek bed. The wind was good and the sound of the creek would mask my approach, how close could I get to them? Slowly I stalked towards the brushy fence line. My glasses were up scanning for a piece of any deer. There he was, his face filled my bino’s as all I can see is his face and heavy rack looking right through me. No shot and only 114 yards. I was frozen. Then a doe I couldn’t see due to the tall brush jumped the fence! Then another and soon the buck followed.
That’s the good news, they are all on legal hunting ground now, in thick tall sage and juniper. The bad news is they know I’m there and I need to get close and I need a clear shooting lane. We played cat and mouse for a couple hundred yards or so before they had enough and bounded away down the valley. My thought was, “great there they go, probably another mile jaunt like the encounter with the cat the day before”. So I thought, what the heck they are headed toward my truck. I may as well follow and perhaps get a look at where they bed down.
I walked a couple hundred yards, stepped around a juniper and there they were 400 yards out, looking back at me. They amble off, still headed in the direction of my truck. I work in that direction myself. I come around another juniper and again spot the small group of four. A range off the juniper next to them says it is just 212 yards. This is the shot I have practiced. I got on the sticks, but the sage was too tall and it was not a steady hold. Boom. The smoke clears and they are all standing there. My practice had told me I had a drop of 16-18 inches at 200 yards, so perhaps I didn’t hold high enough. I hadn’t planned on getting many shots, so all my supplies were in the bottom of my pack. I dump the pack on the ground and with one eye on the deer and another on my powder, bullet and primers I scrambled to get reloaded.
Now I’m ready and they haven’t moved. I take a deep breath, hold a bit higher and boom again. I look through the smoke and see the buck standing there shaking his head. It’s that head shake I’ve seen before, like when a bullet whizzes between their antlers; missed again. This time as I scramble to reload they walk off, out of sight into the tall sage. This is crazy. I’ve had numerous encounters with this buck and now even a couple shots at him. Like before, when I miss it makes me want the prize that much more, but I’m afraid this time I have lost my chance. I gather up all my belongings that were spread out in the dirt, put a couple speed loads in my pocket and head off in their direction.
As luck would have it, I didn’t go but another 300 yards or so and there stood the buck, looking over his shoulder at me. I can’t believe it. He is 106 yards away, broadside just daring me this time. The thought runs through my head that I can’t miss at this distance. I go down on my shooting sticks, but I can’t see his vitals due to the tall brush. I stand up and ease the gun to my shoulder and as soon as the sights cleared the brush, I pulled the trigger. The smoke cleared and I can’t see the buck. I have his location marked with a small juniper as I get into my pocket for a speed loader. The does have only moved off about 20 yards and are looking back toward the juniper. This gives me confidence that I probably got him, but I’m reloading just the same. I get loaded and move toward the juniper. The does move off another 40-50 yards and look back. No other movement in the brush. I would find the buck down right where he had been standing. Now it was time for the photo shoot!
Once the photos were completed I looked around and heck, I must be pretty close to where this whole thing began the day before. Sure enough, I was only 150 yards or so from where I had spotted him bedded the day before. So now I realize I must be close to where I parked the truck in the brush by the creek. I packed all my gear and headed out to find the truck, only 100 yards away, back in the brush. I emptied my pack of all the gear and laid down my gun and went back to dress out my prize. Two short pack trips to the truck and my hunt was over. I looked at my watch, 2:10 pm. I drove straight to the Border Inn for a hamburger and a quick shower, then back to camp.
I broke camp and was on the road home to Vegas just as it was getting dark and in the back of the truck was my first muzzleloader buck. When I got home, I scored the rack and was amazed at how close my estimate was in the field. Just over 154 inches, a solid muzzleloader trophy.