Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Like a ghost from thin air, the brown body of a buck appears to my right.  He's a nice "hard-horned" fork and he's prodding a young spike out in front of him.  My heart skips a beat and I'm immediately afflicted:  Buck Fever has set in once again and I'm helpless to control it.  This is the ninth day I've spent hunting X3B since the season began and the second to last day of the season.
Last weekend, I missed a bruiser almost directly beneath my stand.  If you read my previous article, you can count and that makes two beautiful bucks with some degree of injury still hiding out in the area.  The beautiful typical 4x4 was still in velvet and he never meandered or gave me a broadside look until I came to full draw.  Struggling with the angle and at leveling my bow, I put the 20 yard pin in front of his rib cage and let loose.  Devastated, I watched my arrow thump him in the rump, missing his spine and leaving the trophy buck indignant.  He shuddered but didn't take a step!  I grabbed for another arrow and promptly removed my entire quiver.  As I fumbled to extract one more piece of precious ammo, the 175 plus monarch took a few steps and disappeared from the last of my shooting lane.  I watched helplessly as he and his six teammates, a sea of velvet antlers, melted into the junipers and buckbrush.  Moments later they climbed out of the steep canyon to my right, their leader ominous as he stared back at me from mid hill, my arrow jutting skyward from his generous rear, glaring at the little wasp who'd dared to sting him.  I felt more like an ant at that moment.  He teased me with a glimmer of hope as he balked at jumping the fence with the rest of the herd, instead opting to circle back down into the canyon.  I heard a crash as he skidded down the hill and then a loud "twang" as he somehow made contact with the fence.  Hoping to find him tangled up with some barbed wire, I snuck into the spot where I'd last heard commotion and found my arrow neatly pointing towards his escape route.  There was blood on my two blade rage but it only traveled about three inches up the shaft.  A glob of blood roughly the size of a quarter lay on the other side of the fence.  I spent the rest of the day trying to track him across the shale and rock to no avail.  The next day, I headed up to where I knew they liked to bed, only to glass the other six bucks traveling right past my previous stand location!  Dumbfounded, I set up ambush at the top of the ridge where they had escaped the day before, only to have them cross out of range as the youngest "scout spike" had me pinned from about 10 yards away.  Unable to move without spooking the scout, I had to watch my bow hunting dreams again elude me and I suppose it was at that exact moment that I started to conjure up my plan to return for the last weekend, stubbornly refusing to admit defeat.
Perseverance pays off for the author on a nice high-desert muley
So hear I am in the tree again.  My eleventh stand of the season.  I am calling my wife and kids again.  Exhausted from a day of trying to track "Grey Ghosts" over rocky terrain and scouting out ambush spots along the most recent travel routes from the alfalfa fields to rimrock bedding areas, I am second-guessing everything I've worked so hard to accomplish over the past year.  "Should I continue to pursue yet another deer when I've already wounded two?  Is it fair to ask my wife to stay home with the kids for a third weekend?  My tenth day in the field?  And shouldn't I be putting all of my full attention on hunting right now since I'm gone anyway and I can't teleport back and I'm not really paying attention to them anyway, whispering, "Oh Great." And, "that must've been fun" as I scan the terrain for movement, knowing that any potential targets will be spooked by my conversations anyway.  Damn cell phones.  I ring off and immediately notice the deer to my right.  Great.  I blew it.  I drove 600 miles just to get homesick and blow my shot yet again.  My eyes lock on the spot where I'd last seen the Grand Muleys but they never reappear and hope springs eternal.  I wait with renewed enthusiasm for nearly an hour before I hear the magic sounds of hooves on gravel.  I glance a nice forky behind me and I know he will follow the trail past my stand.  Preparing to shoot, I hear more magical hoof scratches.  In the dusk just before legal shooting light wanes, another forky, this one wider and with some extra "stickers" crosses beneath me.  I breath slowly, trying to lasso the shakes and then come to full draw on the nicer fork who I can see now actually has "lobster claws" on each fork and could be called a 4x4.  But wait!  There's the sound again.  They keep getting bigger so I let down slowly and wait.  I'm not disappointed as a bigger buck ensues.  When I hear a fourth buck, I figure he might just be the monarch I missed earlier.  I showed a picture of him that I captured on my truth cam to my buddy and he nicknamed him:  That f(^*^%er has a swing set on his head.  But "Mr. Swing Set" is a no show, it's just the scout spike and he's nervous.  The three shooter bucks begin to feed on a very popular stand of buck brush which had attracted me as well.  Tracks led me here earlier in the day.  Why this buckbrush was any more attractive to these bucks than any of the myriad millions of others in the area I'll never know but it's popularity was validated without a doubt as I took a bead on the biggest buck.  The pressure to make a good shot here was tripled.  I didn't let my mind wonder:  "what if?"  What if I wound and lose a third buck?  What if I used up the last of my "Honey DO" credit and returned empty handed?  Buck fever was now just a familiar heart beat and I settled into instinct mode.  I became the arrow and left the string in slow motion, someone else's trigger finger setting me free with a gently squeeze.  The Montec G5 sizzled through the air and I watched my red lumenok stick and then disappear into the side of my target, right behind the ribcage.  The desert ghost came alive and whipped around, giving me a perfect look at the exit wound in his shoulder, the arrow whipping around, delicately trapped by the fletchings.  A perfect hit.  The buck did just that, taking out a few branches from an innocent juniper and then bolting across the open space below my stand.  He did another spinning "buckin' bronco" kick and I watched the lumenok dance through the air like I used to twirl "sparklers" on the fourth.  I stared intently as he raced off and then heard a resounding crash.  Celebration-shy from my last two failures, I didn't allow myself to give into a grin when I found copious blood sign or my arrow covered to the nock with dried blood.  When my flashlight illuminated his rump and stiff legs, I allowed a little fist pump and then paid my respects to the spirit that moves in all things silently.
Tred Barta loves to say that he learns more from failure than he ever would from success and I think it is true.  Losing two bucks taught me a ton.  I love to practice with all kinds of different set ups and even tried to simulate shooting from a tree stand.  But I never practiced shooting straight down and it cost me a 175 inch class buck.  Upon experimenting with this angle, I realized that there is only a small window where you can make an accurate shot.  Trying to shoot straight down and to either side will leave you "out of bubble"; a risky shot at best.  I've also learned how to "range" any possible obstructions with my pins to avoid deflection.  Even though In hindsight, I probably should've passed on both of the earlier shots I had taken and probably will if presented with the same looks in the future.  Nevertheless, my misses and painstakingly bloodless tracking sessions made me question the effectiveness of an expandle broadhead and for my last hunt, I switched to a cut on contact and was ecstatic with it's performance.  One trick is to use a rubber O ring between the tip and the shaft that allows the broadhead blades to be lined up with the fletching.  Set up this way, my point of impact was nearly identical to a field point which was what sold me on expandables in the first place.  I didn't like that they could open in the quiver or field at the moment of truth or that, after shooting them once, they are basically useless.  The Montec G5 is simple and bulletproof.  I could've picked up my bloody arrow and shot it again if necessary.  Re-sharpening is simple and the extra five bucks will pay off after your first shot.
Driving home after dropping the body off at Enoch Wood's (seriously?) butcher shop, I felt a huge sense of relief at having sealed the deal on my last trip.  I wondered briefly how I would've felt if I hadn't filled my tag but I already knew that I couldn't have stayed home regardless.  Yes, I feel a twinge of remorse at having two nice bucks slip between my fingers but I find solace in the fact that they are tough as hell, they are and always will be part of the food chain and I came to realize one simple fact:  you can't kill em if you don't shoot.

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