Fighting a very limited time frame that encompasses the whitetail rut, and the deep urge to notch a deer tag in two states within that timeframe is a feat in itself. This year I was determined to notch my tag here in Washington, and also quench the thirst of a Montana tag burning a hole deep in my pocket as well. When the temperature started to drop and snow started hitting the ground, I knew it was time get out in the woods in pursuit of notching both of my tags.
Having setup trail cameras and treestands prior this year in preparation for the rut to get underway, I was ready for the weather to shift and open up a chance to get in a stand. As the temperatures started dropping, my dad, a buddy of mine, and myself took off for our stands. Reminiscing about past hunts on the drive, going over mental notes on what’s worked, and in-part caused failure in the past, I felt pretty confident about the upcoming days we had to hunt.
The first day yielded some great hunting weather with temps in the lower 20’s that morning and highs in the mid 30’s during the day. A few hours of sitting in the stand on my first day left nothing in sight except a few hungry squirrels gathering some last minute pincones before the snow started falling later that afternoon. As the snow proceeded to fall, I heard some crashing coming down the hill in-front of me. Grabbing my bow with one hand and my binoculars with the other, I quickly caught movement and glassed a doe going about 90 and a small two point buck shortly in toe right behind her. Running right by my stand at less than 10 yards I decided to let that guy live another day. Shortly after that I had a doe and fawn come in and poke around near my stand for a while. Once they wandered off about an hour later the small two point showed up again and decided to hang out for a while in search of some more hott girlfriends. As darkness fell upon day one, I had seen four deer which wasn’t a bad way start to my trip.
Later that night meeting up with my dad and buddy, we pulled the SD cards out of our trail cameras that had been soaking all week. Consistent with years past we had quite a few deer on our cameras and picked out several that were on the hit list at each stand.
Waking at 430 on day two to get dressed and in the stand before daylight yielded temperatures of 8 degrees with a wind-chill to negative one. We all took off for our stands and got positioned and awaited daylight. I had lit a scent stick right when I got in the stand in hopes of spreading some does estrus in the area and letting those bucks on my camera know their girlfriends were in heat and ready for some action. Right at daylight I had the same small two point from the day before come in and poke around for a bit and sniff my scent stick a time or two. If that didn’t raise his curiosity I don’t know what would. A poor doe came sneaking in by the stand shortly after daylight while the two point was roaming around sniffing out scent trails from previous deer, and as soon as she got within sight of him, he put his head down, and took off right towards her and the chase was on! Running her all over the hillside she finally disappeared over the ridge in-front of me and things got quiet again. About 9 am, I hear a couple sticks break behind me.
Slowly reaching for my bow just in case, I see the two point coming back in towards my stand out ahead of me. Still hearing the crunching in the snow behind me I pursued to the grip of my bow in hopes of a big buck stepping out. Peeking slowing in to view, I see antlers over my right shoulder. As he entered my shooting lane on the right, I quickly realized it was a small 3x4 plus eyeguards off the camera. Being day two, I decided I wasn’t going to shoot him. He continued to walk around towards the front of my stand and quickly spotted the small two point. They squared each other up, and shortly after began to clank a few tines together. With the wind shifting, the bigger buck caught my scent stick and began to sniff around. He picked up the scent trial of the doe that was in there an hour or so prior, and began to follow her trail across the hillside and then back past my stand. Eventually he worked his way up over the hill in-front of me where she had disappeared.
About 10 am straight up, I catch movement to my left up through a thick brushy bottom. Quickly throwing up my Swarovski’s I studied the brush where I caught the movement a moment before. Pretty quick the deer proceeds to plow forward and I can tell it has a pretty good amount of antler on its head. Studying it at about 100 yards out, I realized it was a 4x4 plus eyeguards I had on my camera. He had an odd G2 that was injured in velvet and hooked out to the right like a fish hook. I had made my mind up he was a shooter. Reaching for my bow I quickly got ready and hooked on my release while the buck was behind some brush. Sneaking in surely but cautiously, he came in to 16 yards and stopped behind an evergreen tree that was being hit daily as a scrape site under one of the limbs. Stopping for a quick scent check in the scrape that was torn apart, he slowly appeared out of the right hand side of the tree quartering away and stopped again. Thinking it looked like a great shot, I began to draw back slowly. In the process of drawing back my coat must have made some noise as the buck looked my direction and took off running back where he came from. Stopping at 35 yards I was now at full draw. Of course, where he stops I have one limb blocking my shooting lane. Five feet either direction and he was dead. Holding my bow back at full draw waiting for him to clear the only limb in my view, he then decided something wasn’t quite right and took off on a dead run back where he came from and disappeared.
To say I was pretty bummed was an understatement. I sat there stewing over the missed opportunity for several hours and couldn’t believe I had blown the shot. This is what I had practiced for all year long, and it was the perfect scenario. Quartered away, looking the opposite direction, no clue I was there, everything was perfect! I still don’t remember making any noise drawing back, but obviously I had. Trying to move on and look forward knowing I had several other bucks on my camera seemed like it should be an easy feat, but it was pretty difficult knowing what I had just blown. I also kept thinking to myself that there is no way I am going to see another one of the bucks in the same day as I had already seen three bucks and two decent ones that were on the camera. I took a quick lunch break and had some hot coffee around 11:30 and pulled out another scent stick. I lit that scent stick and lowered it down to the ground in hopes of drawing in another buck mid-day.
Around one in the afternoon I hear some crashing coming down the hill ahead of me where the doe had disappeared earlier that morning. I quickly catch a glimpse of a doe running by and another doe right behind her. Scanning for a buck it left my binoculars empty. Quickly glassing to my left near the trail I walk in, I see a coyote cruising by looking for a mid-day snack. He had a thick hide and looked pretty healthy. I was prepared to let an arrow fly if he came over near the stand. Unfortunately, he wandered off in search of his next meal and that was the last I would see of him. The next hour went by without any sounds except the neighboring squirrels. I kept listening for sticks breaking, crunching of the snow, anything that would lead me to believe another deer was coming by. Right at two o’clock I took a quick glance over to my left towards the trail I walk in. Instantly I am locked on and stunned as there is a big 3x3 plus eyeguards I had scoped out on the camera and put on the hit list just standing there no more than 15 yards from my stand! I had a hand warmer in my bow hand pocket and instantly dropped it in my pocket in preparation to grab my bow. It made some noise when I dropped it in my pocket and the bucks ears perked up and he was on full alert. Standing there motionless, and intensely peering forward staring holes through every tree in sight for the next five minutes, he was bound to figure out what that noise was. Eventually he figured the coast was clear and began to walk towards my stand.
Slowly lifting my hand out of my pocket and reaching over to touch the bottom limb of my bow while staring down on the buck from above, I worked my hand up the riser, past the stabilizer, and on to the grip. The buck walked right under my stand and took a couple whiffs of my scent stick before continuing forward. He was looking for one of his girlfriends after taking a couple whiff’s there. Slowly bringing my bow down and around, I clipped my release on and my heart, which was already racing, just got taken up about two more notches. The buck walked over towards my camera and circled around in-front of the camera and was now standing there facing me slightly quartering too me, but not bad. Looking around and assessing his surroundings, he looked behind himself several times quickly. Each time he looked away I was leaning forward in the stand to get power to draw back my bow as I was sitting down. I told myself the next time he looks away I’m drawing back. Right as I thought that he turned to look behind himself. I drew back thinking to myself, please don’t hear me or spook so I can make a clean shot. As I came to full draw and got my first glance through my peep, I was relieved to see the buck still looking the other direction. I knew I had some time now as he had no idea I was there. The only thing was, my arm was locked and my top pin was underneath his brisket. I had a bit of target panic and couldn’t lift my arm up.
I began to tell myself to breathe and relax. Slowly my pin began to float up over his hide, and slowly towards his heart. Telling myself to aim at his heart in preparation for him ducking the string, I finally settled in to the sweet spot and released the meat missile Full Metal Jacket pushing an 85 grain Montec broadhead. The next thing I heard was a solid thud. He jumped forward and began to run to my right. Instantly looking for blood I was shocked to see not one drop. The thoughts began to race through my mind… Did I really just miss? As that thought raced through my head the buck stopped after a short 20 yard dash to my right from where I had shot. The minute he stopped I was already thinking about grabbing another arrow. The minute that thought entered my head, the buck fell over right there! As he fell over I could see his opposite side where the exit hole was pouring deep red blood all over the snow. A rush of relief swept through my body, and all of the feelings that had arisen from my missed opportunity prior that day, had just suddenly vanished.
Filled with emotion I began to take pictures from the treestand of my buck laying on the ground in plain view, and not more than 20 yards from where I had shot him. I got down shortly after a quick cup of coffee after battling with the frigid cold all day, and proceeded to take pictures of my harvest. After a quick hundred photos or so by myself, I packed up my gear and headed for the truck. I met my dad shortly after dark near his stand with a big silly grin and a blood soaked arrow. The congratulations began and we went and packed out my buck and headed back to meet up with my buddy and share some stories over a hot dinner.
The next day my dad had went to another stand we hadn’t sat in yet and had several deer come out at various times throughout the day. That afternoon around 3:30 a buck we had on camera in which had a broken tine also in the velvet, happened to make a mistake and walk up the trail my dad walks in on. Walking right underneath the treestand and my dad assessing from above the broken point, he reached for his bow and let the buck continue on his path quartering away from him. He quickly came to full draw and the buck stopped at 19 yards and received a razor sharp Shuttle T-Lock to the heart. The buck ran about 75 yards and fell over. After taking care of my deer that day, I had drove around to meet my dad by his stand that evening in hopes of packing out another deer. Sure enough he showed up with a bloody arrow in hand and the packing was on!
Our successful trip from Washington continued straight over the border through Idaho and in to Montana where we would pursue a couple more deer, except this time with our rifle in hand. As we headed to Montana the forecast was warming up and the snow was melting. One of our good friends and hunting partners from here in Washington had moved over to Montana not too long ago. So aside from hunting in Montana, it was nice to catch up on life and swap some hunting stories from this year. After a nice hot plate of Spaghetti courtesy of his wife, it was time to get some shut eye for the night and begin hunting the following morning.
Day one was an exploration day to test the waters on the surrounding areas and see if the rut was in swing as the weather was warming and the rain was beginning to fall. The day yielded slow deer activity and no bucks.
Day two we went off in a different direction and managed to kick up a few deer during the day, but nothing to get too excited over. It was very apparent the rut wasn’t happening. That night I had found a big thinned timber hillside where I sat until dark. I had spotted 7 deer night in the thinned timber. Six were does, and one spike buck who was just feeding with the does. That was a pretty good sign he wasn’t feeling the rut as he wasn’t chasing them and they weren’t spooked by his presence at all.
Day three we decided to head up the mountain and get away from the whitetail ground and pursue some mulies up in the snow. Driving to the top of the mountain to a trailhead we quickly spotted fresh blood in the snow where someone had shot one in the previous day or so. We took off and cut a ton of fresh deer sign, but no deer revealed themselves during our morning hunt. That evening I went back down low to the thinned timbered hillside I sat the night before. I had deer activity again, but the same deer appeared and no big bucks, just out friendly little spike. We all talked that night and came to the conclusion the weather really wasn’t helping the rut activity over there. That being said, we had decided we would probably shoot the first decent buck we saw instead of holding out for a big one like we had intended on doing to begin with.
Day four I had took off to the thinned timber hillside again in the morning. I had a pile of deer out there wandering around, and the spike was doing a bit of chasing that morning but nothing to extravagant. That morning on the hike out to the hillside I had slipped on some snow and twisted my knee. As the day went on my knee kept getting tighter and tighter. After talking with my dad that afternoon we took off again and I went back to the same hillside figuring it was only a matter of time until a buck showed itself. My knee was hurting at this point and I managed to find my way out there slowly and steadily. I spooked a doe by a creek on the side of the hillside and she took of tail waving and blowing out across the hillside. Thinking to myself that she had just scared everything out of the area I was a little disappointed. I continued to poke along slowly and crowned the top of the hill where I had been sitting the prior trips out there. As I crowned the hill I spotted a deer behind a tree at about 75-80 yards. I quickly seen a beam sticking out from one side of the tree. Knowing my knee was messed up and my hunt was pretty much over because of my knee, I decided I was going to shoot since it was bigger than a spike. I took a few steps to my left to try and see some vitals as the tree was covering them, and as I did that he started to turn and was quartered away.
Quartering away I figured that was as good as shot as any so I flipped off the safety and touched it off. The buck took off running and so did the entire hillside! He crowned the hill out of sight so I moved forward to the edge of the hill only to see him chasing his girlfriends all over the hillside. In hott pursuit at about 80 yards again he stopped. I had already chambered another round and touched it off. He hit the ground. Thinking to myself how I had just bagged my second buck, I looked up again and the buck was off the ground and on his feet! I put in another round and he moved forward a few yards and I shot again. He hit the ground again right there. Watching his girlfriends scatter across the hillside and run about another hundred yards and look back at him I threw in my last round in the clip just for safety. He’s rolling around on the ground and pretty quick he’s pushing himself down the hill with his nose in the dirt and his front legs buckled underneath him. I throw up the gun again and right as I pulled the trigger he fell over. That round going through his heart, and out the top of his back.
I watched all the does just stand there staring back wondering what was going on. I slowly made my way over to him wondering how I had just shot 4 rounds and he was still moving after round 3. I’m not sure my first round ended up hitting him, but I had three holes in his front cavity when we skinned him out. He was one tough deer. While trying to get my buck out of there my knee couldn’t take it anymore and we had to call the trip. Unfortunately my dad didn’t get a chance to bag one over there, but it was an eventful trip from start to finish.
A big thanks to my buddy John and his wife for the food again and help!
Now it’s time to start preparing for next year.
- Jon Gabrio