Editor^s Note: At the time of the hunt it was legal to take two bucks in that area of British Columbia. This may not be legal today.
It was the second day of the hunt, and I was beginning to wonder if there were any deer left in this section of British Columbia that had been touted as the land of both mule deer and whitetails. All I had seen so far in my many miles of walking was fast melting snow.
Garth Baher, my guide, stopped short and pointed to the crest of the mountain we had been climbing for an hour and a half. I just got a glimpse of a mule deer buck, but I knew it was one I would be proud to shoot. That quick look focused on antlers that ranged high above the head. A guess put the height at about 30 inches and that is exceptional.
I knew the buck was still behind some trees, so I bellied down the snow and put my scope on the spot were I expected him to appear. A log looked like a solid rest, but the weight of the rifle was too much for the decayed wood. It crumbled with what I thought was a loud crack.
I really felt dumb, but when I glanced at Garth, I realized he had not heard the crack. Instead of mouthing silent exclamations, he was glued to his binoculars. I looked up the mountain,. Nothing. I glanced at Garth, and he wiggled a finger to direct me to his side.
Carefully placing my foot on each step and bending as low as possible at the waist, I made my way to a fallen tree beside Garth.
“Get ready to shoot,” he whispered.
I placed my rifle on a branch of the fallen tree and looked towards the crest of the mountain. Still nothing.
“Can’t you see him?”, Garth whispered.
I shook my head with as little motion as possible.
Garth eased closer and whispered, :See that white spot in those green trees.”
With my eyes, all I could see was a white spot against a dark green background. However, when I put the scope on the spot, the buck materialized. He was standing behind a large tree with his shoulder and head extended. The white spot was on his neck.
Realizing I was looking through the scope at a really big buck, I began to shake a little. I took time to find a more comfortable rest for my rifle. This was partially because the rest was awkward and partially because I needed the time to settle down.
I eased off the safety and held on the shoulder. When the rifle jumped in my arms, I realized I had squeezed off a round. The deer never moved. Not taking any time to analyze what happened I pumped another round into the chamber and squeezed again. This time the deer moved. He took one step out from behind the big tree and stood broadside in the open.
Cursing gently, I pumped in another round and concentrated on making a good shot. With the sound of my third shot, the magnificent buck headed over the mountain at top speed. I knew I had missed the chance of a lifetime.
“I’ve looked at a lot of mule deer bucks and never saw one like that,” Garth exclaimed. “It was record book without question. It was a five pointer (western count) and better than a 30-inch spread.”
I was feeling miserable, and I’m sure Garth knew it. He told me to wait where we were while he checked to make sure I had not hit the deer.
In a situation like this it takes a while for the brain to start functioning properly. You know that you have done something stupid, but you are not sure how. Even though you have sighted in the rifle before making the journey here by airplane, you know you should have fired the gun before going afield. That should be standard operating procedure. Even though you arrived after dark and were anxious to get hunting the first day, you should have given up a little time to make sure the rifle was shooting where it should. You know that, but in this case it is even more obvious that you should have shot the rifle.
When I was checked by Canadian Customs at Vancouver, I recalled, the lock on my gun case could not be opened. The customs agent allowed me to pass through customs without physically inspecting the rifle after about 10 minutes of trying to get the lock open. The condition of the lock should have been all the evidence I needed that the gun had taken more than normal abuse in handling. If I had examined the case closer, I would have noticed that there was a large crack on one side of the case where something heavy had punctured it. If I had examined my rifle closer< I would have noticed that the scope was not parallel with the barrel.
I paid the price for not taking normal precautions. However, one cannot dwell on the past. In hunting, as in life, one learns from his mistakes, hopefully, and goes forward. When it was decided that my rifle was beyond repair in the field, Garth loaned me his Belgian-made H. Dumoulin in .270 caliber with 4X Leupold scope.
This hunt had its birth in a spike camp in the Brooks Range of Alaska. Jack Atcheson, the famed outfitter and guide’s agent from Butte, Montana, and I spent a couple of rainy days sitting in a tent telling stores. It was too foggy to hunt sheep.
During a lull in the story telling, Atcheson asked me how I would like to shoot a mule deer and whitetail on the same hunt. Naturally, I gave him an affirmative answer.
A couple of weeks after we escaped from the miserable Alaskan weather, Atcheson phoned to say he had me booked with Elk Horn Guide and Outfitters. He had booked the last week of November because Stan Lancaster, the boss man, had said that week should coincide wit the rut and the likelihood of snow was high.
Reports of snow had me optimistic when I flew into Cranbrook, B.C., but I was greeted by a light drizzling rain and 50-degree weather. Stan Lancaster, a big man with crumpled cowboy hat, met me at the airport and quickly assured me that there was still snow in the mountains, that both the mule deer and whitetails were in full rut, and the hunt should be just a little more difficult than picking out the two bucks I had dreamed about.
Stan’s optimism was well founded. He had just sent four hunters home with seven buck. The only hunter that did not score twice was an elderly man who declined to go after a couple of bucks he thought were too high in the mountains for his physical condition.
However, in hunting, conditions change in a hurry. The warm weather that greeted me at the airport got warmer. Stan took me to areas were good bucks had been seen. We hiked up mountains and glassed meadows, burns, and clearcuts until our eyeballs ached. The tally of deer spotted on the first day was two -- a mule deer doe standing along side the road and a small whitetail buck that bounded across the road in front of the truck.
The next day, camp filled with five other deer hunters, and Garth was assigned the duty of finding me a good mule deer buck. Garth did his job perfectly. In the morning, he had me pass up a rather average four pointer (western count) and late that afternoon showed me the magnificent buck which I chased off with three shots.
Those who miss deer are never heroes in deer camp, but my misfortune was not the major concern. Few bucks had been seen, and no shots, other than mine, were fired. It was obvious that the warm weather was decreasing the rut activity.
If anything, the third day of my hunt was even worse. Garth had decided we would let the area where AI had seen the big buck settle down for a day. Then we would go back and try to find him. We covered miles of mountains without seeing anything but a mule deer fork horn and two does. The big event of the day was seeing an excellent eight-point buck bound across the road while we were traveling between hunting areas. We attempted to track the buck, but gave up because it was bottom land and the snow had melted, making tracking difficult.
On this day, not a shot had been fired, and few deer had been seen.
Dinner was a little quieter and the post-meal discussions as the guides expounded on their theories on where the deer had gone. Since I knew I had a long trek into where I had missed the big buck, I retired early with the debate going strong.
At the first hint of light, Garth and I were heading up the mountain. The pace was a little faster than leisurely for me and perhaps, a little slower than my guide would have preferred. However, the altitude and lack of prime conditioning on my part dictated the pace. The only way we could have gone any faster was for Garth to carry me, which he probably could have done.
We were about half way up the mountain when two shots told us we were not alone on the mountain. Garth’s frown told me he was unhappy with the situation, but we were committed by this time to continue or give up the prime morning hours. The guide elected to continue.
The upper ridges of this mountain were streaked with deer trails filled with fresh tracks. Alongside the trails were fresh beds and rubs. It was obvious there were more than a couple mule deer on this mountain.
More shots put more frowns on Garth’s face. When we crossed what he called a “man trail,” he told me to take a rest while he tried to find out who was hunting on the mountain. When he returned about a half an hour later he said he had talked with two local hunters who claimed they had shot three bucks and had missed a couple .
Since the local hunters were just over the ridge in the direction we were hunting, Garth decided the best tactic was to hunt back the way we had come and head for the truck. This seemed logical to me. It turned out to be a very fortunate choice.
We had only backtracked about 200 yards when Garth froze in his tracks while looking to his right. My eyes looked in the same direction and spotted parts of a deer in a lodgepole pine thicket. Garth motioned me to his side.
“It’s at least a four pointer,” he whispered. “ Can you shoot him>“
I eased my rifle up and looked through the scope. It was too thick for a good shot.
“Kneel down,” he ordered.
Just as my knee hit the snow, I was jerked to my feet by Garth. Before I could wonder what was happening, I saw that the buck was starting to move off.
“You have got to shoot now,” Garth ordered, not bothering to be quiet.
At just that moment, the buck moved into a small space between trees and I squeezed the trigger. With the shot the deer tumbled out of sight, Garth snatched the rifle out of my hands and ran the 70 yards to where the deer had been. Before I got there, Garth had finished off the deer with a neck shot. It had been anchored with a backbone shot, which is where I had aimed in the split moment I had to decide.
The five-by-four mulie was not the greatest trophy ever shot, but it was the first half of my British Columbia double. That made it very acceptable to me.
After congratulations and photo taking, I said, “Let’s go get my whitetail now.”
“We’ve got to get this one off the mountain first,” Garth reminded.
That was not exactly a fun project. It was a big bodied buck in the 200-pound range. We were about two miles from the truck. The only plus factors were that it was mostly downhill and there was snow on the ground.
With my mule deer on the game pole, the camp drought had ended, and Garth was relieved as my guide. Stan Lancaster assumed the responsibility of putting me on a whitetail buck.
Although we were hunting the same areas, tactics changed significantly when I changed to whitetail hunting. While mule deer hunting we covered a lot of ground 0n foot. When we switched to whitetails, Stan put me on stands to watch trails, or he would attempt to drive bucks by me with one-man drives.
Twice the one-man drives came close to pushing good whitetails within shooting range. On both occasions, the bucks were so close that I could hear them running but could not see anything to shoot because of the thick cover. Both deer that Stan attempted to drive to me were fighting trees when he came up on them. The weather had turned cold after I shot my mule deer, and it was obvious the rutting activities resumed.
“I had to throw rocks at them to get there attention,” Stan explained after each fruitless effort. “I got so close I almost could have killed them with the rocks.”
Of course, both whitetail bucks were described as having high and wide racks in the trophy 20-inch spread range. That happened to be just what I was looking for.
With time running short on the hunt, Stan put me on a stand at the crest of a mountain. There was a clearing about 100 yards wide and ran about 500 yards down the mountain. There were at least six different well-used deer trails crossing the clearing. It looked like an excellent place to watch a trail.
Stan told me to watch the trails but to be on guard for deer coming over the top. His plan was to “dog” for me on the backside of the mountain in the hope of running deer over the top.
I had been sitting on a rock for about an hour and a half trying not to think of the cold when I saw a deer trotting out of the woods on the right side of the clearing. It was about 200 yards down the mountain. Before I could get my binoculars on the deer it disappeared behind a small patch of pine trees.
Because of the speed at which the deer was moving, I knew that I would not have time to look at it through binoculars and still shoot before it reached the cover on the left. I elected to hold my scope on the left edge of the pine thicket where I expected the deer to appear.
As soon as the deer I appeared I saw antlers, but because of the distance and the 4X scope I was not sure how good the antlers were. I quickly decided it was not an exceptional trophy, but was shootable under the time-running-out circumstances.
I put the cross hairs under his nose and squeezed the trigger. The deer dropped immediately, but got back up and staggered towards the pine thicket. I jacked in another round and squeeze again. There was an extra loud click as the cartridge misfired. By the time I worked the bolt action the deer was behind the pine trees.
After about a minute went by and the deer had not appeared from behind the trees, I was about ready to start down the mountain when Stan arrived. He took off down the mountain at full speed. Before I could get down from my rocky perch I heard Stan’s finishing shot behind the pine trees.
Like the mule deer, this whitetail buck was not an exceptional trophy. It was a four pointer (western count means four points on each side), but did not have much spread or height. Under the circumstances, it was a very acceptable half of my British Columbia double.
With the return of the cold weather and the rut, the game pole began to fill up at camp. By the last day of the hunt and the season, everyone in camp had a buck.
On the next to last day of the season, Henry Springer and Brian Harwood, a couple of buddies from Alaska, both h shot whitetails that had the guides arguing late into the night about which deer had the better antlers. Both deer had 21-inch spreads and four well-matched tines on each side. They were measured many times, but there was still disagreement.
The best mule deer antlers were picked up by Garth from a cougar kill. It was a well-balanced five pointer.
“There are many that claim cougars only kill the weak and the small,” Garth pointed out and continued, “ but this was no little buck. From the sign in the snow, you could tell the cat took this deer from ambush. It is not unusual to find big bucks killed by cougars in this country.”
Incidentally, one of the guides returned to the area of the kill after deer season and shot an eight-and-a-half-foot cougar.
It was a very satisfied group of hunters that broke camp on the last day and I was particularly happy with my British Columbia double.