On Friday we scour the SCI archives and dust off a story from our past. This week, we travel back in time to southern British Columbia for bragging sized mule deer. This story originally appeared in the November/December 1983 issue of Safari Magazine.
“Shoot the Buck! Shoot that Buck!” Henry’s voice crackled with excitement. The problem was that the only deer I could see was a doe.
Just a few days before we had been bouncing our way up a rutty dirt road to the main lodge. We were after mule deer in southern B.C along the Wigwam River southeast of Cranbrook.
Daylight found us glassing a large basin. The temperature was cool but the clear sky promised a warm day. We had been watching for about a half-hour when we spotted two deer moving into the basin. Henry, my guide, and I strained to make out antlers in the early morning haze. Both deer were bucks, four-pointers one was average the other somewhat smaller. They apparently were searching for does and moved through the basin, angling around toward our position. Following a brief discussion, Henry convinced me that I should take the larger buck and then search for a bigger one to fill my second tag.
I cautiously slid into position and worked a shell into the chamber of my Mark V .240 Weatherby Magnum. The deer were approximately 150 yards away and still unaware of our presence. At the rifle report they both lunged into the broken timber. The next few minutes were filled with utter frustration. We checked for evidence of a solid hit but could find no blood. Henry was undaunted and encouraged me with the assurance we would see more bucks.
An hour later we began to cut across the tops of a series of timbered pockets. The late morning sun was beginning to soak in when Henry suddenly grabbed for his field glasses and motioned me beside him. I shouldered my rifle and caught the briefest glimpse of two white rumps as the deer bounced into the timber. A buck and a doe emerged on a sparsely covered hillside approximately 125 yards away from us, heading towards a narrow saddle in the ridge. A quick inspection with the scope showed a nice four-pointer with horns considerably higher than they were wide. I positioned the dot in my scope just in front of the shoulder and this time, as the rifle roared, the buck folded into the hillside. With a hearty handshake Henry said, “That’s the way to do it.”
Daybreak found us glassing a huge semi-open basin from alongside a fast running creek. We spotted several bunches of four or five deer, but saw no bucks. As we rode back to camp that evening it was apparent that the warm weather had driven the bucks up high. If we were going to connect on a second buck, we had to adjust our strategy.
Wednesday morning found us climbing a ridge along another drainage of this particular outfitter’s huge hunting concession. It was almost dusk when we finally spotted a distant herd, and oncoming darkness prevented a closer look. The drive back to camp was a quiet one. But we all noticed that the clear skies of the past few days had begun to fill up with storm clouds heading our way. We crossed our fingers, knowing that a quick weather change was just what we needed to get the deer moving again.
Thursday morning welcomed us with a pouring rainstorm. As we rode out we could see the line far up on the mountain where the rain turned to snow. Crossing the river, we followed a swift creek for about two miles, then tethered the horses. Henry and I began a long climb. The going was rough, mostly through thick jack pines, which, along with the rain, soaked us from the outside as much as perspiration did from the inside.
Finally, reaching an open bench, we began to glass the country around us. Henry noticed two deer more than 1000 yards away and speculated that they were a doe and fawn. Closer inspection. However, showed them to be an enormous bodied buck with a doe. We looked at each other and knew that despite the rain and intermittent snow, we had to try for this deer. The next few hours were spent slipping and sliding through rain drenched alder draws, stopping at each ridgetop to glass the terrain ahead. The deer had moved out of sight but considering the weather conditions we were fairly certain they had bedded down.
As we cased out onto the ridge above where we had last seen them, snow began to come down hard. It lasted about 10 minutes, reducing visibility to about 25 yards. Henry and I spotted the deer at the same time. They were moving between the trees toward a ridge on the other side of the pocket. I scrambled to get into position for a shot. The buck was in plain view for Henry but a tree blocked my vision. The doe was all I could see. They milled about on the ridge as I climbed up towards Henry’s position. My first glimpse of the heavy-beamed rack was the top of the horns as they melted into the next draw.
Henry’s mountain sense now came into play. He grabbed a handful of stones, moved down the ridge and began tossing them into the timber below. As though responding to a stage call, deer appeared on the burn-scarred hillside about 150 yards from my position. I could see five, but my attention was focused on one that seemed to dwarf the others. He was facing away from me, looking back over his shoulder. I searched for a suitable rest, but there was nothing available.
Knowing that too much time would work against me. I centered the dot just inside the buck’s shoulder. The bullet severed the spine and the buck dropped and began rolling down the mountainside. He finally came to a stop wedged against a windfallen tree.
The body size of the buck was as amazing as his large, heavy-beamed antlers. It took both of us to dislodge him and position him for pictures. The even-beamed rack sported five points per side, plus eye guards and taped out at 25 inches inside the main beams.
The dismal weather ceased to be noticeable on this stormy Canadian day. Hiking off the mountain we could see smoke curling up from the main lodge nestled in the river bottom far below us. A mountain wise guide, terrific hunting area and a little luck had all come together.–Steven Ledgerwood