“I don’t have a shot,” says Shorty.
Those are not the words you want to hear when you’re finally on the deer you’ve been maneuvering to get a shot on for the past 45 minutes. We range the buck again, 431 yards, a pretty good poke but nothing for the Kimber 6.5 Creedmoor and the 143-grain ELDX in the hands of an experienced marksman and hunter. We know Shorty and trust his shooting prowess. Shorty knows his D.O.P.E (Data on Previous Engagements) and if he doesn’t have a shot, he means it. We let the buck slip over a fence and into a draw. At 8:17 a.m. in northern New Mexico with nothing but time and excellent weather, we let the buck go, circle around, and get on top of the mesa where we could glass him. It’s good we brought a little food and water, little did we know it was going to be a long day.
Shorty Gorham, a PBR Bullfighter by trade, is no stranger to high stress situations. He stands in the arena and runs into the fray when a bull rider is thrown from a two thousand pound mountain of muscle and hate. As the bull riders run away from the bull, bullfighters run toward him. Shorty is a cool customer.
We were on a beautiful mule deer and bumped him once. You don’t get many chances when it comes to good animals like that. Levi DeLeon, the ranch foreman, knew the property well and had an idea where the buck was headed. We huddled up, drank water, tightened our laces and headed across the mesa to get the best vantage point.
At that point, we had a range about three-quarters of a mile over a boulder-strewn table top mesa peering into a juniper-covered flat slit by a small dry creek. This position was a gamble but given the buck’s direction of travel we predicted he was headed to the juniper for cover. This wasn’t the ideal scenario, but we were ready to play the hand we were dealt. We waited and repositioned slightly. Arriving at the next vantage point we were focused on a draw thick with brush and vegetation. The buck was in the brush with his running buddy, another good deer but not a shooter — not one to harvest this year.
At 9:30 a.m., a black bear began moving toward the shade of the draw. We knew that if our deer was in there, the incoming bear would push him out. We waited.
“I see the younger buck but where is our boy?” Shorty rattled off in his cowboy drawl.
Moments later, the buck steps out weaving through the oak scrub at 415 yards. We had a solid rest and scope dialed. All we needed was for our deer to stop and give us a shot. As fast as he came out of the draw, he was back over another terrain feature and gone. Too many variables; he was a moving target in and out of the brush with vitals not completely exposed. We played our hand and it didn’t turn out as we had hoped.
We were down but not out. We had one thing left going for us. He didn’t know we were there. Playing to this vantage we would let him walk on over the ridge to the next valley versus pushing him. As soon as he was out of sight we would make our move, covering about 800 yards through some jagged brush and a deep ravine to reach the other side of the mesa.
As we exited the brush, we were breathing hard and attempting to orient ourselves to our last location. We got a fix on our position and headed to the rim of mesa. He was down in the valley most likely looking for a nice cool place to bed down as the temps started to rise. The sun came out and we were peeling layers; the dry, cool mountain air was gone.
As we began setting up spotting scopes, peeling clothes, drinking water and squaring ourselves away, we spot the younger, smaller buck that was running with our guy. We studied the younger deer and its body language. The younger deer was moving back and forth looking for a shady spot to get comfortable. By 10:30 we had a fix on at least one deer but not “the deer” we were looking for. Our crew, including Shorty, were all on glass picking apart every stump, rock, bush and shadowy spot for a sign. We spread out along the ridgeline to get different angles.
One of our hunting party called it. “He’s in there, sooner or later the sun will be on him and he’ll get up and move to another piece of shade. We need to be ready when he does.” We had no idea this insight would lead us to success in the coming hours.
Patience Pays Off
We had the high ground, good visibility and plenty of daylight to work with. We had a plan in place and we were ready to execute. Knowing that the animal we had chosen to pursue was just down below was aggravating. The noon hour rolled around and our eyes were tired from being glued to spotting scopes and binoculars for the better part of two hours. We were doing nothing but watching a sleeping deer and looking for another that we knew was there but had turned into a ghost. We passed the time by going through the shot sequence; double and triple checking our range to where we thought he was and then comparing that to the data we had. We were dialed in and as prepared as we could be.
Before we knew it, the younger deer got up and moved off to find another piece of shade. At 1:15 we were back on the glass — then it happened — there was movement off to the right! Our shooting position was good, but from where I had chosen to glass further down the ridge I could see our deer. There he was bedded deep in the shade at 398 yards. He got up, found shade and immediately beds back down.
I motioned to Shorty and the crew to move toward me. Carefully, they eased over the rocks to my vantage point. We range the buck again — 398 yards with about 25 degrees of elevation change. We did the quick calculation and agreed on the rifle data. Shorty took a minute to dry fire on his target, load his rifle and get settled in. It’s go time. Exhale, squeeze the trigger.
We were all on glass watching, waiting and holding our breath. We waited for the hiss of the round leaving the suppressor and the telltale thud of bullet meeting its target. One of the many benefits of the suppressor on a hunt is knowing if you hit. There’s no mistaking the sound and Shorty put it on the money. I heard another round being cycled into the chamber but couldn’t take my eyes off the magnificent animal in the throes below us. Killing is never an event to be taken lightly and this instance was no different.
Shorty was ready to send another as insurance but it was not needed. This was exactly what every hunter hopes for — a clean harvest. The smile on his face and the faces of everyone involved told me it was time for the real work to start.
God bless the inventor of the truck winch. The walk down to our buck was steep as the three of us clung to branches to slow our decent off the face of the mesa. One of us went back to get the truck, but it would take a while to get around the other side of the valley while the rest of us trekked on foot to meet up with the deer we had all gained much respect for.
Time was turning against us, and getting out of the valley was going to be tough. The “roads” in that area at night were not an inviting prospect. As with everything else on this hunt, we were going to have to work for it.
We made it back to the house by dusk, but not before a couple of lessons on vehicle extrication with winch bolted to the front of a Toyota that logged more miles off-road than on pavement in its lifetime.
The day was full of ups, downs and excitement. We were all drained but in the most satisfied way possible. You always remember the hunts you work the hardest for. Shorty’s mule deer buck was heavy bodied and produced 166 1/8” of beautiful forked antlers. This was a personal best for him, and no doubt a story of a hunt that will live on and be told around the fire for many years to come.
This deer fed our crew for the next two days with venison that we cold smoked to perfection ourselves. Fresh venison, comradery with fellow hunters and the afterglow of a New Mexico sunset will always remind me of how blessed we all are to live in a country where we are free to pursue our passions.–Darren Jones, SilencerCo
We’d like to thank our crew and partners for their contribution to this hunt: Levi Deleon Escondido Outfitters, Mark Smith, Darren Jones, Shorty Gorham, Richard Kotzur, Brad Tomlinson