“There’s a nice buck!”
John was right. It was a nice buck and he was headed for the breaks at a steady trot. I looked at our guide Jeff and asked, “What ya think?”
Jeff studied the deer through his spotting scope for a few moments and agreed with John. “I think we might be able to circle around and head him off once he gets down in the breaks. I bet I know where he is going.” We threw our gear in the ‘85 Chevy Suburban and took off across the prairie just as the buck dropped out of sight. It was about a mile to the edge of the breaks and when we arrived I had lost some confidence in our ability to find this buck in the labyrinth of rims and canyons that make up the breaks along the Missouri River. Jeff thought otherwise and calmly said, “Follow me.” So, I grabbed my .264, John and I fell in behind Jeff and we dropped off the edge of the earth, down into the rugged breaks just like the buck had done 15 minutes before.
After going a couple hundred yards along an old cattle trail we heard John whisper from behind, “There he is!” The first time you see a mature mule deer buck silhouetted on the ridge line the image will be forever burned into your memory. The buck was quartering away, looking back over his shoulder at us with the Montana sunrise illuminating his magnificence. I dropped behind a ragged barbwire fence and pressed the Remington Sendero against the post struggling to regain the breath the buck had taken away form me. The angle was wrong, my rest was not steady and I was shaking. The buck turned, dropped over the ridge and deeper down into the breaks. I figured that was that but Jeff got up and took off at a trot down the trail so I followed.
The trail wound along the west slope of the ridge and we left out footprints in the loamy soil. As I trudged along I thought about all the years hunting the Appalachian Hills and dreaming about mule deer in the wide open west and I wondered if I had blown the opportunity. After a couple hundred yards Jeff stopped and said he figured the buck would cross a saddle that was visible just over the crest of the ridge. He cautioned me to be ready because he didn’t expect the buck to give us more than a moment to shoot. I grabbed a few deep breaths and eased over the crest.
Jeff Sundheim, mule deer guide extraordinaire, with the author’s Missouri Breaks mule deer.
Just as the saddle come into view Jeff stopped me and pointed across the canyon at the buck which was standing broadside looking our way. I dived behind a clump of sage brush, rolled into a setting position and found the buck in the 6-power Leupold. There was a steady thump in my head and I could see every heartbeat as the reticle danced across the buck’s chest. “Three-twenty-nine.” Jeff whispered over my shoulder as he looked through his rangefinder. Everything after that seemed to run on auto-pilot. The reticle found the right spot, the trigger broke, I cycled the bolt as the rifle recoiled and from behind me I heard my partner John announce it was a heart shot. I found the buck in the scope and tracked him along the ridge for about 60 yards. He tripped and then tumbled head over heels.
Yep, 329 yards is a long ways and the .264 was the cartridge I always dreamed about taking out West on a mule deer hunt but the only number that mattered to me at that moment was one—my first mule deer buck.
Sioux Pass Outfitters;www.scottsundheim.com; 406-798-3474
Remington Arms; www.remington.com; 800-243-9700