We arrived in Forsyth, Montana, after a 14.5 hour, 950 mile drive from Seattle, Washington. We met our outfitter/guide, Mike, in a local restaurant and grabbed some dinner after informal introductions. My hunting partner, Brian, and I were so full of anticipation we hardly ate our meals.
Before first light the next morning, we headed to the highest point on the ranch to glass for roaming bucks. The mule deer rut was in full swing, and the big boys were supposed to be cruising out of the draws into the food crops looking for does, or so we thought. When we arrived at the high point, we were greeted by a stiff 30-mile-an-hour west wind and an approaching cold front. The temperature was 28, but combined with the wind, glassing was undesirable at best. To our surprise, the deer weren’t moving onto the flats to feed but were instead heading to the deep pine and juniper canyons to get out of the wind and approaching weather.
Mike suggested that we follow the deer into the canyons. For hours we crept just below the ridgelines to avoid silhouetting our human shape, while glassing every nook and cranny for an ear, horn or movement. Suddenly, as if by magic, I watched what I thought was a downed pine log in heavy brush turn into a nice, 24-inch wide 4×4 with long eye guards. As he cleared the brush and stepped into the open across the draw, he froze broadside, staring at me.
Did I mention that I get excited when I see big horns? I not only got buck fever, which was intensified by the guide and Brian telling me to shoot, shoot, shoot, but I also incorrectly guessed the distance. My shot passed over the buck’s back, spooking him into the next county.
On Thanksgiving morning, we decided to check an isolated corner of the property where Mike had seen a shooter buck the week before. We approached the area on foot, and Brian spotted what he described as a huge chocolate-horned buck that was so high in the back that it looked like an elk. The buck had pushed his does into the cover of a brushed ravine. One by one the does climbed up and out of the draw, as we watched and waited with our hearts pounding. This buck, however, was too smart to show himself in the open at close range, and he followed the ravine downhill, temporarily abandoning his does without presenting us with a shot.
Later that evening, we drove back to the isolated corner we had visited that morning. We parked the truck and crested a steep hill on foot. We spotted does and small bucks feeding in the open flats that were broken up by deep washouts. We sat on the hillside and glassed for about 20 minutes. Mike wanted to move farther out on the ridge to get another angle on the field. When we stood to make our move, a doe busted from just below us, and pandemonium struck the field. Deer were running every direction into and out of the washouts and coulees. As deer came out on the far side of the deepest coulee and rounded a small hill, a huge chocolate-horned buck joined them in their desperate flee.
“That’s the buck I saw this morning-he looks like an elk!” Brain said.
I ranged him out past 600 yards where the deer finally started to settle down. Looking for a steady shooting rest, I spotted a log 20 yards to my right running perpendicular to the ridge. I was able to get a very comfortable, left-handed position using Brian’s jacket under the stock for additional support. To my surprise, when I got my scope back on the buck, he was headed straight towards us at a slow trot. He was now approaching 500 yards according to my rangefinder.
As I cambered the 140 grain Nosler Accubond into my 7mm WSM, I settled in for the shot, but he was still straight on. The pounding in my ears slowly subsided as I eased the safety forward to the fire position. As the buck quartered towards me, I picked a spot behind his left shoulder and placed my 450 yard crosshair on it. I pressed my left arm and ribs hard into the log and squeezed off a round. I heard the report of the rifle, my sight picture disappeared, and before I could cycle another round, I heard that distinctive smack of the hit. When I came back on target for my second shot, the buck had disappeared. I asked Mike if he went down.
“No, he ran behind the little hill,” Mike replied.
A lot goes through your head when searching in the dark for your deer. You begin to question yourself and reenact the shot over and over again in your mind. After ten minutes of searching, Brian and Mike were back in the field running a grid search for any sign of a hit. As I rounded some low brush, my flashlight hit a patch of white and the large silhouette started to take the shape of a downed deer. The buck had piled up less than thirty yards from where I shot him. I yelled to the others “here he is!”
After the chore of field-dressing, we dragged the buck another hundred yards into the junipers and brush to hide him overnight from the coyotes. We returned the next morning to cape, quarter and pack him out. That was a Thanksgiving I will never forget!