A word about how I found myself driving to deer camp and back in a Saturn sporting an Obama sticker on the bumper and a German opera in the cassette deck.
This past weekend, my mom held a baby shower for Amy, my wife. Her mother had driven up from Newport for the event, and that meant we had a second car available. And because I had to be back at work Monday morning to send the November issue of Northwest Sportsman to press – and Dad was staying in camp till late Monday morning – it was either zip into Okanogan County in an unlikely hunting rig or rent an Explorer from Budget.
Due to budget constraints, I chose the former – and got a lot of grief over that bumper sticker.
That wasn’t my main worry, though. It was getting the car into camp over a kelly hump in the road. No problem in the high-clearance pickups I’ve driven or ridden to deer camp for years, but for a Saturn … well, take it slow – and try not to scrape going over that rock!
I’d kidded my mother-in-law we’d be taking her car all the way up the nasty road to the top of the mountain, where there’s a big clearcut with lots of feed. That’s where I like to hunt in the afternoons. We’ve been hunting this area of the Methow Valley for around 10 years, and I think I’ve finally got the hang of what the deer are up to. I know where they’ll cross over the divide in the morning and evening, approximately when that will happen, where they’ll come up out of the creek, the trail they’ll take across the bowl, the spot to sit on top of the hill near sunset, the buck nests.
And while I’ve figured a lot out about the critters, what’s perplexing of late is the weather. Since October 2003’s monsoon, fall has seemingly turned a lot moister in the Okanogan. Used to be you could count on tinder-dry arrowleaf balsamroot and downed pine and fir branches giving away deer movements, but these days, not so much. Somewhere I saw a prediction that in the years ahead, most of Washington would be drier – except for Okanogan County, which would get wetter. And as we sat around the campfire on the eve of this year’s opener, rain began falling, so we retreated to the trailer for the evening.
The pitter-patter of rain and drops of it from the trees above reminded me of that night in 2003 when both sides of the state were absolutely soaked, but in the back of my mind was what happened that next morning. Despite the weather, I threw on a rain jacket and headed out to a crossing point on the mountain and waited. A buck had come through at what passed for shooting light, but I guessed wrong and he spooked. That and a couple other incidents taught me not to stay in camp when the weather’s bad. Indeed, as a coed at Wazzu once told our 400-level English class, if Washingtonians didn’t do things outside just because it was raining, we’d never do anything at all.
Which is why, this past Saturday morning, I left camp well before shooting light to find a spot on the ridge, a saddle I’ve watched dozens of deer cross over, some as close as 10 yards.
Shooting light came and went without any blasts, but around 7, a few shots rang out, though muffled. Fog lay across the valley, hills and mountains above Winthrop, and as morning wore on it only got thicker. Where I’d set up has 300 degrees of fair visibility in the best of conditions, but as clouds surged in, I could see only 40 yards at times.
That and the wetness of the ground led to the morning’s first surprise: A doe suddenly appeared out of the fog 30 yards away to my right. She crossed over the ridge within 20 yards and continued downhill. Lesson learned: Eyes more than ears will be the key today.
A wind came up and for a moment it seemed like it might blow the murk away, but then it came on thick. Dad came up the trail and we chatted briefly before he went back down to another vantage spot. To only see one deer on the opener here is really unusual, and I thought about climbing higher up, but with this fog, one spot was as good as another, I figured, so I stayed put.
Glad I did. Around 8:50 I spotted a deer coming towards me. It was a buck. I put the scope on him, but it was only a 2-point muley, not legal here.
However, another deer was behind him, and since I’ve never seen a buck leading does in this area, the odds I thought were good it was a second buck.
It was. And he had what looked like was a third point on the left side.
My heart started pumping hard as I tracked the two through the trees about 35 yards away. But was that really a third point on that second one, I found myself wondering?
The bucks switched positions, the 2-point now behind. Then they stopped and looked at me. In the trees, I couldn’t tell which was which; their small headgear was camouflaged too well.
Something was wrong, they could tell, and started moving off, one in front of the other. My chance of a shot was fading, I realized, so I put the scope up again, saw three points clearly silhouetted in the fog on the second buck, and fired the .308.
The buck piled up in 40 yards, a hole in his ticker.
And here I’d thought the only buck I’d harvest over the weekend would be hatchery steelhead in the Wenatchee and Methow rivers.
But it brought up an interesting question: With Dad staying till later on Monday, how was I going to get the deer to the butcher?
In the Saturn?
My mother-in-law had made it known I couldn’t put it inside her car, and though that didn’t preclude putting it up on the hood, like that gal who carried a Montana elk on the roof of her Dodge Colt, she got wise and barred that option too.
To be continued …