Category Archives: Reader Trophy Tales

Grandpa’s Old .308 And Young Hunter’s First Harvests

By Wayne Smith

My 15-year-old son Hunter Smith, after several near misses in the last two previous seasons, was able to harvest his first deer and elk this season.

I myself, now 44, have been hunting since I was 10 years old (all  on public land).  All of these years have been with my dad Bruce by my side, and my uncle Dean and cousin Rob. The last three years my son had joined the long family tradition. Unfortunately, this spring, after an amazing fight, my dad passed away from lung cancer. Although he has missed a few trips the last couple years, he always made it out for at least one weekend  a season through his battle with this awful disease.

As you can imagine, I had very mixed emotions coming into this season, but was excited for my son’s  opportunities as he had drawn both a doe tag and a youth cow elk tag. My dad has always stored his gun in safe at my house, and before passing away and coming to the realization that he would not make it out this year, he told Hunter that he wanted him to shoot his first animal with his gun — an old .308 that barely has any stain left on the stock, but never needs adjustment every time it is sight-in time.

HUNTER HAD DRAWN A YOUTH DOE TAG for the Blue Mountain Foothills West. This was a new area for us, and we were really leaning on my cousin Rob who lives in Spokane to help us locate deer. All along he assured me this would not be an issue.  Due to the homecoming dance at my son’s high school we were unable to make it out until Thursday of the modern season. That morning found us hunting on the Hopkins Ridge Wind Farm and we were spotting plenty of deer, but they all were about 500 yards away, with no cover to close the distance.

The afternoon was exciting, as we found ourselves 40 yards away from a group of 12 mule deer facing us head on and closely grouped together, but we were just unable to get the shot we wanted. Still, Hunter was patient with visions of a buck in his head.

Driving out that evening we spotted two does on a hillside. It was still legal hunting light and we could have easily gotten out of the truck and made a shot on one, but Hunter said he wanted his first deer to come while out hunting, not driving around.  I can’t put into words how I felt about him saying this. All of my emotions came to the surface and I found myself hiding the tears rolling down my face.

The next evening, we decided to put my uncle and son on a draw near where we’d seen the deer the night before, and my cousin and I would go up the road about 2 miles and push towards them.  A half hour into our push we heard two gunshots but could not tell the direction.  Ten minutes later I got the call I had been waiting to hear.

“Dad, I got a deer!!”

I don’t even remember the rest of the walk back to the draw. The deer had been in the draw the whole time, and the kid made a great 175-yard shot on a nice big mule deer doe.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WE HAVE BEEN HUNTING ELK in the same area in Manastash since as long as I can remember. Generally, we tend to go up opening weekend, come home Sunday night and back up Tuesday evening for the remainder of the season. This year was again different. My uncle had to attend a funeral  on opening weekend, and since Hunter’s cow tag did not open up till Wednesday, we missed the opener for the first time that I can recall.

We hunted hard Wednesday through Sunday but just did not see any elk. There was a herd that had moved through Wednesday, but they skirted our area though we heard shots all around us. After that it was like a ghost town.

The youth tag was good through Nov. 15 and we were determined to  not give up. My wife had put her foot down on Hunter not missing any more school, so we drove back up Monday night to hunt Veterans Day.  The weather had turned cold, and other than two other camps down at the bottom, we were basically the only people around our normally crowded area. Driving drove around a bit we found a herd of 40 just past camp! That definitely had us excited for the next morning.

We woke up to an inch of fresh snow and the wind blowing about 30 mph. My uncle, who came along to help, dropped us off at the top of a draw that we like to watch. After watching and freezing for about 30 minutes I told Hunter we should walk the edge of the draw slowly, as there was no pressure and it was up to us to find the animals.

Within five minutes he was shouting to me that he saw an elk, but he thought it might be a bull.  I caught a glimpse of it disappearing ahead and could not tell what it was, but knew it had not spotted us.  I told Hunter we should continue on top slowly and make our way to where we had spotted the elk in case it was a cow.

As we approached the area I did not see anything, but once again Hunter told me he spotted an elk running in the woods below us. We stopped and talked about which way it was running, and while we were discussing things, a big cow elk walked out in the opening 60 yards in front of us. Hunter spotted it immediately, asked for the shooting sticks and calmly placed a shot right behind the front shoulder with my dad’s old .308 rifle.

I watched the elk hump and disappear into the woods below us. We moved up and saw the elk standing in the woods 20 yards in front of us. It was wobbly and tried to take a step. Hunter found an opening and took another shot and the elk fell instantly.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

That morning I had put on the old hunting shirt that my dad always wore, and I was carrying a rock we made that contained his ashes. We placed the rock on top of Hunter’s beautiful animal and prayed together, thanking god for this great elk and knowing that Dad, who served his country in Vietnam, was with us every step of the way on Veterans Day!!

Well, this story turned out a lot longer than I intended, but felt very therapeutic to actually write out. It would be a great honor to my dad if any part of it made it into your magazine.

Editor’s note: It is our pleasure to share your family’s story here and in part in the February 2016 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

Dane’s First Buck

by Doug Brubaker

My son Dane and I had been given a tip from my good friend Seth that because of fires earlier this year, the big bucks had been pushed over into an area close to Winthrop. We live four hours away in Auburn and decided that we would make this our first hunting trip together.

As we got into Carlton where we would be camping, we stopped in but our buddies were all gone. We would have about an hour of daylight to hunt once we got to our hunting spot. It is a public piece of land, so we also had to hope nobody else would be parked at the gate. We drove up and there was a camp and some of them had just arrived. We decided that we would go in and at least gives ourselves a chance.

We started at the gate and began our hunt. We walked in very quietly and slowly, and before you know it, there are does left and right, and so I got down on a knee and explained to Dane that this time of year is the rut, and that where there are does, there are bucks.

As I began scanning I saw antlers. He was at the top of a hill, bedded down. I looked through my binos and couldn’t make out a third point because he was starring straight at us. As Dane was getting a little excited, I told him we were going to pass on this buck for two reasons. I explained the buck was at the top of a hill, so if he were to miss, Dane would have no idea what was on the other side of the hill. We also couldn’t make out a third point, and we were hunting a three-point-minimum unit.

As we kept walking, more and more does began standing up and staring us down. We continued walking slowly, and as the road began to curve to the left, a big buck stood up right in front of us. I knew he was a shooter without glassing him.

I set up the tripod and Dane rested the gun on his prize. I pulled up my range finder; he was at 127 yards. I told Dane to take the safety off and put him in his crosshairs and squeeze.

As he was settling in on the shot, the buck began to walk straight away from us.  My heart sank and we just watched. All of a sudden he stopped and turned to his left a little, looking back but not at us. A doe and she must be hot because he didn’t want to leave.

The buck was quartered away and turned to the left. I told Dane just put it right on his ribs and squeeze fast before the buck walks away again. He settled in and Boom!!!!

The deer started limping and I told him, “Shoot it again.” The buck was moving straight to the left and was broad side — Boom.

The deer dropped. The smiles and hugs began.

As we made our way up to the buck, we got to within about 10 yards and saw his chest still moving up and down. It turns out that the second shot was right through the tenderloins and hit the spine. I told my son, “You have to shoot him again and end his suffering.” He took aim at the chest and Boom — perfect shot right through the heart.

We backed off and waited a couple minutes. I took a peak and he was motionless. I pulled up my video and let Dane be the first one to touch and hold his harvest. We took a couple pics before darkness settled in.

DANE BRUBAKER AND HIS FIRST BUCK, A STUD METHOW VALLEY MULEY THAT WEIGHED 191 POUNDS ON CAMP SCALE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

DANE BRUBAKER AND HIS FIRST BUCK, A STUD METHOW VALLEY MULEY THAT WEIGHED 191 POUNDS ON CAMP SCALE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

After quickly gutting him we made our way back to the truck to get the deer sleigh. As we were walking out, so was a group from the other camp. We told them the good news, and I asked if they would help me load the buck when we got him to the bottom. Jason and his crew were very helpful and friendly.

We got back up to where the buck lay and loaded him on the sleigh. Luckily for me. it was almost all downhill and we were back to the truck in no time. We got some help loading from Jason and his buddies. They were in amazement at Dane’s first deer. At their camp they had a scale and it read 191 pounds. Everyone congratulates Dane for a job well done.

As a father I can’t wait to spend more quality time with my son.

A ‘Flat-out Awesome’ Season

Preface by Jeff Holmes;
Story by Jerrod Gibbons

Omak’s Jerrod Gibbons is one of the Northwest’s better-known guides, and is one of the rare breeds in Washington who hunt and fish with clients year-round. Gibbons also fishes and hunts for pleasure, but in recent years he’s spent a lot more time guiding clients and building Okanogan Valley Guide Service into a nationally known outfit than he has hunting for himself.

“Trigger time,” as he puts it, can be hard to come by when clients must always come first.

But the stars aligned for Gibbons in 2014 in more ways than one. Along with getting engaged and then fishing over epic Chinook and sockeye salmon runs from late spring through summer, Gibbons drew two of the state’s most coveted big game tags during one hunting season. His quest to fill those tags – while also guiding anglers and tagging out scores of clients on mule deer and whitetail bucks – follows.

 

I WAS HALFWAY through a banner 2014 spring Chinook season on the Icicle River and newly opened Wenatchee River and was on the water with clients when I heard the good news: results were available for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s special permit drawings! I forced myself to stay focused on my guiding, limited out my clients, and beat feet for the Safeway lot in Leavenworth, where I could pull up the WDFW website on my phone. Having a whopping 23 quality elk points, I was pretty sure this would be my year to draw the coveted Dayton elk tag, but I was nervous as I clicked through the site.

“SELECTED,” it said for my Dayton tag! I remember my tiredness from guiding disappearing and me smiling from ear to ear. I quickly scrolled down to see if I had drawn anything else, which I knew would be a long-shot based on what I’d put in for. To my shock, I again saw “SELECTED.” I looked to the left and saw “Mountain Goat, North Lake Chelan.”

“Are you kidding me!?!” I remember screaming, jumping out of the truck and prancing around like a little kid. I got some crazy looks, but I didn’t care. The rest of salmon season in North-central Washington went without a flaw. Guiding is always a tough business, but big numbers of fish, booked hunts with clients, and my own two amazing tags made the summer of 2014 a lot easier to enjoy.

Almost immediately, I anticipated the challenge of filling these tags while being a full-time hunting and fishing guide. I started thinking of areas to cover and made a lot of phone calls. I have a well-known fishing guide buddy, Richland’s Dan Sullivan, who had drawn the Dayton tag, and knew of others who had. Since the season started Oct. 20, the day after general rifle deer ended, I knew my scouting would be limited by my heavy guiding schedule. Sullivan introduced me to Ben Hill of Vancouver, a new friend who also knows the area. We made plans to hunt together in October when my schedule allowed.

With a mountain goat tag burning a hole in his pocket and a closing season looming, Gibbons “settled” for this heavy Blue Mountains 6x6 before beating feet for home and a second ascent into Lake Chelan goat country. (OKANOGANVALLEYGUIDESERVICE.COM)

With a mountain goat tag burning a hole in his pocket and a closing season looming, Gibbons “settled” for this heavy Blue Mountains 6×6 before beating feet for home and a second ascent into Lake Chelan goat country. (OKANOGANVALLEYGUIDESERVICE.COM)

 

FIRST, THOUGH, MOUNTAIN goat season, which opened Sept. 15. But with no way of scouting the area from a rig, we had to plan on scouring maps and taking a boat ride up Lake Chelan. We were only able to schedule two trips uplake due to guiding for salmon six days a week from July 1 through Aug. 30. That much guiding is a lot of work, and needless to say the summer went quickly while working hard and dreaming of hunting season. Meanwhile, our early archery guys started on Sept. 1, so we had to work in our evening scouting and setting trail cams in mid-August after getting off the water.

Through a mix of strategy and good luck, our early bowhunters tagged out quickly, going five for five. This allowed my right-hand man and best friend, Josh “Stump” Unser, and I to backpack in for the goat opener. We’d seen only one in our previous two scouting trips, so we didn’t have much to go on, but we planned to be there for a week and had another buddy drop us off far uplake where we had seen the goat during scouting. We ended up seeing that very nice billy goat again, but it had relocated into an area where no man should ever be. The terrain was so treacherous that it required little thought to know it was not worth risking our lives for this animal. So we continued hiking high above the lake to the crest of the peaks, covering as much ground as possible.

After four intense days exhausting every nook and cranny we could realistically reach, we called good friend Scott Rowe on the satellite phone for pick-up the next day. This was by far the most gruesome hike of my life, and I was beat. North Lake Chelan goat country is the steepest terrain I’ve ever been in, and limited water made it very tough. We were there only four days and immediately began to think of when we could go back with season ending at the end of October: the same as my elk tag. I knew time would be tight and my family life would be short. Having a good woman to understand that these were tags of a lifetime made it a little easier.

Stump and I returned to Omak with no goat and began to get back to work scouting deer for our muzzleloader and rifle seasons. To keep a long story short, we ended up tagging 96 percent of our clients out with 100 percent opportunity. It was a very good general season that would get better. My guiding schedule left three days for family hunts, and the 2014 highlight until this point was helping my daughter and wife tag their first deer!

The busy life of a full-time hunting and fishing guide doesn’t always provide time for reflection or relaxation, and even here Jerrod Gibbons had to hike his feet off to find peace on a goat-less ridge overlooking Lake Chelan. (OKANOGANVALLEYGUIDESERVICE.COM)

The busy life of a full-time hunting and fishing guide doesn’t always provide time for reflection or relaxation, and even here Jerrod Gibbons had to hike his feet off to find peace on a goat-less ridge overlooking Lake Chelan. (OKANOGANVALLEYGUIDESERVICE.COM)

 

AFTER TYING UP loose ends at the end of deer season and packing for the Blues, my dad, Stump, and I headed out for Dayton to meet up with Sullivan and Hill. It was now my turn to pull the trigger, and I was feeling rushed and nervous from not having much opportunity to scout.

We met in the town of Dayton and headed to a cabin in the mountains they had lined out. We met the rest of the crew that was there to help, and they made me feel really welcome and like I was on a guided hunt. The crew didn’t have any smasher bulls pinned out yet because it was really warm for this time of year. Elk were active all night, and our only opportunities would likely come the first half hour in the morning and the last 30 minutes in the evening. The rest of the time, elk were in the timber, bugling very seldomly as the rut was pretty much done.

On day one, we went down a ridge from the top and immediately got on a thumper bull. He was 1,300 yards out and across the canyon. Stump and Hill were both in great shape and basically took off at a jog. Me, I tried keeping up! Getting to 400 yards and trying to find a hole in the timber was almost impossible. We got on the cows, but the bull had already slipped into the timber. We decided to try again that evening and he didn’t come out, nor did he the next morning, so we decided to relocate to another draw. This time Sullivan took us down another ridge to walk out to a road below. Hill had located a bull there previously while scouting and decided to give it a shot.

Weather came in that evening and the elk began to come out of the timber really early. Spotting a few cows and small bulls, we kept working down the ridge. A tremendous bugle erupted as we walked, and we scanned the canyon and spotted a good bull. Sullivan held me off from shooting it, wanting me to make sure it was a really good one. With a goat tag in my pocket and seven days left in season, I was feeling a little pressure to get my goat. I leveled down on this elk and watched him at 465 yards. He was a perfect 6×6, the biggest bull I’ve ever seen through my scope. Sullivan sized him up and told me it was a decent bull, but there were bigger ones around. Looking at Stump, my goat-hunting partner, I decided to take him. With the video camera set up behind me, I pocketed the shot right behind the shoulder. The bull ran downhill and piled up in a windfall.

We had a ton of work to do, so we called Hill and the other guys to meet us with the pack frames. A total of five of us cut and packed him. We went a mile in the dark through the thickest, steepest crap I’ve ever been in. It took us three hours to get off the mountain, even with another hunter meeting us at the bottom of the canyon! By 11:30 at night we were in the rig heading back to the cabin. I slept in and went back to Omak the next morning after making some awesome friends I’ll have for life. I felt truly blessed for the opportunity I had had, but now was goat time.

After two trips into the Lake Chelan backcountry and one of the “most gruesome” hikes of his life, Jerrod Gibbons proudly descends to the lakeshore with his billy goat, ready for some much deserved Okanogan surf and turf: goat steak and sockeye salmon. (OKANOGANVALLEYGUIDESERVICE.COM)

After two trips into the Lake Chelan backcountry and one of the “most gruesome” hikes of his life, Jerrod Gibbons proudly descends to the lakeshore with his billy goat, ready for some much deserved Okanogan surf and turf: goat steak and sockeye salmon. (OKANOGANVALLEYGUIDESERVICE.COM)

 

A DAY AND a half later, I was headed for a boat ramp on Lake Chelan. Stump and I met up with his dad, Dave Unser, who has a 22-foot Thunder Jet. The game plan was to glass from the boat, find one and get dropped off to pursue. Of course, late October’s weather didn’t work out, as we had 4-foot rollers Saturday and Sunday, along with fog – we saw no goats. We set up camp on the south shore and glassed what we could.

On the morning of the 27th while going downlake, I spotted a glowing white spot. It was a goat, about halfway up the steep terrain, visible from the lake. I was unable to get a scope on him to size him up, so we put a plan together.

Up the hill Stump and I went. It took us three hours to get to the location we wanted, and sure enough, we got close enough: 426 yards. I had a broadside shot at the billy while he was bedded down, and I took it. I missed, hitting a hair low, but he stood up, and three shots later I had my goat! It’s amazing footage, and some of the best I’ve seen.

After another 45 minutes of hard hiking, I got to put my hands on the thickest and softest coat I’ve ever felt. We boned him out and made our way down the hill to the boat. After riding back to camp that evening, we had fresh goat steak and sockeye fillets we brought from summer fishing. It was a fitting celebration of perhaps the greatest hunting season of my life – and one I likely won’t ever repeat. Never again will I draw two quality tags in one year and then fill them both within five days. It was flat-out awesome!

I thanked Dave Unser like he was my other father, and we headed back to Omak in preparation for our late archery season, where we succeeded with 100 percent opportunity and a 95 percent harvest ratio, including some whomper raffle bucks. We also filmed two TV shows in 2014, one with Cabela’s American Archer and one with Western Extreme. Both will be on the Outdoor Channel this spring and fall of 2015.

Speaking not only as a hunter, but as a Washington fishing and hunting guide, this was one of those years I will never forget. I made some lifelong friends, my freezer is full, and I harvested some terrific animals together with clients and friends! NS

A Tough Year To Top

Preface by Jeff Holmes;
Story by Sean Hansen

 

Through my work with Field and Stream magazine doing their Western states whitetail deer reporting and my work here with Northwest Sportsman, I seek out and receive a lot of verified hunting and fishing reports, including from some truly great sportsmen. During 2014, no one’s results surprised me more than those of Sean Hansen and his hunting partners. I featured his friend’s 150-class Blue Mountains whitetail and a stack of mule deer and elk heads from that same camp on F&S, but it was Hansen’s consistent success that stood out.

Like a cat who just seems to kill a new squirrel or bird every day, Hansen flashed braces of trout, salmon and walleye across my phone screen in 2014, followed by geese, elk, bear, deer and more elk. He’s not pro staff, doesn’t hunt private ground, isn’t otherwise “connected” in the industry, and isn’t local where he hunts. He’s a hardworking young biologist who puts in the time and the sweat, and who was rewarded richly during the 2014 hunting season. Here’s his story:

MY HOMETOWN IS Camas, just east of Vancouver, but this summer I worked for the Forest Service in their fisheries department based out of Kettle Falls, Wash. I had just graduated from Washington State University this last May with a bachelor’s degree in biology, so without a lot of baggage to weigh me down, I was able to spend a lot of time pursuing my passions of fishing and hunting. I am used to pursuing elk and blacktails on the west side of the state, so when I got the job in Kettle Falls, I saw it as an opportunity to learn how to hunt the Eastside and pursue some species that I had not harvested before, like whitetails, Rocky Mountain elk and black bear.

My job with the Forest Service really helped with getting to know the area over there, since I was working in the woods every day. I was able to do a lot of scouting in the early season and find the animals and begin to pattern them. I also made friends with some good people who had knowledge of the area, and they pointed me in the right direction of where to begin scouting. After watching the deer, elk and bears all summer with the use of trail cams and a good set of binos, I had a great idea of what I needed to do, and where to be, come opening day.

I was able to harvest a Northeast Washington elk calf right at the end of early archery season. I set up a blind and bait site with a trail cam that I checked regularly, and the animals were using it, but I was never able to be sitting in the blind when a shooter animal was at the site. I ended up getting my elk by spotting and stalking it in a clearcut and then cow calling frantically with the help of my partner. It came running right in for a double-lung 30-yard shot. Then as I was retrieving my arrow and my partner was retrieving his backpack, 100 yards away a spike was closing in on all the commotion. Long story short, the spike busted right as my partner was coming to full draw, and we couldn’t convince it to come back into range.

Sean Hansen of Camas, Wash., made the most of his summer working for the Forest Service in Northeast Washington, using his time off to scout public land. He arrowed and one-shot killed this 6-foot-4 bear from 40 yards after an exciting stalk. (SEAN HANSEN)

Sean Hansen of Camas, Wash., made the most of his summer working for the Forest Service in Northeast Washington, using his time off to scout public land. He arrowed and one-shot killed this 6-foot-4 bear from 40 yards after an exciting stalk. (SEAN HANSEN)

 

I ALSO HARVESTED a 6-foot-4, 300-plus-pound color-phase black bear a few days prior to my Washington elk. Based on tracks and scat, I knew there was a good number of bruins in the area, and some large ones at that. The area we were hunting was a high-elevation huckleberry meadow that we were actually targeting for elk. Walking in at first light we heard some large sticks popping in the meadow below us, so we sat in the middle of an abandoned road and waited to see what was about to unfold. Rather unexpectedly, a very large-bodied bear lumbered across the road in front of us, feeding his way along, totally oblivious of our presence.

With the bear at 30 yards but no clear shot, we made a game plan to split up to see if one of us could get a shot. I hooked around and above the bear hoping it would come to me, while my partner tried following it. He had the bear at 10 yards at one point but no shot. I lost track of it for at least 30 minutes before I heard some rustling just 50 yards away. I ranged the possible paths it might take, and lucky for me, it took the one at 40 yards. I was able to make a calm, collected shot, hitting the bear midbody and taking out one lung.

The tracking job was interesting because when I checked my arrow, there was just grease on it – no blood. I was very confused because the shot had looked good, but I then began to seriously doubt my shot was even fatal. I ended up giving it four hours before going to make a recovery because I didn’t really want to walk up on a big wounded bear. Right after I made the shot on this bear, it wheeled around biting at the arrow and growling and then taking off through the brush. What I didn’t know was that it barreled right toward my partner and then turned about 15 feet in front of him, scaring the crap out of him. What he did observe from his angle, though, was that the bear stumbled a few times, showing how he was injured pretty severely. So after looking for signs of blood with no luck, I just walked in the direction that I last heard a crash, and luckily enough, found the bear laying 150 yards from where I shot, stiff as a board. I felt so relieved to find him because I had lost hope after finding no blood.

 

DRAWING THE MULTISEASON tag, I was able to hunt all the seasons before late archery, when I killed my buck, a Northeast Washington whitetail. I was able to join my usual hunting group, The Sh*tridge Boys, down in the Blue Mountains for general rifle season, and even though others in the group took some nice bucks, I was never able to find a shooter. I did pass on some small bucks during late bow season, but did not have any other opportunities at shooters other than the one I capitalized on.

I harvested the four-point whitetail with my PSE Bowmadness and Slicktrick broadheads in late November, when the rut was in full swing. I was hunting an area with a lot of feed and dense areas of cover early one morning and found a buck frantically chasing does, like a dog with his nose to the ground. I was able to come to full draw on this buck at 50 yards but never had a clear lane to let an arrow fly. The activity settled down at midday and I didn’t see any more deer, so I ended up returning to that same spot for the evening hunt.

The spot I was sitting at was a high cliff bank that overlooked thick hardwood bottoms on each side, with a pinch-point trail directly below me. The bank was so high, though, that the possible shots were long and at a steep angle. About a half hour before the end of shooting light, I heard some leaves rustling and then spotted a buck walking down the trail directly towards me. I came to full draw as he was walking and stopped him with a grunt when he reached the tree I had ranged at 55 yards. The angle was so steep, though, my rangefinder with ARC, or angle range compensation, told me to shoot as though it was 40. I released the arrow and immediately the buck wheeled and ducked.

The arrow was in flight for so long that the buck was actually able to flip his body around 180 degrees, and I hit him on the opposite side I had aimed at. This put my arrow a little further back than I originally wanted, but I heard it was a solid hit. I backed out and gave the deer three hours before going in for the recovery. I went directly to my arrow to help me understand what kind of hit I had made. After finding a bloody arrow and walking 30 yards on the blood trail, I found my buck lying right there. With the exception of my cougar tag, I was tagged out in Washington.

Hansen’s wallet contained only a Washington cougar tag by season’s end, a year that included some extracurricular elk hunting in Montana. He dropped his first bull with a rifle after felling his first ever elk, a fat calf, with a bow weeks prior in the Evergreen State. (SEAN HANSEN)

Hansen’s wallet contained only a Washington cougar tag by season’s end, a year that included some extracurricular elk hunting in Montana. He dropped his first bull with a rifle after felling his first ever elk, a fat calf, with a bow weeks prior in the Evergreen State. (SEAN HANSEN)

 

JUST PRIOR TO my whitetail hunt in Washington, I was able to harvest a five-point bull in Montana. My dad and I had big game combination tags to each harvest a deer and an elk. We did see some smaller bucks, but nothing we wanted to fill our tags on at that time. Hunting with some friends who live near Bozeman, we were each able to fill our elk tags within a few days of each other on our 10-day hunt.

I killed my bull at 400 yards with an 8mm Mag. I spotted the herd from about 2,000 yards and we made a stalk into shooting range. The temp was 7 degrees below zero at this time, and my fingers were so cold that it was difficult to pull the trigger. I was able to pick out the largest bull in the herd and put a kill shot on him.

I was so excited walking up on my first bull. We quartered it, and four of us packed out all but the hindquarters that night. The pack out was about a mile and a half uphill on an old, gated-off road, and when we returned the next day, there were two more bulls standing 200 yards from where mine was. With no one left with an unnotched tag, we got to watch them look at us for 10 minutes. All in all, it was an awesome trip to Montana, with a lot of good memories taken from it.

This past season I was able to harvest my first whitetail, elk and bear – all with archery equipment – and my first bull elk with a rifle. It will be pretty hard to beat in 2015, but I am going to try. We have plans on archery hunting Oregon for elk, Montana again for deer and elk, and, of course, Washington for late archery deer. I’m not sure where I’ll end up working or hunting next fall, but I’ll look to do more fisheries-related work after enjoying the job I had this summer. I am also interested in getting my guide license to do some guiding on the side for fishing, but if it works out, I may even pursue it as a career. NS

 

The Juniper Giant

 

Preface by Troy Rodakowski;
Story by Dusty McGrorty

 

The rugged desert of Southeast Oregon is home to some of the biggest mule deer in the state. In late October, buck, does and fawns from the Steens range migrate towards the lowlands of the Malheur, which become their wintering grounds. The lowlands are full of the forage that will sustain them through the winter. It is also prime time for rut activity.

The Juniper muzzleloader tag is also one of the toughest permits in the state to draw because of the timing and migration. I have personally been on three hunts here and experienced the highs and lows of what it can be like. Weather plays a big role in the success of hunters here, and for Dusty McGrorty, 2014 was no different.

After 16 years of applying for a mule deer tag, McGrorty was finally drawn, securing one of only 10 Juniper muzzleloader tags given out.

“It was now time to start preparing. I drove over in July to see what was hanging around the refuge and scout for some areas to hang trail cameras. There were a few good bucks on the refuge during the trip, but nothing I would be interested in harvesting,” recalls McGrorty.

But he did find some places to put up some trail cams after rifle hunters took their crack at the bucks. Here’s his tale:

 

MY GOOD BUDDY Lance Baker and I arrived on the 25th of November, four days before the hunt started, giving me three full days to scout and find the buck I’ve been dreaming of. On the second day of scouting, I glassed a buck that I figured would be really close to 185 inches typical. Of course, I had set my standards high and was hoping to see one 190 inches typical or bigger, but with a handful of bucks that were 170-plus inches, I was sure I would find a good animal.

On opening day, which was a Saturday, Lance and I were sitting on my favorite rim and glassing at daylight. After several hours and looking over 15 different bucks, one that I figured was pushing 185 showed up. It was around 800 yards away and would be a tough stalk. I told myself I wasn’t going to shoot a buck opening day unless it was over 190, so I passed it up and kept looking.

The next few days we covered a lot of ground and picked apart the sagebrush and juniper. While finding a few 160- to 170-inch-class bucks on Sunday and Monday, I was starting to wonder if my expectations were too high. Lance and I decided to head back to the rim where we had seen the bigger buck on the opener.

It was now day four of the hunt and we were headed to the rim. At first light we could see deer feeding all over, including a group of does that didn’t have a buck with them. I thought that was odd, as every herd we had seen had at least a small buck with them.

We glassed for about three hours and were about ready to give up on that spot. I started packing up my spotting scope and decided to look over that group of buckless does one more time. Pulling up my binoculars, I saw several running around. And there he was! He came running out of the thick junipers, causing havoc as he chased a bunch of does.

The buck was in a perfect spot and we just had to pack up, go down the rim about 1,000 yards, pop over and he should be right there. Seemed easy enough, but not long afterwards we ran into two hunters on four-wheelers just sitting there talking. We had to wait about half an hour for them to leave. Little did they know that there was a giant buck on the other side of the rim.

Very slowly we worked our way over the ridgeline, only to see the does. We stayed another two hours and never found any sign of the big buck.

This big Juniper WMU buck’s friskiness gave him away to the author, Dusty McGrorty, who had put in for 16 years before being drawn for a tag to hunt mule deer in Southeast Oregon. (DUSTY McGRORTY)

This big Juniper WMU buck’s friskiness gave him away to the author, Dusty McGrorty, who had put in for 16 years before being drawn for a tag to hunt mule deer in Southeast Oregon. (DUSTY McGRORTY)

 

RESTING THE SPOT, we backed off and decided to return a couple hours before dark. We glassed and glassed and never spotted that group of does. With only about an hour until dark, we walked back to the truck and decided to drive closer to the other end of the rim.

We parked, got out and walked to the edge and instantly Lance spotted a large group of does with the buck running them around. With only one small bench between him and us to use for cover and just 20 minutes of shooting light left, we had to move fast without getting busted. I had to move slowly through the wide-open using rocks and small junipers for cover and finally made it to the bench. Peeking over the top, I was able to spot the buck; he was only 80 yards away. But just then a doe spotted me, and they suddenly all took off running. Luckily, the buck didn’t know what was going on. He stopped at 135 yards and looked back like mule deer do, and I fired my Vortek Muzzleloader, hitting him good. Running into the open junipers, I lost sight of him and it was now almost dark, so I wanted to get down there to find blood while we still had light.

Lance and I ran down the side of the rimrock to where he had been standing and found blood right away. We followed the trail about 20 yards and looked up to find the buck expired in the sage.

The Juniper bruiser measured 184 inches gross and was 29½ inches wide. The long hours of scouting and hard work had finally paid off as we celebrated below the desert sky. NS

 

 

Chelan Locals Team To Help Tri-Cities Youth Notch His Bighorn Tag

Editor’s note: The following blog was written and submitted by Northwest Sportsman contributor Jason Brooks.

by Jason Brooks

For some 13 is considered an unlucky number, but for Cody Dobbins 13 isn’t so bad after all. He drew a coveted Manson Unit bighorn sheep tag this past June and set out to find a nice ram on Thanksgiving week.

No, Cody didn’t have 13 points or even 13 hunting seasons under his belt, but instead had 13 birthdays before his sheep hunt. Yes, he is only 13 years old and already had a once-in-a-lifetime tag in his pocket.

And that might also have been why he and his stepfather Jeremy were nervously looking for sheep in their unit and not finding any two days before Thanksgiving. You only get one chance at this tag and at 13 years old, it’s hard to comprehend that once in a lifetime is a long time to stew over tag soup if you don’t get your ram. Luckily, a local resident pointed Cody and his father to Al Brooks, who happens to be my father, and has over 20 years experience as the Lake Chelan Sportsman’s Association president.

ON A DAY THAT SOME AMERICANS STILL REMEMBER AS A HARVEST CELEBRATION, CODY DOBBINS OF THE TRI-CITIES MADE GOOD ON A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME PERMIT TO TAKE A BIGHORN RAM. HE WAS HUNTING WITH HIS STEPFATHER, JEREMY JOHNSON, ABOVE LAKE CHELAN. (JEFF WITKOWSKI)

ON A DAY THAT SOME AMERICANS STILL REMEMBER AS A HARVEST CELEBRATION, CODY DOBBINS OF THE TRI-CITIES MADE GOOD ON A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME PERMIT TO TAKE A BIGHORN RAM. HE WAS HUNTING WITH HIS STEPFATHER, JEREMY JOHNSON, ABOVE LAKE CHELAN. (JEFF WITKOWSKI)

Al likes to keep tabs on the wildlife in the valley, especially the sheep, and has helped past hunters in finding the bands along the lake. He also has helped a few of the late Manson quality mule deer tag holders, including Craig Maki just a week before Cody and Jeremy called. After Al made a few phone calls to WDFW wildlife biologist Dave Volson and local fishing guide Jeff Witkowski they confirmed that the sheep had already moved down to the lake and were grazing on the grasses in the cliffs above Mitchell Creek. The next afternoon Al and Jeff Witkowski took Cody and Jeremy for a boat ride.

Jeff is employed by Anton Jones of Darrell and Dad’s Guide Service. Jeff and Anton are known for catching big Mackinaw, but Anton also has a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service to transport people to the national forest along the shores of Lake Chelan. Jeff is not a hunting guide but often sees the sheep on his uplake journeys and was pretty excited to be able to offer a ride to the young hunter.

As they cruised along the lakeshore my father spotted some sheep up high on the slopes. It was late in the afternoon and not enough time for a stalk, but seeing sheep at least confirmed the reports from Volson.

The next day was Thanksgiving and my father couldn’t join them on the hunt, but Jeff was happy to meet Cody and Jeremy at the launch. The day was overcast with low-hanging clouds making it hard to find the sheep, but later in the afternoon the sun poked through and they found a band just above Mitchell Creek. Cody and Jeremy put on a stalk closing the distance to around 100 yards. Unfortunately it was in a steep area and when they reached the ram Cody only had a head and neck shot. He tried to aim for the neck, but missed.

Luckily, the ram stopped again, this time broadside, and Cody made a shot through the front shoulder, anchoring his ram on the steep rocky cliffs.

After the animal was down Jeff climbed up to help with the animal, bringing his camera as well. After a few pictures later they were able to get the ram down to the boat. On their way back they gave Al a call, and he met them at the boat launch. Once again Cody had a bit of luck on his side as my father and I used to dabble in taxidermy years ago and my father was excited to help cape the ram out. He also called Dan Yedinak of Four Point Taxidermy in Wenatchee who agreed to mount the ram.

Since the hunt has ended Cody has gained a bit of fame. A local TV station in the Tri-Cities, KNDU, ran a story on Cody and his trophy ram. Unfortunately, Cody learned a few other life lessons and has been getting hate mail and degrading replies by anti-hunters. His mother Darci was excited when I contacted her and gave her some encouraging words that Cody and his family should be proud of his accomplishments, and reminded her that thanks to Cody and Jeremy buying hunting licenses, they have done more to help wildlife conservation than any of the anti-hunters who torment him ever have.

Jeff Witkowski summed it up best in his reply to Darci on her Facebook post: “Cody is our future, Soccer Moms and Dads are not.”

‘Big Big Bear’

by Andrew Gamble

I went to Winthrop, Wash., for the September opener for archery deer and bought a bear tag as well because my hunting partner, Travis, had said there was a good chance to see bears there.

So I was not too surprised that Wednesday evening when a very pretty color-phase chocolate black bear decided to step into the small clearing I was hunting.

"BIG BIG BEAR" WAS ANDREW GAMBLE'S TEXT TO A HUNTING PARTNER AFTER STICKING THIS BRUIN WITH AN ARROW IN EARLY SEPTEMBER NEAR MAZAMA, WASH. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

“BIG BIG BEAR” WAS ANDREW GAMBLE’S TEXT TO A HUNTING PARTNER AFTER STICKING THIS BRUIN WITH AN ARROW IN EARLY SEPTEMBER NEAR MAZAMA, WASH. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)’B

Immediately I was struck by how much his fur resembled the Alaskan brown bears I’ve seen while fishing the Kenai in Alaska, and I knew I wanted him.

He stepped closer to my shooting lane and stood up behind the brush scanning the clearing, but I had no shot. I waited for him to move; finally, he seemed satisfied and dropped back to all fours.

I drew my bow while he was behind the cover and waited. After what seemed like minutes (but probably just 10 seconds) he took that last step, offering me the perfect broadside shot at 18 yards.

There was no hesitation as I released the arrow. It flew true to the mark just behind the front shoulder. He ran toward my tree and turned slightly at the last second as I mechanically and carefully nocked an arrow for a follow-up shot. He stopped just 10 yards beyond me and started wobbling.

I was elated as he toppled over! I had just harvested my first bear! I judged his size based on the fact he had big fuzzy ears — every TV show says this is a sign of a younger bear.

I packed my gear then approached the spot where I saw the bear fall. I was shocked at the sheer size of the massive beast I found!

I texted Travis, “Big Big Bear” and that I needed help! He replied, “On my way.”

It was nearly midnight before we got him back to the truck. The bear was over 500 pounds, as estimated by wild game butcher, Todd Crabtree.

The skull green score was exactly 20 inches, and the bear measured 6-foot-9.75 tall.

The ‘Murder-scene’ Muley, Or, Timing Is Everything

“I should shoot you!” the enraged man on the mountain shouted at another he’d just fought with.

“Well, go ahead and shoot me!” the other said, his defiant voice carrying through the October woods and canyons.

“BOOM!” roared a high-caliber rifle, and a body fell.

But it wasn’t one of the arguing men, rather a buck that had been nearby — and in the sights of a hunter at the exact same moment.

So goes the story of Mike Freeman, a Tacoma building contractor whose 2013 muley was among the largest measured during late January’s Washington Sportsmen’s Show.

MIKE FREEMAN AND HIS BIG NANEUM GMU MULE DEER, TAKEN IN THE MIDDLE OF WASHINGTON'S GENERAL RIFLE SEASON LAST OCTOBER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

MIKE FREEMAN AND HIS BIG NANEUM GMU MULE DEER, TAKEN IN THE MIDDLE OF WASHINGTON’S GENERAL RIFLE SEASON LAST OCTOBER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

He says he was hunting the Naneum Unit, between Ellensburg and Wenatchee on the east side of Blewett Pass, which was torched by the 66-square-mile Table Mountain blaze in 2012.

“The fire destroyed most of the region,” he notes.

But according to Freeman, there were plenty of signs of wildlife.

“We hunted all over the canyon and saw over 50 elk, including the biggest bull I’ve ever seen. It looked to be over 1,000 pounds and was a 7×7. We also saw over 50 deer — the burn didn’t stop these animals,” he says.

Now, when Freeman said “we” above, he was referring to his hunting partner, Mark. Mark is 60 years old and has no hearing in his right ear, Freeman says.

As you can imagine with the abovementioned game count, the duo did a lot of hiking and glassing during the days, and while they were driving in and out of their hunting grounds, Freeman says they would come across the same truck.

“We would stop and talk for a minute to see if they seen anything. It was a lady and a man hunting together,” he says.

On the fifth day of the nine-day season Freeman hiked over the top of the canyon and says he found a trail with so many tracks that it “looked like I-405 at 4 p.m. on a Friday. Later I told Mark, ‘We have to hunt here there is so much sign.'”

That afternoon they cinched their laces and headed out, to the right of a logging road.

Freeman says he directed Mark how to get to the interstate of game trails.

But all that hiking earlier in the week may have worn Mark down. Freeman says he was tired and didn’t want to go deep into the woods. Mark said he’d stay closer to the road and hunt below Freeman, he says.

That settled, Freeman says he headed to the well-used trail and hunkered down, hoping that late afternoon would get some bucks up and moving around.

Instead, a truck came down the nearby road and — of all the rotten luck — skidded to a stop, Freeman says.

Rather than roadhunters intercepting a buck that might have otherwise made its way to Mark and Freeman, it was even worse: an unhappy threesome — the man and woman they’d run into before, now joined by another man — in the throws of a hellbender of a fight.

“As they got out of the truck the two men was very mad at each other,” Freeman recalls. “They were yelling obscenities to each other.”

Of course. You find the wildlife autobahn, you know there are deer in the area, it’s the right time of day, and of all the places in the world for a loud argument to break out, it’s gotta be right there.

As the yelling continued, Freeman says he watched a doe jump up, and then, with screaming still in the background, he saw antlers moving through the woods.

Scared that he’d miss his chance at a buck with all the noise, he brought his Savage 7mm up and waited for a clean shot.

In the background, the argument became more violent, he says.

“I could just hear what they were yelling about, and at this point there was a fight, with one of the guys tossing the other to the ground,” Freeman says. “I heard the man yell at the other guy, ‘I should shoot you!'”

At that very moment, he says, his buck stepped into the clear.

“The guy said, ‘Well, go ahead and shoot me!'”

“BOOM!” went Freeman’s gun, dropping the buck.

Things got quiet real fast.

Remember Mark, the hard-of-hearing hunting partner?

He’d been much closer to the arguing men, and he now thought he was witness to a murder, Freeman says.

“The truck pulled away and I called Mark. I told him I had a nice buck down and he replied in a shaky voice, ‘Really?'”

“Mark asked me over and over again on the radio if I had really got one. I told him ‘yes’ over and over again,” Freeman says.

When Mark arrived he filled Freeman in on what the men had been arguing about — let’s just say there were allegations one had been poaching on the other, if you get our drift.

“Mark told me, ‘No one will ever believe this!'” recalls Freeman, who swears the story of incredible timing is true.

FREEMAN AND FRIEND MARK WITH THE BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

FREEMAN AND FRIEND MARK WITH THE BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Freeman, who hails from South Carolina, says that not only was that his first muley, but his first time hunting the species.

But he says he’s not a newb. He’s killed a few blacktails and a bear in the Evergreen State, as well as numerous whitetails down south.

As for his murder-scene muley, David Morris of Northwest Big Game says its antlers scored 172 3/8, good for second biggest 2013 typical muley measured at the sportsmen’s show in Puyallup (the largest was a 180).

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

‘Man, I Can’t Wait For Next Year’

By Nate Krohn

My 9-year-old son Landon Krohn has tagged around with me in the woods since he was 6 months old. At this time it was mainly on a pack when I went to check cameras or was shed hunting. Since Washington doesn’t have an age limit on hunter safety/big game hunting for kids and Landon has been shooting and hunting with me his whole life, I allowed him to sign up for hunter safety at the age of 8.

We had a great time turkey hunting in the spring and he was with me when I called in my nephew, Chance Sands, first turkey.

CHANCE AND LANDON SHOW OFF CHANCE'S GOBBLER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

CHANCE AND LANDON SHOW OFF CHANCE’S GOBBLER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

We were never able to seal the deal on a turkey for Landon, but we hunted hard and had a great time trying.

I took off in early October for a five-day mule deer hunt near my hometown of Coulee Dam, Wash. I had permission for some private land near Lake Roosevelt that I have hunted for almost 20 years. I hunted hard for three days and wasn’t seeing much to get excited about.

A good friend tipped me off to a bachelor group of bucks hanging out near town. I studied maps of the small piece of public land they were sometimes moving through and went for an evening hunt on the evening of the fourthday. I was able to get a spot on them but couldn’t put a sneak on them due to wind, terrain and fading light.

I got up the next morning, the last day and slowly moved onto a ridge near where I had seen them. As it started to get light, I spotted the same group just off the public land. I was watching the bucks and doing some additional glassing when I spotted “my buck,” a nice 4×3, bedded down under a 100 yards away. I belly crawled through the rocks to get into a better position and wait for him to get up. Well, in the meantime the buck got up and moved through a cut right past me. I snuck back to where I had left my pack and he presented a shot at less than 30 yards.

NICK'S NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

NICK’S NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON MUZZLELOADER MULE DEER BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

This trip really got me excited for Landon’s hunt. I knew there would be more pressure to the area, but I was feeling good about at least seeing some bucks. We shot regularly the next few weeks and planned a long weekend for the modern firearm opener. We made the long drive and arrived at our bed and breakfast, my parent’s house, late Friday night.

We got up early and got into the area in the dark and set up. As expected, there were several other hunters on the public ground pushing the deer. About mid-day we had a hunter jump a really nice four-point right to us. Landon had his rifle ready on his shooting sticks and he had a clear shot at the buck but couldn’t find it in his scope when it stopped broadside at about 50 yards for a brief time.

We watched the buck bound off and go over the hill. Knowing the land fairly well, I had a pretty good idea what the buck was going to do, assuming he didn’t get harvested along the way. We gave the buck some time, came up with a game plan and started to track him. We would stop often and analyze the situation, which was an amazing learning experience for Landon.

After about a mile-long loop, the buck began to slow and appeared to be getting comfortable. We slowed as well and found him shortly after. The only problem was he actually found us first. Landon was able to get on his shooting sticks as he stood broadside at about 100 yards but just as he found him in his scope the buck turned and slowly walked off up and over a small rock bluff. He just didn’t present the shot Landon needed. We had an amazing opening day, but never saw the buck again.

Due to the hunting pressure on this small piece of land, we decided to mix it up and head back out to the private property on Lake Roosevelt. For two days we hiked hard and saw a lot of animals, included a couple of legal bucks (three-point or better); we just couldn’t ever make it all come together.

We had to head home the next day so I left it up to Landon whether we give it one more shot in the morning. He looked at me with determined eyes and said “Heck yeah, but I would really like to give that 4 point one more go.”

It was definitely a proud dad moment, but I explained that he could be in someone’s freezer by now or the next county. Regardless, we got up several hours before daylight and headed out for one last chance.

We went into the property a different way and set up in a small “bowl” area mixed with rocks, sage and buck-brush. As it started to get light I realized that there were already deer in the bowl and they had us busted. I knew the deer would be fairly nervous by now, but it was obvious this herd wasn’t going to stick around long. They were over 150 yards to start with, and moving away at a steady pace. I determined the back deer to be a legal buck through the spotting scope, but didn’t like the situation. We watched the small herd move away, up and over a small ridge for the next half hour.

About 10 minutes after they went out of sight we heard a rifle shot, then another and a third. I told Landon that this was it, be ready because things are going to be moving. Sure enough, here came three deer over the same ridge, just a little to the north of where we just watched the deer disappear. I watched them in the spotting scope and Landon with the binoculars as they made their way down the hillside directly towards us.

We knew the back deer was legal, so I had Landon switch from binocs to his gun. We had a great backdrop with the hillside and the deer were moving straight towards us. He was able to find the buck in his scope just as the deer got to the flat area at the bottom of the hill. I quickly ranged the deer at 190 yards and told Landon we need to wait a little.

The deer came at us for another 30 yards or so and then turned broadside and started walking south. I whispered to Landon to go ahead and take him when he stopped. Not 30 seconds later the shot rang out and the deer dropped straight down. His single shot .243 dropped him in his tracks.

Landon cleared the gun and put another load in and we patiently watched. He was shaking like a leaf now, mainly with excitement.  We kept one eye on the deer and gathered our stuff up. The smile on Landon’s face as we got to the deer will be something I will always have etched in my mind.

PROUD HUNTER LANDON KROHN AND HIS FIRST BUCK, TAKEN DURING THE OCTOBER 2013 GENERAL SEASON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

PROUD HUNTER LANDON KROHN AND HIS FIRST BUCK, TAKEN DURING THE OCTOBER 2013 GENERAL SEASON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

We got him tagged, took some pictures and got to work. Landon dove right in with the field dressing and was bound and determined to stay with the buck while I walked back to the truck to go to town to borrow a deer wagon from a friend.

It was a great ride home. I European mounted the buck and he is hung above Landon’s bed. I was laying in his bed before bedtime the other night and we were looking up at the deer and talking about the hunt. He said, “Yah know, Dad, every night before I fall asleep I look up at that buck and think about our hunt. Man, I can’t wait to next year.”

Neither can I, son, neither can I.

He Got The Girl, And They Got Their Bucks

Editor’s note: For more great trophy tales from 2013’s Northwest deer and elk seasons, see the February issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine!

by Paul Ambrose

This last deer season was the best I have ever had, and it all started while I was at work.

I am a professional fishing guide and on one of my spring Chinook trips last year, I met a very beautiful and amazing woman named Amber Taylor. As we were all chatting on the boat, she mentioned that she “takes all of September off each year to bowhunt.”

Being a die-hard bowhunter myself, I was very intrigued. On our first date we went out to her dad’s to shoot our bows, and it has been wonderful ever since. In fact, we are getting married on Aug. 2, 2014 at the same farm where the bucks in this story were taken.

Amber invited me out to check out a piece of private property she had been hunting for years. She said she had seen some monster bucks, but never could make it all work. A few years back she harvested a respectable 2×2, but she assured me the caliber of bucks was more more impressive then that.

I am in love with trail cams and think they are, hand’s down, the best scouting tool ever created. I suggested we set out a few of mine and start to pattern the deer. This place was much different than anything I have ever scouted before: it was a overgrown Christmas tree farm. Amber had told me that when it was smaller, she could see big bucks all day during the late season with does, and that most of them used this one corner next to a draw for cover. After scouting the entire place, I decided that area would be the best to set up a few cams and drop some apples.

We started in mid-August, and within a few days had some does and nice bucks on one of the cams. A few days later a heavy 3×3 and nice 4×4 showed up — it was time to hang one of my stands. Our plan was to hunt this area in the late season, as I had an Oregon archery tag and Amber had a Willamette tag that was good until the end of February.

ONE OF THE TWO NICE BUCKS CAUGHT ON PAUL AMBROSE'S TRAIL CAM AND INTRIGUED HE AND HIS FIANCE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ONE OF THE TWO LARGE BLACKTAILS CAUGHT ON PAUL AMBROSE’S TRAIL CAM BEFORE SEASON BEGAN. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

After our successful elk season we routinely went back to check the cameras and add more apples. We had many does, yearlings and even a few small bucks, but the big 3×3 and the 4×4, which we named “Hank,” were occasional night-time visitors — we had not had a daylight picture in months! There was also no pattern to these deer — they would show up, be gone for a week, come back for 3 days.

But that is part of the fun of hunting mature blacktails: they pose a very tough challenge.

Season opened on November 16, and I was in stand. The first three days of season were cold and long with little deer movement. I saw a handful of does and one spike, and rattled in a cool-looking 2×1, but that was the only deer to come in all season on my rattling/grunting sequences.

The 20th was opening day of late muzzleloader tag in Washington and I’d promised a good friend I would help him out. We had a good hunt and got on some nice bucks, ending with him missing a nice buck that was on a hot doe at last light!

Of course when I checked my cam in the Oregon Christmas tree farm the next day I saw that both bucks had been there most of the morning!

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THE BLACKTAIL THAT CAME TO BE KNOWN AS HANK PAID A VISIT TO THE TREE FARM ON A DAY THE HUNTERS WEREN’T AROUND. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

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(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

I said a few choice words and thought “Dang, that was my chance.” I was a little let down to say the least: The one day I try to be a good friend turns into the first day our bucks were there in the daylight since August.

I hunted hard the next four days with the same results. I was worn out by the time the 25th rolled around, but If I know anything about hunting blacktails, it is that you have to put in the time, even missing one more day could be the difference between getting a shot and not filling a tag.

I hiked down to my stand at 5:30 on the 25th, climbed on up and enjoyed the darkness and subfreezing temperatures for the next 90 minutes. A big doe had come into the apples about 15 minutes before light and I watched her for the first hour. She fed off a ways and all was quiet for the next two hours or so.

The sun came up and I was enjoying the calm morning, but around 10:30 I heard what sounded like a deer jumping the fence behind me. I grabbed my bow off the rack, expecting to see another doe, but from the trail behind my stand, out walked the 3×3, and only 11 yards away.

He was very nervous, but I gathered myself, drew back and made the quartering-away shot. He went down less than 30 yards from the stand. I gathered my composure and climbed down, found my arrow and walked over to my buck. I was thrilled! Even with points broken off on both sides, he was still a great buck and certainly big enough for the Pope and Young book.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

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PAUL AND HIS WESTERN OREGON 3X3, TAKEN LAST FALL ON AN ARCHERY TAG. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

But that’s not the end of the story.

Five days later Amber was in stand hoping to see Hank. I was taking a buddy of mine elk hunting so she was on her own. She had deer around her all morning long, and then around 11:30 she heard noise from that same trail my buck came from.

Out stepped Hank.

Amber had an easy 10-yard shot with her .308 and the 4×4 went down in his tracks.

AMBER'S BUCK, "HANK," A 4-POINTER TAKEN IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

AMBER’S BUCK, “HANK,” A 4-POINTER TAKEN IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

I got the text from her and had to pull off the side of the road and call her. Proud was not the word for what I felt. We had scouted and put in hundreds of hours of time and picked these two bucks out, and now we had them both on the ground!

We ended up having a great season, filling deer tags in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. But none of those hunts were as sweet or rewarding as our bucks from Oregon.

Hard work does pay off.

SHE LOVES BOWHUNTING IN SEPTEMBER, BUT IT WASN'T UNTIL THE END OF NOVEMBER THAT AMBER TAYLOR SECURED HER 2013 BUCK, THIS BEAUTIFUL FOUR-POINT BLACKTAIL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

SHE LOVES BOWHUNTING IN SEPTEMBER, BUT IT WASN’T UNTIL THE END OF NOVEMBER THAT AMBER TAYLOR SECURED HER 2013 BUCK, THIS BEAUTIFUL FOUR-POINT BLACKTAIL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)