“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.
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, 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).