I’m beat. I just finished the return trip from my brothers’ lodge in South Dakota after a wonderful family deer hunt over the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving was on the 24th of November but my hunting started a week earlier when I came out from my Montana home to hunt with my good friend Roland who flew in from the east coast to tackle his first deer hunt. Roland was flying into the Rapid City, South Dakota airport some four and a half hours south east of my home and the plan was to meet at the airport and then drive the 3 hours to my brother’s lodge. All went on schedule until we found that his luggage took a side trip to Denver. We occupied the five hours wait for the bags by visiting Cabelas’ in Rapid City and getting some dinner. Once the bags arrived we finished the last leg of the trip across the Bad Lands to Charlie’s warm, two- storied log home in the pines. We were welcomed, fed and bedded down in comfy beds.
We were up well before dawn every day. The weather ranged from warm and sunny, to bitter cold and snowing. On the second day of the hunt we probably ranged 12 miles afoot through broken canyon country strewn with dead-fall timber and tall pines lining draws full of scrub oak and wild plum trees: perfect whitetail country. We saw plenty of deer but didn’t connect as the crafty whitetails seemed to see us long before we saw them. Usually all we saw was a white flag of a tail bounding through dense timber. One evening I was sitting with my brother in the bole of a dead tree, talking quietly about friends and past adventures when my brother suddenly said, “There’s a doe looking straight at you straight away from us.” I looked and whispered that I could see nothing. He gave me a few land marks and I still couldn’t see it. He reached over as only a big brother can do, and pulled me to my right so that I was leaning at 45 degrees to the right. I put up my Mauser 7x57 and looked through the scope and there she was, about 160 yards out blending in with the scrub oak on the canyon side. I placed the dot-reticle on her chest and squeezed.
At the shot my brother said, “I think you dumped her” but as he spoke, a white tail flashed as the deer it was attached to, bound into the dark timber that lined the bottom of the canyon. I insisted that was not my deer and we walked out to the spot where my doe should have fallen. Sure enough, she was there. The 140 grain PRVI bullet had entered the chest and exited back on the left side at about the next-to-last rib; knocking her around 180 degrees in the process. We dressed her and dragged her up to the top of the ridge. She was a fine, fat doe. Certainly the largest whitetail doe I have ever shot and when we skinned her to cool, found that there wasn’t a speck of choice meat ruined. For a 13-cent bullet it performed well. That evening Roland reported seeing a few bucks and some coyote, but nothing to shoot at. The next day was out last day to hunt together. I still had one doe tag to fill but wasn’t too anxious as I was returning the following week to hunt with my daughter, her husband, and her in-laws. Roland still had two fresh doe tags.
The next morning a snow squall hit.
Charlie’s work truck broke a leaf spring the night before so we were on foot from the time we left his front door. I carried my Husqvarna 640 iron-sighted bolt gun in 8x57 and Roland his Winchester Model 70, 6.5x55. Roland headed down the canyon and I skirted the rim on the windward side, hoping to push some deer down in front of him. Just after the first light I spotted some curved white lines ahead of me that I quickly identified as a few whitetails feeding just over the immediate horizon. I carefully walked towards them: Step, stop. Step, stop. Until I was about 40 yards away. I had a small pine tree between them and myself and now faced a dilemma. I was carrying my Husky muzzle down, with no cartridges in the magazine and none up the pipe. In my pocket was a stripper-clip holding 5 rounds of 206 grain bullets. I could easily have slid a single round off of the stripper and placed it in the rifle when their heads were down but that would leave my friend alone in some large country. I decided to turn right, into the wind, and come far around to upwind side of the deer and gently push them to Roland. The plan worked, but he missed the deer trotting through the thick timber. That was the only shot of that outing. Ten miles of walking later we met at the house for lunch to plan the evening’s hunt.
It was decided that we would hunt a stretch of wind row we knew of. The wind rows in that area are typical a double line of cotton wood or oak trees planted along the edges of cultivated fields and are a favorite bedding spot for deer. My brother Charlie and my friend Mike came along. We took my Jeep liberty as Charlie’s truck was still down. We were driving along the row when Mike said to stop. Mike is a professional guide and has a good sense about such things. Sure enough, no sooner had we gotten ourselves out of the Jeep and organized, than we saw two whitetail does stand up on the other side of the tree lines some 50-60 yards distant. Roland quickly shouldered the Model 70 and fired, dropping one on the spot. The other got about one bound before Roland hit her with his second shot! Mike clapped him on the back and applauded his “double header”. Roland looked at him and said, “What??!?” He had only seen the first doe and at the shot, which dumped that deer instantly, he saw the second one bound. Thinking he’d missed he fired at the second one. All this took place in the amount of time it took to cycle the bolt. Roland used Federal Premium ammo and the first was a heart shot, the second a heart-lung. The second deer traveled about 15 yards before piling up dead. It was a fine shooting exhibition and a good end to a hard hunt! We got the deer skinned and cooled that evening, and early the next morning we butchered and packaged the meat for shipment to New Jersey. Four hours later I said goodbye to Roland at the airport, and the next evening delivered Rolands rifle and his frozen and thermally packaged meat to Fed-Ex for over night delivery to his home. All arrived safely.
Two days later I am on the road again, back to Charlie’s place to hunt with my family. My daughter Sarah and her husband Jason came along with Jason’s parents. On the previous visit I had dropped off loaner rifles for Jason’s folks: a FN 30-06 for his dad and a Howa 270 for his mom. I also dropped off a Howa 30-06 for Jason but he was to take that with him as a gift. For the parent’s guns I’d provided 30-40 rounds each of handloads so that they could get in some practice and final sight in the day before I arrived. All was set when I arrived the afternoon of Thanksgiving. I was hustled out of the driver’s seat and into my hunting clothes, and out into the field with hardly a pause to take a pee. I had my Mauser 7x57, and Sarah carried her Model 70 Winchester 243. Off we went.
About ten minutes before sundown Sarah and I hear two loud reports from Jason’s 30-06. About 20 minutes later, Jason and Charlie are seen walking along the skyline with the glow of the well-set sun behind them. We walked up to greet them. When we asked about the shooting, Jason said he hadn’t hit a single deer… then grinned and said he’d shot two! They were just walking back to Charlie’s (now repaired) truck to get it a little closer to lessen the dragging. Jason had shot one nice mature doe, and one somewhat smaller. Beautiful animals. We gathered up the others on our way out along the ridge. Jason’s dad saw a few far off and Jason’s mom had nothing but bucks to shoot at with two doe tags in her pocket. I told her that was typical hunter’s luck. We skinned the deer and hung them to cool, then enjoyed the traditional turkey dinner along with some fine Kentucky bourbon and later, dark rum.
The next day was hot, at least by November standards. It was 65 degrees and calm. The deer were bedded with no inclination to roam. Charlie and I set the assorted hunters in several canyons and walked, attempting to push the deer towards them. We saw a few. Jason’s mom again saw several bucks, but no-one got off a shot. We lunched and set out that evening when the temperatures cooled. Charlie took Jason’s dad to a special spot he knew of and it must have been special, indeed, because he got a doe pretty quickly. We’d barely gotten settled when a shot rang out. He’d hit this deer head on at 60 yards with a PRVI 165 grain BTSP over a charge of RL17. Jason’s dad thought he‘d hit it in the chest but the bullet had actually raked the left rib cage, smashing the prominent ribs and cutting the femoral artery. The deer reportedly went down, flopped, and died. Again, it was cooled and butchered. Sarah and I saw nothing and Jason’s mom again saw a buck. This time it fed some 50 yards in front of her for a good ten minutes. Poor woman! The next day Jason’s folks had to leave about mid morning. We all went out briefly while Jason’s dad packed up their truck. When we got back in he asked me if I’d sell that .270 to him as his wife really liked it. I told him it wasn’t for sale and while he continued loading their gear, found a screwdriver and removed the scope and rings before giving it to Jason’s mom. I told her I needed the glass but the rifle and ammo was hers. She was pleased.
That evening, the last evening of the hunt, we saw nothing but a few flags. Over dinner, Sarah said she would like to go out in the morning, early, before we were all slated to leave. I said I’d be willing to go. In the morning however, I told her she was on her own. I explained that if I got one, it would delay my departure for hours and I had again, a long drive into mountainous regions on two lane roads. (In fairness, they had a longer drive than I did, to Kansas City, but the farther east they traveled, the better the highways got!) So Sarah went out afoot. Thirty minutes later my cell phone went off. She’d shot a deer about 400 yards from the house. We all trundled out there and sure enough, she’d dropped a big one. The PRVI factory 100 grain broke the front leg and pulped the heart. She said the deer went 10 yards and “just fell over sideways”. I’d believe it. We got her home, shinned, cooled a bit, and then did a coarse butcher and package of the not-quite-cool meat. We packed it in major muscle groups, packed the meat in ice, then sent them off. Needless to say, I should have gone out with her. There were two deer in the group and hell, I didn’t get out of there till 11am anyhow.
I got home at 8pm that evening. All in all I drove 1800 miles in 10 days, at least half of which were on small county roads in bad weather. It was worth it though. I had a great time. And what happened last night?? My brother called to say that the Tribe extended deer season another 10 days and wants me to come back this week….. Oh my.~Muir