As a die-hard big game hunter I have often faced the decision of staying home or pursuing prey in “less than ideal” weather conditions. I’m sure there has been a time when most have looked at the forecast prior to a hunt and hesitated. Did the elements win or did you reach down inside and muster what it takes to battle those austere conditions? For me it comes down to one simple question: Animals can live in it so why can’t I? Besides, you cannot harvest an animal that you don’t pursue. As far as I know, no animal has ever been killed by a hunter sitting on the couch at home.
After a successful mule deer hunt in below zero temperatures earlier in November, I adjusted my sights and traveled West to a favorite locale for five days of Whitetail hunting. I’d packed my go to gun, a 300 Blackout build I dubbed “Broadsword.” As luck would have it the weather in Northeast Wyoming wasn’t forecasted to get any better. The temperature for the next five days was to remain in the negatives. So be it.
Since my friend Brian had to leave in three days he was on point first. We spent the first day trying to stay warm by moving from position to position. Glassing, rattling and calling were effective but didn’t produce the desired animal.
The next day we arrived at a favorite area overlooking two large drainages. The sky was clear and was matched by -20 degree temps. As the sun began to peek above the horizon we started to notice a lot of deer activity around us. If you have ever hunted around the 15th of November in clear cold conditions you can relate to this scenario.
It wasn’t until around 12:00 that Brian and I spotted a good buck on legal property. He was apparently exhausted from chasing does, reluctantly bedding down in the open. Brian would have to close the distance across a drainage and IF the buck stayed he would have a roughly 225 yard shot. We discussed the plan of attack, terrain reference points and predetermined hand signals and then executed the plan.
To avoid being spotted by the buck, Brian used good cover on the downslope then double-timed up the opposite draw to the crest of the rim. Before low crawling towards the buck he turned back to me and raised his optics. I signaled a general direction and a good-to-go. I watched through the 10X Maven optics as he caught his breath, skull dragged to the right side of a rock at the rim and settled in for the shot.
I could see both him and the deer through the binos. Brian was taking his pre shot breaths in the frozen air with the buck calmly lying on the opposite ridge soaking in the warmth of the sun. If you have ever witnessed this moment you know what unfolds. You see the recoil from the shooter. Next comes the visual impact upon the animal, hopefully. Then immediately following is the report of the weapon, and if within audible range, the sound of that projectile hitting the prey. There is no word for the latter sound in the English dictionary. If you have heard it you know.
No follow up shot was needed as the buck warily stood from his bed, ran sideslope for thirty yards and fell. A rush of elation poured over me as I continued to watch the animal slide downhill for a bit. His life blood stained the snow as he went. When I was sure the action was over I quickly gathered our gear and proceeded to the vehicle to meet at our predetermined location.
The 400 yard drag to the small two track road wasn’t made easier by the deep snow. By the time I reached the truck and drove to the bottom of the drainage Brian was making the last 50 yards.
Since we were fortunate to execute a successful hunt early in the day we spent the remainder of the evening attending to the beast and rejoicing, as only hunters understand. I prepped my gear for tomorrow’s hunt, giving special attention to Broadsword. It would be my turn to engage the elements in this ancient game of pursuit.
The next morning we hesitantly rose at zero dark thirty and drove half and hour to a friends ranch. As expected the temperature was bitterly cold. We took positions atop some hay bales and waited for the hints of sunrise. For me, the most memorable and breath taking views in nature have often been in most physically uncomfortable situations. A minor price to pay in my opinion.
The sight of prey animals has the strange effect of warming the hunter’s soul. As the waxing sun exposed more and more targets we quickly forgot our frigid conditions. We watched as an uncountable number of whitetail and mule deer poured into the irrigated alfalfa field. It was a target rich environment, but our target whitetail rutted just out of range for nearly two hours. Then, as we were about to attempt a stalk he turned and began running north, directly towards us.
Instinctively I knew this was about to “go down”. We had watched this buck breed, chase and rut, a remarkable experience by itself. Time was not even a factor regardless of our frozen limbs. After the buck closed the distance to my 300 Blackout’s kill zone, I waited for the clean shot.
The buck jumped a fence, which we previously ranged at 305 yards, and I exhaled slowly. The 300 Blackout barked and I watched through the scope as he hunched, bucked and kicked, the tell tale signs of a vital shot. He turned and ran directly towards our position. Blood was spewing from both sides as I quickly focused for a follow up. At what I estimated was 200 yards I squeezed another round off, directly hitting the buck in his chest. Less than two seconds later this deer had completed his life cycle with a ritual as old as mankind.
That night my friend Chris, who graciously allowed me to harvest that deer off of his land, reminded me he had a tag as well. So in the spirit of true western hospitality we left the next morning for an area I had luck with in the past. As luck – or should I say persistence – would have it, we harvested a beautiful rocky mountain whitetail within an hour. It was -15 degrees, but I don’t remember caring.
“The greater the risk, the greater the reward” is a phrase bantered around from locker rooms to water coolers. Hunting in adverse conditions as we did is no small challenge. Preparation, gear and knowledge are paramount to survival, but dedication and a positive mental attitude are required for success. As you can imagine, the rewards of this hunt go far beyond the meat we put in our freezers, far beyond experience itself. The challenges determined the sweetness of the success, and overcoming those challenges shapes us. So the next time the weather makes you think twice about your hunt, if you’re prepared, go for it!