Though we prowled the high country and glassed a lot of superb mule deer habitat, warm temperatures and the mid-October season did us no favors. The does were sticking to the rich bottomland fields and the high country bucks apparently were sticking to deep cover. Each day we glassed the valley where we’d left the two largest bucks but didn’t see them. Until day four.
“There he is. That smaller buck,” I said. “Now I wonder if his competition is back.”
We glassed anxiously. Tall, wide antlers emerged from a thicket of sage. “I think I see him,” Bystol said, directing me to the buck. “Yes, that’s him. If you want him, we’d better try right now ’cause he’s done feeding and is heading out.” Sure enough, the bruiser was walking steadily off the irrigated feed fields toward the dry pasture and sage brush below. “If he gets into the cedars on that far slope, he could be gone in an instant. Grab your rifle.”
We ducked into the tall sage on our side and began dropping into the valley, angling in the same direction as the buck. We were behind him and out of his immediate line of sight. If we kept to the erosion channels and high sage, we would be able to cover ground quickly. And we did.
“Let me check,” Bystol suggested after we’d splashed across the main creek and climbed the steep, far bank. He eased to full height, scanning ahead where we expected the buck to be. It wasn’t.
“Don’t panic, but get up here,” he added. “He’s probably just behind some sage or in a dip or something, but we’ve got to get higher and be ready in case he pops up. Let’s cross that pasture fence as quietly as we can and head for that little ridge.”
That’s when a doe and two fawns burst from the sage and bounced away wildly. Fortunately, they headed up valley toward the other females. We hurried to the fence and climbed over, scanned once more for the buck then pushed on toward the higher ground where I caught a glint of antler far in the distance.
“I think I’ve got him,” I hissed, “about 400 yards out and heading south, uphill.” We watched through our binoculars. It was him all right. From this close distance his antlers looked bigger and heavier than ever. But he did indeed appear to be heading for bedding cover amid cedars and pines where rising thermals would carry the scent of danger to him. He’d have a commanding view of the valley, too, seeing anything moving.
“Can you shoot from here?” Bystol asked, knowing the 140-grain, highly aerodynamic Berger VLD bullet in my custom Holland 6.5-280 Ackley rifle was more than capable of flying true at that range. I took one look at the sage and knew the answer.
“No way. Brush is too tall. Either we get higher or he does.”
“Then let’s get closer,” Bystol said. If we drop into this little side valley, he shouldn’t be able to see us. I’ll move when he puts his head down. Whistle if he looks up. Then you come.”
The approach worked perfectly. I whistled softly to stop Bystol just once. The buck looked up, but never back. Then I followed, and within seconds was out of sight. We walked brazenly but softly up the low ridge until we again spotted our quarry. He was easily inside 300 yards but already onto the canyon slope beside the first cedar. I looked for a clear path through the sage, found it, sat with my back against a sage to steady it, spread my Bog-Pod tripod, lay the fiberglass stock into it and chambered a round.
“Hundred eighty-seven yards.”
“Peak trajectory,” I noted. “Should land about 3 inches high. I’ll hold low behind the shoulder. Call my shot.”
I followed the buck for several seconds in the scope, controlling my excitement, knowing with a quartering breeze from our left that he wasn’t going to suddenly spook. Even if he turned and spotted us, it would take him a few seconds to figure us out—if he could even detect us sitting in full camo in the sage. I had the time to wait for a good, broadside shot, and he soon offered it, turning to look back over his valley.
“Here goes,” I said, and tightened my forefinger pad against the 1.5-pound pull of the Jewell trigger.
“Got him,” Bystol said just as the whomp of a solid hit echoed back. The buck humped, took a step and swayed. “Better hit him again.”
“Naw,” I said. “He’s dead on his feet.”
“Still, why take chances? If he gets up into those cedars ... ”
I put a second round behind the shoulder and he tipped over into the sage. It was unnecessary. The first had destroyed the heart and lungs.
This was no world-record buck, but he was a solid bruiser that missed the all-time B&C book by less than 8 inches. More importantly, it was taken by fair chase in steep, dramatic country long associated with the majestic, stunning mule deer—one of the hardest trophies to find in today’s hunting fields. At 5,500 to 8,200 feet in elevation, the High Lonesome Ranch was certainly high, but with all those deer and elk, it was anything but lonesome.
High Lonesome Ranch