A deer that wants to examine something stands very still. You’re smart to do the same. You can’t see well when you’re moving. Cover sliding by is a blur of movement that obscures the flick of an ear or tail. Stop often to look, where you can see behind and to the sides as well as forward. Each step opens new windows into cover. Look before they close. Remember that grass is deer cover. Read a section as if reading a page in a book, the binocular still. Panning shows you a lot of cover quickly, no details clearly.
Remember that even motionless, your silhouette draws attention on the plains. Hunt with low sun behind you to absorb your image while illuminating deer ahead.
Not Expectant, Not Surprised
Then, to my surprise, the buck vanished. The other deer sifted into the distance, fully visible.
The hills blushing color, I advanced across the flat, dawn to my back. Gaining the slope, I saw it was cut by small fissures. The fissures became coulees. I chose one and eased along its edge. The big deer bounced from its gut. I missed a hurried shot, settled and hit with another. Shaded at midday, that coulee was, in the big picture, a scratch on the plain. It kept the deer comfortable and invisible.
Any place favored by a mature buck is likely to remain attractive to other deer. So the next season I visited the flat again, glassing early from afar, behind an old cottonwood. Sure enough, dawn’s lemon light glinted on antlers. This buck was low enough to stalk; sage would hide me. I scurried forward and up a small rise a short shot from where the buck would be.
He was not there. The grass lay empty. Then, a snort. The buck bounced off to my left. Whether by design or happenstance, he’d taken a turn behind the rise. Though exposed, he escaped notice because I expected him elsewhere. A rookie’s mistake.
The buck slowed to a trot to make his way up a hill nearly a mile away. I’d written him off when, to my surprise, he stopped on the horizon and dropped into the sage. Bedded! I backed off then crawled into a wash. There, hidden by the curve of the hill, I made better time. Prickly pear burned my knees as I crawled, then dropped to my belly. Many minutes later I spied antler tips just 20 steps ahead. Inching to a gap in the sage, I struck the earth with my foot. The deer stayed still. I had to repeat several times, so sure was this animal of its security. At last it rose. A shot from my iron-sighted Savage ended the drama.
Glassing deer in likely places, then the unlikely places you think are likely because they’re unlikely, can give you fits. Last fall my pal Scott and I hunted in a complex of canyons that had produced fine bucks before. They were ideal for mule deer, rugged but not sheer, with grassy benches and a lining of various bushes. The first day we saw several bucks, the next day, fewer. We came onto a small group of deer the third day in a canyon. I declined a close shot at the young 4-point buck. We noticed, as the week wore on, that we saw fewer deer. Most were drifting off or were too far to kill. The last day, though we hunted from dawn until noon and dutifully scoured patches of grass and pockets of plum on the labyrinth’s perimeter, we spotted not a deer.
Back at the cabin, I packed up. With fewer miles to drive, Scott made one last trip afield. An hour later, as I threw my duffel in the car, he motored up behind me. “Bring your camera,” he said.
The buck was a dandy, with a wide, tall rack sporting lots of points. Scott had found him less than half a mile from our canyon, in grass. It wasn’t very tall grass, offering scant protection from sun or wind. “Not much in the way of escape routes, either,” I observed. No, Scott allowed, he hadn’t escaped.
I can’t say for sure, but that deer may have lived earlier in the places we so thoroughly scrubbed free of deer during the week. We could have given the country a bit less pressure, perhaps glassing more from afar, varying entry and exit, just staying out for a day. Scott conceded he got lucky. “It’s lots harder finding them out here. Too much of too little.” That about summed it up. When you’re on the prairie, no cover looks quite good enough to hold deer. Truth is, nearly every patch of grass is good enough. Quite.