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A Hunt to Remember

By Darren Abersold

Fate is a funny thing. Who would have thought that my daughter’s start in college, a new friend, and other hunters, who I thought had just ruined my opening morning, could lead me to one of my biggest bucks yet?

My daughter Elyse decided to play basketball for Feather River College in Quincy. While at a game I met a guy who, along with his wife and kids, was housing another student player. As we got to talking, we found we both loved to hunt and fish. He invited me up for a fishing trip and during that trip we started talking deer hunting. As it turned out his wife had drawn a premium deer rifle tag in one of the coveted X zones the year before and through his scouting for her found that the area held a ton of deer, along with some bruiser bucks. When he found that I had built up a bunch of preference points we came up with a plan. If he and his father could use my points, combined with theirs, to draw all of us tags, he would help me try to kill a big buck.

I had nothing to lose. Every year I would just put in for premium tags in areas that I knew nothing about and had no idea where or how to hunt so, if there was somebody willing to show me the area, and where the bucks were hanging out, I couldn’t loose. It seemed to be a win for all involved. As it turned out, it was indeed.

Several times during the months leading up to our hunt we would meet in Quincy then go look for bucks. Well, we found them. One morning we saw 21 bucks before noon. Another time, before noon, we saw eight bucks, during the third week of the archery season, and no other hunters. It was amazing. Just in my scouting I saw more bucks than I had seen in the last ten years of scouting and hunting combined. Things were looking good.

Being that I’m not really a trophy hunter, but more a meat hunter, I was not accustomed to passing on bucks. I was a bit concerned when my buddy warned me not to shoot the first little buck I saw. With all the bucks we had seen, I knew I was going to be put to the test in terms of patience and self-control, not two of my best attributes. I had a full nine days to hunt, starting opening morning, so I told myself I was going to wait until late in the week to shoot a small buck in hopes of getting a big one that I would like to see on the wall of my den. As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long at all.

As opening morning arrived I was alone on a point that I had picked out during one of our scouting trips. It overlooked a large bowl with a meadow in the bottom surrounded by burned timber on one side and rocky brush on the others. It was beautiful. I just knew I would see deer there, and I did. As dawn approached I made out a deer on the edge of the meadow 400yds. , or so away. He turned out to be a small buck. Soon after, I saw more deer some of which I couldn’t make out as buck or doe. Things were looking good.

Suddenly I heard something close behind me. I was sitting a fair distance off the top of the ridge, below a large boulder, so it was perfectly possible that deer could make their way behind me from the other side. Slowly, I turned to see what it was. To my dismay, it was two hunters just walking right out in the open for all the world, and deer, to see. I was ticked, not really at them for hunting in this bowl, but more just my bad luck of having them show up so close to where I was waiting. I got their attention and they came over. Trying to hide my madness we talked briefly at which point I asked where they planned to go. Surprisingly, they told me they planned to hunt behind the far bowl I was watching. That kind of changed my attitude. I knew they had about as much chance of killing a buck back in that brush as I did of going to the moon so, I just politely said good luck and settled back down to see how many deer they were about to run by me. My plan was working even better than I could have hoped. My whole reason for picking this particular spot was to have other hunters, we knew would be in the area, work for my benefit and keep the deer up and moving but, this was even better. I mean really, by their own opening morning plan, they were about to make a push through the exact bedding area I had hoped to catch a big buck heading to. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Within ten minutes I saw the first two deer, both bucks. They must have been bedded in the burn on the other side of the point I was sitting on. The 2X3 and a small basket racked 4X4 ran across the bottom and up the bowl on the other side. I was waiting for a shot from the other hunters but, none came. I doubt if they even knew they jumped them. Anyway, I watched them a long while as they made their way carefully up the brush. Surprisingly, I was not even tempted to shoot. If I been hunting in my normal hunting area, I would have ended my hunt right there and been very happy to do so with either buck but, I was only an hour into the season, or they were the second and third bucks I had seen so far. I watched as they made the top and disappeared. So far, so good.

It had been about twenty minutes since I had seen the two bucks. I sat, carefully watching where I suspected spooked deer might appear, on the far side of the bowl. Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable sound of a deer running to my right. Turning, I was taken back by the sight of a very nice buck running below me. He was only about 100yds. away and on a path that would take him below me at about 50 yds, then up the burn for hundreds of yards. He was in big trouble. There was no way to go that I wouldn’t be able to see him for a long, long ways. What an awesome position to be in.

My first thought was, “Shoot him.”, and then I remembered what my buddy had said about not shooting the first decent buck. As he ran by I kept thinking he would start looking smaller the longer I looked at him but, he wasn’t. He had width out to his ears, good mass, not spindly thin antlers, deep high forks in the back and good forks in the front. Then I saw his left front fork. It was a very neat looking thick three prong frog gig. That pushed me over the edge. I made my decision. “I may regret it but, he is not getting out of here.”

I picked up my rifle, pivoted, took a step to my left, and set the attached short bipod on a boulder pointed ahead of the running buck. It was literally “rock steady” as I watched the buck through the scope running up the burn below me. All I had to do was not hit one of the burned trees and he would be mine. With the scope set on 4X I could see a large opening the buck was headed for. I pushed the rifle ahead of him and waited for him to enter the opening. As he did, I squeezed the trigger of my favorite and most familiar .257 Roberts Ruger 77. As I did, the buck collapsed as if hit with a sledge hammer and laid still. I knew I had hit him in the spine just above the shoulder.

As I sat there making sure he was not going to get up, buck fever hit. In my mind, the questions raced in like a flood. What have I done? Did I do the exact thing I was told not to do? Did I make him out to be bigger than he really is? Am I going to walk up to him and find a ton of ground shrinkage? Finally snapping back to the present, I decided that if I would just go see for myself all those questions would be answered.    

It had been probably a full four or five minutes since I had shot the buck. In that time he had not moved a bit. I mean not at all. So it startled me when, at about fifteen yards, he tried to get up and run, and I mean with gusto! I had hit him in the spine as suspected so he wasn’t able to use his rear legs but, he was giving it all he had with his front. Quickly I chambered another shell and finished him.

After my second adrenaline rush of the day wore off I approached the buck. With all the excitement of first seeing him running below me and, then having him try to get up and escape after the first shot, I still hadn’t had time to really get a good look at his antlers. Now, I could finally see and touch them. What a beauty. I felt a bit of sorrow for letting him lay there for so long not knowing he wasn’t dead but, after a short apology and, thanking the Lord, I was able to sit down and really admire this beautiful buck. One of the biggest bucks I have taken so far. I was, and am, completely satisfied with my decision. He was just as I saw him when he was running past, no bigger and no smaller, and that is plenty big for me. My whole objective on this hunt was to wait and shoot a good buck that I would like to hang on the wall of my den. This guy already has a spot cleared for him.