November, the beginning of the holiday season, the winter rains, elk seasons and buried inside all of this a week of glorious muzzle loader deer hunting. It is wedged in between two major hunts and the result is..................no one is around. The other hunters have left and the next seasons hunters haven't arrived. So, instead of being part of a cast of thousands, you are, for the most part alone. When I first qualified for my pioneer hunting license, two of my close friends talked me into applying for several hunts, including this one. Two of us drew this tag.
As soon as I found that I had drawn a muzzle loader tag for any deer, I went to my gun safe and searched the dark recesses for my Thompson 50 caliber Hawken rifle. She hadn't seen the light of day in probably 30 years and still looked as sweet as the day she was taken out of the box. I took her apart and cleaned and oiled her. A couple of calls were made and a date was set to go to the range with my hunting partners to see how well we could shoot. I would be shooting TC Maxi balls with SPG lube in front of 100 grains of 2F Goex black powder.
It was a perfect day at the range. The sky was overcast, the temperature about 60 F, and there was absolutely no wind. We set up targets at 50, 75, and 100 yards. I would be shooting from a bench-rest and proceeded to load the rifle after popping a couple of caps to clear the flash hole and getting settled into a solid position. The first thing I noticed was that my eyes had somehow changed over the last 30 years and not for the good. I was experiencing difficulty seeing the black front sight against the black of the target. One friend had brought his “gunsmith” kit and applied some Brownell's white sight paint to the bead on the front sight. Now I could see. At 50 yards, the first shot was 3 o'clock at the edge of the black. A second shot confirmed that and we made the appropriate adjustment. At 75 yards we made elevation corrections and then shot at 100 yards to see where it hit. Windage was perfect and because of where we were going to be hunting, I decided to keep the 75 yard zero.
The hunt was scheduled for November between two regular rifle seasons. We had decided to hunt the first four days of the season and hopefully be successful and gone before the second season hunters began to arrive and set up their camps. I drive a Chevy Z71 crewcab 4x4 and it accommodates the three of us quite well. We even had room for a friend whom lives in the area we were going to hunt. He knows every inch of all the logging roads and has a fairly good idea where we could find deer.
November arrived and we were all packed and anxious to get going. We arrived early in the morning the day before the season opening and met up with our guide. He reviewed where we would be hunting, how to watch the tree line next to the clear cut areas, and advised us to watch out for elk. We reviewed our personal rules for the hunt: No one shoots an animal for anyone else, be sure of your shot, no shooting into brush, no sound shots, no straight away shots. Broadside and behind the shoulder is the surest. A heart or lung shot is the most reliable and quickest. The country is thick forest with dense underbrush and if you shoot an animal, stay still for at least 15 minutes. Otherwise, it may jump up and disappear in the thicket. You do not want to have to track a wounded animal in these woods and canyons.
Opening morning came with a ranch hand breakfast of eggs, sausage, hash browns, fresh juice and coffee. We loaded up and headed out. The one with no tag was designated driver and we drove several miles up into the hills. We got to our first location, a place where the road bisected a large clear cut. Since there were only two of us hunting, we each took a side and proceeded to work our way into position.I had a commanding view down a steep clear cut mountain side. It was much more suited to a centerfire rifle as the range was several hundred yards. I glassed the area with my Zeiss Jena binoculars and exhibited a fair amount of patience and was able to sit still for about ½ hour. I then picked up and started a slow move to my right, staying on the edge of the timber. I moved about 150 yards and set up again. I had a better view of some draws that started in the timber and ran down the hill. About 9 a.m. I thought that I had seen some movement at the bottom of the clearing and concentrated on that for several minutes. What I had seen was a cow elk and her calf browsing at the bottom of the hill. After a few minutes, she moved out into the clearing a little further and I noticed that there were others behind her. In all, I counted 8 cows and calves and one spike bull elk.
It was fun to watch, but we were after a deer. So, I worked my way back up to the road and signaled my friend to come in. We then continued on for a while and finally stopped for lunch. Our guide pointed out that it was the slow time of the day and, if we liked, we could gather some wild mushrooms. He took us to a place that I could never find on my own, and set us up for gathering Chanterelle mushrooms. I had my bag, a knife and compass. It was so dense that I could have easily gotten disoriented and wandered off in the wrong direction. After getting a class on identification, we headed out individually and began gathering. At first I found very few, but my friend came by and pointed out how to look for them. Soon, I had five pounds gathered and returned to the truck. Since I was the first one back, I dumped the mushrooms out on my tailgate and began trimming and cleaning my treasure. Eventually, everyone returned to the truck and we finished up cleaning and headed out.
At this point the sky decided to open up and dump serious rain on us and we headed back to the cabin. Around 4 p.m. the rain let up and I noticed some movement up on hillside. We stopped the truck and pulled off the old logging road. My friend got out of the truck and walked up the side hill about fifty yards from the road and began a slow stalk. A nice 4 point Black tail buck jumped off the bank and onto the road. I watched him as he trotted down the road away from us and then for some reason he wheeled around and started up the hillside in the direction he had just come from. My friend brought up his rifle and took careful aim, about a hundred yard shot. There was a large BOOM, lots of white smoke and a fleeting vision of a very healthy buck running straight up the hill. Turns out that my friend had never shot “big” game before and just missed it. We examined where the deer had been and found no indication of his even being close. I decided then that I would work to help him get his first deer. We packed up and headed for the cabin.
That evening we sorted mushrooms while enjoying homemade elk sausage and a glass of homemade wine. The guide, our neighbor, is from Eastern Europe and makes his own wine and sausage. It doesn't get any better. The next morning we headed out and found that it was so foggy you couldn't see very far at all. So, we went mushrooming again and found about another 25 pounds of Chanterelles and an 18 pound cauliflower mushroom. This time we went back to the house and broke out some elk steak, fresh mushrooms, potatoes, broccoli and a bottle of merlot. What a feast.
Day three, the sun was out and the steam rising. We decided to travel the roads that day and see what was around. The hunting wasn't as serious as day one, but we still kept an eye out for animals. We managed to see several small groups of five to ten elk throughout the morning, but no deer. Finally, we decided to go back where we saw the first deer. We drove past the sight and didn't see anything, so we continued up the road to a large landing that was beginning to grow over. There were lots of salmon berry bushes along the edge and small alders coming up in the landing itself. As we drove out and turned around, I looked over at some bushes and noticed something in them. What I was looking at was a doe's face just staring at me. I told the driver that there was a deer, but not to stop and continue on. When we were out of sight, I let my friend out and we walked to a location where I could point out the deer. He loaded up and made his stalk. Again there was a large BOOM and lots of smoke, except this time we had venison. I walked up to him and instructed him in tagging his animal and proceeded to show him how to dress out his prize. We loaded her up and took her back to the cabin where we hung her up. With the neighbors help, we boned the entire animal out, not wasting a thing. That night we feasted on fresh venison, sautéed in wild mushrooms and more Merlot. The perfect end to an excellent hunt.