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Rattl'n in the Sage

By Russ Van Orman

Going south on I-15 out of Dillon, Montana, my friend Andy and I were anticipating a good day of hunting. Two days ago, we had stopped and talked to a local ranch hand who had told us about some large whitetail bucks that would cross over from a private ranch into BLM land.

The day we talked to the ranch hand we followed his directions to where the fence line separated the private ranch from the BLM property. Using a Hunting GPS Map micro card in my GPS, I was able to locate two acres of BLM land that jutted out into the ranch property. We decided to situate
 on the edge of ranch land a great place to hunt

ourselves on a small knoll above the heavily sagebrushed BLM land. This advantage point would allow us to see the fence line, the BLM property and the ranch land.  This seemed like a logical place to ambush a nice whitetail buck.

On a whim, I reached in the back seat of my F-150 and tossed Andy a rattle bag that I had purchased at the Trading Post gun shop in Dillon a few years prior. “Try this,” I said. I had parked the truck about a quarter mile away from where we would be watching. We sat in the truck for a while scanning the private land with our binoculars until we saw several real nice bucks. I headed to the north end of the plot of land and Andy headed to the south. Andy started to rattle as soon as he reached a spot overlooking the property. A large 10 pointer jumped the fence as soon as the rattling started. We both shot as he headed back into the ranch land where we couldn’t shoot. We decided then to let the place settle down and come back in a couple of days.

It was still dark as we followed the fence line that would lead us to our new found “honey hole”. Putting the F-150 into four wheel drive low, we finally made it to the parking spot we had found two days prior. Hurriedly, we finished putting on our gear and sprayed ourselves down with scent control.  We then headed back to the location we had hunted from two days before.

The snow crunched beneath my boots as I made my way to a small patch of sagebrush that I would sit behind to conceal my outline. Andy had elected to take the rattle bag, while I prepared to ambush a nice buck. It had just started to get light as Andy started to rattle. Taking out my binoculars, I started to scan the ranch land.  The binoculars revealed several real nice bucks with a bunch of does feeding on the private land. Another group of deer came into view as darkness gave way to light. This group was located at the far end of the fence line closer to Andy. Suddenly, the buck headed for the fence line. He then jumped the fence and headed directly to where Andy was rattling. From my location, I lost track of the buck right after he jumped the fence into the head high sagebrush.

“BOOM!”  The shot came from Andy’s location. Andy was shouting in triumph, as I headed over to where he had been sitting. “Nice buck?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. You could feel his excitement
 Andys Sagebrush buck

as we headed down the hill into the sagebrush to retrieve his buck. He explained to me that the buck had stood right below him and then started to come uphill towards him on the barren ground leading up to where he was sitting. It was Andy’s first kill.

The buck was a large 5X6 and the shot had penetrated both lungs. We field dressed then dragged the buck back to my truck. We headed back to town to get the deer processed and hunt for elk that afternoon.  We both agreed we would come back the next day early and try a repeat performance.

The next morning it was still dark as I parked the truck in about 3 inches of newly fallen snow. I chose to sit at the south end of the hill this time. We made our way slowly in the dark towards the sagebrush flat that had been so productive the day before. I stopped about twenty yards back from the slope that went down into the brush. Sitting down behind a small clump of sage, with the sun just coming up I started to rattle…slowly at first then a little faster and harder for about 30 seconds. I then rested a minute. I repeated this cadence several times. Andy was sitting about 20 feet away glassing for bucks that might appear. One giant buck came up to the fence but decided not to leave the doe he was chasing behind.

One hour went by with little or no interest though we could see several nice bucks feeding on the ranch property. Frustration was starting to set in as I crawled over and handed Andy the rattle bag; trying to keep a low profile on the lightly brushy ground. Crawling back over to a larger bunch of sagebrush, I rolled up into a sitting position and started to scan the fence line again.

In hunting, we all know ones fortune can change in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, looking through my binoculars, I saw two bucks.  A small forked horn and a much larger buck came running from the far side of the ranch property and without hesitation jumped the fence. From the spot I was sitting in, I could only see the first 50 yards past the fence line. Looking over at Andy, I shrugged my shoulders and started slowly crawling towards the edge of the hill.

It seemed like forever as I crawled on my stomach through the wet snow, trying not to get it in the barrel of the rifle or on my scope. I rose up slowly and scanned the flat.  From that location I could see the entire flat except the land directly below me because of the angle of the slope. I
 Buck number 2

rose up slowly onto my knees, making every effort to see if those bucks were at the base of the slope. Still, I couldn’t see the base. I was afraid if I stood up I would spook them and not have the chance to harvest one.  Andy started to rattle as I stood up in a last effort to see those deer. When I stood up, the larger of the two bucks was about 100 yards away at the base of the hill looking directly at me.  With little time to think, the Weather Warrior was raised and found its mark. The buck ran a short ways then piled up in almost the exact spot that Andy’s had landed the previous day. My buck was a large typical nine point.

Two Bucks in Two days 

Two bucks in two days….that is what I call Rattl’n in the Sagebrush!