The daughter of a consulting forester and general outdoor enthusiast, I essentially grew up in the woods of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I tagged along on hunts with my dad basically from the time I could walk. Then as soon as I was old enough, I took my hunter’s safety course and started hunting blacktail deer alongside him. Hunting blacktail in Oregon isn’t easy. Spot and stalk hunting is where it’s at and you can be out hiking for miles, not seeing another person – or blacktail for that matter. Despite my love for the outdoors and hunting practically my entire life, the last few years (and a few kids) later, I’ve let life get in the way and my time in the woods has been sporadic at best.
Now that I work for a firearms company I figured it was time to make hunting a priority again and my dad – and favorite hunting partner – was happy to oblige.
My alarm goes off every morning at 5:15 AM. Most mornings I hit the snooze button at least once, sometimes twice before I will myself to actually roll out of bed. The morning of this hunt I was awake 10 minutes before my alarm went off. This was the first time in four years that I’d be out hunting. I guess you could say I was excited to get back out there. I met up with my dad at his house and we hit the road.
The morning was foggy. Really foggy. We drove to a few of our typical spots to get out and glass and couldn’t see much of anything, let alone any deer. We hunted down a couple of different units with no luck. We headed to a fork in the road and pulled off. I recognized the spot. We’d walk down the left road a ways, cut across through some dense forest, come out at the top of a unit, hunt down it to a road, then follow that road back up to the truck. The fog was finally starting to lift a bit and, as my dad assured me, this was an area the deer “liked to hang out.”
As we made our way down the draw, I found myself in the middle of the most bear sign I had ever seen in one area. I couldn’t decide if I was bummed I didn’t buy a bear tag, or worried I’d end up a viral video courtesy of a bear attack. I tried to keep my mind on the task at hand. After making it all the way down the unit with hardly even seeing any deer sign, I was starting to feel a bit defeated. It was already 11:15, the fog was burning off and with the sun hitting the side of the mountain things were starting to heat up. The deer wouldn’t be moving much.
We started walking up the access road that would lead us back to the truck. I was glassing up the hill we had just hiked down, and then down the rest of the unit below the access road. That’s when I saw it. The faint outline of what I thought could be a face among the tall, brown grass.
I am notorious for creating deer out of things like stumps and bushes, so I almost didn’t even bother pulling up my binoculars. But I’m glad I did because sure enough, it was a deer! And it had antlers! I signaled to my dad who came over to me so I could show him where the deer was. It was a little guy, with tiny little forks. The first deer we’d seen all day and he was looking right at us. As my dad and I tried to figure out where I could even steady myself to shoot from, we saw the other buck. He was also a fork but with a much deeper V and a much larger body. He was grunting and snorting like crazy and my heart was racing.
Before I was able to find a place to shoot from, they started moving. Down below this unit was another access road, so our plan was to stalk our way down there. Before we could even start making our way down there, one of the deer popped up toward the bottom of the unit. He wasn’t spooked and wasn’t in a hurry so we decided to wait it out instead of go after them.
I saw what was left of two burned stumps side by side and I decided that would be my spot. Only once I got over there, I realized that the stumps were too short to rest the rifle on and sit behind. I started feeling the pressure to get situated. I didn’t want to miss my opportunity. So I wedged myself between the two stumps, with my left leg resting over the top of one and the barrel of my 6.5 Creedmoor resting on the toe of my boot.
I dialed back the zoom on my scope and located the deer. It was the little guy. “Where did the big one go?” I wondered to myself. My dad was standing off to my right glassing the area. I whispered that I didn’t see the bigger one. He told me to be ready, but to wait. The buck would make his way down there.
We could hear him grunting again, and before long he was standing broadside right next to the smaller buck. This was my chance!
At 250 yards, I settled in, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. Nothing.
The deer were oblivious so I quickly chambered another round and settled back in. The smaller buck passed in front of the bigger guy so I waited. As soon as he was out of the way I zeroed in right behind his shoulder with another deep breath. I squeezed the trigger again and sent the 140 grain ELD flying. The deer dropped on the spot!
I cleared the chamber and looked over at my dad. Words cannot describe the look of pride on his face.
He quickly started making his way down to the deer. Too quickly actually, because when we got down there we discovered the buck was still alive. This was a first for me and I felt terrible. To keep him from suffering, I chambered another round and took one last shot in his head to end him quickly.
I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. My shot placement was good. I couldn’t dwell on it right then as there was work to be done.
Now, my dad is old school enough that he doesn't wear camo, he doesn't care about the latest & greatest gear, and doesn’t really “get” taking trophy photos and is actually mildly annoyed by it – he wants to get right to cleaning out the deer, get it back to the truck, get it home, and get it hanging. I had told him before the hunt that if I shot one, I’d need to take some photos because this is my job, after all. He agreed and when I went to set up to take some photos I discovered that my last shot to end the deer had split both of his antlers right at the skull. Another “what the heck!?” moment. We snapped a few photos as best as we could, then got to work.
Once we got the buck back to my dad’s and hanging in the shop we discovered what had happened with the shot. The bullet had hit a little too far forward in the deer’s shoulder, hit a bone and basically exploded. There was no pass through and the bullet essentially annihilated the entire front right shoulder, the lower neck, and part of the left shoulder, rendering the deer completely incapacitated at impact. There was a lot of blood shot meat and I was finding shards of bullet as we were cleaning him up. Thankfully we didn’t lose much “good meat.”
I still can’t stop thinking about what I could have – and should have – done differently. The hunt may not have played out exactly as I had wanted it to, but the end result was deer down with a Horizon Firearms rifle, a freezer full of meat, and a day back in the woods with my favorite hunting partner. Overall, I’d consider that a success.