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>> A Smart Mulie And A Slow Learner :: By Marshall Stanton on 2001-02-03
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Back in the early 80's I hunted an area of Southern Oregon known as Yamsey Mountain. We could still hunt both archery and modern firearms seasons at the time, and our Eastern Oregon deer season was fairly long, for both.

One crisp September afternoon I decided to hunt a particular ridge on Yamsey, where I knew a number of resident mulies hung out. It was late archery season, and up high, there was a dusting of snow, and lightly snowing with almost no breeze, a perfect day to ambush a nice buck.

Tracks were abundant, and as I still-hunted along the uphill side of a rockslide, I jumped a respectable three-point buck out of his bed in the buck brush. He bolted up the ridge then slowed to a fast trot after about a hundred yards, not once turning to look at me. Quietly with the new snow cover, I tracked him for about a quarter of a mile, when I heard something above me.

There was the buck; he was standing on a rock outcropping, with a nearly sheer rock face sixty to seventy feet high directly above me. The buck was watching his back-trail from above. With a snort, he wheeled and was gone. I continued hunting up the ridge until dark, seeing a few does, and a spike buck, but no sign of my three-point buck.

I never did return to Yamsey Mountain that fall to hunt, I harvested a deer elsewhere, and had no reason to go back up there.... until the following year.

Again it was late September, and it had been a very dry, unseasonably warm year, with the woods as dry as a box of rice crispies. Every step in the field was punctuated by the crunching of powder dry tinder underfoot. I parked my rig in the same place as the previous year, with the intentions of making the same hunt up the ridgeline. Range cattle had been grazing the area, and the ridge trail looked like a highway of ankle deep powdery fine dust from the cattle traversing the trail going to water at a spring about half way up the ridge.

Walking up the trail was nearly silent, and I had a gentle, but steady breeze in my face as I slipped along. Skirting the upper side of that same rockslide, I jumped a very nice four-point mule deer buck. He bolted from his buck brush bed about fifty yards from me, ran another forty yards then stood and looked at me. After probably sixty seconds, he trotted up the trail out of sight, not particularly spooked, but wary.

Having the breeze in my face, and the advantage of the well-worn trail, I followed with high hopes of locating my buck. His tracks were easily followed in the soft powdery dust, as most all of the other recent tracks were those of cattle. About a quarter of a mile up the ridge trail, I had the feeling something was watching me. I stopped, and then heard a small rock rolling, bouncing down a rocky bluff. I glanced up, following the noise, and sure enough, there was my buck! Once again, he was looking down on me from his sixty-foot high vantage point!

Twice in a row this wary mule deer buck had the drop on me. I hadn't put two and two together when he bolted out of the brush at the head of that rockslide. But when I stood watching his dust above me settle after bolting away, I realized that he was used to using this tactic.

Once again, the Lord smiled upon me, and blessed me with a nice buck that year opening day, in a totally different area. And, it wasn't until the following year during archery season that I returned to Yamsey Mountain.

Parking in my usual place I slowly still-hunted up my familiar ridge. I hunted early in the morning, in light drizzle, carrying my bow, and a light pack. The year had been more normal for rainfall, and the fall rains had come in the second week of September. Conditions couldn't be better, and the winds were favorable.

The going was slow, as I saw many deer, and had to avert many sets of eyes as I hunted, to keep from spooking the deer I encountered. Following my usual route, I was at the head of my rockslide about mid morning. And, sure enough, there standing in the buck brush was a trophy class mulie buck. Four by four with high wide antlers, sporting heavy mass and long eye guards. The rack was perfectly symmetrical, about thirty to thirty-two inches in width. My buck!

I was still about seventy-five yards from him, and he had already spotted me as well. No amount of camo or cover scent was going to help this situation. He was spooky, and headed off at a quick trot up the ridge trail, never looking back.

I dutifully followed him, disgusted with myself for not having approached that patch of cover differently. I should have anticipated his being there, and worked my hunt differently. Not being the keenest of wit as I wallowed in my self-condemnation, I walked right underneath his observation point, just like the two previous years. By the time I realized where I was, I looked up... there he was.... AGAIN!!! As before, he snorted, wheeled and disappeared for the day.

This time I resolved that things would be different! I followed his tracks to the top plateau of his vantage point, my first time up on his lookout. I found that there were very sheer rock cliffs on the downhill side of the bench, and that they encompassed three sides, totally impassable, as they were truly sheer, straight up, and straight down. There was only one way onto his little perch, and one way off. Some investigation and time spent scoping things out revealed an alternate way to approach his little lair from a saddle in the ridge just a few yards past the infamous rockslide. By crossing this saddle, and working my way up the opposite side of the ridge, down off the ridge trail, I could work my way around to a little finger ridge that actually came down and terminated on his little lookout point! It would add about half a mile to the other route, but would ultimately put me above him, where I needed to be. I headed back to the rig, using flagging tape to mark my alternate route up the ridge.

Opening day of Eastern Oregon deer season came with a beautiful, Indian Summer sunrise. The wild plums, the alders, the scattered aspen and Oregon grape were ablaze with fall color. A light frost had left a dusting of white on the open areas of my ridge. And yes, this year I was back on Yamsey Mountain for opening day of rifle season. I wanted my buck.

Dawn came with me finishing my last cup of coffee from my thermos. As the gray light became enough to see detail, I loaded my rifle and began slipping up my now very familiar ridge trail. I looked on every rock shelf, under every patch of buck brush and on every finger ridge as I hunted looking for my buck. Now, I no longer had the range limitations imposed by archery tackle, so was scouring the terrain for every possible animal. Going was slow, and I saw many animals, and passed on two respectable three point bucks bedded together in some wild plum brush on a finger ridge below me.

Finally, I came to my rockslide. The wind was shifty, and not all together cooperative as I made my way towards the upper end of the slide. Rattling, bouncing rocks punctuated the otherwise quiet, crisp air as my massive buck bounded out of his hiding place at the head of the rockslide, up his familiar escape route. I knew I wouldn't sneak up on him. This bed of his was too well positioned for anyone or anything to get the drop on him. He had the uphill advantage, the advantage of visual observation, and this morning the advantage of wind. As he retreated, he must have known better than to stop and look back. He ran full out up the slide and continued the same pace up his ridge trail. At over two hundred yards, a shot at a running buck, offhand, with a crosswind was totally out of the question.

I quickly made my saddle in the ridge, dumped over it and followed my flagging tape up to the head of the finger ridge. Once over the ridge crest, I found the wind to be very favorable to me, made good time being nearly silent in the damp duff underfoot. This side of the ridge had a good timber cover and held moisture well. So far everything had gone as planned.

Upon reaching the top of the finger ridge, I stopped for ten minutes or so, just to get my composure and my breath back. Then, I slipped ever so slowly down the finger ridge to the upper end of my buck's lookout. There he was, thirty-five yards away and looking down hill at his back-trail. I wonder how many times that little stunt saved his hide? He turned to look at me at the sound of my safety snicking off. As I added pressure to the trigger, looking at him centered in my cross-hairs, the buck's ears drooped. He knew the game was over. He just looked at me. There was nowhere for him to go, except by me, and he knew it. His whole posture slumped in my scope, and with his ears down.

As we stood there looking at each other, we new the game was over. I'd won, on his terms! I lowered my rifle and snicked the safety back to safe. I had him. But somehow just having beaten him on his own turf was enough. Undoubtedly he's the finest mule deer I've ever drawn a bead upon. I didn't have to kill him for the sweetness of that satisfaction.

I left the ridge that day with a satisfaction second to none. My buck remained the monarch of his realm. The sweetness of that day returns to me every hunting season as one of the fondest memories afield I can recall.

Later that day, on the way home, I made a little quickie hunt on a little patch of wild plum brush, and the Lord blessed me with a really nice four by four mulie buck with very nice mass and beam. He was a really respectable deer and great eating. But even at that, the best memory of the season was my teacher on the mountain.


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