25 Nov 2020
The sunrise is only a dream when I set out. The drive isn’t long, 25 miles, and it goes quickly. I pull into the parking lot at one of the public access points on Lake Meredith and I have the place to myself. There is a faint glimmer of sunrise to the east. It is cold this morning, 31 degrees according to the weather on my phone. Everything glistens with dampness. They had a hard rain last night as well as hail. All the old sign will be wiped away. As a hunter, this is good because fresh sign will be more important than older sign. Coyotes sing in the distance as I get my gear together. It is a good day to be alive and in the glory of nature.
The trail leads into the brush and I follow. I am dressed lightly despite the cold. I know the day will warm and I don’t want to overheat. I like to be comfortably cool when I hike. On my back is a pack-frame, an old 7mm Mag is in my hands and around my neck is a pair of Leica binoculars. I travel light for I am serious about trying to fill a tag today. The first mile holds little interest for me because I have learned that those areas easily accessible will hold little game. I cover that distance quickly noting with mild interest 2 fresh sets of deer tracks. But they head to the thick brush along the Canadian River and I know there is little chance of finding the deer that left them. I have set my sights on the canyons 3 miles in. Watchful of things around me I see the birds begin the day and watch a hawk hover over a patch of weeds. I am not the only hunter seeking prey.
Lake Meredith is an anomaly for those unfamiliar with it. A long flat plain runs along the Canadian River when the lake is not full and in that plain stretches weed beds, willow breaks and reeds. From above it looks like a place custom made for still hunting but that is deceptive. I tried that once and found the weeds are more than 6 feet high. There are deer in them, and trails spread out but to hunt there you need the be elevated. Meredith has many steep and rocky bluffs and canyons, and it is to them a wise hunter heads. But the flats hold little interest to me for I do not want to sit and wait for something. I want to walk and glass and stalk. I head for the canyons which are comprised of brushy bottoms and steep sides. The sun is now in the sky and the chill has largely disappeared.
I skirt past the first 2 canyons I come to. I was in them last week trying for a mulie and know they got hit hard. Banking on the fact that most hunters lean towards the lazy side when it comes to walking, I head on. Along the way I see flocks of geese over head and watch a big wad of mallards drop into the river. In the distant I hear 3 very faint and rapid shots, duck hunters I surmise, and I think about how they would like to know where to jump shoot these birds. For today they are safe, but I make a mental note of where they landed, for I have learned that game will often utilize the same areas. I feel vibrant and carefree. I am hunting in the style I love, and I have the world to myself. I know that I can take my time and slip into the canyon I head for. I can sneak along, glassing and looking. I know if I do this right, I will see game because I am beginning to see a lot of fresh sign.
As I stand at the mouth of my chosen canyon the Leicas come into my hand. Slowly I pick apart the underbrush and then move up the steep faces. I pay special attention to the hillsides facing the sunrise because it was cold, and the deer will want to soak up some warmth. It doesn’t take me long to see the first deer. Mulie. A yearling all by itself. Only antlered bucks are legal, so this deer is in no danger but from where it stands it has a commanding view of the canyon. I remain motionless until it heads over a ridge line. I am a little surprised no other deer join it, but nature does what nature does. I head deeper into the canyon. Slowly, careful not to skyline myself, staying in shadows as much as possible. In this style of hunting you always try to spot the game before it spots you, especially on public land. For at least 2 hours I comb each ravine, side canyon, and brush-pile. I know the game is there for I see the fresh tracks and the fresh droppings. I must be observant and patient.
A slight movement catches my eye in a brushy area in a ravine. I glass, seeing nothing and then glass again. There it is. Coyote moving between boulders. It is 300 yards off. I am tempted but am not hunting coyotes, I am hunting deer. I rarely shoot coyotes and find I enjoy having them around. I do not mind that they hunt the same deer that I do. We are both hunters and we both do what we do. I leave the coyote in peace, but I know that if I am seeing coyotes before they see me that I am hunting the area right. I continue on. Glassing, looking, listening. Patient.
I cross a small ridge and immediately see the buck. Whitetail. I was not expecting a whitetail this far back in the canyon. He is looking in my direction but not straight at me. His rack is not big, but I have never shot a deer with mindset that the antlers are the most important thing. I am a meat hunter and I have found my prey. I wait until the buck turns his head and I use that opportunity to get to a rock and make ready to shoot. This photo shows the area. I am at the location of the yellow X and the buck is at the red X. The range is not overly far, 200 yards give or take a few yards.
The buck is broadside in full sunlight. There is no real cover around him so I can take my time. I shrug off the pack-frame behind the rock and lay my hat on top of the rock to give a little padding to my rifle. I turn the scope to 9X, and the deer is clear and sharp. I am benchrest steady. I think about where to place the shot and decide on the neck. My late father was a major proponent of the neck shot and taught me how to do it properly. In order to effectively use the neck shot you need to understand that the actual target is the spine in the neck and so you must place your shot dead center. When done properly the animal drops to the shot and you have damaged no meat. Normally I reserve such a shot for 100 yards or less, but I am very steady and if I don’t do it right, I know I will have follow-up shots. My decision is made, and I apply pressure to the trigger. The old 7mm barks and a hand-loaded 160 gr Nosler leaves the barrel at 3100 feet per second. The shot is true and the buck collapses where he stands and begins to roll down the hill. After 50 yards or so of rolling he hangs up in a bunch of bushes. Quietly I sit for a moment and give thanks to God for the gift he has given me and then head to the buck.
Other than being a whitetail rather than a mulie, he is exactly what I was looking for. He is sleek and fat and his teeth are worn. He is an older buck. One ear has been shredded sometime in his life but is fully healed. I think back to the coyote and wonder if he had engaged in the battle of life and death, predator and prey, with this deer. He is nothing spectacular in the antler department, 6 points with some character. Many hunters would turn their nose up at such a buck as they sit in a blind watching a feeder. But this is a pure buck. Where he lives, he has never seen a feeder, never lunched on protein supplements. He has lived as nature intended, wild and free and for that reason, I consider him perfect. As is my habit, when I got to him, I placed a piece of browse in his mouth as a last meal and thank him for his sacrifice. Game animals are precious, and I place a high value on every one of them I take. I pull him off the hillside to the bottom and place him in a flat spot. For 10 or 15 minutes I simply look at him, marveling in the browns and whites of his coat, his scuffed and worn-down hooves. The shape of his antlers, the tattered ear that tells a silent tale, the grey of his muzzle. Perfection in the eyes of this hunter.
I would like to spend more time looking at him, but there is now work to be done and I get to it. As I roll him on the back to field dress him, I see the bullet hole. It is exactly where it should be, centered in the white spot in his throat. I know he was cleanly killed and never even felt the bullet hit. For this I am glad because no hunter wants to place a poor shot on a living animal. After field dressing the buck, I move him over to a small oak tree and get him off the ground. He is heavier than I expected, and I guess him at about 160 lbs live weight, a respectable size for this area. Once he is off the ground the hide is removed and set aside for the coyotes and I begin to quarter him. Each piece of precious flesh goes into a heavy canvas bag that has been folded up on the pack-frame. Slowly and with care I piece him down taking care to get every scrap. All that is left is the head, backbone, and ribs, as bare of flesh as I can get them. What is left is placed into a nearby ravine for the coyotes to utilize after I detach the head as required by law. When I am done, I sit down to drink some water and eat a candy bar. My GPS shows us to be 3.2 miles from the parking lot. It is now 2pm and I intend to take him out in one trip. I know this will be a hard pack. In my younger days growing up in CO hunting elk and mulies this would be simple, but I am now 57 years old. I know I can do it, but I also know it will not be easy.
I shoulder the pack and cinch the straps down tight. It takes a moment to settle the pack right and then I am ready to go, carrying the 7mm Mag in my right hand and a walking stick that I cut in my left. I do not look up; I concentrate on where I place my feet for the load is heavy and I am alone. This type of hunting is unforgiving on the careless and foolish and I pride myself on being neither. One foot in front of the other, step after step I begin the slow hike back. I stop frequently for I have learned that taking a 10 second rest consistently makes packing easier because your muscles do not cool down. Walk, rest, trade rifle from right hand to left hand as needed, keep moving, that is the key. As I walk, I hear coyotes back in the canyon I took the buck in and I wonder if they are already feeding on the gut-pile and pones. If they are, I wish them Bon Appétit for they deserve their share. The distance to the parking lot slowly closes. I am in no hurry. If the sun sets before I make it, I have a flashlight. Impatience and the desire for speed leads to accidents and injury. The pack weighs on my shoulders and back. I have a touch of arthritis in my left should and right hip and I can really feel it now. This saddens me because I know that I do not have many more years that I can hunt in this manner. I do not know what I will do when I can no longer glass and walk for my game. I am certain that I will still hunt but I will miss the stalk and the pack out.
The sun hangs low in the Western sky when I get to the parking lot. I beat the darkness by 20 minutes. My vehicle is still the only one there. I alone know what has happened today. I am thankful when I can drop the pack. Shoulders, back and knees aching. Despite the pain I am proud. I know that not many men my age can do what I have just done. I left at first light, hiked in more than 3 miles, cleanly took a buck, field prepped it and packed it out on my back before dark. I am happy and content but also exhausted. After I place the buck into a couple of coolers, I take a well-deserved rest and drink down 3 bottles of water and then I drive back to Amarillo, stopping along the way to buy ice to properly cool down the meat I worked so hard for.
Once I get home, I dig a tenderloin out of the cooler and place it in a pan of cold water and go straight to bed after taking some Advil. For breakfast I will feast on the sacred flesh of the prey. Tenderloin, roasted jalapenos, and cheesy scrambled eggs washed down with strong black coffee.
Life is good. Peace to all. Animosity to none.