I just returned from what I would consider a very successful hunt in Washington's Okanogan County. For the large camp I was in success in terms of deer harvested was very low, actually three deer and a bear for the eighteen hunters in the camp. Deer hanging in camp isn't a necessity for a successful hunt though.
Three Generations of Hunters
An old freind has been encouraging me for years to swing by their hunting camp "somewhere in Okanogan County". I'm generally the lone wolf type, preferring to join forces with one, maybe two other hunters and head far behind enemy lines with frame packs, mountain bikes, or whatever method we can use to get away from people. One by one, however, my hunting partners have dropped off to chase kids, work, or sit at home and watch the boob-tube.
With the option of hiking into rugged country solo, which is not an option at all, or joining forces with Sid and his hunting camp I picked up the phone to see if the invitation was still valid. "Hell yes…get over here!"
Camp was inhabited by some eighteen individuals from twelve to seventy eight years old when I arrived on opening weekend. Grandfathers, their sons, and their grand children were all having a ball participating in the yearly event known as hunting camp. What have I been missing out on all these years?
The kids were the neatest part of the whole experience. Sid had all three of his boys in camp when I left and the rest of the gang had kids coming or going throughout the week. I can only hope these kids will keep the tradition going as long as their fathers have.
Check out the whitetails three of the boys bagged on last years late whitetail hunt. These kids were eleven years old last year…are you kidding me?
Tigger Tags Out
I headed out on our first morning with Sid and his twelve year old son Chris, better known as "Tigger" around camp. We hadn't gone a hundred yards when I spotted a spike and a 2 x 3 muley buck with four does not more than fourty yards away. After determining it was a legal buck I frantically waved for Tigger to hustle over and take the buck. He did just that and moments later Tigger had his second buck down in three years. That's him on the left in the photo above with the 140 whitetail that Papa Sid rattled in for him on last years hunt.
I'm pretty proud of how Sid and his wife have raised their boys and seeing the mile-wide grin on both their faces made this a successful hunt right off the bat.
Chris "Tigger" Poortinga and father Sid with his 2010 Washington Mule Deer
I Had My Chances
After taking care of Chris's buck I hustled on up the ridge that two of the guys from our party had already ascended first thing in the morning. I could see where they were so I chose another draw on that side of the canyon to work up. Working out for six straight was paying off, as I churned up the steep hillside fairly quickly and neared the top within an hour.
Within three hundred yards of the top I mentally checked myself to slow down, catch my breath, and start hunting. I was at the bottom of a large grassy area that the wind was crossing from left to right and since deer will often bed on the down wind side of an open area like this with the wind in their favor and a good vantage point I chose to work slowly up the tree line on the right side of the clearing.
After twenty minutes of quietly picking my way along the tree line I was not fifty yards from the top when a good 3 X 3 sporting eye guards jumped out of his bed just below the top of the ridge and bolted. I had him in the cross hairs of the Burris long enough for a shot, but a bunch of branches were between us and I dropped my Browning to my side and ran to the top of the ridge hoping to catch a glimpse on the other side. He was gone.
"Oh, well", I thought. That was a helluva lot of fun and my planning had worked. Had he not been bedded on the backside of that tree I'd have spotted him in time to make a shot. No biggy…onward and upward.
I worked my way thru some beautiful mule deer habitat for the next three hours without spotting a deer, so I chose to hike back to the top of the ridge and glass the other side of the canyon that the rest of our party was hunting. It was sunny and warm and I felt like sitting for a while. The perfect time for glassing.
After finding a nice perch on a rock that even had a back rest I began canvasing the other side of the canyon with my Leopold 8 X 42 binoculars. The other side of the canyon was at least 800 yards across and I slowly panned up and down the draws, along the tree lines, and into every nook and cranny on the other ridge. I thought I was going to get a nice, relaxing break on top of the ridge. Was I wrong!
Within five minutes I spot a buck with a good sized set of antlers standing on top of a small cliff looking back down the canyon. He was with a doe and was looking intently down at one of our party members, who was also taking a break, probably glassing my ridge. It was too far to tell just how many points he had, but he was big enough to clearly see the rack on his head from 800 yards and that was good enough for me.
He and the doe didn't wait around long. They started working their way towards a large saddle at the end of the canyon and I knew my only chance was to get to the saddle before they crossed it.
It took thirty minutes of agonizing hiking and climbing to get to the edge of that saddle and when I got there he and the doe were trotting down the backside and into the next canyon. He was 400 yards and moving away and a shot wasn't practical, so I layed back on a rock, let out a deep breath, and said my second "wow, that was cool" remark of the day. Another break…right…wrong!
I looked up to my left and there's another large mule deer buck skylined on the next ridge at around 500 yards. This buck is a perfect 4 X 4, antler width an inch or two outside of it's twenty two inch ears, and equally as tall. I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it, so I kept intently staring thru the glasses and sure enough, it had a three to four inch kicker on the left side of it's antlers. Cotton mouth set in fast.
I got a good rest and turned the Burris up to full nine power and watched the buck, who was with two does. I couldn't pull the trigger though. It was just too far for my old Belgium Browning 30.06. I just couldn't take the shot and my stomach was turning inside out because of it. Dammit!
He walked over the ridge with the does and now for the third time on this particular day my legs were on fire as I churned to the top of yet another ridge to try to get a glimpse of this buck, hopefully in a big open area on the back side of the ridge where I might get a shot.
Fat chance! In typical mule deer fashion he was gone like a ghost. This time the remark I made definitely wasn't "oh, well…another learning experience."
I've always been reluctant to purchase a long range bomber capable of shots to 700 plus yards, preferring to use my old school 30.06 that is nearly fifty years old and sound hunting skills to close the distance. I've harvested a lot of bucks with that gun, but old girl this might have been your last year in the woods. I've worked too darned hard and put far too many hours into hunting to have a buck like that slip thru my fingers.
There are so many hunters and so many more predators in the woods these days that close shots on trophy class bucks aren't as easy as they used to be. A short eight day 2010 mule deer hunting season in Washington has given hunters a lot shorter window to harvest a deer, creating further congestion, and I'm convinced that the crazy cougar, bear, and coyote population in Eastern Washington has both changed the deers habits and decreased the population substantially. The latter is a no-brainer.
We hunted for three more days and we were into deer every single day, including seeing twenty four deer with four bucks mixed in on my last morning hunt before blasting back to the west side last night. It was a great five days of hunting, successful on so many levels, and I got to meet some truly outstanding people. I'll definitely be joining the Three Generation gang next year. Next time I'll be toting a new rifle though.
The Outdoor Line
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