Trophy tags from leftover tags

by Katie on November 24, 2011

The background

So, there we were…

Day three of our hunt on leftover coues deer tags we purchased after not getting drawn for our desired trophy tags (again).  In a unit which still had tags available after the hunt started.  Pretty sure this was a leftover tag of all leftovers.

It was really only our second day to actually hunt, after getting shut in by a winter storm that blew in Friday night, and made us think our camper was going to blow away Wizard of Oz style.

…And left us with five leaks the next day where the snow melt on the roof poured into the camper and had us running around placing buckets and pots under each new sprouting leak. But, aside from the leaks, I got what was really my first true experience of quickly falling snow that was actually sticking to the ground, and definitely my first experience with what I’ve heard newscasters back East call a “wintry mix”. See below:

That thing in front of my face? A snowflake. Also? I kept thinking Brandon wasn't getting good pictures because he kept saying, "Just one more!" But no. He just wanted me to continue to freeze out there while he stood sheltered in the camper doorway.

Something else important to mention before we get too far along in this story?

We began each day by hiking to the very top of a very steep mountain. Why you might ask?  After hunting here for the previous two years we had a history with this mountain and a certain trio of bucks who called it home.  Brandon was convinced they were worth the extra effort to be in position everyday rather than glass it from a mile away as we had attempted the previous two years.  We would focus on the short glass.  Pound the shady side.  A gamble perhaps, but we would be fully committed to that mountain.

Roughly 1500 straight-up vertical feet. Every day. By Day Four, we were convinced we could climb Mt. Everest no problem. In fact, here is the very top of our mountain on one of two days it was snowy and frozen. This was the side we had to climb (the steep one), so-as to not disturb any critters hanging out on the opposite ridge where we planned to glass. Never underestimate the crazy in my husband when it comes to finding wildlife. (But I guess I can’t really say much since I happily, but perhaps a bit more slowly, followed him every time, each of us with a loaded pack and a rifle.)

Mt. Leister

Opening morning found us on top and immediately as we crested the top Brandon found our trio of bucks from the past two seasons and he got a little excited.  They were 400 yards, unaware of our presence and in a nasty thick spot.  According to Brandon two were big, one really BIG.  He even went so far as to give this “middle” buck “Giant” status.  But in a matter of seconds they disappeared.  Other than two bears that was the story for day one.

But, I digress…

Finding my shooter buck

Back to Day Three of the hunt.

After not seeing anything other than a doe apiece all day long, by late afternoon, we decided to rim around our little bear ridge to see if all our deer were camped out on the other side.

We no more than topped over with the cover of an oak tree, when Brandon flashed up his 10x42s to freehand glass the bowl below us…and spotted a buck. A good buck. 280 yards. Under an oak tree.

I hadn’t even set my pack down yet, and he was frantically motioning and hissing at me to get in the gun. Now that’s the kind of hunting a girl could get used to! Definitely a change of pace from the rest of the day.

Brandon failed to mention exactly how big he thought this buck was from the quick look he got of him. If he had, I probably would have been shaking in my hunting boots. Actually, we both already were, but from the cold. We had taken our cold gear off to hike and didn’t have a chance to put any back on since we found the buck right away.

So, it was 4 PM, we were both shivering, trying to get me a steady rest with the gun, me trying to take aim at a deer I hadn’t even seen yet. The buck had repositioned behind the tree but it had already turned into a fiasco with us reaching over each other, me laying back so Brandon could check the scope, and all kinds of other craziness. So much so, in fact, we soon received a text from the other couple we were hunting with, asking what exactly we were doing. (Turns out, the husband, who could see us through his binoculars, had told his wife we were either making out or getting ready to shoot, and he sure hoped it was the latter.)

All the excitement soon faded though, as I sat with icy fingers on the gun, Brandon glued to his 15-power binos, both of us awaiting the buck to reappear on our side of the tree he was standing in. But it never happened. Our friend, from a different angle, could see him clear as day, bedded up under the dead oak tree I had my scope zoomed in on, but we never had another opportunity.

Finally, with darkness quickly approaching Brandon lost patience and decided to fire a warning shot to see if our buck would just stand up. I suggested he get in the gun for this little escapade, so in case the buck took off running we could still get a good shot off. So we switched, and Brandon touched one off with his .300, aimed at the top of the tree our deer was under.

The tree splintered…And…nothing.

Our friend later reported the deer didn’t so much as flick an ear or turn his head when the rifle went off. Which, little did we know, was only a premonition of the next day. We quietly made our way off the backside of this smaller, yet steeper (if it were possible) mountain and headed back to camp.

Without naming names, one of us was pretty bummed about our unsuccessful evening, and was, for lack of a better term, quite the bump-on-a-long at our evening campfire. I, on the other hand, (oops, I guess I was naming the guilty party) I guess had a little more faith about the morning ahead of us. What can I say? Having the hunting guide I do, I’ve been a little spoiled by success.

The next morning, we were both a little relieved to not be climbing our original big mountain, but that new steep little sucker proved to be quite a chore as well. Soon enough, we were at the same spot on the ridge we left the night before, both of us glassing feverishly for antlers. I had a slightly higher spot, and could see some upper areas on the mountain Brandon couldn’t, but we both had the short view to our left severely blocked by an oak tree.

And this is where our hunting buddy gets some major props. Like, none of the rest of this story would be possible without him kind of props. (Thanks again, Quint!)

He had stopped along the trail they were hiking in on to glass a bit, and called (the only place for 45 minutes around camp we had service was at the tops of mountains, and thank goodness for it) to let us know what we were looking for was no more than 200 yards across from us…but on the other side of our oak tree. The only way we ever would have spotted him on his own was if he would have kept feeding up the mountain and into the clearing I could see on the other side of the tree.

Both of us, along with my .243 wedding gift rifle (thanks, in-laws!) snuck around the tree, and sure enough, clear as day, there was our buck. Feeding up the mountain, not a care in the world.  Broadside.  200 yards.

From our encounter the night before, we knew this buck couldn’t be trusted. Time could not be wasted.

I plopped down on my bottom, got both my knees up to provide as steady a rest as possible, and z0omed in my scope, preparing to let a bullet fly (bullets I reloaded myself, mind you). No, it wasn’t the best shooting scenario, but we really felt like we didn’t have enough time to get set up rock steady for this one. Most of the time, we would have taken more time. Not when you’re looking at a coues deer like this at 200 yards.  We were in his bubble already and weren’t going to chance it.

It’s not always pretty

“As soon as you feel steady and your crosshairs aren’t floating off his body, let it go. We need to get this one down,” Brandon said.

I took his words to heart, and squeezed my trigger. I heard the shot ring out, and anxiously awaited that “WHOP!” sound that is music to a hunter’s ears.

But I never heard it…

Instead, as I was instinctively loading another cartridge into the chamber, I heard Brandon say, “You missed, get back on him!”

Which is the opposite of music to a hunter’s ears. More like the most dreaded words imaginable. And, fortunately, until that day, not something I had heard much at all.

I got back in the gun, steadied myself again, and let another one go. Again, no “WHOP!”

And that’s about where I absolutely lost it. I begged Brandon to just shoot it himself, obviously I wasn’t capable. I was frustrated with myself and shaking my fist. During all this, our buck continued to feed along the mountainside, completely oblivious to the fact two rifle bullets had been lodged in his direction in the past two minutes. I’m not sure he ever even lifted his head.

But he refused, took the gun, loaded ‘er up for me since I was severely lacking in composure, handed it back, and just said, “Kill him.”

Somehow, I came back around, got my crosshairs lined up right, and squeezed.

This time, it connected. On the shoulder, and a little forward, but still a lethal shot. He was sightly quartered to me and I held a bit too far forward.  Our buck jumped and kicked, then stumbled into some brush. I loaded another of my Nosler partition reload specials, and scanned the brush through the scope, while Brandon searched with the binoculars. I told him I saw something that could be the deer, but it may also be a rock.

After watching awhile, he confirmed my suspicion. “You know that thing you think is a rock?”


“It’s the deer. His head is to the left.  He’s still alive.  Get another bullet in him.”

Not knowing how good he had been hit, we weren’t very patient.  I pride myself on my shooting ability and was the least bit happy with the situation.  One shot kills had been the norm before and this had taken entirely too long already.  It was time for me to finish the job.

So I did.

And our buck came busting out of that brush, creating quite the excitement as he came right to us and ended up at one point within 50 yards.  He turned downhill and crashed through the trees below us.  It may have taken another bullet but our buck was finally down.

So no, it wasn’t pretty at all.

But he sure is:

The Bionic Buck

He’s an inline four-point, which I found out is pretty rare in coues deer (I’m still learning). We taped him that evening, and found he grosses 105.5″, including an extra little cheater point and the beginnings of a drop-tine. The fourth points and extras were all sweet surprises when we got down to him, since we had only had a chance to get him in the glasses long enough to know we needed to shoot him.

The rest of the story

Now, I wish I could just tell you that’s where the story ended, and we toted him off the mountain and back to camp without a worry.

But that’s just not what happens when you’re hunting with my husband.

You see that blue sky behind us in the picture? Pretty, huh?

That was at the end of our two-hour photo-taking session (which is still a sore subject around our house, since the photographer was only looking at how the deer looked in the pictures, and was not concerned with the fact my hair took on a life of its own, or his suggested positioning had me spread-eagle in half the pictures).  We were on a very steep mountain and finding a good camera position proved challenging to say the least.

That blue sky quickly turned to rolling clouds of dark gray, descending down into our little circle of mountains. So low, I felt like I could almost touch them. Did I mention we hadn’t even started retrieving meat yet? No? Because we hadn’t. And snowstorm two of the trip was quickly closing in on us.

Enter Katie Freakout Number Two of the day.

We had one quarter cut off our deer when it started hailing, with winds whipping, sky rumbling, clouds rolling. Let me tell you, this Texas swamp girl is still not comfortable with mountain storms. Brandon, on the other hand?


Annoyed by me, but unfazed by the weather.

The weather aside, I was also convinced one of the four bears we had seen two days earlier (the big red one, in particular, which had appeared just over the top of the ridge from where we were) would be lured to the scent of our dead deer. When we were about half finished, Brandon’s foot slipped on some rocks, and I jumped out of my skin, just knowing it was a bear coming down the mountain behind me. Obviously, it was not.

The hail continued the whole time we were cutting, cooling and packing our meat. We loaded all the meat in Brandon’s pack, and I helped him heft it on, just happy to finally be getting off the mountain and into shelter soon. Of course, as I’m lifting my own pack on (filled with some of the gear from Brandon’s), the strap holding the head and hide to the front of it broke.

We got things rearranged as best as possible, and were finally able to begin our descent. The hail had receded to rain, and I only slipped four times on my way down, with the deer head flopping on one side of my pack the whole way. Not ideal, but we made it.

And most importantly in my book, lived to tell about it.

Which is something I always question when venturing into the mountains with this guy:

We hunted another day as Brandon was on a mission to find his mysterious trio of bucks that had haunted us for three years now.  Day five hiking back up to our mountain, Brandon just kept telling me the “middle buck” of the trio would make it all worth it.  They are still there and we will likely be back on top of Mt. Leister next year looking for them, unless of course we draw our “trophy” tags!


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