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Bernie Kuntz: In the eye of the beholder

Bernie took this mule deer buck 36 years ago in the Winegar Hole Wilderness of northwest Wyoming. He was shooting a .338 Win. Magnum with 200-grain Hornady Spire-Point bullets. Submitted photo

I was hunting alone that September afternoon when I found the willow hole in the dry timber.

I climbed onto a log to put my eye higher above the ground, when a ruffed grouse exploded into flight right beside the log and startled me so badly that I nearly fell off the dratted thing. That's when I decided the spot was too thick and muddy to negotiate. So I retraced my steps, got back into the timber and skirted the willow bog.

I came to a meadow of golden grass, knee-deep and pocked with elk and moose tracks. I started across. That's when I noticed movement in the scattered aspen across the meadow. A mule deer buck was running right to left. Quickly, I dropped into a sitting position and trained the 2-3/4X Redfield on a clearing where the buck was headed. When the deer entered the clearing, he stopped and I touched off a shot.

I saw the buck bound straight away from me and then he was gone. I still had the mental picture of his high, dark brown antlers. The range was about 125 yards. How could I have missed? Maybe I jerked the trigger...no, the shot had felt good.

I crossed the meadow, rifle ready, and entered a little clearing. No sign of a hit. I continued north the way the buck had run and there he was—lying dead in a small park. He was bigger than he appeared in the scope with five points on one side, three on the other.

After emptying the chamber, I laid my .338 magnum over a log, slipped off my pack and took out my camera. I unsheathed my knife and belt saw, finally my .22 revolver. My partners, Tom and Al, who were hunting to the north, probably had heard my shot and as was our pre-arranged plan, I fired six shots from the .22 in rapid succession—the signal for a kill.

We had agreed that since it was late in the day we would assist one another in getting an elk or deer field dressed, quartered and propped up off the ground so the meat would cool.

Some time later I heard a shout from the timber. I answered, and soon Al and Tom walked into view.

"What'd you get, Kuntz?" Al asked.

"Pretty good mule deer buck."

"What? A deer? You chased us all the way over here just for a deer?" he said in mock anger.

"Take a look at him," I suggested.

"He's not a bad buck," Al admitted.

"Pretty good deer,' Tom added.

"I think I'm going to have the head mounted," I said.

Tom shrugged and looked at Al. Al shrugged and looked at Tom.

"OK, wise guys. Neither of you probably ever shot anything bigger than a forkhorn and now you're looking down your noses at my deer."

"We're not knocking your deer," Al explained. "A trophy is in the eye of the beholder."

When I picked up a stick to throw at them, they both burst into laughter.

I dressed out the buck, Tom helped me cape it, then I carried out the antlers and cape. The next day Tom and I trailed in the horses, packed the carcass on one horse and took turns riding the other one the three or four miles back to the horse trailer and truck.

This happened in the Winegar Hole Wilderness of northwest Wyoming in September 1981. I shot that buck on the 6th day of that month, long before the rut. It was one of the best mule deer I ever have eaten. And the mounted head still is on my wall 36 years later.

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