For an hour John Thorp drives the backroads of the ranch, his son-inlaw Brent and another young fellow following in Brent’s pickup.
Mallards by the thousand fly overhead,
pheasants scurry along the lane. One time a rooster steps from tall grass along the road, crowing loudly, and flies up against the driver’s door of John’s old pickup.
“He’s attacking the pickup!” John says.
“A rabid pheasant,” I add. “I’ve never seen such a thing.”
We are hunting whitetail does and young bucks near Manhattan, Mont. on a big place owned by a Californian. For the last decade John has invited me along.
We see deer…lots of them…but they are wild as hawks, running away through the tall grass, pastures and willows as we approach. John sends Brent and his friend to a spot west of us, where the young guys can watch an open field when deer emerge from the willows.
“Shooting time ends at exactly 7 p.m.,” John announces. “You’ll probably see most of the deer between 6:30 p.m. and dark. Don’t shoot toward any buildings.” With that, Brent and Jason depart, and John drives me to the horse corral where he leaves me with my folding chair, fanny pack and rifle.
“Cold, nasty wind,” I say. “I was going to wear long underwear but last minute decided they’d be too warm…. bad decision.”
“Here,” John says as he hands me a rain coat top. “This’ll break the wind. I’ll see you shortly after 7.” With that he drives away, heading to the north where he has a favorite spot of his own.
It is not yet 5 p.m. During the first fifteen minutes I see a lone doe walk purposefully from a stand of willows through buckbrush to disappear seconds later in a big stand of trees and willows.
Minutes later a pair of does and fawns bounds along a fence 200 yards distant.
The wind is relentless. I silently thank John for the windbreaker. I see dark objects, and when I bring up the 10 X 42X Leica binoculars I am astonished to see about 20 bison moving through tall grass and timber almost a quarter mile to the northeast. I make a mental note not to shoot in that direction.
Shortly before 6 p.m. three antlerless whitetails jump a fence to the east and walk toward me. When they stop at about 125 yards I drop what looks to be a lone doe on the right side of the trio. I am using the .25/06 I had built in 1972 with handloaded 129-grain Speer spritzers. The rifle was stocked by Reinhart Fajen in high grade French walnuts with 24 line-per- inch checkering. Today it wears a Leupold 3-1/2- 10X scope that I usually have set on 6X.
A half hour later about 20- whitetails emerge from the willows, most of them jump the fence and walk in my direction. Two are bucks. A third, larger buck has remained on the far side of the fence.
I concentrate on the smaller buck. I am standing, leaning over the pole fence, the wind still raging. I am waiting for the smallest buck to turn broadside but he never does. Finally, I have a good hold, I fire and he drops in the swale. Kicks once and lies still.
I pick up my walking sticks, open and close the gate and hobble toward the downed deer. By
the time I get there John has arrived with the pickup. The buck is large in the body, 4 X 3 points.
John and I agree that it is probably 2-1/2 years old. The doe I will donate to a fellow who processes wild game for needy veterans. All told, we have seven deer….lots of good eating.
I sit in the cab and open a beer while John does the field-dressing. It’s not like it used to be, stalking through the willow swamps with my 7 X 57 but it still beats sitting at home. And at this point in my life I’ll take what I can get.
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