Wily whitetails win the day
We are above the Jefferson River in southwestern Montana, and Mark is showing me the property boundaries of a landowner who granted me permission to hunt whitetails the following morning. Not this evening, however, as another hunter is somewhere ...
We are above the Jefferson River in southwestern Montana, and Mark is showing me the property boundaries of a landowner who granted me permission to hunt whitetails the following morning. Not this evening, however, as another hunter is somewhere on the property. We can see his white pickup parked behind a gravel pile near a long draw.
Surprisingly, a good whitetail buck is feeding not 300 yards from the pickup, leaving us wondering where this guy is hunting. (Mark learns the next day that the hunter hiked all the way down to the river and hunted the cover there.)
"You should be here in the dark tomorrow morning," Mark says. "Walk right down this road and you'll have concealment from the gravel berm the whole way."
It sounds like a good plan, and that is just what we do. Laurie drives the old Suburban in the dark with only the parking lights glowing, drops me off and I proceed slowly down the road. In spite of the darkness, I can see four deer against the fresh snowfall, and I believe one of them is the buck from last night. I am probably 500 yards from the deer. Off to the west half a mile I see six more deer feeding rapidly toward the river cover.
I am almost cackling to myself about my strategy, when suddenly the four deer bound away! I am incredulous!
When legal shooting light arrives there are no deer left in the alfalfa fields. This is new country to me, and I make the mistake of dropping over the edge and sidehilling along the long draw. The inch of wet snow makes things very slippery, and I don't find a single track in the draw. After a couple hundred yards, I am able to climb back out and onto the road, which drops down to the river bottom and ends.
I cross a fence and still-hunt slowly to the west, find a spot to cross the creek, and creep along the edge of a meadow. Four whitetails flush from heavy willows 100 yards from me and bound away, giving me no opportunity for a shot. I see many tracks in the snow, but after an hour of slowly moving through the bottom, I don't see any more deer. I am wet from snow, early morning drizzle and perspiration, so I decide to return to the vehicle and warm up.
I climb the road until Laurie sees me. She drives down the road and picks me up. The Labradors in the back of the vehicle are happy to see me.
"The wind was good," I say to Laurie. "I can't believe those deer saw me, but I don't know what else would have spooked them."
We drive to the Wheat Montana store for coffee and a cinnamon roll. It feels wonderful to sit at a table in the warmth, and dry out. In the early afternoon we return to the head of the big draw, park the vehicle, and sit and watch. Geese fly by to the river, and several flocks of mallards course about. A pheasant rooster and two hens flush in front of the vehicle. But no deer are in sight.
By mid-afternoon I find a good trail that allows me to cross the big draw, and climb to a pair of enormous tires lying in the cut alfalfa field. As I walk, I see numerous deer droppings -- whitetails obviously are feeding up here in the dark, then returning to the heavy cover along the river.
I sit and wait and glass. The afternoon drags on. A boat with two waterfowl hunters and a dog motors up the river. More waiting...
When the east wind suddenly shifts almost 180 degrees and blows hard out of the northwest, I know my gig is up. The wind is taking my scent directly to the cover where I have been hoping the deer will re-emerge. I close up my shooting sticks, buckle on my pack, and sling the .280 for the walk back to the vehicle. The whitetails were too wily for me today, and that is the simple truth of it.