In the mid-1970′s, when I worked on a large cattle ranch in northern Wyoming, one of my job duties there was to guide out-of-state deer hunters for the last six weeks of the year.
We would get hunters in from all over the United States, all wanting to shoot a big buck. And although we did have many large bucks living on the 18,000+acre ranch, we had a ton more does than bucks.
We had so many deer, in fact, that the browse line for the feeding deer on shrubs and small trees in the winter was about six feet off the ground. The deer herd on the ranch was estimated to be between 3000 and 5000 animals, of which 85% were whitetails, and the other 15% mule deer.
The hunters would usually drive in in vans and sedans, and occasionally, in a motor home. We would put many of them up in ranch buildings, including sometimes in old homestead buildings we had outfitted with hand-made bunk beds.
My wife would cook breakfast for everyone, for a small charge, of course, and pack a brown bag for lunch. One of the best things she would serve for breakfast, besides bacon, sausages and eggs, was the chokecherry syrup we would make out of the chokecherries we would pick in the draws up behind the ranch buildings. You talk about a terrific flavor!
One of the out-of-state groups of hunters I guided included a group from my home state, from near a place named Jefferson, in southern Wisconsin.
We were hunting up high one day, in the scrub oak and hardwood timber, hunting muleys which like to hang around up there, when one of the hunters asked me if I was a second generation family out there.
That question might have been posed because of my attire that day. That being: blue jeans, flannel shirt, down vest, large, dark green stetson hat, Puma hunting knife on my belt, and a healthy growth of a full,dark beard. Apparently, I had the look of a real Wyoming ranch guy then.
When the man asked me that question, I had to chuckle, and shake my head just a bit. I replied by telling him that, in fact, I had attend my first two years in college only 10 miles from where he lived in Wisconsin.
The four of them laughed, shook their heads back, and said “You’ve got to be kidding us.”
A little while later, one of them shot a medium-size muley buck. As I got ready to dress the deer, one of the guys asked if it was OK for him to video tape me dressing the deer. I said, sure, no problem.
So, I went about the chore, and soon the critters entrails were on the ground, and all was done except for the blood remaining on my hands. I kind of looked around, as if to see if there was any snow or a water puddle around, so I could clean the blood from my hands.
One of the hunters said, “Now what are you going to do? How are you going to clean your hands off?” All the while, his buddy was still video taping.
“Well,” I said, “when neither snow nor water is around at a time like this, here’s what you do…”
And with that, I proceeded to take my folding Puma hunting knife, reached down to the entrails and slit open the stomach. Then I reached in, grabbed a hand-full of bile, which had grass and sage tips in it, and a strong sage odor, and proceeded to rub it around my hands like if I had a hand-full of soap, and within a minute, the blood was gone.
As I was doing this, the fours hunters all gasped, and made sounds like: “auuuuugh” and such. And the poor guy with the video camera, quickly set the camcorder down on the ground and proceeded to lose his breakfast. Poor guy!
In a couple of minutes, the sage smell of the bile had disappeared. All four of the Wisconsin fellows eventually shot a buck.
Another hunter I guided that fall, was from the Chadron, Nebraska area, a really neat guy, named Bob. I guided Bob for two days, and he passed up several smaller whitetail bucks during the first day, in hopes of nailing a buck with with a large rack.
The second day out with Bob, we were hunting high up in a canyon area, where I positioned Bob at a spot where I thought he might get a
decent shot, if I could scare a sleeping buck out past him.
About 45 minutes after placing Bob, I was walking around the top of the canyon, throwing rocks and anything else I could find, down off the rim into bunches of brush below, without much success. Finally, going around another point, I found an old beer can on the ground, and then pitched it over the rim, down into some large boulders and brush below, and immediately heard a branch breaking as a deer took off from where it had been sleeping below me.
I couldn’t see the deer, but about 30 seconds later, there was a loud ‘boom’ as Bob’s rifle fired, and a split second later, I heard a ‘thunk’ sound as the bullet from Bob’s gun slammed into the deer.
I hustled back across the rim area, above where I had placed Bob, looked down, and saw a smiling Bob down in the bottom of the canyon, standing beside a huge muley buck with a very large rack. That buck was the largest of any harvested during the three years I guided hunters there on the ranch.
After learning how I had kicked out the deer, Bob said we would have to call this fellow ‘The Beer Can Buck!’
The strangest and most humorous guiding episode I had with a hunter during those years, was when I was guiding a young hotshot from Pennsylvania, who worked in a sporting goods store and fancied himself a crack shot.
I don’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Jake.
Just after daybreak on the morning I was to guide Jack, he came out of the bunk house carrying a very fancy rifle, with a big scope, with an extra clip of ammo. Strapped around his waste, he had a pistol belt, in the holster of which was a .357 caliber, six-shot pistol, with about 10 rounds tucked into the loops of the belt.
He was a picture to behold, that’s for sure, and as I saw him walk through the yard gate, I couldn’t help chuckling to myself. He was a real dude.
We loaded into my ranch pickup truck, a half-ton, blue Dodge, and headed out from the buildings, on a truck trail about a hundred yards above and along the river, where I figured we might surprise a buck or two coming up from the river, heading towards a grassy bed in the high country for the day. My own rifle, a Sako Finnbear 7mm Remington Magnum, was hanging in the rifle rack behind the truck seat.
As we drove slowly along through the sage brush and small trees high above the river, my eyes scanned along the river to our left, as well as to the right, up towards the higher country.
When we were about 15 minutes out from the ranch buildings, I saw a movement far to my left, of a deer moving behind some brush. I stopped the truck, told Jake to ease out of his door to the side of the truck, and I eased out my door with my Zeiss binoculars in my hand, around to the rear of the truck, to meet Jake.
As we stood there silently, I watched the stand of brush through my binoculars, and about 45 seconds later, saw a smallish muley buck step out from the brush and stop.
I told Jake to rest his elbow up on the back of the truck box side, to help steady his aim, and take a look at the buck out there about a hundred yards or so, and see if it was a buck he wanted to take home.
Jake said quickly, “Yeah, he’s good enough, I’ll take him.”
As Jake concentrated on aiming his rifle, I continued to watch the deer through my binoculars. Unbeknown to me, when he was aiming, he abandoned the elbow rest I had told him to take over the back of the truck, and went to resting the fore stock of his rifle right on the side of the rear box of the truck.
A few seconds later, with the deer standing broadside to us, looking our way, Jake’s rifle fired. Strangely, I saw the bullet strike the ground about 30 yards in front of the deer.
I thought, “What the hell’s up with that!?” Looking over at Jake, as he was getting ready to shoot again, I saw that he had changed his rest position right down on the truck box. A split second later, as I looked at the inside of the truck box, I saw a small hole in the side of the box, and realized then that Jake had just shot a hole in the side of the truck! Damn, man!
Jake asked excitedly, “Did I hit him? Did I hit him?” I replied, “No, not yet. He’s still standing there.”
I quickly told Jake to step away from the truck and shoot again, which he did, and missed again. But this time, he also missed the truck, thank goodness!
After that shot, the deer turned and walked a few yards away, and Jake, who was now very excited, shot again, and missed. With the deer still standing there, looking at us, he bolted another round into the chamber and fired once more, and missed again. And now his rifle clip was empty.
He reached into his pocket, bringing out another clip, and after finally getting the empty one out of the rifle, he jammed the new one home, worked the bolt and slid another shell into the chamber, firing a few seconds later. This time, he hit the deer in one of its hind legs, and the deer started to move back towards the river, from where it had just come.
Jake fired again as the deer moved towards the river, taking some hair off the neck. He fired two more times, in short order, with one more bullet striking the deer in a non-vital area, all while the deer kept moving away, down over the edge of the river bank.
With the deer now out of our sight, down by the river, Jake took off running towards the place where the deer had disappeared. He got over to the edge of the bank, overlooking the river, and went to fire another shot, but nothing happened, as the second clip was now empty, too.
He set the rifle down, looked back at me, and screamed, “I’m out of shells for my rifle!” Then he hurriedly pulled out his pistol and started blazing away at the deer.
By this time, I am dumbfounded, standing there shaking my head in disbelief, saying to myself, “You have got to be kidding me.”
I reached into the pickup, got my rifle from the gun rack, and walked the 40-50 yard distance over to the edge of the bank, where both the deer and Jake had disappeared, all the while, hearing Jake continuing to fire shot after shot from his pistol at the deer.
Arriving at the bank of the river, I saw Jake down at the river’s edge, just about into the water, pointing across the river about 40 yards away, at the small buck, which was still alive and attempting to climb up out of the shoreline and up over the bank, into the thick sage brush beyond it.
Looking down at Jake at the edge of the river, about 50 yards away from where I was standing, he looked up at me, and said frantically, “I’m out of bullets, what am I going to do? Don’t let him get away; can you shoot him?”
It was time to end this circus. I yelled down to him, “Move over to the left by the fence, and I’ll bring ‘em down for you.”
Jake moved to the left, while I took careful aim at the deer, which was now approximately 75-80 yards away from me, and fired one shot, which struck the buck in the neck, instantly ending his misery.
After my shot dropped the deer, Jake sat down on the river bank to calm down. I continued to stand where I was for about five minutes, making sure the deer was no longer moving.
I finally had Jake come back up to the flat above the river where I was, and then we walked over to where the truck was parked, and drove back past the ranch buildings, crossed over the bridge to the far side, and about 15 minutes later, we arrived near where the deer was lying.
Oh, Man! Was that deer ever shot up. Jake had apparently hit the deer several times with his pistol, including in both rear flanks, where most of the good meat was located, while shooting at it across the river. And, the rack on the deer wasn’t anything special, only a smallish, 3-points-on-a-side muley.
As I dressed the deer and loaded it into the back of the pick-up, Jake commented, “Gee, I thought that the buck was a lot bigger than it really is up close.”
When we returned back to the ranch, I transfered the carcass into Jake’s truck. While I was doing this, one of the guys at the ranch came out to talk with me, and asked what the hell had happened out there, as he had heard almost 30 shots fired out where we were that morning. I laughed and told him I would tell him the story later on.
I used to love to hunt, but haven’t done it for many, many years now, going on 30 years actually. I quit gun hunting about the time I started spending my hunting season down in Mississippi, helping families there in need. Most of my hunting these days is done with my Nikon digital SLR camera.
Much more satisfying than the old days.
I took a great deal of pride in having studied and learned the habits of deer over the years in the wild, and in being able to bring my hunters up on deer, so they would get at least one good shot at a buck.
One group of four, more elderly deer hunters from Minnesota arrived in a huge motor home for their hunt, and I saw right off the bat that they were a real partying bunch, more than dedicated hunters.
I took all four of them out the morning after they arrived and brought them up onto bucks four separate times that they could shoot at at a reasonable distance, and expect to hit. Apparently though, they were still very hung over from heavy drinking the previous evening, and they literally couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from 50 paces.
After the fourth time of this happening, I was getting rather ticked. I took one of the fellows aside who I had developed a good report with, and advised him that I didn’t think his crew would be taking any deer home the kind of lousy shots they were. I asked him if he would like me to shoot with them from now on, when I brought them on to bucks, and he said that I probably better do that, for their sake.
So, from then on, every time I would get them into shooting range of a decent buck, I would pull my Sako and shoot, too, along with them. Every one of those times when I was “helping” them, the buck(s) went down with with a shot to the neck. Each time I would tell one of the fellows that I thought it was his shot that killed the buck. Then all the other fellows slapped him on the back and congratulated him for his good shot.
By the middle of the next day, when their tags were all filled up with nice bucks, the fellows were pretty happy! So happy, in fact, they spent all afternoon and evening drinking to their success and good shooting eyes. I wonder if they ever made it back to Minnesota alive…
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
As Jake was getting ready to leave the ranch for Pennsylvania with his shot-up deer, he looked really disappointed, to say the least. I guess this was just a case of events turning out not quite as he had envisioned they would.
Well, life can be like that, can’t it?