By Josh Neely
Monday, September 1, 2012 marked the beginning of what may now be a tradition. I was lucky enough to glass up and put an effective stalk on a forkhorn buck at midday. I circled around above the deer while he fed and made a great shot. That evening my brother and I were still-hunting and had decided to stay put. Luck was on our side and a small forkhorn walked right in front of us. I ranged the buck and my brother put a lethal shot on our second deer of the day.
Exactly one year later, my brother and I were on day five of a seven-day hunt. We had located some bucks but we were not able to release any arrows. Monday morning came way too early and we decided to drive one and a half hours from camp to hunt another area. The downside of this spot is that the best ridge to glass was a west-facing slope, which put us on an east-facing slope. This meant we had a mere 15 to 25 minutes of good glassing light before the sun was too blinding to use optics.
At first light I located two bucks, one of which appeared to be a large-antlered deer. As soon as we spotted them, they moved into cover as they fed into a small ravine. We stuck out the terrible glassing conditions and used the shade provided by small trees, shrubs and brush in an attempt to continue glassing the ridge.
By midmorning we decided to go back to the vehicle and get some snacks, then hike to a different vantage point. Upon arrival at the truck, we found a flat tire. Go figure, as the year before we had three! We spent 30 minutes taking care of it, then finally we were setting off to a different vantage point.
When we got there, we found a group of does in the same area the bucks were spotted some four hours earlier. A half-hour later the bucks came out but the heat waves made glassing tough! We could just barely make out that one was a 4×4 and the other appeared to be a 3×3. Both were mature deer and well worth a stalk.
By early afternoon, we were stalking out way down the ridge, making sure to hit every one of our landmarks along the way. As we approached landmark #2, I caught movement in front of me and stopped. I pulled my binoculars up, revealing a coyote bouncing up and down trying to get a mouse. It was quite comical but then the coyote decided he was done and headed straight for us. We were sweating bullets as he came our direction because if we spooked him, he would turn and run straight down the ridge to the bedded bucks! Luckily for us, the shade and our camouflage confused him. As he closed the distance to 20 yards, he started to bob his head trying to figure out what we were. He went right, then left, then back to his right before proceeding further up the mountain. What a relief!
When we hit landmark #3 we pulled out our “bear’s feet” and started the final 150 yards down to landmark #4, our final destination. Ideally this would put us 55 yards above their last known location.
As we approached the upper end of the last landmark, we stopped to look around in the comfort of some shade. Through the trees in front of me I spotted the rack of the 4×4 and my heart started to palpitate and my mouth got dry. I pointed out the deer to my brother who was following my lead. We watched him for a second then had to move another 20 yards to the next shady spot to find a shooting lane.
Moving like a ninja walking on paper, we stepped over some dry branches to find cover in the shade. I eased out into what would be my shooting lane and laid eyes on the biggest blacktail I had ever seen! My estimates of the landmarks were spot on and it was pure luck that he was on his feet, feeding out in the open. Everything else around me became white noise. My heart was beating rapidly and I started to get that tingly feeling all over just like when you fall asleep on your arm.
I heard my brother say, “Relax and breathe.” I also remember him saying this despite my full concentration on the buck that stood before me with his vitals covered by some small scrub oaks.
I did my best to stay cool and calm ensuring that my movements were as slow as a chameleon. I ranged the scrub brush blocking his vitals and it read 48 yards. I knew my arrow would fly over the brush and could hit the deer without any issues. What felt like forever had really only been a minute-and-a-half. Movement caught my eye directly in front of me and I slowly pulled up the binoculars to see the 3×3 and doe up and feeding as well. I realized they were only 45 yards away, but in thicker cover. I turned my head back slowly, putting my attention back on the 4×4 who was munching away on some oak leaves, oblivious to his surroundings.
While refocusing on the deer in front of me, I noticed a small red leaf covering his vitals – almost exactly where I wanted to hit. I ranged the bush and deer again just to make sure, but before I could take the shot, he took two steps up the hill. He was now broadside to slightly quartering towards me and his vitals were in the wide open. Instinctively, I drew back when he moved and started into my routine. I focused on the spot I wanted to hit and in one motion pulled back and released the arrow.
We waited an hour and slowly made our way to the arrow. It was covered in super-dark blood. Whether it was a forkhorn or the new California record, waiting to recover an animal can be trying for any bowhunter. It took us a while to find the location of impact and the first specs of blood but we picked up the trail nonetheless. I told my brother that we were only going to go a short distance and if the blood didn’t start telling me he was dead, we would back out and give him more time. Luckily for us, it was not necessary as he only went 120 yards before lying down.
We lost the trail after 80 yards of tracking and decided to split up. My brother went high and I went low. After looking for blood in our separate areas my brother whistled for me.
I happened to look further up the trail. Directly in front of us I saw what appeared to be a light brown cow lying behind a pine. I told my brother and slowly pulled up my binoculars to check him and it was all over. Whether it was fate or karma, we were the two luckiest brothers living in that moment. We ran to each other and hugged; it had been a long season and the little bit of saline that came from our eyes told it all.
After packing the meat and cape out we drove back to camp. We put things away and had intentions of driving into town to get the cape in a freezer. On our way down the mountain my brother reminded me of our good fortune exactly 365 days ago to the day. We both laughed and said it would be awesome if he had the chance to fill his tag. Not ten minutes later, I turned a corner in the road and with ten minutes of legal light left my brother told me to stop. We both got out and side-hilled our way to the deer that were feeding in a small clearing.
As we got closer my brother told me that one of the deer looked like a buck we had seen a number of times in this area. We stepped out from behind the treeline and saw two does and the buck. He was a non-typical with three points on his right side and one point dropping over his eye on the left. The buck fed quartering away from us. My brother drew his bow and asked for the range at the same time. I told him 35 yards.
Within seconds, he released the arrow, hitting the deer behind the last rib and exiting dead center of his chest. The buck ran all of 40 yards and piled up. Standing in the last bit of evening’s light, we both looked at each other in disbelief. As we hugged and stood in silence, I knew we were both reliving all that took place not only that day, but also exactly 365 days earlier.
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