Brandon West and I rode fence (the new cowboy way, in a big 4-door diesel) on a flat, immense South Dakota ranch where I swear you could look north and see into the other Dakota. It was damn sure better to be in the truck than out on the prairie fields; the wind howled at 50 mph and gusted 60 to 80. When the big gusts hit, it was hard to stand up, much less hunt. It had blown like that for the better part of 2 days. The rut was on, but any good buck in his right mind was bedded as low as he could go with a doe. All we could do was cover ground and try to find one.
He jumped up from a little grassy bowl where the nearest tree was a half-mile away. “He might go 180!” Brandon hollered. I fixed the window-mounted spotting scope on the giant; it wobbled in the wind, but as I focused the big boy lurched up on his doe, thrust a few times and bred her. You don’t see that every day.
BTW, a buck that jumps up and runs away looks 10 inches bigger than he is rack-wise. But this wide, heavy 5x5 was solid high 160s and pushing 170.
In retrospect I maybe could have rolled out the truck, bolted home a cartridge, flipped down the bipod and taken a 300-yard poke in the wind at the monster. He was so goofy over the doe that he hadn’t even looked at the truck. But aw hell, that is not how you do it. Any buck and especially one that big deserves to be hunted with honor and respect, by a hard hunter who makes his own luck--or fails miserably--with a stalk or a stand. No animal deserves to be dumped by some lazy ass who jumps out a truck and takes a potshot, isn't that right?
I made the commitment—when the wind laid, I would glass with my Nikons and try to find and stalk and shoot this buck and only this buck. I would pass up all the other 120- to 140-inch bucks on the ranch.
When you do that a big deer will hand you your butt in a sling 9.9 times out of 10. You hunt hard but expect to fail. Long story short, I didn’t get him but I guess I feel good for trying. Besides, you’re not supposed to shoot a buck every time, right? If you did we would call it killing, not hunting.
While the 170-incher was kicking my ass, my buddy CJ Davis hunted another of outfitter Pat West’s ranch leases where deer (both whitetails and muleys) were rutting like crazy. For a southern boy playing out in the West, CJ did good; he pulled off a fantastic stalk, belly-crawled through cacti and rocks to within 100 yards of a 150-inch whitetail (photo above) and shot him dead through the heart.
Side note: CJ is maniacal about his gear, including his gun rigs. He used a Model 70 in .270 topped with a Nikon Buckmaster 3X-9X; “the old Model 70 really loves those Winchester Supremes with the 140-grain Accubond CT,” he reports.” CJ tests lots of loads and shoots a lot on the range back home in South Carolina. That is how you are supposed to do it, and how you shoot a buck through the heart out in a great deer place like South Dakota.
POSTSCRIPT: So I went 2 for 3 on my recent 16-day road trip. Not too shabby when you’re hunting for mature bucks. From now on I’ll be whacking and stacking mostly does, but like I have told you before you never know when and where a giant will walk in front of your stand, so be ready…maybe one with a big drop tine (still hoping :)