Instead of starting his hunting day on a horse, as he did in elk camp, Jim starts every morning in the seat of a pickup, driving out to an alfalfa field near the lodge where as many as 60 whitetails feed regularly.
For the first evening’s hunt, Jim and guide Jake McDonald share a hard-sided blind. Right next door is a Double Bull blind concealing me and videographer Troy Batzler. This way, we’ll all be together when Jim connects with a big Ruby River whitetail.
But the wind is wrong, and there are simply too many of us trying to be silent and scent-free. Here, we capture a photo of Jim and Jake from Troy’s video display. The deer are simply not moving.
That night, while we sleep, a ferocious wind tears the Double Bull out of the ground. So all that’s left is the hard-sided plywood blind. There’s not enough room for all four of us, so Troy and Jim share the blind. Jake and I watch the action from his pickup, parked on the hill above the valley.
We watch this tiny buck walk right by our pickup and head in Jim’s direction. I hope he doesn’t shoot it, but Jim has told me he’s holding out for a buck in the 120-class or better. He’s most excited to see feeding deer. In his home in Vermont, he rarely gets to see all of a deer; normally it’s an ear or a flank in the thick timber.
But in the wide-open Montana river valley, he can watch deer feeding for hours just in front of his blind. It’s literally a matter of waiting for a big buck to feed out of the willows.
Jim and Troy walk back to the pickup. They’ve sat for two days with no action.
Troy has to head back to his home outside Bozeman, Mont., so I elect to sit with Jim for the following morning, which will be his last before he has to head home.
One aspect that’s been frustrating our success is the bison on the neighboring property. These are some of Ted Turner’s bison, but the whitetails are intimidated by the noisy, brash herd, and when the bison are along the fenceline, the deer are displaced. For two days we’ve seen deer in our field run when the buffalo come near.
But Jim’s final day is different. A snow if falling, which keeps the deer feeding longer. We’re about to give up when we spot a buck tending a doe in the far corner of the field. A little rattling and a little grunting, and the pair — trailed by a second buck — hops the fence and runs our way.
It’s a matter of a good shot, and Jim has proven he’s a great marksman with his single-shot elk kill. The whitetail is no different. His Remington in 7mm Mag connects with the buck at more than 300 yards. The 4×4 buck is shot through the heart.
We ignore the snow while we pose for pictures. To say Jim is happy is a vast understatement. He’s ecstatic. It’s his best buck, and he earned it through willpower and great shooting.
Jake and Jim inspect Jim’s deer tag.
And they cut out notches for the correct date.
Then they load the buck on the Suzuki KingQuad 500 on loan for the Grand Slam hunt.
The 4-wheeler’s power steering is especially welcome with a heavy load on the rear.
Jim drives the deer back to the lodge. We’ll hang it, gut it so the entrails don’t contaminate this field, and then begin to butcher it. Jim wants it caped so he can have a shoulder mount made of his trophy.
After we’re cleaned up, Jim reflects on his Grand Slam Adventure. “This was one of the best weeks of my life,” he says. He’s had a season of firsts: first horseback ride, first elk, first long-distance shooting and his first experience with Montana hospitality. I imagine it’s the first of many trips he’ll make to Big Sky Country.
OL reader Jim Ewing made short work of the elk portion of his Montana Grand Slam Adventure, bagging a bull in a single day. The whitetail portion of the hunt will prove more difficult. It will take Ewing three long days to fill his tag.