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Mule Deer Virgin
October 16, 2009
I've hunted whitetails since I was a kid in my native Central New York and have chased them since in locales as diverse and far-flung as South Texas, South Dakota and Alabama. In early October I travelled to Oregon's Grant County for my first mule deer hunt. I've never been much of a stand hunter, and for that I blame a short attention span--a common affliction of people of my generation. When I hunt whitetails, I prefer to be on the ground--stalking and still-hunting--so the idea of taking the hunt to the muleys in their stunning canyon country habitat excited me to no end. My host was David Morris, whose family arrived in east-central Oregon via the historic Oregon Trail in the mid 19th century, settled there and continues to call it home today. We hunted on his 4,000-acre ranch and his cousin's 11,000-acre property (left).
After long days of hiking down into and up out of canyons, belly-crawling across open pastures and hiking across rugged basalt fields, Morris's camp, which he built himself around the frame of a double-wide trailer, was a welcome place to come home to each night.
Morris is a trophy rack junky, and his master bedroom is a shrine to his addiction. He is the author of
several northwestern big game record books
and tours around the region every winter with trailers loaded with the heads of some of the largest animals ever taken in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
The family's ranches are steeped in history. A flourmill, built in 1917, still stands on Morris's ranch today.
Inside, the impressive carpentry work and old machinery are on full display.
The night we arrived at camp, Bushnell's Jordan Vermillion and Jeff Redding (center and left in photo) drove the smaller ranch in search of a buck for Vermillion, also hunting mule deer for the first time, to go after the following day. They glassed a bachelor group of 9 bucks feeding in a field and made a plan to hunt them. The next morning, the season opener, the deer were exactly where Morris's son Holt (right) anticipated them to be, and had in fact been joined by two more bucks. After taking a peek at them from a bluff above their location, the hunters retreated and hiked up through a canyon to get in a better position for a shot.
As the snow began to fall, Vermillion snapped off a shot at an oblivious 3x3, standing broadside at just under 200 yards. The buck staggered a bit before hitting the ground, and Jordan had claimed his first mule deer.
On the second day of our hunt, the venue changed to the 11,000-acre Burnett Ranch. A slight detour in the muley hunting was made for Holt to pop his first black bear.
Views from atop the highest points on the ranch produced absolutely staggering vistas.
With so much country to cover, our optics nearly edged out our boots as the most vital tool of the hunt. I carried a
Bushnell 8x42 Legend Ultra HD binocular
around my neck, tucked a
Legend 1200 ARC rangefinder
in my pocket and topped a
Browning X-Bolt in 7mm/08
with a 2.5-16x42 Elite 6500 riflescope, complete with
Bushnell's cool new Dead On Accurate reticle
. The DOA's Rack Bracket helps you judge the width of a deer's antlers (assuming the animal stands still long enough), and with five aiming points on the crosshair's vertical axis below the midpoint, you can sight in your rifle at six different distances, given your bullet/load combination.
David Morris and a gun writer of some repute, whose name escapes me just now, take a break from hiking across the rugged landscape.
A familiar sight to a whitetail hunter, this sapling had been thrashed by the headgear of one of the ranch's many mule deer.
That population was reduced by one on the third morning of our hunt, when Redding dropped this fine 4x4. He and Vermillion had spotted the buck, along with a 3x3, walking through a creek bottom. Jeff made his shot from some 370 yards away, using a rock jack on a fence line high atop the canyon as his rest. Not bad for Kansas bowhunter.
The flatlander might think twice before pulling the trigger on a creek-bottom buck again, though. His legs and lungs got a workout hauling his buck's quarters and head out of the canyon.
I was the last to punch my tag. While this buck might not be overly impressive to seasoned mule deer veterans, to this greenhorn he is a remarkable trophy because of the work that went into getting him. The dopey expression of wide-eyed exhaustion, elation and relief on my face is the proof. David Morris and I had covered many miles that day, only to experience one frustration after another. With just 10 minutes of legal shooting time left, I finally pulled the trigger on my first mule deer. The full story of this awesome hunt will appear in a fall issue of Outdoor Life.
A northeast whitetail hunter heads west for his first mule deer adventure.
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