The buck that got away...


This was my year.  I  went mule deer hunting with full intentions of harvesting a buck.  I had the right tag and the right hunting party. Opening morning in the Paulina unit started off beautifully.  The temperature was cool, but not uncomfortable, and as the sun rose, it became perfectly pleasant to sit on a rock and glass the desert for deer. 

paulina unit opening am

About 11:00 am we started a hunt through a small canyon we had seen deer taken from the previous year.  My dad walked just to the right of me, Teddy was to my left, and my mom drove up the road towards the end of the canyon to take a stand and watch for deer.  An hour into the hunt, I spotted something.  It looked odd, but familiar. I studied the object with my binoculars and moved closer.  It had the white color that is a sure sign of deer in the desert landscape. As I approached I grew more confident that what I had spotted was a deer laying belly up. I approached and saw the antlers before I saw the head. There was a blood trail leading to the body and it was definitely dead. I touched it, and the deer was still warm. I had heard no shots, and no one was near. 

I had found a recently shot buck. I wanted it.  I had asked for a buck and this was the perfect sceanario.  Instead of killing a deer, I was saving a deer from rot and predators, and waste.  I couldn't have dreamed of a better scenario.  I was already planning my feast with friends to honor this young deer! I called my mom...(our cell phones worked out there), she found Teddy, and soon enough my dad came over the hill. We laughed, we took pictures, we celebrated my first dead buck.  Then my dad took off his jacket and prepared to field dress the deer.  I wanted to help.  I wanted to be a part of the whole process. (Even if I hadn't fired the fatal shot). 

teddy and me with bucky

We finished the job, and prepared to drag this big bodied deer across the desert when in the distance, a white truck pulled up.  Three guys got out, spotted us, and headed out to where we were. "Here comes the ODFW said my dad...or the guy who shot this buck." We waited and discussed our options.  I was attached to this deer, but he wasn't mine.  I was just his finder.  I was just the one making sure he did not go to waste. 

the hunters

When the hunters arrived the first guy was straight forward.  "Who shot this buck?  Did you kill this buck." My dad and I stayed quiet for awhile, and then my dad made a joke about what a trophy buck it was (not). The other two guys approached and the one in camo told a story about how he'd shot and tracked a blood trail for two miles and then decided to go get his buddies to help him find the deer. It was his first deer. I gave up the buck, and left it to it's owner. Later, I questioned handing it over so easily, but it really wasn't mine.

We hunted the next 2 days in pouring rain and gusty wind.  We never saw another buck.  I now have a buck story, but there will be no venison feast this year.  Maybe next year.  As I was walking over hills, and getting lost in draws, and admiring moss on ancient juniper, I realized that hunters are optimists.  They are hopeful that with every scan of the desert, or long bumpy truck ride that a deer will appear.  It's not a bad way to live your life and it's even better when you share that hopefulness with other people you love and trust.  The story of my buck that got away and the rainiest hunting season anyone of us could recall will stick with us for literally, generations.

shed antler

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