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by Gregg Richter a.k.a. Gregg Richter Last updated: 2009-11-08 21:40:52
.500 MULEY BUCK
My eyes were watering and my sinuses itching so badly I wanted to sneeze. Ever tried to sneeze quietly? Sure, like in church or maybe even in the library. But it never really works; you always make a PFFFOUFFF!!! sound no matter what.
I could not afford that, as I didn’t want to chance that the mule deer buck bedded down just 20 yards ahead of me might hear it. I wiped the abrasive little pieces of weeds from my eyes with my bare trigger finger, and by doing so realized that it was indeed without feeling, as in icicle.
I silently blew on it to get the blood flowing again so I could use it when the moment arrived . My lower back was knotted in discomfort from the awkward position that I was voluntarily assuming. My knees, particularly the left one that was replaced with titanium and cobalt steel, were cramped under my weight as I balanced myself into the wind, with the blowing seed particles stinging my reddening face.
And it was all worth every long and short second of it. I had just made one of the most amazing stalks of my hunting career. Especially so in that I was a handgun hunter, hunting during the regular rifle season, and by law dressed in blaze orange vest and hat.
Visually the odds were against me; as I believe deer can see blaze orange as appearing unnatural to an extreme. If not, then why all the hoopla involving today’s bowhunter’s vast array of modern technology’s perfect high definition camouflage patterns?
Here, although considered the supreme predator as in man, in reality I was a part time amateur, glowing like a neon sign, far away from home and squatting in a cold hard dirt field over-grown with Kosha weeds, trying to sneak up on a full time professional: a mule deer buck in his own bedroom who survives by utilizing and relying on his amazingly keen senses of sight, hearing, smell and strong fast legs, allowing him to detect and escape predators. I remember thinking to myself that I was enjoying myself to the extreme.
My heart was pounding with adrenaline rushes and my breathing was labored, not so much from trying to quash my sneeze as much as from the excitement of what I had just accomplished and what was sure to happen in the next few moments.
I had triumphed in my quest to get in position for a shot at a respectable mule deer buck at true handgun range. And my weapon choice was a special revolver: a Model 83 Freedom Arms chambered in .500 Wyoming Express and outfitted with a red dot sight.
This strategic position I had gained over my quarry was not by sitting in a tree stand or waiting in a ground blind or by driving or walking through the territory and hoping to come upon, but by spotting him, then planning and executing a good down to earth stalk.
It was early November and I was hunting on a cattle ranch near Colona, Colorado. This area is nestled at the foot of the Uncompahgre Plateau which is home to one of the largest deer herds in Colorado.
The circumstances leading to this exact moment were rather complex, but long story short it all came about due to a horse sale at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January 2005. I had been contracted by some folks to haul some horses they bought at the quarter horse sale at the National Western in Denver to their ranch in Montrose.
After seeing and realizing the opportunity offered by this virgin ranch, then negotiating and obtaining hunting rights, this ranch yielded 2 mule deer bucks for two handgunners that I guided later that same year. From there, I branched out and now have several other promising deer properties leased in this area.
This morning began with the too-early wake-up call I received in my Montrose motel room at 3:30 a.m. I had requested a 4:30 wake-up but that was the same night as when the change-over for daylight savings time took place, so due to an equipment problem, or maybe (more likely) just human error, my get up call came a full hour earlier than I wanted.
I had gotten up and washed my face before realizing the time-difference mistake. By now I was more or less awake, so I decided to make the best of it. I would just get out to my spot way early and really get the jump on those deer. As it turned out, this actually did happen in my favor.
After several miles of highway and then dirt roads, I entered the T Bar B Ranch and drove past the still-dark ranch house in my F-150, then through the cattle gates, opening and closing each one in the pre-dawn dark.
As I passed through the quarter mile long corral area I noticed several calves had again escaped during the night, and were anxiously crowding the gates trying to get back in with their mommas.
The cows knew what a truck USUALLY meant: feed time, and the sound of their soft lowing back and forth as they got excited expecting the alfalfa hay that was sure to be tossed their way was western music to my ears as I opened and closed the gates.
After clearing the last gate, successfully turning back the anxious calf desperately trying to get through it, I got out and dragged the wire gate to the post and attempted to close it. Far off in the darkness, a coyote howled, seemingly mocking me as I struggled to secure the extremely tight gate.
As I worked the wire loop over the top of the post my left arm cramped up and the post started slipping from my weakened grip almost trapping the fingers of my right hand as the tension suddenly released and the wire drew taut. If I wasn’t fully awake by then, that woke me up as I got my first adrenaline rush of the day while sun-up was a full hour away. That was close! It was a battle to pull out my glove caught between the wire and the post. Had that bite been a smidgen lower and caught my fingers instead of the glove tips, a wire cutter and bandages would have probably been called for, and I was thankful that I had thwarted Murphy’s law this time.
I was hunting the north part of this 1200 acre ranch where an 80 acre corn field bordered several hundred acres of unplanted ground which was over-grown with that infamously prickly and regularly cussed weed known as Kosha. This noxious weed bully is the master of worthless overgrowth in much of the unworked farmlands and abandoned crop fields in the Colorado-Nebraska-Kansas farm land country. At least the good thing that can be said for it is that it is great cover for pheasants, deer and plenty of other animals.
In previous days I had more or less figured out the deer movement here: they migrated into the un-cut corn during the early morning and stayed until late afternoon, coming and going through the Kosha field, sometimes bedding in it and sometimes just traveling through it to get to the sandy hills and big dry wash that rimmed its circumference. This particular weed field was extremely thick and high; in some spots it was over three feet tall.
I maneuvered my truck into a strategic location between the two fields, where I could glass both the corn and the weed patch, with the rising sun in my favor. As I settled into position to await the arrival of God’s light on the eastern horizon, where it was just beginning to lighten up, I brought the 10X Zeiss glass to my eyes and squinted through, trying to see something.
Almost right away, three gray ghost-like forms danced in and out of focus within 65 yards of where I sat. Glaring more forcefully into the binoculars, I was able to identify three mule deer bucks. My second adrenalin rush of the day started flushing through me. Wow, this is crazy. Three bucks within revolver shooting distance but it is too dark to see much, not to mention one small detail: it was still well before legal shooting light.
They say time can move either slow or fast, depending on your frame of mind. Well, let me assure you, that morning set a record for the slowest sunrise in the history of mankind, and I had no choice but to grit my teeth and wait for daylight one agonizing moment at a time.
I impatiently raised the Zeiss to my eyes for the umpteenth time. The deer were heading toward the corn and were almost out of sight, although the word sight is
over-exaggerated, as it was more like I could tell the grey blobs from the black globs if I stared hard enough.
I glanced at my watch again. Legal shooting time was now six minutes away, and after another quick sighting through my binocs, I realized that the deer had disappeared into the corn field.
Since the deer were gone, the sunrise started gaining momentum and pretty soon there was enough light that I could really do some serious long range glassing. I stood up and did a 360 degree scan of my hunting area. The hills off to the west, from where the coyotes had christened my arrival, seemed very inviting. So did the immense patch of corn to my left fore-front, where I knew the deer were, and safely, I might add.
They could be standing in the tall corn barely showing an antler, but if bedded in it you could probably not even find them with aerial surveillance. I swung my gaze further north, and my heart involuntarily fluttered a moment as I spotted a grey object that seemed out of place. Eyes now riveted, I re-adjusted the diopter on the glasses and squinted, studying that strange object. Slowly it came into focus and turned into a buck deer. I took down the binoculars and rubbed my tearing eyes, they were watering from the strain. Looking up again quickly through my optics, the seeming illusion had disappeared. No buck.
I did a head shake thinking, “Oh come on now.” I quickly walked about 30 yards to find a higher spot on that flat ground and came to the edge of the irrigation ditch with the dirt piled up a foot or so on the sides. Balancing awkwardly on that little perch of dirt, I sucked in my breath and looked and the Zeiss found nothing at first then suddenly picked up a tiny glint from the new sun’s rays off a deer horn.
That was indeed a magical moment. The buck had bedded down in the Kosha weeds, maybe 500 yards out, and all that was visible were the tops of his antlers. The predator part of my brain kicked in as I sized up the situation. The sun was at my back. The wind was in my face. The buck appeared to be looking a full three quarters off to my left, almost totally away from me.
I said to myself, “Gregg, you can do this.” I had that instinctive feeling that this was a do-able stalk, if I could just manage to do my part to perfection. It seemed strange and improbable that all the variables were lined up in my favor. But that was the exact scenario. Now, it was only up to me…to successfully pull off the Big Stalk.
I sneaked back to my pick-up truck to regroup. I slid my Freedom Arms .500 out of its leather holster and checked the cylinder; of the five big one-half inch chambers, four had finger-size brass casings in them topped with 425 grain LFNPB cast lead bullets, with the fifth hole empty and lying under the hammer which was on first notch or “safety cock.”
I then carefully placed it in my zippered canvas pistol case normally reserved for my Contenders and Encores for these situations. I knew that this was going to be a crawl through some rough stuff and I wanted maximum protection for my stainless steel revolver from the clay dirt and the Kosha weed seeds and briars.
I had custom sewn carrying straps on the pistol case so I slung it over my shoulder. I reached in my truck and pulled out some carpenter’s knee pads and strapped them on. These turned out to be a very good idea. I then pulled on a pair of soft leather gloves which I used when shooting the big revolvers.
The weather was cloudy, about 32 degrees, windy, and promising to start snowing any minute. This simple equipment plus my binoculars, my wits and my muscles, and I was set to embark on…. the Big Stalk.
Bent over, I moved rapidly toward the big weed field, and reaching its edge, I brought up my binoculars, almost afraid to look, fearing that the stalk was already blown! But incredibly, the bedded buck, some 500 yards away and barely detectable over the tall growth, was totally oblivious to my existence.
As I entered the seemingly impenetrable weed patch on my hands and knees, I silently prayed that I could arise to the occasion, make the sneak, and get a decent shot at this mule deer buck.
The farm field had been plowed for crops, and I was more or less cutting perpendicular across the furrows. After 10 yards of crawling into this wall of weeds, I sat upright and focused on the horizon to get a point of reference to line up on.
There was a parked train on a track in the distance, and the corresponding car in line with the bedded buck’s horns was a yellow box car. I now had my tracking point; all I had to do was crawl about 450 yards through this miniature forest of Kosha weeds, without spooking him.
A man’s resolve can be very powerful, and sometimes over-rides his actual physical ability in the real world. Kind of like you got the will but maybe not the power. But the power can be enhanced by conditions that cause extreme excitement: read adrenalin.
Here I was in a situation with the possibility of getting a shot at a mule deer buck at close range with my revolver. But I also knew that I had physical limitations, namely my replaced left knee that I should not kneel on. But, did I mention adrenalin? I slowly slid my left leg forward, rested on that knee gingerly, then brought the other leg forward and rested the right knee at the top of the furrow.
Then I put out my gloved hands and shoved the weeds aside, my mouth closed and my breath blowing hard through my nose to keep the weed seeds and dust from entering my lungs. From the top of the furrow down into the belly and then up to the next furrow; they were just far enough apart to make it rather uncomfortable and awkward. Dang the circumstances, all ahead full! I pushed on, and steadily moved forward, forward, a furrow at a time, towards the resting buck. And I felt no pain.
This was do-able, I kept telling myself: move the leg to the top of the furrow, then the other leg, rest a moment, shove the weeds aside one more time, then repeat and then repeat and then repeat again.
As the wind was in my face, the blowing weed debris found their mark with uncanny accuracy into my eyes despite my glasses, so several times I tried to wipe them clear with my trigger finger; as it was bare because I had chopped off that finger of that glove for a better feel on the trigger. The Kosha weeds put up a good fight trying to deter me from my destination, but I was making progress; this was an incredible feeling, almost a high. About every 20 or thirty feet I would cautiously get up on my knees and glass the buck; he was unmoving and still unaware, actually dozing off at times as his horns would completely disappear below the brown carpet of weeds. I got off course several times while crawling and thankfully I had that yellow train car to re-orient me.
I started realizing that my body was feeling chilled. Forced to move slowly and hardly daring to breathe, the wind chill was getting to me. No it wasn’t THAT cold, it was just that my activity level was not enough to really keep me warm and I was slowly losing body heat as I was dressed fairly light.
The act of crawling on your hands and knees does not do your body any favors for blood flow. About every other stop I would blow softly on my hands to try and keep them warm enough to feel the gun when that moment arrived.
Over the next hour or so, I guess the word stealth could loosely describe my sneak through that patch of 3 foot tall weeds. It was tough to be silent, even the moving of the weeds aside by my gloved hands created a scratchy crackling sound.
And every so often I would get tangled up as some of the stalks got caught up under my knee pads so I would have to clear them out by sitting upright. Not only did that make some noise but it also caused me to have to rise a bit above the weed tops, surely in sight of the buck had he been looking.
At first this did not seem to be an issue, but after I had closed down to within 50 yards of him it seemed monumental. That steady wind in my face was undoubtedly what saved me. Though I moved ever so slowly and tried to be ever so quiet, I wonder had there been no wind that day, if the outcome would have been the same.
Of course, mule deer are so named because of their large sensitive mule-like ears, and they know well how to use them to listen for danger.
I inched closer and closer, to where I was certain the buck would hear me and stand up at any moment and check out this strange animal stalking him through the weeds. I was now within good pistol range. I slowly maneuvered my body around from being on hands and knees to where I was now sitting on my butt. What a relief, I thought, it feels great to be off of all fours. I silently uncased my .500 Wyoming Express and checked the sight picture.
The weeds were taller than my gun resting on my knees. My finger felt cold but still ok on the trigger to make a good shot. I guessed I was about 25 yards from the buck, and I could clearly see that he was a nice symmetrical 4X4. I was elated.
What a feeling to be so close yet the buck was still unaware of me! He was completely oblivious to the danger lapping at his backside. I decided to inch forward on my butt to clear a little more of the tall weeds in front of me. If I could get another few yards, I would have a better shot, and not look through the weeds. I made it about five yards and then…
Previously…There comes a moment in time when no matter how you try to squelch that sneeze, it is unstoppable. Well, that moment arrived and I PFFFOUFFF’ed, and in so doing partly thawed out my finger once again. I fully expected that the gig was up, and so would the buck be up, and hopefully he would pause and look at me; then I could get a nice 20 yard broadside shot. But he did not move. In fact, he never even heard me.
I was sort of stunned; this did not seem real. I told myself I have to get him to stand up! I started to whistle. My dry parched lips only made a hissing sound. I was dehydrated from the stalk and could not even whistle. And the wind covered that attempt at making a sound. So I started to try and grunt like a deer…
How does a deer sound when he grunts? Heck, I guess I’ve seen it on TV a few times or so on the hunting shows, but it isn’t the same as when you are sitting out there in the field and you try to do it with the wind blowing in your face and your lips blue from the cold and dry from excitement and stress
Putting those thoughts aside, I grunted louder. Nothing, no reaction from the buck. And I repeated again, even louder. The buck, just a stone’s throw away, did not heed me. Maybe he needs a hearing aid, I thought. So I strived to find something to throw, but all at hand was just clay and dirt and weeds.
So I grabbed a handful of clay and squeezed it into a clod and tried to throw it and nothing happened at all. Actually the clod disintegrated eight feet out and the particles blew back into my face and I coughed, kind of like a grunt. And then the buck’s horns tilted…he cocked his head at that strange coughing noise.
Well, at least I was finally getting his attention and now he would slowly stand up and turn and look at me and I would have the shot of a lifetime broadside at about 60 feet. For the 10th time I put my red dot sight on the deer’s horns and imagined where his vitals were hidden below the weeds and where they would be when he calmly stood up… Yeah, right.
Suddenly, and without any warning, as if a giant spring uncoiled violently beneath him, that buck leapt into the air and hit the ground running, with not even one eyeball wasted in my direction. For a few tenths of a second, my heart stopped and failure raced through my brain as my target moved away at deer bounding speed yet seemingly in slow motion all at the same time.
Well, my reflexes had been poised and waiting for this moment, though if I had my druthers I would have preferred it would have lasted a little longer, as in seconds rather than tenths. But not given a choice, my gun just moved with him and the trigger broke as the red dot hit amidships of his body while still swinging forward. It was a reaction rather than a planned action. It like, well, it just happened.
I will not argue that I probably should not have taken that shot, because a running deer is not a good target at any range, even with a red dot sight at twenty yards. I never felt the recoil but I heard the .500 roar as that 425 grain lead bullet launched to its destiny and I was rewarded with that wonderful thunk as it hit deer, lots of deer actually.
He missed a few steps but righted himself and ran another 70 yards, then piled up in a cloud of dust and field debris and with one last big kick of his hind legs, he lay still in the Kosha weeds. I do know for a fact that all I had to do with making that shot was pulling the trigger; that bullet was guided by Divine Intervention.
I got up slowly, hardly believing that it was all over: the expectancy, the build up emotionally, the physical stalk and then the actual shot; and that I had succeeded. I had taken a nice buck on his terms, all fair, and with a revolver at close range.
As I approached my deer, I noticed the entrance hole of the big .500 lead bullet. It was just left of the tail, up fairly high. Upon field dressing, I located the hole of the 425 grain lead slug where it entered the lung cavity, without ever disturbing the stomach or intestinal area.
That bullet had stayed up near the spine, crashing forward into the chest area through the right lung and causing massive bleeding, then continuing on to exit near the junction of the right shoulder and neck. My steel tape measured 45 inches of penetration.
As I set up the camera for a photo, snow started falling gently. It was another beautiful day of hunting.
Trophy is in the eye of the beholder. Because of the circumstances, I consider this 4X4 buck deer as one of my greatest trophies.
Handgunning Mule Deer and Pronghorn Antelope
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