The crunching sand beneath our feet was soothing as we hiked in. We had two hours until sunrise and had 2 miles to cover. Our plan was simple, pair up and cover two main valleys that ended in one big bowl. Michael and I would head in first, covering the far ridge in hopes of cutting off anything that crossed the corridor. Brett and Dan would stay back and cover the ridge and hillside where we have seen deer on multiple occasions. Hunting plans are always great, but seldom do they work well when the wind doesn't want to cooperate.
Once situated, we waiting for first light and began to glass. The below 40 temps were a bit chilly with the breeze, but I was thankful for it. We were hunting deer on public land in November and we had no competition. That was until an hour after sunrise. We heard gunshots. I messaged Brett only to find out he had a bird hunter below him in the valley he was glassing. We knew that area was worthless to hunt now and anything in there was going to blow out of there. It was time for Plan B. I explained to Michael that I thought the bucks would be in the valley behind our location. It was my plan all week to glass this spot later in the morning, but I had a feeling. Gut feelings can sometimes pay off.
As we crept closer to the edge, I calmly motioned to Michael to drop down low. Then I saw motion on the ridge and hastily said, 'Get Down!' We hit our knees behind the brush. I got on my belly and pulled the MINOX binoculars out. On the ridge was a doe and a spike. This is where experience really paid off. I ignored those two deer. Sure, the doe was legal, the spike was not (thanks California). No, I was not interested in them. Instinct and experience told me to look BELOW the ridge, in the brush, for the buck who would be hiding. Sure enough, there he was.
From bush to bush, the wide forkie walked in the opposite direction as his group. He glanced in our direction each time he stopped. Had he spotted us? No. We hadn't moved and the wind was perfect. In fact, he was walking right toward us. The excitement was almost unbearable as I explained to Michael we would wait to see if he walked right to us. The buck stopped, then began climbing the ridge and crossed a saddle. Nooo!! As he stopped, I experienced one of the most incredible sights ever. His wide antlers shone like shiny pieces of polished aluminum. I am talking serious reflection! It was crazy. Ten seconds later, he disappeared below the far ridge.
|Found this on a ridge. Some hunter hasn't been following the 'lead free zone' rules during rifle season.|
I explained my plan to Michael. I would drop below eye-level on our ridge and cut him off as he crossed. I hastily made my way across and no sooner had I set up, the wind changed. My legs were wobbly and now my hear sank. I needed to come up with a new plan and fast. I anticipated the bucks position, checked the wind and figured I had about a two-minute window to get high and look into the draw. Again, experience taught me well. As I hit the ridge line, I dropped and crawled to the only yucca plant in sight. I peeked around it and immediately saw movement. There he was, on a deer trail, 150 yards away without a care in the world. He hadn't seen me, hadn't spooked, but was focused on staying on that trail...that lead away from me. He was never going to cross into a shooting lane. As he made his was around the point, I saw the doe right behind him. Huh? Aren't the bucks supposed to be chasing the does? This doe was hopping around like a kid hopped up on sugar. She bounded behind him and they both disappeared over the ridge. The wind was blowing right at them, but I wasn't sure if they winded me or if the thermals were rising just enough. Either way, I backed away to allow them to bed down.
After hiking back to my partner, calling Brett, and having him meet us, we planned to hike beyond the ridge and glass for the buck. We had never gone this way before, but we always knew the deer liked to hide in here for some reason. We quickly found out why. As we crossed the ridge, we found a plethora of valleys and draws that made it impossible to see into the bottoms. This buck was smart! He also vanished. We glassed for a couple hours and saw nothing. The wind proceeded to blow right into those draws, so we got out of there.
For the remainder of the day, we glassed the basins, valleys and ridges and saw nothing. Water levels running low, we packed up at last light and hiked out. It had been an exciting morning and now we had a buck to go after. We would be back to our spot in the hopes of getting closer to the buck I call 'Wide Load', as he is by far the widest buck I have laid eyes on while hunting public land in California.