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Wiltz: A successful Thanksgiving deer hunt

How about coming along on my East River Charles Mix County deer hunt. I've been perched on a slope for about three hours, waiting for a mature whitetail buck to wander within my shooting comfort zone.

I'm on a south slope facing north. Though a strong wind is gusting out of the south, I'm beneath the rim and I don't believe the wind will affect deer on the bottom below. Soon after I arrive, a small lone buck and then a doe amble through without concern. It strengthens my thoughts on the wind at my back.

Countless thoughts pass through my mind. I think about what I'm doing right, what I'm doing wrong. One thing is for sure: I'm in the autumn of my hunting years. Getting up at 5:15 a.m. and heading out alone into the cold darkness is more difficult than it was a few years back.

Up until this Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I've hunted in places where retrieving a deer would be relatively easy. That would not be the case if I downed a buck below me this afternoon. I could get down to the deer by sliding on my butt. I could field dress the deer as best I can with my troublesome tremor. Even with numb legs and no balance, I could probably crawl back up the slope to my pickup.

Now, getting the deer out? No way. What in the heck was I doing here?

Actually, I had that covered. When I asked for permission to hunt weeks earlier, I asked about help in getting a deer out. My old friend replied that we could make that work.

The draw that I sat along emptied into Choteau Creek. The bottom below me was covered with dense growth including ash, willow, cottonwood, cedar, buckbrush and clinging vines. Openings were small corridors at best with one exception. A clear area of lush grass lay below me.

It was the size of a golf green. I actually imagined laying up to it with a 9-iron. There were open areas on the opposite north slope, but 200-yard shots were out of my comfort zone.

Again, I asked myself what I was doing here. What were the chances of a good buck standing still for me on that only open patch? One in a hundred?

If you ask experienced hunters, "What is deer hunting's most interesting phenomena?" the answer might be how deer can materialize out of nowhere. For three hours my eyes had been glued to the panorama in front of me. Now, seemingly from only God knows where, a handsome whitetail buck was facing me, his eyes locked on me. He was standing pin high in the center of that imaginary green!

The buck had me at a huge disadvantage as my rifle lay at my right side with my bipod resting across it. My mind raced. If I moved a muscle, he would most likely be gone in a single bound. I'd never faced this situation. A quick plan formulated in my mind. "If his head goes down, I'll go for the bipod."

We were deadlocked for what seemed five minutes when his tail flickered. Then his head went down to the grass. I quickly straddled the bipod across my lap. When his head came up, his eyes were again riveted on me. Within minutes, the tail flickered again and his head went down. I slid the rifle's forearm into the yoke of the bipod and pushed it forward, barely making it before his head was up again. Now my head was on the scope, the reticle glued to his right front quarter.

His eyes were still intent. My right thumb slid the safety forward. My index finger squeezed the rear set trigger. I took a deep breath, partially exhaled and touched the front trigger.

The deer lay there. Exhilaration as well as remorse overcame me. To him, there was gratitude not only for this gift, but also for a clean shot that spelled a humane death.

A golden wafer of sun approached the southwest horizon as I climbed into the pickup and headed for the house. My friend Francis says we can get to the deer with my two-wheel drive Dodge Dakota. We get out of the pickup when we can't get any closer. Francis is first to see the deer and he counts points. Six on the left, five on the right. Otherwise, he's very average but I am a very happy hunter.

The market for deer hunting attire is huge today. Mine? Black insulated coveralls from Bomgaars and an orange stocking cap. Fancy scent blocker? No. Movement, not color, is everything.

As you read this, I'll be cow elk hunting in Wyoming. See you next week.

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