This is the 8th in a series of articles written for Opticstalk.com by John Barsness, www.riflesandrecipes.com, and staff writer for the on-line magazine Rifle Loony News.
The greatest thing about binoculars and a spotting scope is how much walking they can save us while hunting—and how much game they can find that’s totally unaware of our presence. Not that I dislike hiking when hunting—I do a lot of it with my 4-legged hunting companion, a half-breed Labrador/English setter who likes to scare pheasants into the air—but when hunting big game I long ago learned that most country it’s far better to park my body somewhere and let the optics do the walking.
A mule deer hunt made about a decade ago in
The sun rose over my right shoulder, as planned from the direction of my approach. Any deer in the canyon would soon be illuminated by its orange light, and if they happened to glance toward my yucca-screened position they’d be looking into the sun. I started scanning the canyon methodically with fine German glass, especially the ridge-ends halfway down the far side, where a big buck would be likely to bed.
The natural world had already started awakening. The calls of robins and magpies rose faintly from the juniper thickets, and soon the white rump patch of a mule deer appeared on one of the ridges below. The view through the spotting scope was a little dim, but backing off the magnification opened up the exit pupil enough to see that the deer was a forkhorn buck, up and feeding, safe from me this early November morning. But it was still a thrill just to see a mule deer, a sight I can’t enough of even after decades of hunting them. (As my wife puts it, rolling her eyes, “John goes nuts for muley butts.”)
Gradually the light improved as the shadow-line of my bluff-top eased down into the canyon. Now I could occasionally see a magpie or even a robin flying among the junipers. A red-tailed hawk, soon to be on his way to the sunny Southwest, soared above the far side of the canyon on the early thermals. And then I spotted the big buck, bedded a third of the way up from the bottom of the canyon under a rounded juniper, at least 1000 yards away.
As we lay there, on opposite sides of the canyon, I tried to judge his antlers. He wasn’t the biggest buck in the world but he was mature, his 4x4 antlers spreading out beyond the tips of his ears and rising almost as high as they were wide. It had been really warm for several days—too warm for early November, the day-time highs often nearing or even reaching 70 degrees—and the hunting had been tough. But I much prefer to hunt
I lay there a while, trying to figure out how to get within sure range of the buck. There are two major problems involved when stalking a deer in the rough breaks around high-plains rivers: erratic winds and other deer. All I could do about other deer was watch for them, as with the forkhorn buck, but the best thing to do about the wind was wait a little. As the sun rose it would warm both sides of the canyon, and the morning thermals would rise gently into my face, just as they lifted the wings of the red-tail on the other side. The buck appeared to be quite content, so there wasn’t any hurry.
And then I heard the faint, dull thunk of a pickup’s door being slammed and looked up. Sure enough, on the top of the bluffs across the canyon, ¾ of a mile away, somebody had driven right to the edge. I put the spotting scope on the pickup and saw that it was new and glittering in the sun, the newness the reason I hadn’t heard the engine. There appeared to be only one hunter, who’d slammed the door as he left the pickup and was now walking right down the top of an open ridge into the canyon, in full view of any deer that cared to look.
I turned the spotting scope back to the buck. His view of the hunter was blocked by the juniper at his back, but he’d heard the slammed door and his head was now turned in that direction, big ears swiveling to hear another sound. I cursed under my breath, then decided there wasn’t time to make a stalk, so might as well see what the buck did and then make a play—if possible.
The buck kept listening and the hunter kept on down the open ridge. Soon he raised his rifle