Back in the late 70's as a family we hunted the southern end of the Cascade range in Siskiyou County, California just west of where I was raised. From much of our hunting area, you could see the Klamath River to the north and into Oregon, as it was only a few miles away.
It was here I cut my teeth deer hunting and learned to enjoy and respect the Columbian Blacktail deer. They are a very intelligent, petit and predictable animal. Once you understand them, and their habits, they are more predictable than whitetails by far. Another interesting note is that aside from their winter migration to lower elevations, where that is necessary, these beautiful little deer will generally be within a quarter to half a mile from where you last saw them.
It was here that we used the early archery season as an excuse to cut winter firewood and to scout deer for the regular firearm season. This particular year there were bucks in abundance. We were required to harvest only bucks with three points or better on each side of their rack, and legal bucks were literally everywhere in the vicinity we usually hunted. One day during bow season we saw 27 legal bucks in one morning before noon.
Opening day of rifle season came the first weekend of October and our family was in the field before daybreak. By lunch that day, my grandmother and grandfather both had tagged nice three and four-point bucks (all Western count). Before evening ended, my uncle and father too had harvested fat, mature four-point Blacktail bucks. I had seen lots of deer, and several forked horn bucks, but nothing legal.
The second day of season, my father and grandfather were to help me with a drive of sorts, down a patch of chokecherry, manzanita and tobacco brush on a west facing slope that dropped down the mountain into some rather dense second-growth transition forest of Douglas fir, sugar pine and cedar. At the lower end of this hunt was an old logging road, which cut from north to south along this western slope, right where a series of springs surfaced. This area had been loaded with deer a month before, and as nearly as we could tell, hadn't been hunted on opening day.
Morning came with my father and I still hunting down through the brush fields and eventually into the second-growth transition forest. My grandfather went on ahead of us, down to the logging road, some 4 ½ to 5 miles below, to pick us up when we arrived.
The idea was for my father to work his way down the ridge trail of the prominent ridge to the south of me, and for me to still hunt along the bottom of the north side of the ridge. Hopefully I'd come upon a buck going to bed down in the timber, or perhaps my father would kick one out of its bed on the ridge, and it would come down to me.
I worked my way along for probably a mile and a half without seeing any deer. This was highly unusual; as I should have seen twenty or more deer in the area I'd still-hunted through. Finally I came upon a large, tall outcropping of rocks, and climbed to the top to see into the underbrush and through the young timber stand. Watching from the top of the rock pile, a vantage point probably forty feet above the rest of the surrounding terrain, what do I see... Deer... No, just a sea of orange vests and orange hats ahead of me, pushing rather quickly downhill doing my same hunt, only immediately ahead of me!
Was I ticked off! We'd planned this hunt the night before, had arrived to our starting point at least an hour before daylight, and had seen, nor heard no one. Now, after committing to a hunt that would take more than half my precious second day of deer season, here's a whole orange clad army hunting just ahead of me! No wonder I hadn't seen any deer.
Being more than slightly disgruntled and disappointed, I made a beeline for the nearest old skid trail to me, and made my way quickly and almost silently towards the sea of orange vests. My logic being that I could hook up with my grandfather down on the logging road quickly, and move on to some area not so inundated with hunters.
When I came within about two hundred yards of the advancing orange wall, I heard something in the brush to my left. As I turned to look, my rifle came up reflexively, as all I could see rising out of the manzanita brush, was a rack of antlers! I knew that my father was on the top of the ridge and that all the other hunters were to the west of me, and almost without effort or thought, the rifle touched my shoulder at the same instant it went off.
When I walked up to my buck, there was no need to cut his throat, I had hit him squarely in the white patch under his chin, and not only was his neck broken, but his juggler was torn open as well. The shot had been all of about eighteen feet! This cagey buck was a nice four by four, with average width and heavy beam. He didn't get that way by being stupid. I then realized that this buck had merely waited for all the commotion of the passing hunting party to go by, then calmly got up to depart the opposite way they would have expected, having hunted right past him.
This little maneuver of his taught me volumes that morning. I learned the virtues of hunting SLOWLY, when still-hunting. Most all hunters I've met or seen hunt WAY too fast in the woods. Later, after this hunt I've observed deer simply lay down when hunters are moving through cover, wait until they are past, then continue whatever they were doing, after the hunters have passed by!
I began to field dress my buck, and think about the three mile drag ahead of me through some pretty heavy cover before getting the buck to the lower logging road where my ride awaited me. As I worked a voice called to me, sounding vaguely like my father, asking if I had something. I replied that yes, I had a nice buck down. Again the voice asked if I would like some help, this time being much closer than the first time he spoke. I replied that I would appreciate some help.
Out of the brush came a man that looked like the poster boy for Cabella's. He had on a very new red mackinaw wool coat, a bright orange shooting vest over that, orange camouflage pants, new 14" top leather boots complete with vibram sole and pants cuffs tucked inside. His cartridge belt and holster sported a brand new Ruger single action .44 magnum, and a whole belt full of cartridges for it. Across his chest bandito style was a leather bandolier of rifle ammo. Off his trousers belt hung a canteen, a folding meat saw in a leather sheath, a hatchet, a compass case and a bowie style hunting knife that could have doubled as a great sword! His new Weatherby rifle had nary a scratch on it's high luster finish, and the 2 ½" rifle sling was still very stiff with newness. He carried a heavy day pack, with what I don't know, and a bright orange wool felt crusher hat topped off his 260 pound 5' 10" frame. Finally a bright orange Polar Seat flopped against his posterior as he walked, being hung from the back of his belt waiting to cushion his tired rump when he sat down. This fellow was living makings for a whole Pat McManus book by himself!
When this apparition of preparedness came to the deer, and me, he quite knowingly informed me that I needed to properly field dress this buck right away. When I pointed out that I had already gutted him out through my customary 10-12" abdominal incision, he assured me that it wasn't how the book said it was to be done. No, I needed to split him beginning just under the chin, and then all the way down to the rectum. Well, I asked him how he would propose to keep the carcass clean during a three-mile drag being split open like that. Well, he said, it just wasn't proper, and he hadn't ever heard of doing it my way.
Then he informed me that the animal must be properly tagged with my deer tag. I showed him my fully punched and filled in deer tag, and that it was in my pocket. He told me that it had to be tied on the deer right away. I asked him if he had ever spent four hours retracing his steps on a steep, brush choked hillside looking for a deer tag that fell off a deer while it was being dragged. I explained that the tag would be firmly affixed when I got him to the logging road below, but not an instant before, as I had no intentions of possibly losing the tag while dragging the deer.
At last he asked if he could help me drag the deer to the road below. I gladly accepted, and we began, each holding a side of his rack and dragging him rather easily down hill. After about fifty yards my very prepared helper began to complain about the blisters on his feet from the new boots. Then after another fifty yards, he was wheezing so heavily I thought he must be an asthmatic. His help made things much more bearable dragging the buck, although no monster, 160 pounds of dead weight can feel very heavy by yourself very soon. Still, I felt sorry for this fellow, as every step was misery for him with his boots making blisters, his new pants chafing him, and his load of accessory items weighting him down. He puffed, wheezed , grunted and winced every step of the way, stopping frequently to take a drag of water from his canteen. I thanked him repeatedly for his help, and never once did he ever ask my name, nor volunteer his, even when I asked.
It took us a couple of hours to drag the buck down to the road, and a full canteen of water for my helper, who now was quite nauseated, probably from all the water, and being out of shape. Once to the road however, we were greeted by a crowd of very excited orange clad folks from his hunting party who had been waiting for him. My helper went right up to a rather large, round man in his mid-fifties and told him how he'd helped his son pack his deer down the hill! The gentleman in his fifties, equally decked out in fine new hunting attire as his friend indicated that he had never seen me before, and asked who the #@%*#? I was.
Well, when I introduced myself I got a very cold reception. The hunting party was so large that they didn't even know all the members in it, and my well-equipped helper assumed that I was part of their group. He instantly became hostile, and informed me that he almost killed himself helping with that deer, then called me a few very unflattering names.
Just as I was trying to thank them for their help and hospitality, my father came walking down the road, and abruptly ended the hostile exchange taking place. We waited just a short time, and my grandfather brought the pickup down the road to us, and we loaded the buck after a photo shoot.
I've always looked back on this hunt with a chuckle. The overlooked deer, the well prepared newbie, and the oversize hunting party that didn't even know who was who.