November 15, 2007
Last year, it was two beautiful muley bucks (the 339-Yard 5×4 and the Straight Down 5×5) in a record time of 36 hours in the deepest, most challenging, and most beautiful area of the the eastern Montana Badlands we had ever hunted that made for the best hunt ever. The final tally this year was Hunters 0, Mule Deer 2. But, then again, this year we fought a different battle. By cell phone somewhere between Bismarck and Dickinson, we discovered a ranch employee had messed up our reservation and we were forced to spend the first three days of our hunt in Area 2. Still a vast and challenging expanse, Area 2 simply holds fewer trophy bucks because Areas 3 and 4 offer territory that only the bold shall travel. However the mix up did give us the chance to get more acquainted with Jim and Nancy, the ranchers who had come to our aid by chance the year before. Friends.
The first morning, a miscommunication between hunters and thoughts of this was only the beginning, led us to pass on an opportunity at a 5×5 as he made his escape with two does. It was only the first morning. Who knew it would be the best chance we had. The second day challenged our spirits; high temperatures drove the deer into the deepest canyons beyond Area 2. When we implemented our wolf pack method through the deepest coulees in Area 2 only to come up empty, not even a doe, frustration set in. Then a mistake, and the loss of an old friend (my trusty .308, Chadd’s .308), made me wonder what kind of karma I had bargained for this time. Day three brought in a new wind, and the two-person wolf pack put on as many miles as the previous two days combined. Twenty-three deer total – one buck, who offered a fleeting chance as he slipped over the ridge just before nightfall, he was another marginal buck who used cunning to slip across the wire. We let him go to let him grow.
Day four, Area 3, finally, but by now the winds of November had turned brisk and gusting. Still, we totaled nine mules (four bucks) by 8am including the same 5×5 and two does from the first morning. From a butte overlooking the massive southern coulees of Area 3, Val took a crack at one of two bucks as they danced with a coyote in the sunrise, but a shot we estimated at a good 300 yards was actually 465 yards after the fact. The bucks waited for the doe they had been competing for as she lay in the shadows before they loped over the knob and into the next crevice. By afternoon we had come to terms with the fact that this year, while the most challenging hunt we had ever undertaken, was not meant to be “successful”. That evening, we again watched as the three mules, which were now becoming old friends, the 5×5 and two does, grazed two coulees away. It was much too far for a shot, and at that point, I’m not sure we wanted to take a shot. We watched and they watched until the 5×5 decided he had stayed long enough and then led his does over the ridge and into the sunset. I sat quiet as we drove off of Belle Prairie that night. I was exhausted, I was sore, I needed a horse, and I was disappointed it had to come to an end. The wind broke loose overnight and the November gusts blew us home the next day in record time. We watched as a North Dakota Suburban played leap frog with us after pitstops along the road east. Strapped to the roof was a nice mule deer doe. My trailer ran empty, but I couldn’t help but determine that this had been the best hunt ever. This trip will be remembered for other things along the way as well. The best waiter in town, Dan at the Gust Hauf, pizza and Fat Tire, is our table ready? Wyatt wondering each night, “Did you catch one?” Jake just happy to be on the road again, sunrise at his back.