Earning Your Kill

Earning Your Kill

There are five deer species in the North American Deer Slam: Mule Deer, Whitetail, Coues, Sitka Blacktail and Columbian Blacktail. 

Most people hunt and kill Whitetail and Mule Deer. Several years ago, I decided to pursue a Deer Slam and have only checked those two main species off my list. So, when the opportunity came up to join one of my friends in Oregon on a blacktail hunt, I jumped on it. These tags are over the counter and with a long rifle season, it makes a great option for a non-resident like me to try and kill a buck.

Blacktail are found west of the Cascade Mountain range in Oregon. They can be found in California, Oregon and Washington. These deer look like mule deer and have antlers that fork like the antler pattern of mule deer, but are notorious for thriving in the deep, wet timber of Oregon. Blacktail tend to be nocturnal and difficult to find in the steep, thick country where they live. Due to the terrain, hunters typically drive the old logging roads and glass the hillsides that have been recently logged. These areas provide some of the only places where glassing is possible. On top of the terrain struggles, hunters need to be prepared for lots of rain and lots of patience behind the glass.

I left Idaho at 4 a.m. and drove to western Oregon. I had set it up to meet my buddy around 3 p.m. so we could try to get an evening hunt in. As I sat in my truck at the meeting spot, my excitement began to build. I had gone over my gear time and time again. I brought my Kryptek Altitude line, but most importantly brought my Jupiter Rain Gear. I made sure that was readily available in my pack as I could see the sky beginning to dump rain on us. When my buddy met me, he said, “I’ve got good news and bad news."

My heart sank. Nobody wants bad news to start the hunt. So, I asked him to deliver the bad news first.

“The bad news is that there are two people up hunting on the ridge where I wanted to take you.The good news is, I got off work early and drove up to where I have seen a good shooter buck hanging out. I glassed for just a few minutes and found the buck bedded down on the same hillside where I’ve been seeing him. If the guys on the ridge don’t bust him, we’re gonna take him. Are you ready to go get a blacktail?”

I was shocked. I had set aside four days for this hunt. Within minutes, he’s now telling me he’s got a buck located and we should go take it. When we got to the location, we began glassing and found the buck in his bed. He was 375 yards away and bedded facing us. The first shot hit him a little high in the neck. He stood up and froze. I'm not sure if he was in shock, but he absorbed that 143gr. 6.5CM round like he had been hit by a snowball. I racked a second round and put it right into his sternum. The buck took a few steps and then laid down to die. Seconds later we could see him rolling end over end down the hill.

I couldn’t believe it. Just like that. The entire hunt was over in less than an hour. My feelings at this moment were a strange mixture of elation and almost inadequacy. I felt like I hadn’t earned this buck. It almost felt like I didn’t deserve to harvest it because I didn’t put the work in. I’d never had a hunt that just felt like it 100% went my way. This was the first time the stars had aligned, and it all just went perfectly - but I didn’t know how to feel.

Looking at the terrain it was all so similar. Steep, thick, lots of small cuts in the earth. I knew it was going to be difficult to locate the buck after he’d rolled down the hill. On top of that, it began dumping rain. It took us two hours to locate the buck, constantly slipping and falling down and searching for any sign of where that buck had been shot, rolled or lay dead.

Once we had him located, we cut him up into quarters. Even though we were probably only 300 yards from the road, it took us well over an hour to pack him out. Almost every step was accompanied by slipping and falling. Finally, we got back to the truck. This was one of the toughest recoveries and pack outs I’ve had. Because of this, I felt much better about putting in the work to feel like I earned the buck, even though it happened on the back end. This was a new experience for me but it put the entire hunting process into perspective. I now feel a lot better looking back and feel like I was able to earn it.

Watch the hunt unfold below!

Posted in Stories from the Hunt