As the sun dipped to the mountain tops near Great Falls, Mont. on the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I figured it was now “Jesus time.”
We had about an hour of legal shooting time left, then just a few more hours of hunting the next morning before our trip would end with the 15-hour drive back to Minnesota. I had already tagged a whitetail doe, and my son, Andy, was still waiting to fill his buck and elk tags, which he bought as part of a special youth combination license. My son, William, also was waiting to fill his whitetail doe tag after a few close encounters but no shot taken. With time running out, I turned to the Lord and asked for his help to bring some deer our way.
Throughout this trip, we had seen lots of animals, many of which were on land we couldn’t hunt. Still, it was cool to see so many whitetail and mule deer in the hills, mountains and lowlands of North Central Montana. I was able to shoot some with my camera, including a nice group of muley does with a buck (shown above).
Seems like every year God does something special late in the trip to put smiles on our faces and meat in the freezer. Two years ago, again on the Friday after Thanksgiving, my son, Joe, and I tagged mule deer bucks on the same stalk. Last year, I shot my whitetail doe on the last morning of our trip, and Grandpa Bob Guditis got an elk on the following morning, which was the last day of the rifle season.
So, I was not at all giving up hope as we continued looking for deer in the twilight of this day. In fact, I coined a popular sports phrase when I told Bob we should hunt until the final whistle.
That’s exactly what we did. There was a grassy lowland area near the mountains that is a whitetail magnet. It is a crop field with a double row of trees on the western edge. Because the lowlands are mostly grass, this gives the deer a rare piece of cover.
We have seen deer bedded or standing in the cover many times. In fact, last year we saw a beautiful 10-pointer that Andy came close to getting a shot at. It ran out of some cover and right past Andy at about 100 yards. He was waiting for it to stop or at least slow down, but it did neither. In wide open spaces like these, deer will run a long way before stopping.
We saw the 10-pointer a few days later when my son, Joe, was with me. It was with some does, so we went on a stalk. Because we had only doe tags, we had to leave the 10-pointer alone. Joe ended up getting a nice doe on the stalk. I probably could have gotten one, too, as they ran out of the cover when we approached to get Joe’s deer. Ever since then, we had been wondering if we would see that buck again this year.
Time for a stalk
On our final look at this piece of cover on Friday, Bob spotted some deer just outside the cover and walking in a grass field. Quickly, he saw that one of them was a nice buck. So, Andy grabbed his .308 caliber rifle that Bob had given him, and the stalk began. William joined in, hoping that maybe he could get a shot at a doe.
I tagged along as well, but mostly to carry gear and help William. Andy has been on stalks like this before, so I knew he would do fine on his own. We started on the opposite side of the tree rows from the deer, and walked down the outside row of pine trees toward the deer.
We had gone about 300 yards or so when Andy decided to poke through the trees to see if he could spot the deer. He did, and held his hands out wide to let me know that the buck had a very good-sized set of antlers. That got us all very excited.
He went about another 100 yards, then looked again at the deer. William and I stayed back a little bit so we wouldn’t be seen. Andy then got down on all fours and crawled to the other row of trees, which were only about half the size of the pines. He slipped all the way through, then sat up to a shooting position. At that moment, I made my greatest contribution of the stalk.
Finger on the trigger
When he was ready, I asked him if he wanted the shooting sticks. He motioned me over, and I belly crawled just a few yards to him and handed him the sticks. I was itching to see the buck, but I stayed in the trees so I wouldn’t spook either the buck or the two does that were with him.
Andy didn’t wait long to put his finger on the trigger. He actually pulled back once without firing, because he had forgotten to take the safety off.
Once he put the gun on fire, he settled in and locked the crosshairs on the buck’s chest. He fired, then I heard the telltale thump of the bullet hitting the deer. The buck wheeled and ran straight away from us. Andy fired again, not sure whether the first shot had found its mark.
After that, we all stood up and I asked Andy what he saw. He said he watched the buck do the classic mule kick after the shot, then run toward the trees. So, we walked the edge of the tree line looking for blood or a fallen deer. We went about 275 t0 300 yards, then decided to duck into the trees.
That was a mistake. There was neither blood nor beast in there, though we scoured the tree lines for another 100 yards or so beyond where we started.
Meanwhile, Bob was back at the truck watching us. He had seen the whole thing, and witnessed a very important part that we all missed — the buck falling 30 yards from where he had been hit.
So, Bob got out of the truck and made his way toward us to let us know the buck was down. In fact, it never made it to the trees. William spotted it first, then told the rest of us. Turns out, I was only about a step or two away, but I was looking farther ahead.
It was a magnificent buck with a beautiful, wide 10-point rack. We knew instantly this was worthy of mounting, so we made a decision to take it in to a taxidermist in Great Falls. We chose Waylon’s because Bob had used him to mount a black bear he shot a year ago. He also has a butcher shop in the same building, so we could get the meat processed there also.
The look on Andy’s face when he saw the buck was priceless. I think I had more joy than if I had shot the buck. We had a brief celebration and photo shoot, then got busy field dressing the buck. I gladly volunteered for the task, with Andy serving as my assistant. This marks the fifth deer I have field dressed this fall.
Once back at the truck, I performed a very important part of the process — removing the tenderloins. The two oblong pieces of meat near the hind end would look very nice on the grill back home. We have a tradition of grilling the tenderloins within a few days of the hunt. Because Andy was going back to Winona State University Monday morning, we decided to have them on Sunday night right after we returned home from the trip.
Other good news
It wasn’t just a good trip for us. Jerry Gray, Bob’s son-in-law, shot a nice eight-point buck during the trip, plus a bonus cow elk on the last day of the rifle season, which was Sunday.
Due to a lack of snow caused by warm weather, the elk were higher up. So, he hiked to the top of a small ridge on Bob’s land to gain some altitude. He looked across a draw and spotted a group of several cows on the other side. He took a 400-yard shot with this .30-06 and hit the animal. After running down the draw and up the other side, he found blood and, eventually, the elk. It was still alive, so he took a final shot.
Once again, God blessed us tremendously on this hunt. Not only did we enjoy great food — courtesy of Grandma Sharon, a fabulous cook — but we had some awesome stalks with great results.
Over and over, I have thanked God for his great generosity. So did Grandpa Bob, who responded to my words of gratitude by pointing to our Heavenly Father and noting his abundant blessings.
Thus, during this Thanksgiving — now Advent — season, I think it’s only appropriate to thank God for creating the deer and the elk and the great habitat that they live in, and to celebrate his vast and unending kindness toward us.
Praise the Lord!