By Bill Swan
Short of breath and being rocked by the wind, Tennessean Bill Swan somehow found this South Dakota muley's lungs in his crosshairs long enough to nail the long shot. Photos Courtesy of: Bill Swan
As I belly-crawled to the top of the ridge near Faith, S.D., my heart was pounding - both from excitement, hoping the huge mule deer was still bedded 250 yards over on the next ridge, and from the long 6-mile, mostly uphill stalk. Hunting with Deep Creek Outfitters, I was hoping to take my best muley yet, and this one was a big heavy-horned monster.
Finally, I was on top. I could see nothing across the ridge with my naked eye, but when I looked through my binoculars, I spotted the buck bedded in the shade.
The wind was howling across the top of my vantage point, and all I could see through the scope was brown prairie grass. I crawled forward another 10 yards, and still there was nothing other than brown grass behind my crosshairs.
The last time I'd hunted with Deep Creek proprietors Gary and Bambi Palmer, I had taken an outstanding symmetrical 12-point whitetail that grossed better than 176 inches. It was the largest white-tailed deer taken in that area in several years, and it was my best, by far. This year, Gary had threatened to make me stay in camp and perform endless chores (since I could not do any better than I had the previous visit).
In that same first visit, my son, Bill, also took a beautiful heavy-beamed, 170-inch 10-point whitetail in Canada before we flew from Saskatoon to Rapid City and rented a car for the 2 1⁄2-hour ride to Gary and Bambi's ranch. Our living quarters, by the way, were in a 100-year-old ranch house.
Gary told us up front not to expect anything like the buck my son had taken in Canada. Little did we know that next evening, while sitting in a blind over a small green field with my son filming, I would harvest the largest whitetail of my 40-plus years of hunting ... That's four decades, beginning when my Uncle Chuck Swan, who was Tennessee's conservation commissioner during the late 1940s and early '50s, introduced me to the sport.
The year before the author collected his thick-antlered mule deer, he stunned the local ranchers by downing his best-ever whitetail from a distance of 175 yards. Photos Courtesy of: Bill Swan
Gary dropped Bill and me off at the blind and said he would pick us up at dark. While glassing from the blind, Bill looked at the far horizon about 2 miles off and saw a really nice buck top the ridge. It had been about 30 to 45 minutes, and we had not given that deer any further thought.
Watching the mule and white-tailed does in the field occupied our time until Bill said, "Look at that buck across the creek!"
Through the few scrub trees that lined the creek, I saw it. Bill told me to "look" at the deer (meaning through the riflescope), but when I stared through the spotting scope, I thought my son was going to have a fit.
Quickly, he muttered "RIFLE scope!"
When I saw the buck, I handed Bill the DVD camera and asked him to film. In looking back at the movie, the giant buck can be seen crossing the creek and moseying around in the water with only its back visible.
Next, the massive antlers rose above the creek bank, and then the buck appeared. I dropped the animal with one 175-yard shot when it entered the edge of the field.
Upon arriving at the deer, I was so shaken that I counted only 10 points, when it actually has 12. This was followed by many hugs, backslapping and high-fives! We could not believe the score when we measured the antlers, so we did it again and again. Each time, we tallied 176 6⁄8 inches.
No wonder Gary had threatened to keep me in camp the following year.
Good thing his threat was only an idle one!
Joining my son and me this time were Tom Davis and Keith Watson. We possessed both "any deer" and "whitetail-only" tags. And we all harvested our whitetails on opening day, allowing us to focus on mule deer for the rest of the trip.
I was sitting in a blind with Tom and was trying to help him judge the mule deer. He passed up a fine 5x5 and saw several smaller bucks.
Wayne, the landowner where we were hunting, came to the blind and asked if I was up for a 2-mile walk. When he added the largest mule deer he had seen in the area was in a small bowl across the ridge, I quickly agreed.
As he and I topped the ridge, we saw the buck at almost 900 yards; it was crossing a fence and heading into a draw. At that point, Wayne asked if I wanted to check the draw. For me, that was a stupid question.
After seeing that buck, none smaller would have satisfied me.
When we crossed the fence and looked into the draw, we saw nothing. After having glassed the area for about 10 minutes, I spotted it climbing a ridge about 2 miles away. Wayne commented that he was surprised to see the buck get so far away in such a short time. As we watched the buck continue up the ridge, Wayne said that he hoped the buck would bed down there, and, much to our surprise, it did!
We made the long hike back to the truck and drove to the back of the ridge. Now we only had about a mile or so to climb. It seemed more like 5 miles.
As I crawled forward for a shot, I realized that a prone position was completely wrong. Unfortunately, however, Wayne was about 30 yards behind me with my shooting sticks. My only option was a sitting position.
Winded and being blown by the wind, my scope moved from the tip of the buck's nose to over his back to under his chest. Taking another breath, I was able to shorten the movement, but it still was not enough for my comfort level to make the shot. Again, I took a deep breath and reminded myself this was probably going to be the largest mule deer buck I would ever see in the wild.
With that, I was able to pause long enough on the chest area and squeeze off the shot. I heard the bullet hit, but I could not tell if it had hit rock or the buck, which immediately bolted behind a small hill. Looking back at Wayne and shaking my head, I heard him say that the shot sounded good.
I thought it had been, too, since the deer ran so quickly.
As we walked around the hill, Wayne thought he saw the buck running on the prairie, and my heart sank. But he was wrong, thank goodness! As we rounded the hill, I saw the left beam sticking up with the two kickers showing. From there, it was the backslapping and high-fiving that only started the celebration. Neither of us could believe the size of the buck, which had a hole through both lungs.
Back at the ranch, Gary said there was no way he was going to let me out of the camp next year. He would have a giant list of chores I would have to complete prior to hunting.
Several of the ranchers came over and wowed over the massive rack that had 5 1⁄2-inch bases.
Next time, I guess I'll have to bring my work boots and gloves.
Who was Sgt. Alvin York?
Alvin C. York of Pall Mall, Tenn., was a U.S. soldier during World War I who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine-gun nest in 1918 that resulted in the killing of 32 German soldiers and capture of 132 others. Although the 1941 movie starring Gary Cooper made it appear as if the then-corporal had managed this single-handedly, York and seven others actually pulled off the feat, convincing the enemy that they were surrounded.
In the movie, York managed to get the Germans to lift their heads by gobbling like a turkey.
The man's legendary skill as a marksman was refined as a hunter, long before he was drafted into the infantry.
In addition to the U.S. medal, York earned the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor by France, Italy's Croce di Guerra and Montenegro's War Medal. Prior to receiving the U.S. Medal of Honor, he was given the Distinguished Service Cross.
-- Reprinted from the October 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine