By Mike Benefield
-- Kneeling only 12 yards away from a bedded trophy mule deer was something I could have only dreamed of when I booked this early season archery hunt in southeastern Montana. Yet, there I was, heart pounding and eyes popping, planning my next move.
After backtracking on an attempted stalk from atop the butte when the wind didn't cooperate, we decided instead to approach from the prairie below. The buck had bedded on a clay bench on the edge of a shallow draw, preparing for the 95-degree day that was rising fast on our backs.
If this boy from Georgia learned one thing on this trip, it was that I had a lot to learn. Hunting big mule deer in open country just isn't the same as hunting whitetails in pine thickets, oak ridges or the edge of food plots, especially when I had opted to do it with a stick and string. Where was the 7 mag when I needed it? Thankfully, I had the help of a seasoned guide to assist with the huge gap in this learning experience.
After 20 years of hoping and wishing for an opportunity to hunt this beautiful country, all my expectations were being exceeded. Being the only hunter in camp had given me the full attention of my 2 guides, Terry and Chris. They were doing their job perfectly. The problem I had been facing was getting the bucks to stand from their beds and pose long enough for me to get a clean shot.
By the end of the second day I had been inside of 40 yards on four nice bucks. However, each time I would do something to bump the bucks. Like I said, I had a lot to learn. But that was all about to change!
The third morning brought much cooler temperatures. The forecast was for highs in the 60's. Terry actually had to loan me an extra shirt when we got into the field. I wasn't ready for the cool breeze that was coming out of the northeast.
As the day began to break we glassed a butte from the ranch road below. We were seeing the mulies feeding on the sides of the butte almost immediately. There were several does, yearlings and fawns, but no mature bucks. That was not the case for very long.
Two nice bucks appeared in the picture. The thing now was for the bucks to separate from the extra eyes of the does and go their own way. With the cooler temperature the deer fed much later into the morning than they had during the previous days. Their extra time feeding would prove to be their downfall.
We could not have drawn up a better scenario than what was unfolding before our 10x magnified eyes. The bucks were working their way down the hillside toward us and the does were going up and over the top. The does were soon out of sight and the bucks were feeding into a draw that would hopefully give us an opportunity to begin stalk number five.
As I mentioned earlier, the fact that the deer were feeding later would be the open door we had been waiting for. The two bucks worked their way into a smaller draw that paralleled the road we were glassing from. Better yet was the fact that a large clay mound, covered with prairie grass, now shielded the bucks from our position.
Game time! Less than 600 yards was all that separated me and some fresh back straps. Oh yea, and those things that grow on their heads. Chris and I hit the ground at almost a run. Our plan was to get there before the bucks bedded or fed back into view. Five hundred yards later, and half way up the side of the clay bank, my out of shape body was begging for air. But with a trophy buck just on the other side of the bank, a quick breath was enough.
As I peeked over the top of the mound, a magnificent sight was waiting. One of the bucks was tearing up the sage brush trying to remove the velvet from its antlers. I turned to Chris and whispered for him to range the buck. This was just one of the things Terry had taught me. "Let Chris range him for you and you just concentrate on the shot" he had said. Why didn't I think of that? Like I said earlier, I had a lot to learn. I was accustomed to hunting from a tree with my distances already set.
Chris's response with his fingers told me the buck was 32 yards. The buck was facing straight away from me and had no idea that anything was amiss. I looked at Chris and told him when the buck turned I was taking the shot.
Everything was now ready....except....the second buck. I hadn't forgotten about him, I was just concentrating on the task at hand. As I got into final launch mode, his wide rack and alert ears caught my eyes. I was busted! It didn't matter.
When I looked back at my buck, it was now quartering away and still occupied with a dandruff problem. I stood, pulled back and placed the 30 yard pin so the arrow would hit the off shoulder. As I released the arrow, everything went into slow motion. "Thwack!" the sound that gives an adrenaline rush that only a bowhunter knows.
I can honestly say that the evening before, I had told Terry and Chris that my first Western hunt was already a success. The beauty of the prairies and buttes was worth the 1,700 mile drive. Seeing mule deer, whitetails and antelope grazing in the same alfalfa field almost made my heart stop. Adding this mature 4 x 4 with eye guards was just icing on the cake.
Although I don't want to leave Georgia to live where the deer and the antelope play, I hope to visit again real soon. That part about the 7 mag that I mentioned earlier, forget I said that! Give me a stick and string any day!
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