By Bill Swan
The author (left) and son, Bill Swan III, finally have a reason to smile as they pose with their beautiful desert mule deer. Only hours before, maintaining a positive attitude wasn't so easy.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion. It was as if I were dreaming, trying to run, but my legs wouldn't move. In front of me, one of the largest mule deer I had ever seen had just stood up amidst the cactus about 100 yards away.
I was hunting Mexico's Sonora Desert in January, which I had been assured was prime time for giant muleys. I had my doubts, at first.
Turns out, it also was prime time for lost luggage.
When my son, Bill, and I arrived in Hermosillo, Mexico, the only piece of our luggage that survived the trip through three other airports - Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix -was our double rifle case, sans ammunition, of course. We were wearing our only clothing.
Nevertheless, we were pleased to meet our outfitter, Oscar Molina, and our friend, Frank Ruiz of Gabino's Outdoor Adventures, at the airport. We'd make do with their help, while waiting for the rest of our gear to arrive.
The next day, since Bill and I had no coats or even long-sleeved shirts, we braved the early-morning, 30-degree temperature with a blanket wrapped around us. We looked like homeless people riding in the high rack in back of the pickup. All that was missing was a shopping cart with all our stuff.
Ironically, Friday the 13th proved to be the author's lucky day.
In that part of Mexico, hunting is done much like it is in South Texas brush country - while standing on a rack with the floor level with the top of the truck's cab.
Bill was able to borrow some 7mm magnum ammo from Oscar. But I was out of luck, since I'd brought along a custom rifle chambered for .257 Weatherby. I had to wait until our luggage arrived.
As a joke to our Spanish-speaking guides, I placed a couple of rocks in my pocket and told them, "Listo," which is Spanish for "ready."
After videotaping a really nice 3x4 muley that would have been a shooter in almost anyone's book (including mine if I had been anywhere else), I thought our luck was going to change.
We rode all day and saw only about 15 does, a million or so jackrabbits and several small bucks wading in the cactus. We were beginning to question our sanity for being there.
Our home in the desert was an adobe brick house with no electricity or heat. The tin roof had no insulation and made for a cold night's sleeping.
Finally, late that night, our luggage arrived and we were able to dress in warm clothes and begin hunting in earnest.
On the second day, my first for hunting with ammo, we saw a few small bucks and does. That region has very little food and water, which makes for abysmal reproduction rates and a low deer density. The scarcity, however, seems only to help the quality.
That night in camp, we compared notes with each other to find out what everyone saw. Nobody had seen a shooter, and spirits were beginning to dip. I figured that with our luck to date, things would continue to be bad.
Keep a positive attitude, huh?
At supper, Oscar told us that the previous year had produced little rain and things were extremely dry. Maybe we should hunt near watering stations fed by underground wells for the cattle?
Our main goal was to try to be positive in the face of all the bad luck we had experienced. But in a short time, I realized that my luck was going to change, alas for the worse.
Midmorning on the third day, we spotted a really nice high-170s B&C buck with two does. When I raised my rifle to shoot, the trigger only snapped; there was no shell in my chamber. When I worked the bolt and steadied myself for the next attempt, there was another click. I had not fully opened and closed the bolt!
We then went on a two-hour stalk, trying to find the buck through all the mesquite and cactus, but to no avail. My guide, Raul, and I got back in the high rack and waited while his brother, our driver, walked through the shallow wash in an attempt to push the buck from its lair.
The plan worked, but the deer kept out of our sight.
We drove to where the buck crossed, and I spotted it on the left side of the truck about 100 yards into the mesquite. I quickly raised my rifle and sent the 117-grain bullet on its way. But, sadly, it blew a limb off the tree beside the buck.
When I was standing in the high rack, the shot looked clear. But when I sat down and used the bar on the rack for a rest, the shot had to be taken through some mesquite and cactus. After looking for more than an hour for blood, we gave up our search and headed back for lunch.
I spoke with the other hunters in camp and discovered that they had not seen any shooters. My only good luck that day was that there wasn't a wounded deer out there.
The next morning was uneventful. In the late afternoon, we drove to a watering station and saw two decent bucks in the fading light. We watched as they drank from the troughs, but we could not count points. One did seem to be very wide, though.
We planned on hunting in a pop-up blind beside the water the next afternoon, in case they reappeared.
Toward the end of the hunt, Bill and I toyed with the idea of booking an earlier flight to avoid the near-midnight touchdown in Atlanta, the subsequent 2 1⁄2-hour drive home and going to work the next day on two hours of sleep. We had no reason to believe that the upcoming excursion, on Friday the 13th, would be any better.
Raul and I decided to hunt closer to our camp when we pulled out at 6:30 a.m. We saw nothing until 9:00, when three does burst out of the cover with a very heavy 3x4 buck in tow. Raul looked at me, but I shook my head no.
About 10 minutes later, I spotted a doe on our right side. We stopped and glassed for about 5 minutes, before continuing onward. Moments later, the huge muley I mentioned at the beginning of this tale stood up from behind a cluster of cactus. The lower half of its body was shielded by the vegetation.
I grabbed my rifle from the rack, snaked my left arm through the sling and steadied my elbow on the truck's rack. There was no way I was going to sit down and try the shot through the cactus. Been there. Did that.
The "snick" of the safety going off told me the .257 was ready, and then I gently squeezed the trigger. The sound of bullet striking deer was sweet, but the buck lunged forward and ran.
Quickly, we drove ahead to where we'd last seen the deer, and there it was.
After taking lots of photos of my giant brow-tined 5x5, we loaded the buck and drove back to camp, stopping on a small hill to raise my son on the radio. He'd just harvested a really massive 7x5 with a 28-inch outside spread.
While we were scoring our bucks in camp (mine tallied 184 inches and Bill's 185), another hunter and friend, Phil Majerus, came in with a 6x6 that also measured 185 inches. Its greatest spread was an incredible 30 1⁄2 inches.
The three amigos had been shot in the same two hours!
We were much happier campers when we left Hermosillo than when we'd arrived, and we got to leave a day early as well.
--Hunters: Bill Swan and Bill Swan III
--Photos Courtesy of: Bill Swan
-- Reprinted from the December 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine