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Three for Three

StantonBy Jay Stanton

-- In 2006, I was hunting in western Nebraska with my two young sons and two good friends in the Pine Ridge National Forest southeast of Chadron. The previous morning, opening day of rifle season, I'd shot a nice 3x4 muley, so my hunt was finished, but my boys both had buck tags.

Filling those became my mission. From that point onward, I was guide.

My youngest son, 13-year-old Colton, had never killed a buck; he was my first priority. I set him up on a well used game trail overlooking a dense draw, and then I took Chase, 15, to the area where I'd shot my buck.

When I had Chase settled in, I slipped back through the mountains to check on Colton. When I arrived, he'd seen only turkeys and was frustrated with his setup. So we moved down the ridge to another crossing that had been productive in years past.

Because of the heavy snow, the going was slow and cold. As soon as we reached the second vantage point, I began to clear a spot in the snow next to a large pine tree, where we could sit comfortably for the next few hours. Just as I was beginning to sit down next to Colton, who had just jacked a cartridge into his rifle, I looked below and to our left and saw a fat forkhorn headed our way.

StantonI whispered to Colton that a buck was slipping in and to get ready for a quick shot. The boy's an excellent marksman and cool as a cucumber under pressure. As the deer passed at 100 yards, Colton steadied the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger, dropping the animal in its tracks!

After a lot of hugging and back-slapping, we moved down the ridge to inspect his trophy. The shot had been perfectly placed.

Chase was extremely excited and proud of his brother’s first buck. He hugged Colton and congratulated him, though I could tell he was secretly worried that he might have to head home without a deer of his own.

Once we got the buck to camp, I noticed Chase’s mood was a bit down, so I did what any good dad would do: I left Colton in the snow-covered Suburban with his movies, and Chase and I hit the woods once more. This time, I headed deeper into the mountains to some really rugged terrain I hoped would be home to a mature buck hiding from the crowds that rifle season often brings.

That country is crawling with some of the largest flocks of turkeys I have ever seen! Seeing 75-100 in a group isn't uncommon.

While we were scouting for deer and admiring a huge elk wallow and rubs, we could hear what sounded like hundreds of turkeys fighting and squabbling north of us and much deeper into the ravine we were skirting.

Drawn to the commotion, we forgot about our quest for deer and started sneaking forward in hopes of seeing the turkeys. After working our way around some very rugged drop-offs and cliffs, we saw them -- hundreds of birds feeding, fighting and generally making fools of themselves. They were chasing each other like kindergarten kids at recess.

As we moved in closer to the action, the turkeys we bumped paid little to no attention to us. We had moved to within 20 yards of the closest turkeys and were watching the largest group making most of the noise about 100 yards below us.

StantonThat’s when I saw the buck -- right there in the middle of all the chaos. It was a mature 8-point whitetail, feeding along like it was in its own private cafeteria. The buck never saw us coming, and it couldn't hear for all the ruckus.

Through the heavy snow and flying feathers, I pointed out the buck to Chase. With one quick motion, he brought the gun to his shoulder and dropped the bruiser in its tracks. Finally, my big boy had bagged a true trophy for his wall!

That's when the real work began. We were in one of the deepest and steepest parts of the national forest.

After field-dressing the brute -- stabbing my finger in the process, requiring Chase to tape me up with emergency TP and parachute cord -- we began the arduous task of dragging the 200-plus-pound animal to the top of the ridge.

Forty-five minutes later, we had made it to the top of the snow-covered ridge, but still a mile and a half from camp. With darkness only an hour and a half away and with some seriously steep and dangerous terrain in our path, I called in the cavalry.

I climbed to the top of the highest point in search of a cell phone signal. Luckily, I was able to get in touch with my youngest son and another member of our party to tell them our predicament.

Colton led the way. Within 20 minutes, my compass-toting baby boy had made his way to us, adding a fresh set of legs and lungs to help us carry the buck back to camp.

We arrived safe and sound about 10 minutes before dark, our own "Stanton Slam" completed. A lifetime of hunts can't compare with that trip to Nebraska!

--Jay Stanton

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