Western Hunting Journal, Premiere Issue whj001_premiere - Page 72

TECHNIQUE Ken Werner with a coastal giant. hunt in miserable conditions, pursue an animal in terrain that is difficult to hunt, and ultimately try to find a deer that rarely shows his face in the light of day. When you notch your deer tag, you know that you’ve accomplished some- thing meaningful. It is commonly believed that blacktail deer are some of most difficult animals to hunt. While I don’t disagree, the fact is that each deer specie has its own unique challenges. Certainly, luck plays a role in any hunt, but to take quality animals on a consistent basis is no accident and any ma- ture buck is a tough trophy to harvest. Whatever species you are hunting if you consistent- ly take mature animals you’re doing something right and no doubt working hard for them. Whether it’s a mule deer’s abil- ity to use open terrain keeping 70 WESTERN HUNTING JOURNAL distance between himself and the hunter or the whitetail’s intolerance for anything, good bucks are hard to come by. And the blacktail buck is no excep- tion. While he offers some of the same challenges as mule deer and whitetail, there is one added problem and it’s a big one: a mature blacktail buck rarely shows himself in the light of day. Hunting them for over 30 years I can attest to the number of days (or years) it takes to find a big mature buck. Actually killing one requires a little bit of luck, an under- standing of their behavior, knowing where they live, and the ability to catch one out in the light of day before he melts back into the dense cover they call home. Back in the early ’90s I had the opportunity—or I should rephrase that and say I made myself the opportunity—to hunt everyday of Oregon’s blacktail season. I was in col- lege at the time and was in the midst of transferring schools. Taking fall term off and hunt- ing 33 days straight seemed like the right thing to do. And that’s what I did. The previous sum- mer I had located two bomber bucks, each one in a different drainage but close enough to hunt on the same day. I’d seen those bucks a number of dif- ferent times throughout the summer and even had both of them on video, which back in those days meant holding your camcorder up to your spotting scope. Once the season started I hunted those two drainages exclusively every morning and every evening. I would see the same does and fawns just about every day and once in a while a smaller buck would appear, but never the two giants. On day 30 I was questioning my own san- ity but had too much invested in these bucks to change areas. Knowing where one record book blacktail lives, let alone two, was not something I was going to walk away from. Knowing those two bucks were in the area I stayed the course. I could only hope that one of them would show itself before the season ended. Two days before the end of season, I parked my truck and began my walk in just like I had the other 31 days. In the first area, there were two places I would glass from; I would go to the closest spot first and then move to the second spot farther away. This particular morning, however, I went to the far end first. As day- light broke my eyes were glued to the optics searching for the gray face of a mature blacktail buck. Minutes into my hunt the morning stillness was shattered with the loud report of a rifle. There was no question where it had come from. I raced back to my first looking spot (that I passed over that morning) to find a hunter lying in the prone position starring through his scope. And laying dead on the hillside was one of the biggest bucks I had ever seen. It was definitely one of the bucks that I spotted in the summer. Absolutely crushed, I had no time to feel sorry for my- self. I high tailed it to the other drainage where the other buck lived. Taking a deep breath with my game face back on, I approached the area and be- gan glassing. It didn’t take long to find what I was after; there looking back up at me was a stone white face with heavy black horns. To this day I’m not sure if I was shaken by the event that happened earlier that morning, but panic set in. Nor- mally cool as can be in these situations I was a wreck. It took me forever to find a good rest and when I was able to find one I looked through my rifle scope and it was fogged and watered in. While I scurried to wipe my scope clean the buck bounced out of my life. I hunted him the remaining two days but never saw him again. The point is not to show how unfortunate I was to have a hunter walk in behind me, or how bad I blew it, but instead to point out how reclu- sive mature bucks are, and that they live a lonely existence. Out of the 33-day hunting season, those two bucks showed them- selves in the light of day once. I know because I was there the other 32 days. The Columbia blacktail’s range is long and narrow, start- ing north in British Columbia and stretching as far south to central California. Their range extends from the shores of the Pacific Ocean, eastward to the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains in the north and the Sierra Nevada Mountains