By: Randy Tucker
It’s been a couple of decades since I took my son Brian on his first deer hunt. The difference between a 13-year-old boy and a 33-year-old man are striking in themselves. While the techniques and technology involved in hunting have evolved tremendously over the last 20 years, the connection between father and son remain the same, albeit the roles have changed a bit.
At 13, with just a .243 rifle and a fixed four-power scope, Brian embarked into the world of big game hunting one fall afternoon with his first whitetail buck on the Sweetwater River in Central Wyoming back in 1999. At 5’8” and 115 pounds, with braces on his teeth, Brian doesn’t resemble the 6’2”, 225-pound college athlete he became over the next few years.
I drew a late season Area 157 whitetail tag this season. Area 157 encompasses most of the agricultural land in eastern Fremont County, Wyoming. As a kid, we rarely saw , and only a few mule deer in the area, but 40 years later, the farmland, river bottoms, and even the towns of Riverton, Lander, and Dubois are literally full of deer.
As a long-time coach, many of my former athletes now operate the farms they grew up on, and the magic of being an old coach is that they’ll not only give you access to hunt, but often will hop in the truck with you and show you exactly where the bigger bucks have been hanging out.
Saturday morning before dawn, our mutual friend and Brian’s hunting partner, Trapper Bradshaw, picked me up, and we met at Campbell’s Corner, named for the Campbell family, the owners of a well-known ranching and trucking business.
As in the case in small communities, I played football against the oldest son John and coached the two youngest Jeff and Jock 10 years later.
We drove together to another former player’s house on the Jarvis farm. Mac was one of my football players a long time ago, and a couple of days before our hunt he rode around with me showing me the best spots on his place.
Brian had a trailer hooked to his truck; he was buying a few one-ton, big bales of hay from Mac, yet another testament to the web of life in a small rural setting.
November in Wyoming is a treacherous weather month at best – the temperature that morning was a brisk 12 above zero, with heavy fog rolling in off nearby Boysen Reservoir.
We drove to a high spot, set up spotting scopes and binoculars, and waited for the sun to burn away the fog. Over the next four hours the temperature didn’t move.
We spotted a few deer moving in and out of willow thickets and patches of cottonwood trees. It was hard to see antlers in the fog, and whitetails do not cooperate with the hunt as mule deer often do.
The deer moved in and out of the difficult terrain from 500 to 1000 yards away. These distances were largely a guess since the rangefinders could not lock on because of the fog.
Rangefinders, a device we never used on Brian’s first hunt. We didn’t have the wide variety of Mossy Oak hunting apparel, four-wheel drive trucks, high end spotting scopes, portable three-legged shooting stands, or high-end adjustable scopes that cost more than the rifles they were attached to, either.
Brian is a professional outdoorsman, selling jerky processing kits and various wild game spices for Hi Mountain Seasonings of Riverton. As part of his national sales representative position, he cooks wild game at seminars and shows, takes part in hunts sponsored by outdoor companies, and does a little bit of television for the outdoor cable networks.
We had a high-end digital camera with us on this hunt; Brian and Trapper often film their hunts for television. As I packed Trapper’s 6.5 Cross Eyed Custom 6.5 GAP with a Night Force scope, Brian carried the recording equipment, and Trapper worked as my guide. A complete hunting partnership you might say.
We didn’t get a shot in the early hours that morning and moved to Jock’s place a few miles south.
Wyoming ranch hunting means cattle. There were several hundred Angus cows grazing around a center-pivot irrigation system on Jock’s place.
We worked the rim once again, watching a few deer in the distance move in and out of the fog. As is often the case, we kept glancing back at the center pivot, and sure enough, a nice 10-point buck moved in the high grass about 300 yards behind us.
I set up with the portable shooting tripod and was about to squeeze off a shot when Brian quietly said, “Cow.” Just then, a black bovine walked into view in the scope.
I waited for the cow to clear, but the deer continued to move north. I repositioned in a gap in front of its walking path, but there were cows behind it, once again, no shot. The buck continued to walk away from us and was now nearing 500 yards out and beginning drop into a draw when I finally had a shot. I squeezed the trigger on the 6.5 and shot high, just as the buck dropped from view. That was it for the morning.
The next morning, we met again at Mac’s place and decided to walk in rather than take the trucks.
We set up on the downward side of a high bench facing east towards Boysen and waited. Trapper’s friend Ryan, from Idaho Falls, was with him, and we hunted in two separate groups. But in the magic of Wyoming’s crystal clear air, we were able to see each other most of the morning, spotting our orange hunting gear from up to a mile away.
Geese cackled in the distance on the bright clear morning, a rooster pheasant clacked away a few yards from us, and we watched a couple of coyotes stealthily try to avoid us on a sagebrush rim below. The boom of shotguns over decoys from miles away occasionally echoed up the draw; yes, a perfect 20-degree morning.
We spotted bucks at 1200 yards and waited for them to approach. The heavy brush and small trees kept them out of view for much of the time.
After a couple of hours of glassing the hillsides and mud plains surrounding us we spotted a doe just 300 yards away to the north. Sure enough, a big buck followed her a few seconds later. He was in view for less than five seconds, not enough time to set up for a shot.
We waited another hour and were about to pack up when Brian said, “Buck, straight ahead.”
A big-bodied, eight-point buck emerged between two willow thickets and looked straight at us from about 340 yards away.
I was using Brian’s Tika T3 Lite 6.5 Creedmoor with a variable Vortex scope the second day, with extendable bipods. I set them at maximum height so they would clear the sagebrush we were hiding in, and I could shoot from a seated position. I waited for the buck to turn sideways, but he never did.
After about 30 seconds I set the crosshairs on his chest. I was trying to hit an old LP record album from almost a quarter-mile away, downhill, and when I squeezed off the shot, I missed.
Two days, two long-range misses. I thought I might be losing it at 63-years old, but then again, I never took shots at this distance with my own .308 Remington 788.
Brian and Trapper are adept at long-range shooting, routinely taking antelope and deer from 500 to 600 yards away. I’m not a long-range shooter.
Twenty years ago, I did the driving, I carried the equipment, and I did the guiding. The roles have reversed.
Brian and Trapper are professional guides, taking military veterans on guided hunts each fall for the Hunt with Heroes foundation. I couldn’t ask for better, more professionally trained guides. These guys are as good as they get.
The chance to chase a little wildlife with your son is priceless. Seeing the change from an excited kid to a well-respected man in the community who is making his own way in the world is all a father can ask for.
Buck or not, it was a memorable weekend and just another link in the chain of memories for father and son.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at [email protected].