By: Randy Tucker
The area around Sweetwater Station, Wyoming is a glimpse of America as it once was. The Sweetwater was the way west from the Platte to the apex of South Pass during the six decade period of “America’s Road” the Oregon Trail.
You can still find wagon ruts, old buckets, pieces of lanterns, and spent large caliber rimfire cartridges – vestiges of a time long past.
Much of the area is public land, but it is interspersed with private ranches, and it’s best to get permission from a least a couple of area landowners before setting out.
We did that one crisp, bright day in October.
I drove my 2003 GMC out to rest stop at the intersection of the Lander Highway and the Sand Draw Cutoff with my son Brian and son-in-law Adam.
We spotted flighty whitetails all over a huge meadow of several thousand acres of grass interspersed with cottonwood trees, and willows growing abundantly along the Sweetwater and in the backwater eddies left after the spring runoff four months before.
I was after a mule deer buck, an animal not nearly as common as whitetails in this area.
The boys each took a buck as well, but that’s a different story.
I parked the truck on a high ridge above the river, and we hiked down a few hundred yards toward the broken meadow.
We stopped and spotted four bucks and maybe two dozen does and fawns.
There were a couple of little forked horn bucks, one average 3×4 and a big boy, a 4×5 with a broad spread and heavy beams. He was my target.
We worked slowly towards them, using the natural cover of small hills and trees as cover. As we approached shooting distance, they moved into a willow thicket with a few young cottonwoods mixed in.
I stopped at a corner brace post on a barbed wire fence and set up my Remington 788 .308.
The four bucks moved into cover together, while the does and fawns took a different route about 150 yards further away. It was typical mule deer behavior.
I scanned the area repeatedly with my scope, spotting flashes of fur in the tree leaves, and brush but not seeing anything except an eye and an occasional ear.
All four bucks were legal game, and they were alone.
Brian asked me “Can you tell which one?” I answered, “Not yet.”
About 90 seconds later, I squared away with my rifle, clicked off the safety and moved into position atop the corner post.
“You can’t tell which one,” Brian said emphatically.
“Yes I can,” I whispered.
Brian is an outstanding hunter, but he and Adam were in agreement, they didn’t think I was drawing on the big buck.
I knew better.
I squeezed off a shot, the echo rumbled across the valley and a quick thrashing in the willows ended a few seconds later.
We walked the 180 yards to the big 4×5 buck, lying in the cover of a willow thicket.
“How did you know?” the boys asked in unison.
“I saw the branches above his head move, and could see one eye, the base of his antlers and an ear.”
None of the other three had antlers long enough to move those branches above his head.
The buck’s large, tall rack had given him away.
It’s Hunter Safety 101. You never shoot into moving brush if you can’t see a target, but I had an eye, an ear, and the tips of tall antlers as a tell. It was a clean, one shot kill.
Just another day in paradise with my two favorite young men.
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].