Hunt 'The Edge' for Deer on October's Rifle Opener
By Gary Lewis
I crossed the road from camp into the timber, grateful for the cover that the trees afforded from the driving rain. It had been falling since 4 a.m. and the tree tops were saturated, leaving precious few places where one could find dry shelter. Waiting for first light, I was grateful for the pound of the rain and the howl of the wind. The rain would mask the sounds I made walking. The wind would be blowing in a constant direction. For my own comfort, I wished they would stop, knowing they wouldn't.
A dull glow filled the somber sky and filtered down through the trees. I began to move.
Slipping from tree to tree, pausing to peer ahead through the rain, I watched for gleam of eye or antler, the flicker of ears. The hill leveled out in front of me and, watching from under a large fir tree, I spotted movement. I saw their ears first and the horizontal line of mouse-gray backs above the manzanita. They had seen me too and they moved away, stiff-legged and watchful. I put the binoculars to my eyes, could make out no antlers and so watched them go, one by one, fading into the trees and the fog.
Angling off the plateau, I aimed for the shelf below and the creek canyon. There were other hunters in the woods. They would see the deer I had moved. Hopefully, I would see a deer they pushed in front of me.
I moved through a stand of jack pines, where in another year, I'd jumped a deer from its bed, and, easing through, watched the shelf below me. The forest floor was carpeted with the fallen needles from pines and white fir that towered above. Protected from the high winds, there was little blowdown. Without much sunlight making it through the old-growth timber the underbrush was sparse. Standing on the sidehill beneath the arms of a tall pine, I watched the line of trees to my left.
He stepped out of the timber, moving off the hill. Stopping to look for danger at the edge of a tiny meadow, he spotted me at the same time I saw him, the shine of his antlers plain at seventy-five yards. I snugged the gun up against my shoulder and put the stock against my cheek, letting the sights drift across his body to stop behind the muscle and bone of his foreleg. Slipping the safety switch to fire, I squeezed the trigger, feeling the push of the rifle against my shoulder, the report drifting away up the mountain.
I followed his tracks, seventy yards, to the place he had come to rest beside a rotten log on a bed of pine needles. The rain pounded down, soaking me to the skin, but I was oblivious. My hunt was over.
This year, opening day of the controlled rifle buck deer season is the first Saturday of October. The rut won't begin for another month and, barring a heavy snow, the deer will still be mainly on their summer range. Bucks will be found alone or together, in groups of two or three.
Bucks tend to leave the bottom land and best browse areas to the females. If the deer you are seeing are does and fawns, move to higher, drier ground to look for bucks. Hunt "the edge" areas where ridgetops give way to timber and trees give way to meadows or agricultural lands.
Note the contour of the land and the natural lanes of travel. Dry creek beds, grown-over logging roads and canyons are good places to start. A good buck won't use an escape route that will leave him exposed.
What obstacles are there? Trails must detour around rock outcroppings so well-used trails will be obvious. The animals will be moving around on opening day. If you are posted along one of these routes, chances are better that you will see animals.
Don't quit at midday. Carry your lunch and water with you. A buck will be lying down somewhere. He'll have a spot from which he can see in many directions or a spot in the thick stuff where anybody approaching will make a lot of noise. If it is warm, it will be a bed in the shade. He will always have an escape route.
Watch the movements of other hunters. Often I have seen animals spooked by hunters who were oblivious to the fact that they were pushing game.
This year, I'll be there again, with my binoculars and camera. My wife will be carrying the rifle this time. We'll cut across the canyons and cross the creek before first light to wait at the top where the trees are bent and gnarled by wind, sun and snow. If fortune smiles and the deer we see have antlers, we'll pack our winter's meat back down. If the deer are quick and our reactions our slow, we'll have the memory of the sun coming up and going down on a good day together.