Drug Bust Mule Deer Hunt on the Umatilla NWR

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

You're missing something if you don't apply for the 600-series antlerless deer hunts. Halfway down page 57 in the 2007 Oregon Big Game Regulations, you'll see there is a One Deer bag limit for Hunt No. 644A3 Umatilla NWR No. 3. There are a couple of other One Deer opportunities, but this one is special. For the patient hunter, the 644A3 tag is a trophy hunt with little competition.

Lest you think I'm giving away a secret, look at the number of first choice applicants. In 2006, 1,107 people applied for two tags. Some secret. It takes a lot of preference points to bag this tag. Unless your luck is running high. Jason Taroli, of Bend, was very lucky in the 2007 drawing.

It's not like these Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge deer don't see hunters. Hunts 644A1 and 644A2 (for antlerless deer) take place in the weeks prior. Over 30 people get tags each season. They give the resident deer an education while keeping the numbers of ungulates at a manageable level.

When Taroli drew the coveted tag, he had a decision to make: muzzleloader or shotgun. He weighed the options. He already had a shotgun, he didn't own a muzzleloader.

A shotgun, when fitted with a slug barrel, a good recoil pad, a scope and a slug, are capable of achieving astonishing accuracy. A three-inch group at 100 yards is not out of the question. Jason outfitted his Remington 870 with a rifled barrel and a scope then spent time at the COSSA Range east of Bend. But the combination didn't produce the kind of accuracy he might have achieved with a muzzleloader and a tailored load. His shoulder was sore and his effective range was 75 yards or less.

Jason would have five days to hunt. He arrived at the Refuge on Thursday morning with time to scout before the opener.

Late on Friday, the peace and quiet of the Refuge was shattered by the thump of helicopter rotors. He watched in disbelief as a chopper made trip after trip, ferrying truckloads of baled marijuana out of the Refuge. Someone had been growing weed. The bust went down right before deer season and the operation was taking place right where Taroli had planned to hunt. This called for a change in plans.

Taroli talked it over with the Refuge biologist and his friend, Brad Bagent, who had come over to spot for the first two days. Opening morning, he chose a stand on the edge of a grassy field near a cornfield. At first light, he saw two nice mule deer bucks, but they spooked and bounced back into the corn. Taroli headed to the other side of the Refuge and glassed a herd of eight bucks. He made a stalk to within 70 yards, but none of these were as big as the first two he'd seen.

On Sunday, the big bucks were back and so was Taroli. With a plan. But he was only able to close the gap to about 150 yards and that wasn't close enough. When the two big bucks were gone, Taroli drove back to where he'd seen the others. Where there had been eight, now there were 15! And all those eyes and ears were too much defense for Taroli's offense. At the end of the day, Bagent headed for home and Taroli headed to camp. Monday would be a solo effort.

That night, the rain pounded on the trailer and with the change in the weather came a new resolve. Monday's cornfield stalk ended like it did on Saturday and Sunday. But Taroli guessed he could make something work on the big bachelor herd.

Six bucks were bedded up against a stand of trees near a slough a thousand yards away. For over 600 yards, Taroli crept to close the distance. For 150 yards, he crawled and for the last 175, he went on his belly like a cougar. He had his eye on one particular buck, not for the size of the antlers, but for the odd coloration of his face.

When Taroli was within 75 yards, the buck stood and was quartered away when Taroli found the vitals and took the slack out of the trigger.

With three points on one side and five points on the other, the rack was about as wide as the buck's ears. And the buck's eyebrow was indeed split and reshaped as if the buck's face had been injured and the scar healed over. McLagan's Taxidermy in Bend will build a shoulder mount in memory of a unique hunt in the Umatilla NWR.

It won't be long before the next tag drawing. The 600-series hunts are a great way for a muzzleloader hunter to spend more time afield. Several hunts are offered for shotguns or muzzleloaders only, which tends to limit the number of applicants. Odds are decent that a hunter could draw one of the 644A antlerless hunts.

The 644A3 hunt is a different story, but perhaps you're feeling lucky. Jason Taroli rolled the dice and came up a winner last year. This year, it could be you.

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