Slippin' and Sneakin'
We've got so many mule deer in southwestern Idaho that I could easily have collected venison off my back porch any number of times. On opening day two years ago I sat in a saddle up the canyon and dropped a 3-point before sunup by letting other hunters drive it to me. Two days later my wife rounded out our year's venison with a one-shot doe as I watched from our back window.
by Lewis Watson
Last year I helped two young friends bag their first muleys a mile farther up the canyon. Mule deer hunting in our neighborhood has been like this for the last 15 years.
The trouble with such great close-to-home hunting is that after 20 or 30 muleys, you get kind of jaded. Hoof up a steep canyon somewhere, surprise a buck bedded at the brushy head of some little side cut, shoot him clean, bone out the meat, work my trail bike up the nearest cow path, haul another year's venison home. All in a day's work.
Then a good friend in Grangeville invited us up for a mid-November antler-rattling session on whitetails. Sharon and I had heard about this whitetail rattling stuff and wanted to see how it worked, so we jumped at Dewey's offer. It didn't occur to us that whitetail hunting would be different from muley chasing in all sorts of other ways as well.
We arrived in mid-afternoon and were startled when Dewey suggested we try rattling up a buck that very day. We were even more surprised when he stopped the van near town between a barking farmdog downhill and somebody hammering up the road a piece. It appeared these northern whitetails lived even closer to civilization than our own backyard muleys!
We didn't rattle up a buck that first afternoon, but during a twilight rattling effort the following day Dewey whispered to get ready - something was coming through the brush. Come on, I couldn't see 20 feet in front of me. How could I pick up a buck in all those shadows through a 6X scope and drop him cleanly with a 130-grain, .270 pill?
Suddenly a little forkhorn peeked down a narrow brush lane right at us. Then he was gone before I could flip off the safety, much less look him over to see if I actually wanted him. This dense-cover whitetail hunting sure didn't give you much time to think about things!
Still, this antler rattling business sure enough worked on November-rutting flagtails. I looked forward to getting out the next day, and we even prepared a couple of cardboard-buck cutouts to distract approaching bucks long enough for this slow-witted southern muley slayer to take a bead on one.
About two o'clock the next day, a snowstorm was threatening to blow into north Idaho. Dewey, Sharon, and I were rattling and watching at the very bottom of a shadowy, brushy canyon. Dewey still insisted on rattling towards impenetrable downhill brush, but I just knew a buck would come tripping down the more open hillside above us.
You guessed it - when the little 3-point trotted up from super-dense brush no more than 40 yards away, I was turned in the wrong direction! Fortunately he didn't recognize my frozen form right away, and Dewey quickly rattled again below me to distract him. I slowly eased around into firing position, but in the low light couldn't see the buck's shoulder through my scope for all the intervening brush. Hoping the bullet would penetrate a few light twigs, I squeezed (OK, nervously yanked) a shot off at where I figured his vitals would be. He dropped instantly, and Dewey's whoop echoed down the misty canyon even louder than my .270 blast.
Sharon and I set out alone at daybreak the next day to rattle in a buck for her. After a couple of fruitless somewhat amateur-tries near abandoned apple orchards, we eased around a turn in the grown-up logging road and spotted a forkhorn 80 yards up the hill. He was no more than two quick jumps from a tangle of briars and undergrowth. Sharon slowly descended to one knee and squeezed off a perfect heart shot that allowed the little buck only a few wild jumps before his last leap stoned him against a tree. During field dressing, we noticed one small antler was broken almost completely off, which Dewey later surmised was due to rut fighting with a larger buck and not from hitting the tree. The bruises in the area were not fresh, and the little buck had bruises and scrapes from fighting all over its body. Whitetails are known more for ferocious competition over the does than are muleys.
Sharon's buck was a young one, but we still couldn't believe the mere 50 pounds of boned-out meat he yielded. Following a snowy, overgrown logging road back to our camper, we joked that we had driven to north Idaho only to shoot a couple of antlered jackrabbits. Still, whitetail hunting was totally different from popping yet another muley, and it's likely we'll head north again over the next few seasons. That rattling technique was very exciting!
As Dewey later pointed out, a long shot is anything over 100 yards in these northern woods. Long-range spotting and prolonged stalking are possible on whitetails, but not very reliable in such dense cover. Under dry conditions, it's nearly impossible to sneak along and surprise these high-strung woods animals. Once spotted, they're usually gone in a flash rather than standing there and gawking at you like an undisturbed muley buck sometimes will.
In early fall before deciduous leaves fall, many whitetails are shot by watching patiently over meadows at dusk and dawn. Others are taken by multiple-hunters drives through wheatfield woodlots with "blockers" posted strategically at the sides and far end.
In November, the two favored methods are antler-rattling and following tracks in fresh night snow. Tracking should be done shortly after a fresh snowfall - whitetails are so plentiful up here that their trails quickly interweave into an impossible maze.
Sneaking around north Idaho's thick-brush country after these flighty, feisty little flagtails is sure a new hunting experience for this jaded old muley slayer. That's why I'll be driving north again in the future!
Copyright 2000 Spring Creek Communications
Whitetails and Deer Hunting
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