This #EarnedIt story was submitted by Ransom Smith, @naturalbornpredator.

Old Traditions, New Traditions

I grew up hunting archery mule deer out of a tree stand in small town Oregon.  When someone in the family was fortunate enough to let an arrow fly, the calls would ring out, the packing party would meet up and the tracking would begin.  After the field work we would all convoy to grandma and grandpa’s house and take pictures in the traditional spot on the lawn, hang the deer in the garage, then watch the buck skinners go to work.  After a couple days of hanging the crew would reconvene for a meat cutting party.  These traditions helped shape my character and will always drive me as a hunter.

After serving my four years in the United States Marine Corps, I moved my family to Idaho to start a new life and new traditions.  This would prove to be a very defining year in who I am as a hunter today.  I changed tactics from tree-stand hunting to spot-n-stalk hunting.  I began to update my archery equipment and build a backcountry gear list.  Hours were spent at the range throughout the year in preparation for that one moment we all search for, and this particular year, I would find that moment.

Ungraceful Cliff Approach

Normally I would leave in the evening, camp in my truck overnight and begin my hunt at zero-dark-thirty, but on this particular weekend I decided to sleep in my own bed and head out super early.  I made good time and was up on the mountain as the sun came.  I found myself back at base camp eleven hours later with no bucks found.   Fatigue was creeping in as I sat near a cliff’s edge glassing into an open basin.  In between attempts at keeping my eyes open I caught a glimpse of a deer with my naked eye.  I quickly threw the binos on him and it was a dandy 4 x 4 in picture-perfect velvet.  I grabbed my bow and slipped ungracefully down the cliffs and shale hoping not to blow him out.

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Once on ground level with him, I crept in slowly, trying to keep the wind in my favor.  I heard him stand in the thicket and began to catch glimpses of his golden summer coat slipping through the brush.  He stepped out of the tree line at 80 yards, but that was too far, so I waited.  In an attempt to get the wind in his favor he began to circle.  When he stepped behind some cover, I ranged a tree where I anticipated him to step out and came to full draw.  Just as I had hoped, he stepped out right in front of the tree and I chose my pin.  With a slow, smooth squeeze my arrow was in flight.  The buck did a 180 and headed down hill.  I walked up and found my arrow lying against the tree he stood in front of…. HIT!  As I made my way down the hill, the brush painted my pants crimson; I knew he wouldn’t be far.  The sun was setting so I pressed on without giving him much time.  Unfortunately he stood up fifteen yards broadside and as I drew to shoot again the arrow popped off the string because I didn’t seat the bowstring fully into the nock.  He took off and I could tell he was on his death run.  As I watched I noticed a deer cross the creek in the bottom and I was certain it was him.  Nightfall was coming quickly and I didn’t want to scale that rocky drop-off in my headlamp, so I decided to back out and recover him in the morning.

Gut Full of Excitement

I headed back at sun up with a gut full of excitement because I knew I was going to find my trophy buck just on the other side of the creek.  I then spent the rest of my weekend zigzagging the creek bottom and the landscape all around it.  I couldn’t believe he was nowhere to be found.  The sick feeling in my stomach was indescribable as I returned home empty handed.  I called my dad that week and he suggested that maybe he didn’t cross the creek, perhaps it wasn’t him I saw, he suggested.  I headed back in there the next weekend hoping maybe predators or birds would guide me in to find him, but to no avail.

I stood at the crossing scratching my head and decided to heed my father’s advice

Three weeks into the season I headed back up on an elk hunt and went back into the creek crossing knowing I was looking for my buck, not elk.  I stood at the creek crossing scratching my head and decided to heed my father’s advice… maybe he didn’t cross.  I turned and went through the thick of the brush instead of crossing the creek and I didn’t make it 30 yards before I came across his carcass.  I couldn’t believe it.  He had laid dead 90 yards from where I had marked last blood in my GPS.  I strapped the horns up to my pack and pulled my “ivories” out of his front legs and headed back to camp with a punched tag three weeks later.  Maybe father does know best!

The "father knows best" buck. Persistence pays off, don't give up on finding a hit buck.

The “father knows best” buck. Persistence pays off, don’t give up on finding a hit buck.

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