Oregon FNAWS
Hunt Stories - Jeff Mornarich
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Jeff's Deer Hunt
By Jeff & Carma Mornarich
Travis Anderson and I just returned from Nevada. Below is the story of my successful mule deer hunt while it is all very fresh in my head. I know it is long, so feel free to skip the text and just scroll through the photos as no one will ever know (and it will just be your dirty little secret)...Jeff
Having grown up in western Oregon around our small blacktail deer, the mule deer of eastern Oregon and beyond have always mesmerized me. Especially those big, heavy, wide racked mule deer bucks that make your eyes pop out of your head. For more than ten years, I have had my heart set on killing one of those big mule deer bucks on public land. My travels have taken me to the Alturas unit in California, to the Frank Church Wilderness and the Little Lost River Valley in Idaho and to the Trout Creek Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon. Those trips provided me with some wonderful memories with great friends, but I never managed to come home with one of those bucks where you say, “damn, that things a hog.”
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Earlier this summer, I discovered that I drew a deer tag for the southeast corner of Nevada that has a reputation for growing some big mule deer bucks. Because it is a fourteen hour drive to this part of Nevada and I didn't have the time to scout the country, I decided to hire an outfitter named Shawn Lytle to help me out. My lifelong friend, Travis Anderson, didn't want to miss the trip so we put our camp gear together and made the very long drive to Pioche, Nevada. We wound up hunting with a great guy named Bruce Engelby who is a veterinarian from Ogden Utah. He is one of Shawn Lytle's best hunting buddies, an exceptional hunter, and he had a deer tag for the same unit. Like me and Travis, Bruce lives to hunt, and he has a great personality and a lot of stories, just as you would expect from anyone who takes care of animals for a living.
Bruce also owns a Jeep that can go places where I wouldn't take a four wheeler.
We spent a lot of time in beautiful country up on the tops of mountain ranges sitting behind binoculars and spotting scopes. We saw a lot of elk including some big bulls that were bugling non-stop. We also saw a fair amount of mule deer and some decent bucks but none of those “big, heavy, wide racked mule deer bucks that make your eyes pop out of your head.”
On one morning, after most of the deer were bedded down, Bruce spotted a deer about three-quarters of a mile away feeding in an old mahogany burn. We all put our binoculars on the deer and realized it was a buck so we broke out the spotting scope. The buck was in a mass thicket of gray, dead mahogany trees so we could only see bits and pieces of him at a time until he bedded down. Bruce, Travis and I all agreed the buck appeared to be respectable, but he was nothing over the top. Because the sun was up, we just spent the next couple hours keeping tabs on the buck, eating sandwiches and killing time. Around one o'clock, the buck stood up in his bed and started feeding some more. We watched him the whole time, but we never could get a real good look at the buck on account of the mahogany thicket. He eventually fed back to his same bed and laid down again. We could only see the tip of one of his antlers through the sixty power spotting scope, but at least we knew where he was at.
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The three of us agreed the buck had some mass and was the best one we had seen so far. Though he wasn't necessarily the hog I was looking for, I made the decision to go after him considering the quality of bucks we had seen up to this point. The buck was bedded up on top of a mesa, and there was no way to get above him for a long shot. We all agreed he'd be tough to hunt where he was at and my only chance would be to sneak up on him in his bed, and if I didn't spook him, wait for him to stand up and then hope that I could get a shot through all of the mahogany branches. In essence, it was a long shot, no pun intended. I took off across the canyon and climbed up through some rim rock to the mesa where the buck was bedded. Before I reached the small crest, I dropped my pack, slipped a round in the chamber and then started my sneak to a rock between the buck and me. Fortunately, the wind was in my favor and I very carefully and very slowly worked my way around dead limbs and over dry bushes and some noisy rocks until I was approximately eighty yards from where I thought the buck was bedded. I got on the radio to Travis and Bruce, and they confirmed they could still see the one antler tip so the buck hadn't moved.
There was only one place I could sit against the rock on account of noisy branches and brush surrounding the rock. I continued to sit in the same position for about an hour and a half waiting for the buck to stand up. All I could see in front of me was a tangle of mahogany trunks and branches, and I looked for holes through the tangle where I might be able to place a shot. Because my rifle is zeroed at 300 yards, I adjusted my scope to change my zero to 100 yards and tighten my bullet path to my line of sight to improve my chances of “threading the needle” through all the limbs.
Eventually, my butt and both of my feet fell asleep and were numb. At about 5:00 p.m., I decided I had to move to get some blood back into my legs when suddenly the buck stood up in front of me. In a hole through the mahogany branches, I could see a portion of his butt. I waited. He eventually fed forward, and I could occasionally see parts of his body, his antlers, his eye, his back, but I never had a clear shot through all the dead mahogany. I continued to wait and knew that Travis and Bruce must be going crazy watching all of this unfold. From their vantage point, Travis and Bruce could see me and the buck simultaneously through their binoculars. Twenty minutes had now passed with me watching this buck at only eighty yards without an open shot. Fortunately, I had forgotten about my dead butt, legs and feet. As the buck was finally feeding closer to an opening, he unfortunately turned around and fed right back toward his bed behind thick mahogany limbs.
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When he got back near his bed, I could barely see a single piece of his body. Then his antlers appeared in that small hole where I had seen his butt when he first stood up. He eased past that small hole, and when his shoulder passed the hole, I didn't think; I just gently squeezed the trigger. The recoil of my rifle rocked me back, and as I looked back through my scope I saw the buck running away full speed through the thick mahogany patch. My heart sunk. I got on the radio and explained to Bruce and Travis that I knew the shot was perfect, but I was sorry as I must have misjudged the hole and hit a branch deflecting my bullet. The way the buck ran off I was certain he was unscathed. Bruce got back on the radio and said Travis just watched my buck hit the dirt over near a juniper patch. They could no longer see the buck, but they thought my bullet found its spot. My spirits soared.
I slowly worked my way through the mahogany patch and there he was: a big, heavy, wide racked mule deer buck. I couldn't believe what I saw. This was the type of buck that makes your eyes pop out of your head. I got on the radio to Travis and Bruce and basically went crazy. I didn't take my finger off the talk button for at least a minute, and they had to listen to every word as I described the buck, the stalk and how it took me over ten years to fulfill this dream. In essence, I was on top of the world, and they knew it.
Apparently, when I described the buck over the radio to Bruce and Travis, I just kept saying he was “beautiful.” So when Bruce and Travis found me, they did not know the buck was bigger than we previously believed. When they saw the buck, they were stunned. We had all watched pieces of this buck since 10:30 that morning, and none of us thought he was this caliber of buck. There was a lot of high fives and even some hugs. Definitely a moment we will all remember forever. I am so thankful for everything Travis and Bruce did to help me get this big, old, public land mule deer buck. Though I'm not a cell phone guy, I did have my “flip phone” in my backpack and good reception right where that big buck laid. The first and only person I called was my wonderful wife who always supports me taking off for the mountains. My first words were, “Sweetheart ... it finally happened.”
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