This is a great story written by David aka “Average Joe”! It is about the love of hunting, success and making new friends! Bwana Bubba
Average Joe tries a Smoke Pole
After last year’s Antelope trip to Wyoming I decided to keep it close to home this year and try to take a nice Blacktail. This is not as easy as it sounds – these deer are not known as timber ghosts for nothing. I’ve taken a couple of forkhorns in the past, but nothing bigger than that. Any buck that made it past his first rifle season is a cagey customer, sticking to the thick stuff and mostly nocturnal – except during the rut.
Bubba hunts as an archer and a fair part of his season is during the rut, but us rifle hunters are out of the woods well before that. Except… turning to the Oregon Tag Guide, there are a couple of black powder rut hunts in southern Oregon that do not take a dump-load of points to draw. Also, a couple years ago Bubba introduced me to a Mike, who lives down in that area and might be willing to help me get my bearings.
First step was to get a proper rifle for this hunt. I settled on a Knight Bighorn, the version that is OR and WA legal meaning it has exposed ignition, no shotgun primers, no pellets, and iron sights. This was a pretty easy choice as it is stainless / synthetic so it will handle wet weather and has a crisp light trigger with no creep, but the double safety is a bit… different. I had it CeraKoted to make it extra waterproof. The notch and blade sights proved problematic as I’m almost 50 and my eyes are not what they were. This problem was solved with a Williams peep sight. Time to hit the range!
This rifle did not like round balls. Past 50 yards the accuracy went off the rails. I’m told this is because a 1/26 twist is meant for slug and not ball. Fortunately Thompson maxi hunters shot well in it. I got it sighted for 75 yards and put a fair bit of time into practicing from field positions to the point where I knew what I could hit and and from what positions out to 100 yards, which was about my limit without a scope.
I talked to the area USFS biologist and he was kind enough to send me a map with some of his suggested areas circled. Common theme – South facing slopes with benches. This being a late November hunt, chances were that many deer would already be concentrating on their winter range.
Mike knew some great places to hunt in this unit and not only offered to scout it with me but was willing to go along on the hunt if his work schedule allowed for it. Mike is a fine gentleman who not only knows the area extremely well but he is also experienced at hunting thick brushy country and is a world class marksman. He and his wife Cristine even offered to let me stay at their place during scouting and hunting trips. They are wonderful people and I can’t thank them enough.
In early October we hit the road to scout and over two days covered over 200 miles of gravel roads and trails. We saw few deer, but the biologist had told me not to expect them to be in the lower elevations until mid-November. We marked 6 places that looked encouraging on the GPS. Mike explained to me his method for rattling in Blacktails. I had heard about this but never seen it done. Would this really work? I sensed Mike might be a bit skeptical about black powder gear (big slow bullets, iron sights and over a minute to reload). I have seen Mikes skill as a hunter firsthand and could see he was confident – I just hoped I could hold up my end when the time came.
The week before I was headed down to hunt, Mike and Cristine put out some trail cams in an area we had marked as promising. They saw lots of does while putting out the cams and one nice three point was on camera when they picked them up a few days later.
Saturday morning had us headed down off a USFS road, down into some oak draws leading to an open meadow in a creek bottom. We set up back into the oaks and got comfortable and Mike went to work. He checked the wind with his bottled smoke – very squirrely wind, changing direction frequently. Then he got out some big shed antlers and started crashing and banging them together, digging up the ground with them, and thrashing the foliage. Then he would give a few grunts on a grunt call and do some more banging and thrashing and then give it a 15 minute rest before doing it again.
After the second set, Mike spotted a deer headed down the hill toward us. A little spike wondering why there was a party and he was not invited. He hung up about 30 yards out trying to figure out what we were. I had already decided not to settle for anything less than a 3 point, so we watched him circle around us through the brush and finally head out after we assume he winded us. I’ve never seen a deer come running TO noise in the woods before. Mike was making a believer out of me real fast.
FYI, these deer are hard to spot in late November as everything in these oak savanna’s is more or less deer colored that time of year. Mike spots them right away but it takes some getting used to if you are used to different county.
After another 20 minutes at that spot we moved a few draws north and set up again. Again with the thrashing and grunting. After about 30 minutes Mike whispers to me “Deer coming in behind me”. Sure enough, a buck has been heading down the hill toward us. He hung up at about 45 yards, behind a little rise, a fat 3 point staring right at us but not sure what we are yet. I shifted sideways and back through the brush trying to get a clear shot past the grass / brush obscuring his lower chest and the Madrone branches in front of me. He is facing directly at us, which doesn’t allow much of a target and an offhand shot is the only one the terrain allows.
I got steady on him and pulled the trigger and CLICK! I had forgotten to take off the second safety. I re-cocked the rifle, got steady again, and this time got the satisfying BOOM and cloud of white smoke. Through the cloud of smoke, the buck dropped without taking another step.
We took a minute (and then some) to reload before approaching to examine the buck. He was very pretty and symmetrical and the nicest Blacktail I’ve had the good fortune to take. Mike has totally sold me on this method of hunting.
We got the buck dressed out and the meat and head loaded in the packs for the climb back up to the road.
The bullet had entered high in the front of the chest and there was no exit wound so after we had dressed out the buck Mike went hunting for the bullet. Following the wound channel, he found it had gone lengthwise through one lung, raked along the bottom of the spine, and came to rest behind one of the rear hip joints. After going through 36 inches of deer, the slug retained 270 out of 275 grains and had expanded to almost an inch.
This was one of the most fun hunts I’ve been on. It was a great combination of beautiful country, magnificent animals, learning new techniques, and spending time with good friends. I’m planning to save my deer points for a couple years and do this hunt again. Mike seemed to enjoy this late black powder hunt and hopefully Mike and Cristine will put in for the same tag and we will all hunt together next time. David K.