Confessions of a Mule Deer Newb- Part 2

One of the twins at Twin Lakes Recreation center on BLM land. Gorgeous and, according to a fisherman camping there, full of bass and perch. Photo by Jake Jacobson

We got an early start on the second day and headed for the rough country north of Odessa. We had a few fits and starts trying to find the area Jake was seeking, and as we drove past a sideroad a group of five deer were crossing. I saw the leading couple, both does, but Jake spotted a couple of bucks as they moved off.

“I think one of those is a four-point,” he said. We stopped and Jake broke out the binoculars while I got my rifle and loaded it. I walked out after them and they stopped a hundred, maybe a hundred-twenty five yards out. I cranked the scope to max and looked them over. There were two bucks and I located the one with the largest antlers- still not large, mind you- and took aim. It would have been easy to drop him, but I just wasn’t sure he had the required three points. When they are small like this those damn big ears of theirs get in the way.

These were none of them particularly large deer; maybe 200-250lbs. In the end I lowered the rifle and watched them. The big one turned and gave me a better angle and I looked him over through the scope again, and about the time I decided he wasn’t a three-point I heard Jake calling, “Don’t shoot!” I lowered the rifle as he approached and we agreed that he might not be legal. We watched, not without regret, as they moved off. In the distance they joined another herd, so there were about twenty of them as they moved out of sight. Back in the truck, then, and we moved along.

Some does from the first day, about two-hundred yards out. An easy shot… but not legal. Photo by Jake Jacobson

We found ourselves at the gates of the Twin lakes Recreation Center on BLM land and went in to have a look. Lots of rugged, arid prairie or perhaps desert, no deer. We stopped at one of the lakes to avail ourselves of the outhouse, chatted with a fisherman who was camping on the edge of a lake and couple other hunters before moving on. Plenty of vehicle accessible trails, but rough going.

We stopped at one point and looked over a pair of forelegs from a muley, cut off at the knees and left. The meat was still fresh at the joints, so likely it had been taken earlier that morning. Leaving Twin Lakes we headed northwest and found the BLM land we had been looking for. Perfect deer country, but by then it was late for the morning hunt, so after exploring a bit we headed back to Soap Lake to pick up our overnight gear and head home. Good timing- we weren’t on the road long after lunch before a storm blew in and things were pretty nasty across the pass and into Seattle.

More deer we couldn’t legally shoot. I may actually make a real effort to get a doe tag next year; we saw more deer on this trip than I have in the last ten years west of the mountains. Photo by Jake Jacobson

So, no mule deer for me this year, but the Blacktail season is still on west of the mountains, so I’ll try much luck on those. If I don’t get one of those there’s Whitetail out towards Spokane next month… We’ll just have to see what happens.

I learned a lot on this trip, not just the general method for hunting Muleys in that area- because I am sure it’s different in other places- but about what to take and how to equip for the hunt.

Since it might well have been freezing I took my winter boots. I found that while these were more than warm enough and are great for tromping through the snow they suck on rough ground. They just don’t have the flexibility to work well in the rough. Next time I’ll wear combat boots and insulated socks.

I also had decided against taking my .44 Magnum revolver, but having seen deer at less than twenty yards I think that was a mistake. If you get down into the sage it is perfectly possible to encounter deer at very close range, and if I am in better condition next year (and that’s the plan) it’s likely I’ll be getting into the brush.

I had a handgun but it was a EDC piece, and completely unsuited to taking an animal this size. Jake was carrying a four-inch .357 with heavy game loads in a chest holster, which would have done well enough. Myself I would be more comfortable with a .41 or .44 Magnum; I think a 4-5/8″ single action would be an excellent compromise between packability and game-getting power, so I’ll be on the lookout. I am not going to shorten the Abilene; with the long barrel and an optic it has it’s own place in my hunting arsenal, so it’s going to stay just as it is.

A sidearm like this Ruger in .41 or .44 Magnum would be just about an ideal sidearm for this country. Loaded with a heavy Keith bullet it ought to be up to the task.

A handgun has another advantage; it’s illegal to have your rifle loaded in the vehicle, but a holstered handgun can be loaded. If you have a concealed-carry permit there’s not much anyone can say about it, and it could be genuinely useful.

Layers are good. I was OK in a long-sleeve T-shirt with a flannel shirt and my hunting vest, but I had a couple more layers with me to add on at need. Of course this is a pretty good general rule for the Pacific Northwest; the weathermen are better than they used to be, but they still have a way to go before you can trust them without a ‘just-in-case’ plan.

A 4×4 vehicle, as I mentioned last time, is non-negotiable. So is having a hunting partner. Also while it is sometimes fun to camp out an RV or hotel room is real nice to return to at the end of a long day. Camping in autumn in eastern Washington is not a casual affair; weather can be beautiful or hellish, and can flip from one to the other with surprising speed.

I have an invite to accompany Jake again next year, and I am damn sure going to take him up on it. We had a great time and saw some awesome scenery, and with a little luck next time we’ll find something to shoot.

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