05 November 2008

Deer Hunting 2008 (elk intermezzo) near Butte Montana

Deer hunting -- both white tailed deer hunting and mule deer hunting -- functions as a pleasant break to the rigors of elk hunting. All three species are numerous in the Butte America region. Part of being a good hunter is knowing good places where each is found. Furthermore, part of good hunting is enjoying the act of hunting in certain places because of things like memory, friendship, and the unique local environment.

The midseason break from elk hunting began with a white-tailed deer hunt in a nearby river valley. White-tails lack natural predators on Montana's agricultural river bottoms and have bred themselves into super-abundance. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks manages the population by selling "doe tags," though obtaining permission to hunt on private ranch land can be difficult.

I hunt a ranch that has meaning to me for several important reasons. First of all, it is an incredibly beautiful and well-managed property. Seriously overgrazed and mismanaged by previous owners, it is now a remarkable example of environmental restoration thanks to the good work of consultants such as Chris Boyer. Secondly, it is a place where my daughter, Emily Munday, and Little Brother "AJ" both shot their first deer. I am deeply grateful to the ranch owners for sharing this special place with the public:

AJ with white-tailed doe:

Emily with white-tailed doe:

On the hunting scale, my white-tailed deer hunts are a walk in the park. It's a matter of hiding behind a fallen cottonwood between a marsh and a hayfield, watching wild turkeys feed, listening to pheasant cackle, glassing a distant ridge for elk, examining the raccoon scat on the log... If all goes well, within an hour or so, the deer come out to feed. At first, it's a few fawns, orphaned by coyotes or other (human) predators:

More Mickey Mouse ears poke out of the brush along the field's edge, perhaps a rutting buck dashes past. Then the other does and fawns come out to feed. Shooting white-tailed does is a matter of comparison shopping--looking at an isolated deer, I sometimes find it difficult to distinguish a mature doe from an older fawn. But when they are present as a group, it is a much more certain. I usually purchase two doe tags, and have found that after killing the first doe the other deer settle down very quickly. Sometimes, they barely pause from their feeding. So long as they see no human walking around, the crack of the rifle shot and the sight of a dead herd member does not disturb them very much. Driving home with two deer in the back of the truck, I looked forward to another day off from elk hunting--a day to butcher and wrap meat for the coming year.

Remember that scale? Mule deer hunting is a hike on a pleasant and only occasionally rugged trail. It's a matter of parking at the foot of a low ridge along the river at dawn, hiking up a draw through the sagebrush, and then climbing toward the ridge. Meanwhile, I pause to survey every likely spot that might hide a deer -- rocky outcrops, stands of mountain mahogany, small pine trees in the otherwise wide-open prairie, grassy swales, and even open areas that provide bedded deer a good vantage point:

Usually, we are home by noon with one or more mule deer bucks. Personally, I like smaller mule deer bucks to eat because they are much less gamey than a larger, dominant, rutty buck. A 2-year old forkhorn is perfect. The hunt culminates in the drag: transporting the carcass from where it was shot to the truck, typically a distance of a half-mile to well over a mile. Occasionally that includes transporting the carcass on a mountain bike along the railroad tracks, or fording it across the river to the nearest road:

For mule deer, I hunt a low, rocky, barren-looking ridge along the river. The place has many happy memories. My friend and now-retired colleage, Dave Carter, shared this place with me soon after I moved to Montana. It's also a favorite family hiking spot, the first time mule deer place for Little Brother "AJ" and other hunting novice friends, and a nice backdrop to some of the best fishing spots on the river. AJ and a friend already visited "Dave's Deer Mine" for their mule deer bucks, so I was happy when Dave called me up and set a date for a hunt. Though he no longer hunts, Dave still likes to join me for the occasional hunt. There's no one I'd rather spend a rainy day with on a mule deer hunt:

Once I've got the rest of the mule deer buck butchered and wrapped and in the freezer, it'll be back to elk hunting. On the walk in the park/hike on a pleasant trail scale, elk hunting is a backpack trip in a rugged wilderness. But that's another story. Stay posted.


Rio Arriba said...

Special places, special people, special memories. Hunting with your kids is a great privilege and pleasure. Thanks for the nice account and the lovely pictures.

~Sheepheads said...

Will have mine reading this one. LR (my oldest) looking forward to passing hunter ed. next spring!

troutbirder said...

Interesting post with beautiful fall pictures. I gave up bow hunting long ago. Now we are overun with white tails. No connection between those 2 facts though!

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EcoRover said...

Well, Anonymous, unfortunately Howard Smith (he lives up the Moulton north of Butte) was "invited" by someone to hunt there, and he blabbed the secret far and wide. So it's not so secret anymore, and in fact is sometimes downright crowded. It's sad when people act as parasites in this way, and are too lazy to put the time into discovering their own "secret spots." Luckily those of us who know the general region know there are a number of other spots just as good.

Anonymous said...

My Dad used to hunt the Boy Scout Lake area and out by Fairmont with some success. Ask the Farmers and ranchers. They were all pretty friendly back when I was a kid.
Good luck out there.

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