Story and photos by: Leslye Leslie
No Sh!t There I was… a huge buck walking directly at me.
I had been hunting archery all season in Utah because my tag was for either elk or mule deer and I wanted to take an elk with my bow. I just knew the one day I took a rifle for the any legal weapon deer tag would be the ONE time I encountered my first elk.
I woke up on the last Sunday of rifle season and shook my husband Jeremy awake. “We are going hunting, and I am taking your 300 Win Mag,” I said. He laughed and wanted to go back to sleep, but after some nudging, got up anyway. He had been working so hard at helping me get my first Utah animal. We had been hiking our bottoms off and I understood why he was tired. We had moved to Utah from Georgia only a few years before and were still struggling to find hunting areas that weren’t crawling with people (nothing has changed much there).
Luckily, a patient of mine I was rehabilitating a wrist fracture with had told me about a phenomenal little aspen bowl that seemed to hold game. We had been hunting this spot consistently all season and that morning, Jeremy and I hiked in about 45 minutes before legal hunting light as usual. My patient/friend had put up a nice little stand that allowed me to sit high above the aspens and view most of the bowl. My husband would usually sit under the tree but sometimes he would hike a few hundred yards away and hunt on his own.
As we hiked toward the stand that morning there was a bright set of eyes in my headlamp. It was a doe mule deer and she was standing right under the stand I would be sitting in. Jeremy and I stood still and let her mosey on her way before we got settled in for what would turn out to be the best morning hunt of my life.
As I snuggled in the seat with the rifle rested across the stand, I slowly watched the world come to life. It had been legal light for only about five minutes when Jeremy got my attention another deer was 100 yards behind us. He signaled that it was a doe and just wanted me to be aware. I only caught a glimpse of the doe standing in front of a scrub brush and branched, leafless tree. I kept scanning the entire bowl and would turn back every few minutes to look behind to keep an eye on the doe. I had to be quiet because I had my Kryptek puffy jacket on the outside and had forgotten to put a fleece layer over that to dampen the swish. I will be honest, I kind of snoozed a bit in the grey dawn and got caught when Jeremy got my attention about the doe.
A few minutes later I turned back to look for the doe again and realized the scrub brush I thought was behind the deer was actually hiding a wicked RACK! This was a beast of a Mule Deer compared to anything I had ever seen before. He had his nose down and was following the exact trail the doe had walked that morning before light.
So many scenarios played through my head. It looked like the buck was going to walk right under the stand! Wait! My husband is sitting on the ground directly under the stand. For a moment, I thought Jeremy should shoot the buck with his bow since he had brought it with him after I stole his rifle. I tilted my head down to see if I could get Jeremy’s attention only to see his bow is sitting a few feet away from him, totally out of reach. By then, the big muley was 50 yards away.
I realized this was MY moment. I got my grip on the rifle and sat like a statue for what seemed like an eternity. As the buck neared the stand, I stood up slowly and shouldered the rifle. I had always been told never to look at the antlers, so I purposely found the slope of the buck’s neck and then his shoulder in the scope. Let me be clear, I had to just wing it because the buck was now 20 yards away and all I could see was brown hair in the scope. I made my shot before the buck took another step.
Jeremy had turned back and saw the buck coming just before I stood up to shoot and it’s a good thing because when I hit the buck, he lunged into a sprint right across Jeremy and fell 25 yards to our left.
I could not believe what had just happened. I had been hunting in that bowl with my bow for two months and the only deer sighted had been a hundred yards away. The one day I bring a rifle, I make a shot at 20 yards. Oh well. It was a good shot and very swift death. I immediately began shaking and leaned over to see Jeremy. He was fist pumping and clapping for me. When he looked up he said, “ Babe! You did it! I thought you didn’t see him because you never moved. I kept trying to get your attention, but you sat like a statue.” I was trying not to make any noise and my husband thought I was asleep.
What a moment. I’ll never forget that morning hunt and sight of the huge buck walking directly toward me. Right now, that buck is the first mount in my Utah home. I am hoping to add to the collection with a bull elk in the near future. Only time will tell. I guess this is a story of what happens when you bring a rifle to a short range deer fight…