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Last Day
March 1999
Gerhard Schroeder

"We'll plan to arrive the night before deer season opens". That was Helmut's response two days after I had told my brother that we had been drawn for deer, but not elk. They did get here as scheduled, and at 4AM on opening morning the three of us, his wife Karin being the third in our party, headed north into 20A territory.

It was almost a real sweet opener. I had made the first stop in the high desert at a vantage point near Cleator, and after about one hour of glassing in literally all four directions, two deer came out of a little draw, directly at Helmut, a doe with her yearling buck. But he wanted a little more horn mass than buttons. The afternoon got rained out. Saturday morning west of Mayer yielded only one deer track. Time to move up into the pines.

We got there late Saturday afternoon, when what seemed like all the deer were out at dinner. We met the first bunch exactly in the same spot where Jay Bentley had camped during the summer archery hunt. Helmut got out, readied for business, but the wind was unfavorable. There was a forked horn with them, successfully escaping with the does. We found a second group at last light. It too, had a buck in it. This one was only a spike, however, and Helmut convinced himself not to take the easy shot. We pitched the tent in early moonlight, lit a quick fire, had a German dinner- -sandwiches, and turned in. About twenty deer and two bucks in under two hours meant that it shouldn't take too long to fill our tags here in the timber. Not exactly!

Sunday morning came quick. Before first rifle light we hiked along one of the many trails in the area. And saw deer just 100 steps out of camp, all without horns. There were more deer about an hour later. They had made us first, and increased the distance in their favor. We could not tell if there was a buck with them. Lunch was steaks from Helmut's elk in '96, still delicious. Late in the day we went back to the spot where the spike had been the night before, only to find two coyotes departing from a gut pile. May be we should have . . .

Excitement on Monday morning: Helmut had walked by a really nice buck standing about 60 steps off another trail we were following to the southeast. I had my cross hairs on his neck for an easy shot, but wanted my brother to bag him. "Helmut!" Working with heavy power tools most of his life ate a good chunk of his hearing. "Helmut!!" My hissing was a little more intense now, he reacted, turned to me. "Shoot him, shoot him, big antlers! Dammit shoot him in the neck!" The deer showed us his ass while looking right at us. The woods were quite thick here, and Helmut had to come all the way back to my position to even see the intended victim. As soon as the drilling was against his shoulder the buck had enough of our outrageous behavior and bolted. Both shots rang out as almost one, mine missing just high, and Helmut swinging and connecting - with a pine tree. DAMN! That was a nice deer. And Karin was pissed, watching all this from 2 steps away, blaming both of us for being too nice to each other and losing a trophy in the process.

Tuesday morning, same trail, a little further down, a deer crosses. We freeze, get our combo's ready, and sure enough, a tall forked horn appears next, stops, and Helmut misses him. Buck fever, openly admitted. Good, that's what keeps hunting exciting. I follow the first one carefully, sneak around a bend and see the inexperienced spike on top of the next rise some 50 steps ahead. As soon as the cross hairs are on him, he moves left, I swing, let fly and, center hit - oak tree! Them are tough to eat. We leave for home that afternoon, since the plan was that Karin would go with my wife and kids to Rocky Point.

Helmut and I return to the woods on Wednesday morning. As you might have gathered by now, I took the entire two weeks off, and was more a guide than active hunter. But that was the least I could do after all the hunting enjoyment Helmut presents every time I visit the old country. I wanted him to get his deer first, and wanted it to be of more antler mass than mine. That was my goal, at least. Consequently, we would stay in the woods until Sunday night, see deer every day, including a few bucks, but had no shots, even though we had reduced our objective to "anything with damn horns on it".

Well, there were two occasions where rifle fire shattered the almost eerie silence of the Prescott forest. On Friday, Helmut had elected to just sit in the woods, since walking or even stalking was too noisy. After a while I slowly moved to his position, when I heard car doors slamming and people talking. Seconds later a nice 3X3 came moving through the trees, away from those car sounds. The buck wasn't in a panic run, but did not waste any time, either. My shot did not connect. Normally, such an opportunity gone or screwed up would have really pissed me off, but it wasn't too bad here because it had been the caliber of deer I wanted Helmut to bag. Still was a damn nice deer, though.

And on Sunday we were out of meat for lunch, with California wild boar sausage and a javelina ham turned-schnitzel already consumed during the previous days. Consequently, with deer liver still blatantly lacking, the decision was made to make a kill. Helmut's 30R Blaser launched a 180 grain RWS TUG bullet at a healthy 2900fps, and that took care of the squirrel's head, and little more. Cooking the tree rat required damn near three hours, but the meal was delicious. We rained out that night, and fled back to Phoenix, with the intent to return on Thursday. Helmut had promised his wife a two-day tourist excursion. I was getting worried, not much time left. That plan was changed Monday night, when the weatherman indicated more rain for Thursday, but clear skies Tuesday. Consequently, the three of us left Tuesday at 4AM, returned at 9PM, saw 30+ deer, and no antlers, absolutely none. The two played tourist the next two days, I returned to work. There was only one day left for Helmut to hunt.

We gave it that one last chance Friday, leaving again at 4AM. On the way in, we checked the country where we had seen most of the bucks. Nothing. Then we moved to the far end of the dirt road, and already had a truck coming back out, with the driver noting that there were nothing but a bunch of does back there. Damn, had he spooked all game already? We kept going anyway, then got out and carefully stalked along a blocked-off road. And there, antlers! The buck only showed his rear end, Helmut got ready. Seconds ticked away. They seemed like hours. Maybe he should just take the lousy shot, anchor the deer. But those types of unpleasant, unethical thoughts are bred in desperation, and Helmut held his fire. There! The deer moves to the left, and boom. Game over. Helmut had his muley, a smallish 3X3, but we were both honestly happy, and somewhat relieved. It was Helmut's last hunting day.

The meat was in the ice chest a couple of cooling hours later, and we stayed till dark to get one for me. Not 50 steps from where Helmut killed his buck we saw another antlered, bigger boy at last light. But this one didn't even give me time to get the rifle off the shoulder. Gone. Back up the mountain where the thick schtuff hides him well. And protects him from getting close company, since each oak leaf acts like an alarm bell.

Saturday morning was busy: get up early; butcher deer; in freezer by 8:30; shower and pack; bring Helmut and Karin to airport. Their plane left at noon. The hunting had not turned out as anticipated, but overall they had enjoyed their hunting vacation. And so had I.

But hell, the next day, Sunday, was the last day of the season. Damn right, I arrived back in the timber, this time well before daylight, and parked my butt on a folding chair where the big boy had shown himself late Friday. An hour into it, daylight by now, my excitement level peaked: deer legs, not 80 steps from me. Could hardly keep the binos steady. But it turned out to be a doe. Bummer. I abandoned position at 9AM, when other hunters had driven the near-by road, and 22-fire sounded in the distant woods. It was again too quiet to walk. I met Glenn and David, taking advantage of the last day of squirrel season. They got a few of those bushy tails. Maybe that is what I should do! But instead I wasted the day away, scaring does from over 150 yards away, and running into growling dogs, and joy-riding ATV's. Yes, it was Sunday, a balmy day, close to Prescott. Everybody was out there. I retreated back to the place where Helmut's deer had fallen, and waited for the big boy. The sun cast shadows from behind the mountain at about 4PM. Neat hunting conditions had returned. I could pick up squirrels making their busy noise from over 100 paces away. But no deer!

When dirt bikes came through at about 4:30, I concluded that this was not the day to wait out the big boy, and decided to go home early. Arriving at the split in the road where home was left, and to the right was a place where we had seen a group of does on several occasions, the 'what is another 15 minutes' thought won, and I steered up the road. Then walked that last 150 steps up to the power line, near where Bob Hnizdel had taken his buck five or so seasons ago. And yes, there they were again, a doe and yearling. Then, through the binoculars, another deer materialized. And there, to the right, some more, and behind them, too. Yes, they were all . . . Wait, that one has horns!!! The combo came off the shoulder in one careful but swift motion, cocked, trigger set, on the buck's shoulder, and let fly. The deer bolted to the left, and the does scattered uncontrolled. Reloading was total stress. The buck was now moving to the right again, when my second bullet hammered him to the ground. It was a spine shot, requiring one final round through the junction of head and neck. Quiet returned to the woods, but my mind was in overdrive.

I had a deer down, and precious few minutes of daylight left to take care of him. Priorities demanded to find a proper tree first, get the Toyota in position, trim some branches, anchor the pulley, and arrange the rope. That burned almost all remaining light, and field dressing followed in virtual darkness. I then dragged him over to the tree, pulled him off the ground, and skinned him in the headlights. Even though I had prepared for such a case by bringing the Coleman lantern, I had forgotten the propane gas. Didn't matter, the headlight method worked quite well. While my cute little forked horn was cooling, I washed up a bit, and enjoyed my last sandwich and cookies. An hour and a half later I cut him to fit the ice chest, packed all utensils, and rolled into town, beat, but with a fat smile on my face. Two bags of ice and a quick phone call, and I was finally heading home. At 11PM I fell in bed, dead. It had been the best last day.

I butchered him during the next two evenings, and got a clue as to what had happened with my first shot. There were 3 places where shrapnel had hit the deer, one sliver entering right between two ribs, leaving a small bruised area (that is how I found out), and two in the shoulder. The bullet must have found a branch I had not seen, and came unglued. It was a 7mm 160 gr. Sierra boattail going 2750 fps. A great bullet until now, killing most of my deer in the last 10 seasons. I'll continue to use that load in open terrain, but on any future hunts in timber where shots tend to be short I'll switch to Nosler Partitions, 175gr.

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