Grateful For X 4
By Stephen Moore
WA, Mule Deer
Like most, my 2018 hunting season started out by anxiously waiting for the draw results in my home state of Washington. On June 21st, while at work, I received a phone call from my good friend and hunting partner, Justin Atkins. Knowing the draw results would be coming out any day, I was excitedly hoping that he was calling to notify me of our fate for the 2018 season. With excitement in his voice, I knew without a doubt that the results were in. Justin confirmed that not only did we draw our tags, but it was also our first pick for quality bucks. To be honest, with Washington’s lottery draws, we both had very little expectations to draw the tags that we did. With more than 1,200 applicants in the pool, we were thrilled to have drawn 2 of only 20 tags for this late season rifle hunt, especially since we applied as a group with only 5 points. I guess you could say that the odds were definitely not in our favor, and that’s one reason why the 2018 hunting season gave me a lot to be grateful for.
Upon successfully drawing our tags, I reached out to my friend, Blake Tucker, who also happens to be an officer for the Department of Fish and Wildlife in that area. He got us in contact with Graham Grant, a retired officer of 30 years. After months of preparation and acquiring vast knowledge from both of them, the day had finally come. On November 14th, my dad and I made our trek to deer camp. Due to work obligations, Justin would accompany us later the following day.
The morning after setting up camp, my dad and I left well before daylight and started to head to the area that intrigued me the most. At around 0900, I spotted two deer on a full sprint on the hillside across from us about 350 yards away. Knowing the rut was in full swing, I figured there had to be a buck pushing them. However, much to my disappointment, nothing else came from behind them.
A few hours later, over the ridge where I had spotted the first two does, I caught a glimpse of an animal cruising its way through a patch of burned up timber. Upon determining that this animal was a shooter 4x4 buck, my next hasty decision would haunt me for the rest of the week. I untimely made the call to let him walk. After all, it was only a few hours into my highly sought-after quality tag. What else was to come, right? Little did I know that that would be the last deer we would see for the remainder of the day. With Justin finally pulling into deer camp that evening, I had very little good news to report about that day’s events.
The following morning, with Justin’s first full day in deer camp, my dad had to head back home. As Justin and I headed out for our morning hunt, we were apprehensive about what, if anything, the day would bring us, but today was Justin’s day to be the shooter. We spent the early morning of that day in the same area where my dad and I had spotted the 4x4 buck the day prior. With the fog rapidly closing in on us, we decided to relocate lower down the mountain into a different location. This decision ultimately turned out to be more fateful for us as we started seeing more deer activity. By the end of the day, Justin hastily passed on four bucks: a 4x2, a 3x3, another buck we called “Super Forky,” and one that had a really nice frame 100 yards away at last light. Feeling excited and hopeful about the potential of what we saw in this area, we wanted to continue and expand our search for the “big one.”
The following days to come would prove to be even harder to turn mature bucks up. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of perseverance or effort. We glassed and hunted our butts off! On November 19th, the second to last day of the season, we surrendered the area we were so hopeful about. We then decided to head back up to the ridge where I had passed on the only mature 4x4 buck I had seen with my dad a few days prior. It was around noon when we were slowly working our way through the heavy timber and Justin excitedly motioned to me, “Big buck!” He quickly closed the distance on the bruiser buck. Even though Justin was less than 100 yards away from the 180" buck, it never presented itself for a clean, ethical shot.
With adrenaline still running through our veins from Justin’s missed opportunity, we made our way to the same area where my dad and I had seen the two does on the first day. Right before we were going to pick up and move on to another area to glass, I spotted what appeared to be the back end of a deer. When I threw up my binos to have a closer look, sure enough, it was a doe. While Justin and I were glassing for more deer around her, much to my surprise, a mature buck walked into frame. With the buck coming in and out of view while chasing does, we stalked our way into position. By this time, I was shaking like a leaf in the wind with excitement! However, just like that, the buck had gone over the hill across from us and out of sight.
Justin was gracious enough to instruct me to go after the buck. He would stay behind just in case the buck decided to push his does back into the same spot where they had been a few short moments ago. As I was cresting the hill where the buck had disappeared off to, lo and behold, there he was broadside at 125 yards. Knowing I was spotted by one of his does, I had to act fast. I quickly threw myself down into prone position and sent a round downrange as the acquired target absorbed the round of my .300 Win Mag. The deer took off faster than the bullet out of my rifle. A short trek later, there lay the buck I had reluctantly passed on on the first day.
To say that I am truly grateful for those who played a hand in helping me be prosperous this last hunting season would be an understatement. I would like to thank my wife, Krista Moore, and my daughter, Kendyll Moore, for always being patient with me while I’m away chasing my dreams during hunting season. Thanks to Justin for always being a selfless friend, especially when it comes to others having a successful hunting season. I owe you one! Thanks, Dad, for taking the time to come out for a few days to help me set up camp and hunt the first day. Thanks to Blake and Graham for their vast familiarity of the country and the deer that inhabitant the area, which gave us the added insurance to make it a successful hunt.