Success, it is said, is where opportunity meets preparation. The preparation part means being ready mentally, physically and mechanically. You practice with your firearm to become familiar with it, and ensure it and you will be ready if and when the opportunity arises. You anticipate how your will react. Still, you can never really be completely prepared, particularly when game takes you by surprise.
Such was the case for me on a recent New Mexico mule deer hunt. I thought I was prepared, but when a shot opportunity suddenly, and unexpectedly presented itself, I was momentarily flustered. The buck seemed to appear out of nowhere, and I fought to compose myself before the opportunity, and a chance for success disappeared.
I was participating in the 2010 Yamaha Outdoors Single Shot Challenge, an invitational hunt hosted by Yamaha Outdoors and several other co-sponsors. Ruger supplied the guns – Model 1s, Hornady the ammo – Superformance 300 Win. Mag with 150-grain GMX bullets,
Trijicon the optics – AccuPoint scopes, while Under Armour provided an array of apparel from base to outer layers and Sure-Fire provided several lighting options. The spot-and-stalk hunt was outfitted by Steve Jones’ Backcountry Hunts.
The “spotting” part of a such a hunt typically requires covering a lot of ground – miles of ranch roads. From a truck – the conventional mode – you’re limited to what you can see from the roads, or less severe off-road areas. With ATVs -provided by Yamaha – we were able to reach far more, and more inaccessible ground – places that receive less hunting pressure, and thus offer greater potential in terms of both quantity and quality of game.
Our group, consisting of writers and industry folks, was broken into teams of three, two hunters and a guide. One hunter rode a four-wheeler, the other hunter and the guide rode a Rhino side x side. Both machines are capable of handling terrain you could never access by 4WD pick-up, and the cargo bed of the Rhino allowed us to take along plenty of extra gear and, should the need arise, haul our deer back out.
Our daily routine began with loading up the ATVs in the gray light of dawn, then leaving camp as soon as it was light enough so see. Going out earlier offered no advantage as we might have been driving past deer in the dark. The plan was to spot a buck from far enough away that we didn’t spook it, then dismount, plan and implement a stalk, using terrain to conceal our approach. My group covered plenty of ground the first morning, and we saw some nice bucks. Most however, were not up to our self-imposed minimums. The few good bucks we saw either didn’t stick around long enough, or didn’t present “stalkable” situations.
Mule deer offer a refreshing alternative for an eastern whitetail hunter like myself. Whitetails seem neurotic and paranoid whitetails – always on high alert and ready to bolt at the slightest hint of danger. Mulies tend to be more laid back, and confident, content to first determine the source of any noise or moving object, confident that if and when it becomes necessary, they can simply outrun, or out-hop whatever is after them. This strategy may serve them well against predators, but it’s less effective against a stealthy hunter armed with good optics and a long-range rifle. Even so, they’re no pushovers, particularly the older bucks. And when a shot opportunity presents itself, you may need to react quickly.
Such was the case for me as we headed out for the afternoon hunt. We were late getting back afield after lunch, and I was feeling a bit anxious about the impending dusk. We had a specific destination in mind but now I wasn’t sure we’d make it. As it turned out, we didn’t need to.
Rounding the corner I glanced up the draw where a distant white patch caught my eye.
A quick look through 10x binoculars and I knew instantly it was a shooter. His sharp eyes were locked on us and it seemed as though he might bolt at any moment. There was no time to waste.
Killed the motor, I grabbed my rifle from its scabbard and stuffed in a cartridge as I ran for some nearby rocks and a steady rest. The buck held fast, allowing time for a second, more careful evaluation. Then I settled the crosshairs on his chest and slowly exerted pressure on the trigger. It was over in a second as preparation allowed me to take full advantage of the opportunity.