Randy and Joe’s 2004 Wyoming Hunt

by Randy Robinette

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I knew before the end of our first day of hunting that BIG MIKE had stayed home – I was "on my own"; well, except for long-time huntin' Pal, Joe. About 4:00 PM that initial day, yours truly made a GREAT "spot" – that is, I "glassed" a very nice Mule Deer buck, which was bedded up some 1100-1200 yards from the ranch trail, enjoying the little remaining time of his daily siesta. The view through the 10×50 Swarovoski binocular was enough to let me know that I was back "on my high horse"; it was going to be HUGE, or, nothing at all . . .

I pointed out the general location to Joe and awaited his appraisal: he was unable to locate the critter – maybe I was being overly imaginative! We set up the spotting scope and I quickly reaffirmed that, indeed, there WAS a very nice 4×4 lounging in the shade! I informed Joe that he'd better take a look and decide whether the buck was "good enough" for a "first day" buck. At a mere glance, Joe was questioning my judgment; "are you out of your mind – GREAT spot" – you'd better saddle up and get after THAT one B4 he decides to get up"! "Nope, he's not what I'm looking for – if you want to go for it, he's all yours, Joe."

It didn't take Joe long to saddle up under his day pack, grab his new custom .270WSM and leave me behind to enjoy the stalk through the 'binos' and spotter. . . The stalk went OK, but the shadows were growing rapidly longer – the buck got up and began alternately feeding and thrashing the sage in the bottom of the draw where he'd no doubt enjoyed the shade all afternoon. When Joe cleared the first ridge, from which I though he MIGHT shoot (it would have been nearly 400 yards), he was not certain that the feeding buck, which insisted on keeping his head obscured [from Joe's perspective] by the sage, was the same buck we'd originally glassed! Often, during early October, the bucks are in "bachelor" groups. Since the buck's draw was short and narrow, but deep, Joe opted to get closer; the next ridge would provide him with a better view of the full length and depth; helping assure that this was the right buck if he reached his objective, the range would also be reduced to well under three hundred yards.

The real problem began when the buck, while Joe was down in the intervening draw, thus out of sight, decided that the feed up on the prairie was tastier, thus he moved up onto the edge with nothing beyond him but three miles of unbroken prairie . . . Joe, only just slightly careless in topping out failed to note the buck in the open, and stood up to get a better angle into the bottom! That's when things went sour. The buck went on "alert" and I could see that the jig was about up! Still, surely, Joe could see him! Not so, the buck, a mid – 170s type, with about a 24" inside spread, began the classic pogo-stick bounce across the open range; hearing the pounding hooves gave Joe the location and he was on his belly when the buck paused at three hundred yards, I expected to see the buck collapse, then hear the report of the .270WSM, followed by a good THUMP . . . but there was no collapse; there was no shot! Joe had opted out; from his perspective, the buck had paused "on the sky-line" and Joe could not see the three miles of empty prairie separating himself and the buck from the Cheyenne River Bottoms. It was the right choice, but it plagued Joe for the remainder of the hunt. The date was October 5, 2004. Things (the deer hunting that is) mostly went down-hill for us from there; having received a mere 0.4" of rain since Jan. 1, 04,  THE RANCH  was 3/4 of the way through a third consecutive year of drought! And this year, it really showed. The stark contrast between my trip across South Dakota – the greenest I'd seen it for many years – and my arrival on the Wyoming prairie was unbelievable: how could ALL of that rain 'miss' such a large area? On this hunt, water and forage would prove to be issues. Mercifully, the 2004 October weather was more cooperative that the '03 version, when we hunted in not only drought, but also record and near record high temperatures for 9 days! This year, 55-75 degrees covered most of the day-time highs.

For the next three days, we found little in the way of deer, let alone bucks, but we found enough to maintain hope: there is ALWAYS a BIG one somewhere! I have hunted THE RANCH most years since 1988 and had never observed a bobcat – during all those years, another huntin' buddy, Troy Petersen, has seen one. On our third day, Joe and I were wandering around on the "Francis Place", but separated by a couple of miles of draws and rangeland. The conditions were very favorable for coyote calling, overcast and light NW breeze, so once I worked my way into a good location, at the headers of several deep draws, which radiate out from a central high point, or dome like butte, and settled into a comfortable nook in a smallish rimmed sand blow and began crying on my 30+ year old Burnham Bros. Walnut predator call (I always keep a fresh CIRCE "jack-rabbit reed installed and replacements handy for this call – it has proven a "killer" coyote attractor) – at the end of my first sequence of guttural crying, I observed three "coyotes" (?), headed my way, trotting through a sage flat 450 -500 yards to my North!

I gave them another set of 'squallering', just so they didn't get bored! But something was "wrong" those things weren't coyotes . . . but, what the hell WERE they?!? At that distance, with two major ravines separating us, I could risk the movement required by a peek through the Licas – BOBCATS; THREE of them! Though I lacked a furbearer license and further, cat season was not open, I decided to see if they were really responding to the call, or just happened to be traveling in my direction . . .

Once they reached the edge of the first coulee, it was obvious: these cats were looking for GRUB! As was proven correct later, I deduced that it was female, with a pair of 3/4 grown kittens! While mom was intent on the hunt, the 'younguns' were more haphazard in their approach. Even as the largest of the three dropped into the first deep cut, followed closely by the smaller pair, I believed that I'd seen the last of them  . . . Until, much sooner that I would have suspected probable, all three broke out of my side and were obviously intent on crossing the grass land between us and the final ravine! Amazingly, though they were more deliberate than the typical coyote, I was surprised by their seeming confidence as they crossed the 200 yards or so of short grass.

When they reached the far side of that last deep cut, 'MOM' veered off course and found something a little easier that the 40 foot drop which now separated us – she worked down, angling west (to my left), while the other two stayed on the rim and disappeared behind a 'gumbo knob', still headed west. I didn't see them again – UNTIL they all emerged from the nearest side of the steep walled cut, headed straight at me (every time they were out of sight, I squalled on the ol' Burnham Bros.)! At about 70 yards out, where the sparse sage brush ended, the two kittens went down on their bellies and there they stayed – 'Mom' had obviously given some sort of signal, as they lay there watching intently, but not moving a hair! Meanwhile, 'Mom' was covering the remaining 75 yards of short grass at a fast trot – what happened to "sneaky"?!?

When she had cut the distance to 20 yards, she paused long enough for me to issue one of my hit/miss "lip-squeaks"; she went into that cat crouch, FAST stalk, posture and was within three feet of me before I could believe it – I considered shooting  (in "self defense"), but opted to simply wave my right hand. THAT caught her attention – I'll never forget the instant we established EYE CONTACT! That cat KNEW that, "something like ME lives behind THOSE eyes" – she beat a hasty, but dignified retreat back to the youngsters and all three dove into the cut. That encounter made the trip! Two days later, but on the "home place", I saw another pair of bobcats! Five on one trip!

My primary fire-power for this years hunt was a rifle base on my old reliable HUNTER CLASS rifle, a Remington 700, which had won part or all of two NBRSA National Championships and several Top Ten placements in yardage/Grand Aggregates for me during its days as a "target rifle".  I had Stan Ware fit and chamber a PacNor 1:10" twist .257 barrel, in number three contour, chambered for the .257 Ackley Improved (Roberts) – the 40 Deg. shoulder version. Following Stan's metal magic, the rifle was fitted into a McMillan 'SAKO Hunter' Kevlar/graphite stock, by Al Nyhus.  In testing, the rig delivered very satisfactory grouping using 115 Gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets, and a case full of H-4831; while shooting without the aid of wind flags, 100 yard three-shot groups ranged between .30 and .70", @ chronographed MV of 3043 FPS.

The first critter to challenge the 115 Gr. bullet proved unworthy of the task; a coyote which I "spotted" bedded near a windmill. Following a classic stalk, I was rewarded with a 197 yard shot – the predictable result: a dead coyote! A couple of day later, a second coyote, which I "jumped" while on a walkabout, made the fatal error of stopping at the three hundred and ten yard marker; by then, I was belly down, Harris bipod "out" and ready to shoot – a "just below the hair-line hold resulted in a satisfactory 'BOOM/whap'; perhaps Stan will post a pic or two (both my shooting and post shot ranging, via a LICA range finder, proved that ALL of my pre shot "guesses" were very close this year!). The .257 IMP. went 'eight for eight': three coyotes and five prairie dogs – none closer than that first coyote!

By the end of the fifth day, Joe and I decided it was time to focus on finding a 'shootable' "goat" (Joe is very fussy about which Antelope he'll tag – not quite so fussy regarding deer . . . HMMmmmm) – and we DID! We located a promising 'goat' and following a fair amount of frustration, patience, perseverance, a 130 Gr. Scricco, at 3350 FPS, from Joe's .270 WSM proved too much for even the smartest of antelope! If Stan can get the pics to work, the "goat" is self explanatory – on THE RANCH, a 15" goat is about as good as it gets; this one also boasted very HIGH and very long "cutters" (prongs), with good mass; an exceptional antelope. Joe made a very credible 356 yard shot, holding into a 20+ MPH crosswind: one shot one antelope!

On our ninth day of hunting, Joe and I were again cruising separate portions of the "Francis Place", when I heard the unmistakable thunder of the .270WSM (no other hunters should have been within several MILES of us in Joe direction)! I paused and heard the unthinkable: a second, then a THIRD shot – seldom good news on a huntin' adventure . . . I headed back to the truck to wait Joe out and see what he'd gotten – and how much meat was left! An hour later, a dejected a thoroughly "pissed" Joe arrived back at the truck . . . and he was in no mood to talk about it. So, I backed off and ate some grub while Joe cooled to a simmer: he had been traveling up the bottom of the main east draw, perusing the heads of each feeder, when he saw a "high and very dark 3×3, with good mass, but a narrow spread" – on the ninth day, and based upon what we'd observed, a pretty respectable sounding buck. All that was visible was the head and neck, but the range was less than two hundred yards, so, Joe opted to take the shot. The problem was that he had failed to recognize that part of the "throat patch" was, in fact, a point on the sandstone rock which also shielded the buck's body – his perfectly executed shot had struck the stone and showered the buck with fragments of sandstone and possibly lead/jacket material!

After venting his disgust with his performance, we decided to go down and look around the scene again, just to make certain that Joe hadn't missed any blood – especially on the two follow-up shots. WE were just about to drive over the edge, where the trail is cut into the steep bank of the "east draw", when I looked across and into the rim of a small feeder draw – there was a buck; and a GOOD one! I told Joe to "stop the truck" and he read BUCK between the words . . . and he too saw the deer before the rig halted! By then, I had the glasses on him and could see that the right antler was high and DARK – Joe had "unassed" the seat and was already getting the .270 out, while asking me if I wanted to take the shot – "no, you're in a better position – I'm guessing it's right at 300" As I tried to make out the left antler, it just wouldn't come into 'focus'; " Joe, don't shoot – he only has one antl " . . . (BOOM) er"!

To my relief, when the bullet struck (it was, indeed, right at three hundred – the Lica later said 291), the buck bounded our way and once sky lined, the "missing" antler wasn't missing after all! The thought of having to endure the ridicule and constant grousing that would result from having Joe shoot a one antlered buck was scary! As it turned out, all of the evidence pointed to this being the same buck which had escaped Joe earlier! It appeared that he'd taken a face full of sand and simply made a semicircle and bedded up 1/2 mile south of where he'd bedded earlier. This time, Joe made a good shot and the buck tottered toward us about 50 yards and expired! Thus ended another GREAT adventure on THE RANCH.

The following day, we participated in another cattle round-up and helped sort the cattle for shipping to greened pastures, or, for the less fortunate, the feed lot! I could have hunted two more days, but opted to head home and get back to work – the Thursday morning I was driving across South Dakota, homeward bound, Rick was guiding his brother, Kent, to the BIG buck, pics of which Stan has posted under the heading, "What's this, Randy" . . . or something similar – perhaps Mr. Ware will tie all of this stuff together!?!?

IT was another humbling and rejuvenating adventure. I AM thankful to live in a country where I am free to pursue my inconsequential dreams – GOD BLESS AMERICA! R.G.

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