The Smartest Deer I’ve Ever Known

The Smartest Deer I’ve Ever Known

It was one of those mornings I didn’t really feel like doing anything. It was late fall, every chore needed to be done before the snow set in was done. For me that morning it was one of those days like so many are in the bush of Alaska where I was free to do anything I wanted to do.
It was late morning when I finally rolled out of bed and lumbered
In to see what the rest of the family was doing. As I walked by the bedroom window I noticed a movement in a clearing about a hundred yards from the cabin.
It wasn’t a large movement, just enough that I noticed something moving. The color and the way it moved was unmistakable. It was a Sitka Black Tail and it was obvious by how well at that range I could see it, it was big.
Now I’m not a trophy hunter, but another deer that time of year was always welcome in the freezer. I was in an area of Southeast Alaska known for Boone and Crockett record breaking deer, but like I said and want to make clear, I’m not a trophy hunter and I’ve never even tried to get into the Boone and Crockett records.
I hunt for meat, but when I picked up the binoculars from the table and looked, this thing was enormous. I think to this day it was the biggest body, biggest rack, biggest buck I had ever seen. I even told myself what I just told you.
I’m not a trophy hunter, but as I watched him slowly move across the clearing it was hard to believe what I was watching. I was still telling myself I wasn’t a trophy hunter as I ran through the living room yelling two words to clear my way, “Big deer, big deer!”
My wife Ami just half smiled and shook her head as I ran passed her. At the front door I grabbed my trusty rifle from the cabinet. I guess the weapon you trust the most is the weapon you use the most. For me it’s my 30.06 pre-1964 Winchester.
I’ve hunted over twenty years with it and never has it failed me. I like the .06 because you can load the grain way up for larger game or load down for smaller. Of all the guns I’ve had it’s what I grab when deer meat is what I’m after.
I didn’t grab the 12 gauge to back me up because it was late enough in the fall that the bears were starting to den up for the winter and those that weren’t, were in the high country far above our cabin. I did as always strap on my Blackhawk .44 mag.
As I opened the door I slowed and quietly stepped outside straining my eyes to see if he was still there. At first I though he had gone, then to my surprise I saw him standing just outside of the tree line.
The area all around the cabin was thick forest, but just up the mountain a half of a mile or so there was a high mountain meadow.
There were almost always deer there and I was hoping he would go up there and not into the forest where I was sure I’d never see him again.
While I was thinking he slowly stepped into the forest. I knew he was gone, but I made my way across the clearing to the spot I last saw him anyway.
Now I’m not bragging or meaning to, but I can move through the forest as quiet as anyone, and because I have lived and hunted in the forest most of my life I can read a trail and see things a lot of people might miss.
As I stood in the very spot I saw him in, his track was plain and enormous, leading into forest. I stood there for at least five minutes not moving, not doing anything, but staring. The forest was thick with trees, but with no underbrush. I could see between the large trees quite a ways. I could see far enough that I didn’t think he had had enough time to get out of sight because he was calm and moving slowly.
Then I caught it, that slight movement and a dark spot beside a tree that didn’t look right. Slowly and carefully I raised my .06. I have a 4×12 veritable scope on it and I have raised mounts. That allows me to lookdown the barrel using the fixed iron sight or I can raise my head slightly and use the scope.
Through the scope I could plainly see he was standing behind a tree with his back to me. At first it looked like he knew he couldn’t get far enough away and was hiding behind the tree, but hey, we all know deer aren’t smart enough to do that, right?
I didn’t have a shot so I just froze. I knew any second now he was going to turn to took or step sideways to the tree and open a shot. He was only about seventy-five yards away, but after about two minutes he hadn’t moved at all. I started wondering if I really was looking at the backside of a deer or not.
I strained my eyes into the scope. Of course it was a deer, I could see him plain as day. I could see the shape of his back and his right leg, but I couldn’t see his head or that enormous rack on top. He had to have his head bent down, but there was only moss on the ground, he wasn’t eating. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing with his head bent down for so long and standing so still.
After still another few minutes of holding my rifle at the ready it was starting to get heavy. Ever so slowly I took a small step forward, then another. After a while I had worked my way up to about fifty yards from his never moving backside.
Now I have seven or eight good friends that are professional Alaskan hunting guides. Any one of them will tell you the same thing. Sooner or later in every hunt you’re going to make a mistake. It was about then I made mine.
Slowly putting my left foot down I stepped on a branch. It wasn’t a big branch, but it was enough to make a loud snap when it broke. Instantly I prepared to shoot expecting the buck to bolt into full view, tail up and moving fast, but he didn’t. Instead he moved in kind of a side step, further around the tree where I not only couldn’t get a shot, but where now, I couldn’t see him at all.
Quickly I back stepped to try to clear my sight on the other side of the tree. I have to add, to you these aren’t small trees. I’m talking old growth Spruce and Cedar trees a hundred and fifty feet high with a trunk four feet wide and wider.
As I moved to my left, watching the other side of the tree, I caught sight of a movement going behind another tree about twenty yards from the first, moving away from me. It was my buck. He didn’t tail up run, he didn’t bounce a ways then turn to see where the danger was. He just slowly moved from tree to tree away from me.
This same thing went on for almost ten minutes as the deer and I moved up the valley, each of us waiting for the other to make a mistake. Time after time I would see a split second of him, a leg, a back, but never a shot and through all of this he never raised his head.
I admit by this time I was beginning to get perturbed. I was moving quicker and not being as careful. I was losing my patience and again every Alaskan hunting guide friend I have will tell you, “When you lose your patience, you lose the hunt.
Then it hit me, we were climbing, heading straight for the open meadow or muskeg. The way the forest went around, the buck was going to have to go to the right at the top to stay in the trees. It was that or walk into the open.
All I had to do was stay on his right so he couldn’t pass on that side, without me getting a shot. A few more times of moving up and what I thought worked. Plain as day, in a split second sighting, I saw him go behind a group of three large trees. On the left and in front, not thirty feet away in both directions there was nothing, but open muskeg.
I was still on his right with a twenty or thirty yard opening between the trees he was behind and the next group of trees to get back into the forest. He had finally made a mistake, a big one. I readied myself for the shot knowing it would be quick.
I was only about fifty yards away now so I moved my head down to shoot with my open sights. It had been a great hunt, but this big guy was about to be mine. As I inched up foot by foot I was already thinking what a story this hunt was going to make as my family and I were grilling my trophy bucks’ back strap on the grill.
Soon I was so close to the group of trees he was in I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t made his move. I wasn’t fifty feet from him now. In my line of sight there was only one tree left that he could be behind. Just two more steps, maybe three. With the last step to see around the tree, ready for a fast shot, I leaned to look. He was gone.
Quickly I stepped again opening my field of view to the muskeg. There he was in all his glory, tail straight up, head high, moving fast. I was in the pure hunting mode trying to calculate in that blink of an eye, how to still get him. The muskeg was big, almost a half of a mile wide. In the very middle there was a small hill with a few small trees, other than that it was open.
I was already running as fast as I could as I was thinking. He was running by the hill on the left. If I could get just a few yards more I might get a shot when he reached the other side. It would be a long shot, two or three hundred yards, but it was a shot.
When I stopped I raised my rifle, tried to steady my breathing, thinking, “Lead him, raise just a hair. No wind, squeeze, don’t pull, squeeze don’t pull, any second now.”, but no buck. “He couldn’t have gotten away.”
I scanned back and forth, nothing. A running deer had just disappeared. The hill was so small he was only out of my sight three or four seconds. The muskeg was so big, even if he turned and went the other way I would have seen him.
I was sure he was gone, but I kept walking to the hill just to look on all sides. When I reached the hill I had released the gun. I was scanning the edge of the forest on the far side still hoping to at least see something.
The small hill was only about ten or twelve feet high, eight or ten small trees growing around it with berry bushed and an old dead log on one side. No cover at all more than three feet high. The whole hill wasn’t more than fifty or sixty feet long.
While I was standing there looking around, the hunting mode faded and I began to realize I hadn’t even had a drink of water since I woke up, much less something to eat. It was almost mid-day so I started to head back home.
I had walked down the hill and about ten yards when I heard the sound. I admit the sound was so close and loud it made me jump. My first thought was a bear had stalked me. My brain had just clicked to the fact that the bears were asleep when the thought of the bear was replaced with, “It’s the buck!”
I was so surprised I was fumbling around like a first time hunter, trying to get up the hill and my rifle ready to shoot. By the time I got up the hill and spotted the deer to my left. He was halfway across the muskeg. He was doing one of those half run then bounce into the air, then land and run again things, and covering a lot of ground fast.
By the time I found him in the scope he had almost reached the forest. It was then he made the mistake, I thought he had made before, and again it was a big mistake. He looked around in the middle of a bounce and didn’t see me, with the brush and trees on the hill behind me and the distance between us. I was perfectly camouflaged.
With his next bounce, not twenty feet away from the safety of the forest he stopped then he stood broadside to me and raised his head in the air to smell. Standing there like that he was like no deer I had ever seen. He looked more like a small elk than a deer. His rack was so wide and tall it looked out of proportion until you looked at his enormous neck and shoulders.
Oh this was a deer alright. This was the deer that would break any record. This buck had seen a lot of summers come and go. He was in his prime. He had to be the king of all Sitka Black Tail.
It was a long shot, but I knew my rifle well. It was rested steady on my shoulder. I knew with just a small instinctive raise I would hit my mark. For ten or fifteen seconds at least, I watched him as he stood there. That buck had hidden behind trees to get away from me. Deer don’t do that, right?
He seemed to know to keep his back to me and his head down. Deer don’t do that right? On that hill I had over looked a four foot deer in three feet high cover. The only way I could have missed him is if he had laid down to hide, but deer don’t do that, right?
Either that day was full of coincidences or I was looking through the scope at the smartest deer I had ever seen. This deer was the once in a life time thing to see.
A lot of outdoor people and hunters go there whole life and never see wildlife as majestic as he was. They know they’re there, that’s what makes the forest special to each one of us. So slowly I lowered my rifle and just watched until he finally disappeared into the forest.

I hunted my trophy buck that day in a hunt I’ll never forget. I had a few friends say they would have a taken that shot, but every morning when I wake up and walk passed the window I stop and look up that hill because to me I get a good feeling knowing the king of Sitka Black Tails lives up there still.

By Billy Bryan Brown

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