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The Pre-Wedding Whitetail

My fiancé and I had decided to get married in Mexico rather than pay the unofficial “wedding tax” that comes with organising a wedding within Australia. Due to money being saved by not having the wedding here I seized the opportunity to start planning a hunt in the USA

Contacting people in the know soon had the ball rolling and before I knew it a deposit was paid and dates were locked in.

As part of this hunt my fiancé Emily and our young son Charlie (2yr old) were to come along and stay in the local town while I went out hunting with a guide.

The 3 of us flew from Australia to LA and after a short stay in California, seeing the obligatory family sights, we caught connecting flights from LA to Denver and then onto the great state of Wyoming.

As we got on each flight the planes started to get smaller and smaller, until we boarded the smallest passenger jet I think I’ve ever seen. That plane touched down at 9pm at night, we’d come from summer style weather of California to now winter weather around 3 degrees including snow on the ground.

After a bit of a wait we finally hopped in our rental car, stocked up on important toddler supplies and headed the hour drive north to the motel. Waiting for us was Penny the outfitter so I could sign all the relevant forms and show her my tag details before the hunt kicked off in the morning.

The guide I was hunting with was a local called Wade, he made a short appearance to introduce himself and explained he’d spent the day scouting the property we were going to hunt the next day. You know what they say first introductions last and I felt I was in good hands with both Penny & Wade. Shortly after we went to bed for an early rise.

My alarm went off at 6am without causing a stir with Emily and Charlie, they were dead tired from the previous days travels. I was that keen I already had my camo clothes and gear out the night before ready for this morning.

Washing my face, I did a second check to see if I had everything and headed out into the freezing morning air. In America during hunting season its common to see people getting around camo clothes, no one freaks out like in some states of Australia and in fact lots of businesses put signs up saying “hunters welcome” to encourage their business.

I walked a couple of hundred meters up to the local diner for breakfast and sat and waited for my guide to come. He was running a little late but we weren’t planning a dawn raid on the deer for the first day, it was more of a confidence builder/get to know how each other work.

After a few coffees, a feed and a long chat we headed less than 1km out of town to where these outfitters had their own private range. For this hunt, I was using the guides rifle which was a Savage Model 11 Long Range Hunter in 6.5-284 with a Gemtech suppressor topped with a 5-20×50 ballistic turret scope. All I can say is this rifle shot holes through holes so any errors were going to be on me!

After the range session, it was mid-morning so we went back into town to meet up with some other hunters who had travelled from New Jersey. For them this was an annual hunting pilgrimage some 3200kms from home – to say they are keen hunters is an understatement.

Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Strange thing I noticed while talking to these new hunting friends, was that no matter what country you are in all hunters seem to get along. Conversation was easy and questions about each other’s countries and what we hunted flowed back and forth.

After an hour or so Wade and I decided we’d go for a drive out to the property we were going to be hunting for the week. I took my camera so I thought I would make the most of it by taking photos of any animals we saw.

The property we were going to be hunting was a sheep farm. To give you an idea of the size of this farm the owners employed 15 staff who mostly lived on site. The reason the Whitetail inhabited this area is due to a permanent river running right next to this property – along the river basin there was plenty of cover for them to hide but the farmer also had Lucerne crops in for his livestock (which is gold for deer).

Well in this part of America it seemed there was animals everywhere we turned! Within the first 5 minutes of arriving there was Mule deer, whitetail and Elk in the distance. Sitting high up on one of the hills surrounding the farm we sussed out likely spots to ambush deer during the afternoon/ dusk hunting session.

With whitetail deer, they are a habitual deer which like to follow patterns and routes. Once you work out their trails you’re almost guaranteed to see deer if you do your part with the wind. Another behaviour of these deer is to follow each other- once one deer makes a move from cover they seem to pop up from nowhere and all start following one after the other (this can be very entertaining).

As is typical with Wyoming weather the wind was strong and not consistent. At one stage, it gave us away even when sitting in the car glassing some nearby deer!

After patterning some of the deer’s movements from the river to the crops we made a plan for the next morning’s hunt. Most of the deer were hitting the Lucerne but there was one more area Wade wanted to check out in case a big buck was hiding in the thicker cover down along the river.

It was a 5am wake up and quickly get ready before Wade’s Chevy Suburban rolled into the motel’s car park. Every morning before sun up this motel came to life with hunters getting ready to go out before sun up to their chosen locations, people were friendly and cheerful even at this time in the morning.

I hopped in the car and we drove to the local truck stop for a coffee and feed. Even the truck stop had taxidermy on the walls, I love this place! It was still dark when I opened the farm gate, after a few minutes of driving we arrived at Wade’s chosen spot.

Spot X had plenty of cover along the river flat, there was a high river bank along one side and neighbour’s crops on top of this bank. These deer being creatures of habit would follow the neighbours fence along until they reached a low corner post and jump over.

After stalking for 5 minutes we spotted the corner post and as predicted there was deer – Whitetail and Mule deer – making their way back to cover in single file after feeding all night. A nice pair
of mule deer jumped the fence, for a minute I thought about the Mule deer as I had an open deer tag but I really wanted a Whitetail buck not a Mule deer this time.

The wind got us again and spooked everything coming out of the field so we switched direction to stalk the river flats. That morning we saw plenty of promising young bucks but no mature animals like what I really wanted.

By around 10am we backed out of the river flats and slowly made our way back to the vehicle. Highlight of the morning, apart from just being out hunting, was seeing a herd of Elk moving through the timber, jeez the Elk are massive compared to Whitetail deer – especially mature Bull Elk!

To fill in the middle of the day Wade suggested we pick up Emily and Charlie and go check out some old Wild West sights. We went for a drive out towards one of Wades family farms in the “Hole in the Wall Gang” territory. For those that know their history Butch Cassidy and his gang hid out in the canyons and mountains to avoid the police in between their robberies – similar to Australian Bushrangers. Again, as we drove along looking at scenery there was plenty of game from antelope, bears and deer to be seen.

After a scenic midday drive it was time to drop Emily and Charlie back to the motel and Wade and I went back out for an afternoon/evening hunt. We had a game plan for the afternoon hunt, we were to get dropped off at the same spot as the morning but this time skirt our way slowly around the river for 2kms to where the Lucerne crops started.

After 2 hours of walking and glassing we eventually made it to the edge of the first Lucerne crop. The wind was in our favour which was evident when 3 whitetail does saw our movement but couldn’t work out what we actually were.

The spot we had chosen to sit and glass was at a corner post of the paddock which allowed us vision across two more paddocks. There was a creek line that ran up the middle of the two paddocks which was where the deer were popping up from to access the Lucerne.

There were a couple of good up and coming bucks in the field but nothing I would mature, which was what I was after. The sun started setting and I started feeling that at any moment something bigger would show up.

At this point I was glassing another area over a creek flat where some does had started moving out from cover. Wade got a glimpse of what looked to be a mature buck as he cruised through the creek line vegetation. He managed to snap a couple of photos on my camera before the buck disappeared.

I looked at the pictures and knew this guy was one I was definitely interested in putting a stalk on. The light was now about 20mins before full darkness. We hatched a quick plan to follow the fence line to a spot where the creek ran up the middle of both paddocks. This way we could see both sides of the Lucerne crop from a small mound and possibly take a shot if we saw the buck.

Of course, within a few minutes of walking we managed to find 20 odd turkeys which were trying to roost in the trees before it got dark. At this point I thought was all over, these turkeys made a heap of noise giving away our position.

We persisted and kept walking. Eventually we found the creek line with running water, to our left a cow elk was also making her way up towards the Lucerne but luckily for us we beat her to the fence line before she could spook any of the deer already on the field.

The creek was flowing quite fast which made a bit of noise to cover our approach. We both walked through the water and under the fence, creeping along to this mound of dirt we’d previously seen through the binoculars.

Scanning the field, I could see a few bucks, but “not the one” I had seen earlier with Wade. Then further out I spotted a bigger bodied animal near a haystack. At this point Murphy’s Law kicked in and the wind changed heading towards all the deer in field!

I whispered to Wade I could “see the one” but because of where he was sat the haystack was obscuring his antlers. I put the cross hairs on him and was about to take the shot when Wade said “I’m not sure it’s Him”. At this point he started following all the deer further into the field away from us.

After a few seconds Wade confirmed it was the buck we were after, so I tracked him through the scope hoping he would turn side on. I would be lying if it wasn’t a tense 60 seconds until he turned to see what we were. With the rifle I was using there was no need for earmuffs, I took the shot and heard a thud from the round hitting the deer through the lungs. The thud was louder than the bullet impacting the deer.

I was over the moon. I’d come all this way from Australia to Wyoming and honestly didn’t know what to expect being my first hunting trip to America. We got over to the buck with the sun well and truly set, he was a big bodied deer. All I can say I was shaking, I hugged Wade, shook his hand and said, “thanks mate”.

We put my tag on and took the obligatory photos. It was the afternoon of day 2 and I’d got the deer I’d been dreaming of. I thanked Wade, Penny and Sandy of Forbes Outfitters, the whole hunt was above what I expected.

Later that week Emily, Charlie and flew to Mexico to meet up with our families for our Wedding and honeymoon. Everything was peachy.

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