Rack Magazine

Always Look Down

Always Look Down

By Bill Sansom

Maybe they should make cloven boots for hunters, since hooves turn deer into ninjas.

On the upside, being surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of public hunting ground teeming with deer, elk, bear, game birds and predators that you can hunt almost year-around is a great place for a hunter to live. On the downside, if you can call it that, deciding where, when and what to hunt isn’t always easy.

That was the dilemma Chad Seelye, who lives in the small town of Lolo, nestled in the rugged tree-cloaked mountains of western Montana, was wrestling with on Sept. 2, the day before the 2011 archery season opened.

It was hot. The white-tailed and muley bucks Chad could hunt near his home were still in velvet and hiding out in the deep shade along Lolo Creek until almost dark.

Chad had spotted a few whitetails drifting out into the meadow across the street from his house in the late August haze. He had put up a treestand on the edge of the meadow, and planned to spend some evenings in the stand after he got off work – maybe a few weeks later in the season, when the bucks had rubbed off their velvet.

On Sept. 2, however, his focus was on elk hunting. Bulls were beginning to bugle on the high ridges just a short 45-minute drive from his house.

Elk hunting is fun, but even more so when you can share the hunt with friends and family. Besides, packing out several hundred pounds of elk meat is best accomplished with multiple backs.

Chad had the perfect hunting partner in mind for that kind of hunt: his nephew Luke Seelye, a robust young over-the-road truck driver who would be stopping by on a run from North Dakota to Seattle, Washington.

“Luke, you can spend the night here at my house,” Chad pleaded. “We can hunt in the morning. If nothing is happening, I can have you back on the road tomorrow night.”

Luke considered the proposition for a moment. His hunting gear was all at his uncle’s house. It was tempting.

But with a slow shake of his head, he said, “Can’t do it, Uncle Chad. My load has to be delivered early tomorrow. In fact, I’ve got to get going right away. Maybe I’ll be able to take a day on the backhaul.”

Chad was disappointed, but he understood. His own job as a dump truck driver with the Montana Department of Transportation limited his hunting time to a few hours on weekday evenings and weekends.

“It’s one thing to be able to slip away for a few hours, to take a hunt, but it’s also mighty easy for some distraction to come up and prevent you from going,” Chad grumbled, as he got into his truck to take Luke down to the truck stop, where his semi was parked.

“Why don’t you shoot that dandy buck right there?” Luke yelped, jabbing his finger at the windshield, as they pulled out of Chad’s driveway.

Chad saw the bucks in the meadow. They were the same ones he’d been watching most evenings for the past month.

“No, that drop-tine buck standing right over there,” Luke blurted, moving his finger toward the edge of the meadow.

The tires on Chad’s truck left short skid marks on his driveway. The guys both raised binoculars to look at the huge drop-tined buck.

Chad took his nephew a couple blocks down the street to his parked semi, and then he rushed back to get another look at the buck in the waning light. Chad’s 80-year-old neighbor, Mike, was standing in his yard when Chad pulled into his driveway. Chad hopped out of his truck, binoculars in hand, and trotted up to him.

“Here, take a look at that buck over there,” Chad said, as he thrust his binoculars into Mike’s hands and pointed.

Mike fiddled with the binoculars a moment before finally getting them focused.

“Yeah, I got him spotted now,” he said. “Wow, that’s the biggest buck I’ve ever seen. Wish I was still young enough to go after him. I’ve hunted all my life, but I can’t climb those mountains anymore. Wish I could, but those days are gone for me.”

“Maybe not,” Chad answered as they took up chairs on Mike’s porch.

Finally, Chad had a plan for the next morning’s opening-day hunt. It was a plan that could get Mike hunting one more time, even if it was vicariously.

“I’ve got a treestand right over there on the edge of the meadow, not 10 yards from where that big buck went back into the brush,” Chad said. “I’ll be sitting in that stand at daylight tomorrow. Here’s my binoculars. You can watch the hunt from right here.”

“It’s a deal,” Mike answered. “I’ll have a cup of coffee, and my old hunting jacket on, and it will be like I’m right up in that stand with you.”

Dawn seeped over the eastern ridges, followed by a red ball of a sun. It was going to be another hot day. Early September is still summer in western Montana, even if there have been a few frosty nights.

Chad had been sitting his stand since well before dawn. Nothing moved into or out of the meadow. He heard only the occasional warble of a meadowlark and traffic moving up and down U.S. Hwy. 12.

Mike was sitting on his porch with his coffee, binoculars in hand, hunting as hard as Chad was.

After five hours in the tree, hot sun beating down on his camo-clad shoulders, Chad decided he should call it a day. He had chores to do around the house. Even Mike had given up and left his porch. The binoculars were lying on his chair.

Chad stood, turned and reached for his safety strap’s clip, and then he glimpsed the two velvet bucks he’d seen with the drop-tined deer the previous night.

Where’s the big guy? Chad wondered, frozen in place, his eyes scanning as far as they could before he had to slowly turn his head. He methodically scanned the meadow end to end.

Finally, there was only one more place to look: right below his stand. And sure enough, the drop-tined buck was directly beneath him.

Thankful he hadn’t unhooked his safety harness, Chad leaned out from the tree and drew his bow. The arrow zipped right down between the buck’s shoulder blades, pierced its heart, and stuck in the ground beneath it. The deer leapt and trotted 30 yards before stopping and falling over dead.

Chad watched the fallen buck for a moment, and then he heard the sound of a door closing. He looked across the meadow and saw Mike, fresh cup of coffee in hand, sitting down to resume watching.

Editor’s Note: Bill Sansom, formerly of Montana, is a master scorer and former regional director for the BTR. His book “Not Looking to Die,” a collection of stories about his outdoors pursuits, is available on Amazon.

This article was published in the Winter 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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