February 23, 2011
Bowhunting blacktail deer in his home state of Oregon is a first love of Cameron Hanes. Here's the story of a buck he harvested named Big Fork.
I've been hunting blacktail deer in western Oregon for as long as I can remember. For years, they were all I hunted. Truthfully, it was the only hunt I could afford. When I was a kid, my family didn't have enough money to buy a bunch of elk tags (at nearly $20 each) for me and my brothers. An over-the-counter blacktail tag ran us $9.50, if my memory serves me correctly. We could swing that, and I could hunt deer basically right out of my back door. I don't remember my first kiss, but I vividly remember arrowing my first blacktail buck, a wide P&Y-class 3x3 many seasons ago. I've now been hunting these wary creatures for 26 years, and my passion for blacktails has never once wavered.
Oregon's 2009 late archery season began on November 21. The week before the season opened, I had two monster bucks coming by my trail cameras; either of them would have been my best ever. I had pictures of the bucks during the day, at night, dogging does€¦it was beautifully insane! I studied these pictures hundreds of times, until I felt that I knew each buck intimately.
In talking with buddies, telling them of "my" bucks, I could recite the day, hour, and minute the photos were snapped. It was all I could do to get through each day counting down to the season. All I cared about were those big bucks and conversely, I cared little about my regular nine-to-five obligations -- putting off projects, reports, and other writings -- thinking, after I get my big blacktail killed, I'll really focus on my job. I had big-blacktail-tunnel-vision in a bad way.
Then opening day arrived, and the action came to a screeching halt. Perfect! Staying the course, I convinced myself that eventually, if I kept hunting, something good would happen. I would be rewarded for my efforts. So I got into the stand early, stayed intently focused every second while in the woods, hunted all day, and a couple of times skipped out of work early to get in a few extra hours on stand.
I passed up a P&Y buck on opening morning only to have nothing larger than a small forkhorn come by every sit thereafter. A week into the hunt, I began questioning myself and my tactics. Did I check the cameras too much the week before the season? Had I been sitting too much? With all the activity, in and out to my stands, had I blown out the deer? Was the rut over?
Another thought did cross my mind, and it was the worst thought of them all: Maybe other hunters had killed "my" bucks? I found another treestand about a half-mile away, which to a public-land guy is always disconcerting. Strategy-wise, I wondered if I should throw in the towel on my treestands and head upriver to hunt the high country, get into the snow, where I had killed a huge buck back in 2006. Spending hours and hours in the stand gives a guy a lot of time to overanalyze and obsess about things. And, I'll be the first to admit that I am the master of self-inflicted mental anguish, which is understandable when it comes to blacktails and me. As the saying goes, you never forget your first love.
When I wasn't in the stand, however, I was shooting my bow. It was therapy. Every day after work I'd swing by The Bow Rack and shoot until my wife, Tracey, would call to tell me dinner was ready.
"Are you still at work?" she'd ask.
"Um, kind of," I'd mumble weakly.
The good news was that I was shooting really well. Now all I needed was a chance.
So obsessed was I with killing one of those big bucks that I even hunted almost all of Thanksgiving Day. I only lost an hour and a half when I left my stand at 11 a.m. to go home and eat turkey dinner with the family. Then I headed back out to sit in the pouring rain.
The effort yielded no results. However, in my mind I was paying my dues. While pretty much everyone else I knew was watching football and relaxing, I was hunting in the rain, mentally dialed-in to arrowing a big blacktail if given the chance -- and loving every second of it!
But don't tell my wife that. She thinks I was miserable out there, especially when I came home soaking wet and reported that I'd seen only three does. Yeah, I was playing the sympathy card, and it worked. Minutes after walking in the door, I had a plate full of warm apple pie and a cup of coffee. I didn't have a big blacktail buck, but, dang!, that pie was good!
The day after Thanksgiving, I earned my break. After all the scouting, trail camera monitoring, treestand hanging, and countless hours on stand, my efforts finally paid off -- and longtime friend and fellow blacktail fanatic Chad Montgomery was there to catch the action on videotape.
I hammered Big Fork -- one look at his antlers should explain his nickname -- at about 12 yards. He went 50 yards, dying on the run. Chad and I have three years of trail camera photos of this buck. And in three years, we've seen him during the day-light only one time, in 2007. This year we caught him just once on one of our three cameras, on November 5, and we never saw him again until I shot him on November 27. For three weeks he'd been a ghost, which is typical of wise old blacktail bucks.
It was sweet to finally catch up with Big Fork. Amazingly, it looks like he will make the Pope and Young record book -- with room to spare -- as a straight 2x2. Not that it matters to me. I love his uniqueness. His rack looked three feet tall as he dogged a doe down the trail.
The relationship experts say you never forget or get over your first love. I hope they're right. I know of some monster bucks out there in the big timber, and they will have another year on them come next November. Gonna be a long year€¦