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When Giving Up is Not an Option

Excerpt from a story by Jack Johnson

Shooting at and missing a big buck is like throwing an interception in a big football game––you won’t do it very many times and win, and it will haunt you for the rest of your life. Having said that, you can only imagine how I felt after hunting the same buck for eight straight days, shooting at and missing him on four different occasions.

... As we made our way to where we would be hunting, David explained that we were looking for two bucks in particular that he had seen the year prior. The one buck was a sweet, 5x7 with bladed G2’s and awesome character and the other buck was a wide and boxy typical that I would later name “Sage."

... The next morning, David spotted Sage feeding into a shallow draw. Through my glasses, I peered at the awesome buck––he was much more impressive in person than on a TV screen, and after watching him feed behind a little rise, we quickly planned a stalk.

... We hunted hard for the next few days and although we never did see Sage during that time, we saw and passed several other good bucks. As the sun was setting on the fourth night of the hunt, David suggested that we try to hit Sage’s home from a different angle. As we approached our destination, David slowly applied the brakes and said, “Look at that!” I looked up and just about died––there was Sage, 90 yards away, standing right in the old two-tracked road we were on. It was the last thing I expected to see right then! Before we could even get out of the truck, Sage took off and we quickly followed in hot pursuit. As the old buck crossed a draw, in true mule deer form, he stopped for one last look back. I pulled up and took the 120-yard shot but unfortunately, I missed and the buck was gone.

... The next morning dawned big and beautiful and there was just something different in the air. Almost right away, I spotted my “white whale” as he was rutting a doe in the thick sage. We watched on as he made his way into the thick pj’s to bed but since we didn’t have an exact location, we crept in as close as we dared and set up and began glassing again. However, it wasn’t until 2:00 that the buck finally stood, walked around a cedar, and re-bedded out of the sun. We quickly planned our stalk and just before we took off, David grabbed his tripod and said, “To heck with getting everything on film, you are shooting off of my tripod tonight and we are killing that buck.” Since the last four shots I had taken were off-hand, I was all in for using a dead-rest.

With Dan on point, David and I snuck to within 100 yards of where we thought Sage was bedded. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes seemed like hours as we waited for the buck to get up and feed. Finally, a half hour before dark, the old buck made the mistake I needed and he stepped out at 91 yards and began feeding. I cautiously set the tripod in perfect place, gathered myself mentally, and slowly squeezed the trigger. This time the 280-grain sabot hit right where I aimed, and ol’ Sage hit the sand as if someone had pulled the rug out from underneath him!

What an amazing experience, what an amazing buck, and what an amazing hunt. Sage ended up taping over 31 inches wide and he grossed just shy of 195 B&C inches!