Eastern Oregon has a special place in my heart. I have grown up bowhunting there, and always look forward to hunting with my friends in family in familiar territory. Over the last five years, we have seen the population of whitetails blow up; areas where it was a shock to see one or two in years prior, it’s more of a surprise to see a mule deer.
My fascination with whitetails started in seeing them in every hunting publication, and on every TV show, when I was a kid. Seeing whitetail popping up everywhere, there was realization that I might actually be able to fulfill a childhood dream of taking a basket racked, flag tail.
I usually spend the first week to nine days chasing deer, before I dedicate all my time to elk. During 2008 and 2009 it took me eight days each time, to punch my deer tag; in that two weeks combined time, I saw over a dozen bucks, and had zero shot opportunities at a whitetail buck. It quickly became apparent to me that I simply wasn’t going to happen upon one on the ground and arrow one.
In 2010, I filled my deer tag on the first weekend with a small mule deer; the day after, I was headed out to hunt for elk, and standing 40 yards off the road, at 3pm and on public ground was a beautiful heavy racked four by four whitetail. From that point on, I knew I had to find a way to arrow an Oregon whitetail.
If I was going to harvest a whitetail, I knew my ways of trying to spot them and stalk them like mule deer, given the terrain, wasn’t going to be an option. Based on everything I have seen, read and heard, whitetail are pattern-able; find an area where the feed, find their bedding area, and figure out the best place to intercept them. However, this is much easier to do when you have small sections of timber, or small food plots where you can concentrate your efforts. The Oregon terrain reminds me of what I have seen of the Black Hills of the Dakotas; ponderosa pines atop the ridges, and lush river bottoms choked with willows. The river bottoms stretch for miles, and contradictory to footage and articles from the Milk River, these Oregon whiteys aren’t exactly pounding down a single trail, their behavior is erratic to say the least.
Given that I would be catching them still using their summer patterns, I figured I would need to decipher an area with the most deer and bet that a tactic of patterning a shotgun spread of deer would be easier than just a couple bucks. As with any animal, the deer were using two areas more so than the others, a natural bridge crossing, and getting there via paralleling a barbwire fence; the two funnels make for the best “POA” (Point of Ambush), I could come up with.
After chasing a big mule deer for the first few days of the season unsuccessfully, it was time to put my plan of attack into action.
It’s much easier said than done, waiting for hours; I do have a ton of respect for whitetail hunters who strictly hunt out of tree stands, you have much patience! After sitting for a few hours, I hiked up the ridge, and did some glassing in an old burn, for mule deer.
The sun started setting, and after not turning up any more mule deer, I decided to sneak my way back down towards the river bottom.
I popped out into a clearing, and saw a group of eight deer walking right past the fence crossing heading down to the river, I missed them! As soon as the last doe disappeared over the burm, I sprinted 200 yards to where they had headed, and went past another 30 yards. I began sneaking, and nocked an arrow; just then, peeked over the tall grass, and could see the deer filing up the fence on the way to the river. I stood up just enough to get a range, 64 yards; I crouched back down, took a deep breath, drew my bow and stood up. The biggest buck was the one in from and he was perfectly broadside; I split my 60 and 70 yard pins right behind his shoulder and eased my thumb release into the shot. The arrow arced and disappeared in the low light, but the tell-tale hollow thwack indicated my arrow found its mark.
All the deer turned and raced into the reeds and across the river. I ran up the ridge for a vantage point, and saw seven deer run across the open river bottom…I knew what that meant. I made my way down to my arrow, and tracked the deer 30 yards; a well-placed arrow does wonders.
I’ll never forget lifting his basket rack up, and counting eight points; he is not my biggest deer, nor the oldest, however, putting in the time, learning their behaviors and making it happen in crunch time makes him one of my best trophies to date.
Western whitetails are different, given the terrain, and the tactics that come into play. Long shots and precise stalks are two things that I can almost guarantee will come into play, if you plan to chase them on the ground; or pack a couple extra servings of patience, if you aren’t accustomed to sitting for long periods of time. That said, the feeling of laying down a whitetail, in elk country, is something special.