Last Saturday, 16-year-old Tegan Schaper was sprawled on the prairie grass sighting her .270 rifle at a nice mule deer buck that was 440 yards away.
Tegan was hunting with her father Todd and her younger brother Boden. The Schaper family are good friends from Missoula. They were hunting with me and my wife out of our farm near Malta. Tegan is a very petite, pretty blue-eyed blonde. She is an excellent student, good artist and fine Montana young lady that loves to hunt.
Last year when she was 15 years old she could participate in the annual Montana youth hunt. I was with her when she shot a nice mature mule deer buck. That was a fun experience for both of us. Now, at the ancient age of 16, she was too old for the youth hunt. She had to wait until Saturday, the opening of Montana’s general rifle season for deer and elk hunting. Montana’s youth hunt for kids 15 and under opened two days before the general deer opener.
The day before, she was with her dad and her 13-year-old brother Boden when Boden shot a nice fat two-point buck during the youth hunt. So on Saturday, it was Tegan’s time to hunt. Earlier in the day, the Schapers had several sightings of deer, mostly does and fawns. Tegan also passed on several smaller bucks. She was holding out for a mature four-by-four buck.
After moving to another hunting area, they parked their truck and hiked over a mile up Todd Coulee to find a buck for Tegan. In order to keep track of which coulee we are referring to in our hunting discussions, we name the local coulees based on who harvested the first big buck in that coulee. Yep, you guessed it, Todd Coulee is named for Todd because he shot a nice buck there several years ago.
About a mile into their hunt up Todd Coulee, Boden spots a buck feeding. A quick look with the binoculars shows this buck to be a shooter. Not only did this deer have nice antlers, but those antlers were still in velvet. By some odd freak of nature, this buck did not shed its velvet in September as bucks normally do. This buck would truly be a unique trophy.
Tegan was shooting her reliable .270 that was topped with a new ballistic-type scope. Her dad used his electronic range finder to range the buck at 440 yards. Todd showed Tegan which tic mark she should use when aiming at that distance. They stacked up two back packs as support for her rifle as she lay in the prone position for this long shot.
A split second after Tegan squeezed the trigger, the buck collapsed, stone dead. Then, surprisingly, Boden spots two more bucks. So, Todd and Tegan traded places and Todd filled his tag with the biggest of the remaining two other bucks. After taking a few photos, the work started. They were over a mile from the truck, so they quartered the deer and began the long pack out. It was an hour after dark when they got back to the farm, very tired, but very happy and successful. My wife and I also had a fun opening day even though we didn’t shoot a deer. I went for a three-hour hike down Warren Coulee. I saw over 20 deer on that hunt, including several smaller bucks, but no shooters. It was a fun morning to be on the prairie. The temperature was about 40, no rain and no wind. It was great to see so many deer. When I took that similar hike and hunt in recent years, I would be lucky to see a half dozen deer. But several easy winters and restrictive hunting regulations helped the deer numbers bounce back. I saw several mule deer does with twin fawns. A very good sign.
JoAnn had a similar experience on opening morning, seeing lots of deer, but no shooters. After lunch and a nice nap, we spent the afternoon butchering two antelope bucks we harvested the previous day. JoAnn bagged the biggest antelope buck. My buck was smaller, so may be better eating. We have built a nice game butchering facility in our farm garage, including a sink, water, refrigerator and freezer.
The Schapers are great hunting partners. Not only is Todd a patient father teaching his kids ethical hunting and self-reliance, but he is also a great camp cook. One breakfast included delicious sautéed sharptail grouse breast. Todd harvested that grouse in our farm yard, just an hour earlier.
I hope you had a great opening weekend. We still have nearly four weeks of deer hunting left. Enjoy our great Montana tradition of hunting. This Friday, I head for a week of elk hunting. Lucky me!