Updated: May 29, 2020
Conditions during the final stalk prevented me from being able to capture this hunt on film, so I figure a written report is the next best option.
For the past three years my brother, Connor, and I have made the short drive to western Nebraska to get our last-minute fill of big game hunting by taking advantage of the month-long muzzleloader season throughout December. The first year we were pretty blown away by the number of both whitetail and mule deer occupying much of the same country, and the spot-and-stalk opportunities on whitetail. Growing up in New York, this was absolutely unheard of.
Each year had brought different conditions - year one was dry, warm and windy. Year two we were treated to light, fluffy snow and prime stalking conditions, culminating with Connor taking a nice little eight point at 100 yards.
This season provided us with a bit more challenging conditions: blasting sunshine and hard, crunchy snow, making for less-than-ideal stalking conditions. We spent the first three days post-holing through knee deep snow, seeing a lot of does and very few smaller bucks. I'll be the first to admit that by the afternoon of day three, my confidence wasn't exactly soaring. We were yet to even attempt a stalk, had seen zero mule deer bucks - which was our main target for this hunt - and the only shooter whitetail we saw was sprinting away from us at about 200 yards after hearing us stomping through the hard-packed snow. That all changed in an instant after Connor asked me for the spotting scope while glassing a hillside two miles off. After getting the scope settled and locating the buck he had been looking at, he informed me that it was a "very, very, very good buck". After logging a solid 12+ miles through the snow over the last three days and not seeing anything worth post-holing after, my pessimistic side was getting the best of me and I was under the impression that Connor just wanted to see a very, very, very good buck.
Boy was I wrong, my immediate reaction was "holy shit" as I felt a rush of adrenaline come over me. Having not pursued the species a whole lot, this was one of the bigger whitetails I had seen with my own eyes. With an hour and half until shooting light, and the deer feeding two miles away from us across a drainage, there was no time to make a move that night. We frantically plugged in waypoints on the GPS, and crossed our fingers that he wouldn't be too far away in the morning.
Making our approach early the next morning, my new-found confidence was rapidly dissipating with every loud, crunchy step. I wondered how the hell we were ever going to get into muzzleloader range with this snow. I had all but lost hope when we came upon the bowl we spotted the buck in the night before and found it void of life. We decided we would wrap around the backside of the hill and slip to the front and set up a glassing point to see if we could find him anywhere in the open country. Just before we crested the corner of the ridge, Connor dropped down quickly and looked back at me with that look I've seen before. I've hunted with this kid all of my life, so I know the look on his face when he has just laid eyes on a serious animal - like he's just seen a ghost. About fifteen yards behind him, and not wanting to move an inch in the snow to try to get footage of the event, I tried to get some information - "is it him?" "is it him?". By Connor's continued lack of response I could tell he had tunnel vision, and it was, indeed, him.
Connor eased up for a standing shot at fifty yards. After the shot he looked for a moment and dropped down to quickly reload the muzzleloader. "He's just standing there". Based on that development, I figured he had either missed completely, or that buck was dead on his feet. I kept my eyes locked on the escape route as Connor took about a minute to reload. Nothing. Connor eased back up and after watching for another couple of minutes started to slowly work over the ridge. We came into view of where we could see the whole area below us and couldn't see anything. Panic set in for the second time that morning. "There's no where he could have gone that I wouldn't have seen him" I told him. Connor quickly confirmed that as he spotted the buck in some tall grass, and three and half days of making the best of tough conditions all became worth it. The kid's going to have a hard time topping this one, especially since it's my turn now.