2 Record Book Mulies
September 29, 2010
Killing a buck with 200 inches of measurable antler is a tough proposition for any hunter, but to do it twice in a season is next to impossible. Here's one guide who did it!
by G.I. Wilson
Mark Moncrief is one of Oregon's top big-game guides. Hunting trophy bucks is a passion with the Enterprise resident who has years of experience hunting big mule deer bucks. Prior to 2001, he already had one Boone and Crockett-qualifying buck hanging in his family room; another buck, even heavier but not scoring as high, also stares down at visitors to Moncrief's home.
Suffice it to say that the owner-operator of Tri-State Outfitters has stowed away enough big racks to stock displays at several sporting goods stores. And during the 2001 season he filled his general-season tag with a buck whose 5x6 typical rack was 32 inches wide and gross-scored 204 B&C points. What's more, the Enterprise guide hosted a client last year who killed a monster-sized non-typical with 201 inches of scorable antler.
Moncrief did not guide during the 2001 general buck season, owing to the fact that he, his son, Justin, and brother, Dan, drew tags for Oregon's Imnaha Unit. The Imnaha Unit is 75 percent public lands and ranges from foothill alfalfa fields to thousands of acres of rugged wilderness country. The Moncriefs would use horses to travel deep into the unit.
CAGEY TYPICAL Mark had seen a giant buck a year earlier but failed to connect on him. That gave him all winter, spring and summer to narrow his search and pick out a few spots where he should hunt in 2001. "I knew he would be in one of those places," Mark says. "These bucks are pretty habitual. If it worked for him before, he would probably do it again this year."
Mark's first sighting of the buck in 2001 came during a scouting trip, when he saw it and two other respectable bucks. That was before they would be disturbed by hunters.
Guide Mark Moncrief first saw this monster mulie two years before he got a chance to shoot it. The 5x4 has a 32-inch spread and gross-scores 204 points. Photo by Mark Moncrief
Early in the 2001 hunting season, Jason killed a very respectable 5x4 buck that sported a 25-inch spread. While they were still in the area, Mark checked for the big buck in a couple of spots but found no trace of him.
The next time in was with Dan. They approached from a different direction than what they'd come in from before, a hunch on Mark's part, to check out a suspected hiding spot. Dan and Mark saw the buck on their first afternoon of hunting. "This particular buck was really nocturnal," Mark says. "Certain things keep these bucks alive when they are growing 30-inch horns, which is what we were looking for."
Mark and Dan pushed hard to reach a stringer of timber before dark. The steep mountainside, tiered with rimrock outcroppings divided by lava chutes and areas shingled with patches of slate rock, presented the hunters with multiple time-draining challenges.
They reached a desired vantage point just in time to see the buck melt into the darkness of timber. The air all around turned black within seconds. Carefully backing out so as not to spook the buck, the hunters vowed to return the next day.
A flashlight illuminated the brothers' hike back up the mountain the next morning, but they got there too late. The buck was already bedded in the timber.
"This was the mode of operation chosen by this particular buck. You didn't catch him out in shooting light very often," Mark explains. "In the two years I had been watching him, he was extremely nocturnal. I believe that's what kept him alive - that and the rugged real estate."
Mark and Dan decided to wait the buck out and let him make a mistake. His hiding place had been selected because of the many escape routes available. "Those old, wise bucks can detect your approach," Mark says. "They will dive into avalanche chutes and disappear in a hurry. You usually hear them and, at best, get a snap shot."
WORKING THE PLAN Dan dropped down below the stringer of timber to cover several avalanche chutes and yet remain in eye contact with Mark, who took the upper vantage point. Because he's worked the buck for two seasons, Mark would get the first shot. "I knew that if we were to catch him out in shooting light, it would be in that last hour, and that's exactly what happened," he recalls.
The brothers saw the buck at about the same time. Mark could see only its big body in the brush, and he looked toward Dan for a sign. His signal was clear: big antlers. But Mark would have to move to get an open shot before dark.
He sidled toward the buck as quietly and quickly as possible across shale rock, keeping his eye on a rock outcropping where he'd marked the buck. He was greeted at the top of the ridge with a puff of dust and moving antler tips. The buck was bolting into a chute!
Mark ran across the chute to catch a glimpse the buck and then dropped into a shooting position. But nothing. The buck was nowhere to be seen. "Nine out of 10 bucks would have gone downhill, away from me, right to Dan," Mark says. "I wasn't sure which way he went."
PUZZLING IT ALL OUT Mark reasoned that if the buck had gone downhill, Dan would have been shooting. All he could do was to listen for a clue.
The sound of a rock rolling behind him startled Mark, who ran back across the chute to where he had been when he spooked the buck. There he saw his quarry doubling back to escape.
"I heard rocks rolling down the chute, and there he was, hauling for the timber, going right back the direction I came from," Mark says. "I ran out there, and then I was breathing so hard I couldn't hold the rifle steady. I had to sit down and use my knee for a rest. I held my breath.
"The buck had about two or three more jumps to clear a little razorback and then he'd be in the timber. I pulled ahead about a buck and a half and touched her off. I hit him right in the rib cage. That humped him, and he staggered sideways, his head down, so I knew I had gotten him. It was almost dark, and I didn't want him to get into timber, so I put another one right behind the shoulder." At about 250 yards, the 7mm STW put the buck down for good.
Mark and Dan used pack boards to transport the meat to a point accessible to pack animals. "There was some fingernail stuff coming off that mountain with packs loaded with meat," Mark says. "We packed him a little over a mile to an old trail."
The next day, while Mark was retrieving the meat with the pack animals, Dan chased and killed a buck they had seen earlier in the season. The heavy 7x4 was a mature buck with a 26-inch-wide spread.
On the ride out, Mark's thoughts turned to scouting and planning his next deer hunt in November. And he's got a lot to think about: He was to guide the lucky winner of the Northeast Oregon Mule Deer Raffle tag hunt. "Guys pay big dollars to shoot lesser bucks in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana these days," Mark adds.
RAFFLE TO BIG BUCKS (Editor's Note: "R.B." is an eastern Oregon rancher/farmer who does not want to receive attention for drawing the tag nor for killing a trophy buck.)
"I have hunted all my life and never killed a 30-inch buck," R.B. told Enterprise guide Mark Moncrief. "I'm not interested in a record-book buck, just a good, heavy 30-inch or larger buck. I would like to look at as many good bucks as possible. Can you find me that kind of buck?"
"We won't have a problem finding you a 30-inch buck. We will wait until the does gather on the wintering grounds and the rut is in full swing," Mark assured him.
After watching over the Chesnimnus, Wenaha and Sled Springs units, he decided to concentrate on the Sled Springs Unit for R.B. Well known for exceptional deer and elk, the unit produced a mulie buck that scored 201 Boone and Crockett points four years ago. The unit is classic big-buck country with steep rimrock canyons that give way to heavily timbered north faces. Its grass-covered slopes roll and then drop into steep, brush-filled canyons that provide excellent browse for deer. Only 17 percent of the Sled Springs Unit is publicly owned, but a good percentage more of it is owned by timber companies that authorize access to hunters.
Moncrief's serious scouting began just as does started showing up in traditional rutting areas. He has learned not to spend much time on big concentrations of does, because that is not necessarily where big bucks are. Usually wily old bucks shy away from large concentrations of deer. He finds most of the bigger ones with smaller groups of does. "Older age-class bucks look for small herds in more isolated areas," he says.
And that's exactly how Moncrief found a buck for R.B. to look at. The problem was that the buck moved before R.B. could get there, and it took Moncrief another three days to find the buck again.
It was R.B.'s first day to hunt - and the first big buck he saw was a monster. The buck was well over 30 inches, and Moncrief was convinced that it would qualify for the Boone and Crockett record book. The hunters took turns looking at a monster-sized buck through the 40X spotting scope with R.B., whose prized mule deer tag, won via raffle, guaranteed him a chance to hunt for the buck of a lifetime in any northeast Oregon unit over a three-month period. The buck they were watching was a perfect 4x4 mulie. "That is a tremendous buck. He could net around 195 Boone and Crockett points and is over 30 inches," Moncrief whispered.
A TREMENDOUS BUCK It was getting late in the day, and R.B. had responsibilities with some people at dark. He started out wanting to look over as many bucks as possible, and Moncrief assured him that they'd see plenty of them. Moncrief had four particular bucks in mind, two non-typical and two typical.
The big question in R.B.'s mind: If he passed on this buck, and didn't like what they found later, what would be the chances of finding it again? "There is no sure thing," Moncrief told R.B. "That's why it's called hunting. Under normal conditions - and if no one spooks him - we should be able to find him again." R.B. shook his head and passed on the buck.
The hunters saw bucks every day after that, finding them in open country and in timber. One had a 31- to 32-inch spread but small back forks. Moncrief told R.B. that another great buck they found - a perfect 4x4 just under 30 inches wide - would be a record-book animal next year, and R.B. began to realize how special that first buck had really been.
"He really didn't know. Can't blame the guy - he has the tag of a lifetime, like drawing a sheep tag - and plenty of time to hunt. You just don't want to go out and shoot the first buck the guide points out," Moncrief says.
They went back to look for that first monster buck, but he had seemingly just disappeared. "In an average year it would be no problem coming back and finding that buck. He would have been right there, and stayed there through the rut," Moncrief points out. "This winter was not typical. The bucks moved a lot. They were really cruising, moving from one small concentration of does to another, looking for hot does. It was tough to keep track of a buck."
They went back and looked at the videotape of the first big buck. R.B. said, "I want to go back and hunt that big non-typical."
The next day, perched on a vantage point, they were looking at three bucks and comparing their antler spreads: a big 28, a weak 32 and the 31/32 non-typical R.B. wanted to pursue. "That buck" - the non-typical - "is awfully impressive," Moncrief said to his client. "He keeps doing horn displays. He is between 29 and 31 inches wide."
Moncrief planned a stalk that took the pair three hours to get around where they could come down from above the buck without being detected by does. By the time they arrived, the deer had moved into dark timber. "They will come back out. This time of year they can't stay bedded very long in this cold," Moncrief reassured R.B.
The does came out first - then the big non-typical. R.B. and his guide quietly slipped downhill so that R.B. could rest his rifle on a rockpile to cover the 250 yards with an accurate shot. Alarmed at the movement, the does began glancing in R.B.'s direction as the buck quartered away. The hunter's first shot hit the buck solidly, and the animal whirled to turn downhill. After traveling another 60 yards, the buck's scramble ended as R.B.'s second round struck. "That first shot was a good one, and the second was just a great running shot," Moncrief recalls. "He whacked him right behind the shoulders."
The pre-1964 .270 Winchester did the job. R.B.'s buck measures just less than 31 inches wide and has 19 points. The main beam is over 6 inches in circumference.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION Mark Moncrief, Tri-State Outfitters, 82609 Eggleson Lane, Enterprise, OR 97828, (541) 426-4468; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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