Epitome of a True Sportsman
by Jake Lindsey
Southern Arizona is where I call home. I’ve always been a hunter. That may sound cliché, but I don’t recall the moment I caught “the bug”—it was just always there. Although I didn’t start big game hunting until I was a freshman in high school, I had plenty of practice with small game growing up on the farm. My first tag was an antlered Coues deer tag that comprised multiple units here in southern Arizona. I came home empty handed, but like many who’ve hunted the Coues deer, it was the “beginning of the end,” as my wife would put it.
Several weeks after tearing my ACL while playing football my senior year, I hobbled up the mountain with my mini-mag flashlight, knee brace, and my oldest brother PJ. As the sun crested the mountain-tops, a few shots rang out across the canyon. Shortly thereafter, a bachelor herd of bucks ran right up to us. At about 75 yards away, I shot the first buck that came into view. The herd continued on around the bend of the mountain where my brother was, and I heard him shoot as well. I had shot my first deer; and we had doubled up on opening morning! Thankfully, my buck only weighed about 55lbs, so it was easier for my brother to drag them both down the mountain.
Almost 20 years later, my love for hunting mature Coues deer bucks has grown exponentially. During the fall of 2013, with the help of my high school buddy TJ, we found a great buck just before our muzzle-loader hunt started. While watching a bachelor herd of bucks, “Jake, look at THAT buck,” TJ exclaimed! He was a beautiful, typical 3×3 with long G2’s. I desperately tried to get video of him with very little success. On the hike out, I told TJ that it was his buck since he glassed it up first. In typical TJ fashion, he didn’t bite. His response was, “Well, we’ll see. I’d be just as happy if you shot him, too!”
When the hunt came, we tried hard to relocate the buck. TJ tagged out on a different buck and needed to get home and prepare for his sons junior hunt. The evening before the last day of the hunt, my friend Mark and I hiked in to hunt for the buck for one final day. As luck would have it, we found the buck at about 830am. Mark spent much of the day on the mountain side spotting, while I stalked into range. Even though it was an all-day ordeal, Mark got me within 75 yards of the buck. Unfortunately, we ran out of light and I didn’t have a solid opportunity at the buck. As we hiked out in the dark for the next couple of hours, I couldn’t help but think of what I could do the following year to shoot this buck. I never felt defeated by not shooting the buck that day. I really felt like the hunt had only just begun.
I managed to get some great video of the buck that day with Mark. It was enough to get me through the next few months as my preseason scouting efforts began once again. Given the buck’s location, I had a good feeling he’d make it through the remainder of the season and the following summer. That summer would also bring our family some big changes. We welcomed baby number 5 into our family and moved into a new home within a couple of months of each other. Yet another reason I’m thankful for the wife I have that keeps things together while I’m gone.
Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?
A couple of spring and summer trips were unsuccessful in finding the buck. In early August of 2014, I made it back in again to shed hunt and check a couple of cameras. After the long hike in and while the SD card was downloading, I scoured the hillsides for antlers. I came around an oak tree and noticed a nice 3 point shed laying near some bear grass. It appeared to be a shed from late spring of 2012. “It’s his,” I thought to myself! I looked for the other side for quite some time, but turned up nothing. I made it back to the camera and scrolled through picture after picture until one caught my eye. A big buck came through in late July, just a few days prior to me showing up that day. In his early growth, it looked as if it could be the big buck, but I still wasn’t sure. Either way, there was a big, mature buck on camera, so I was excited!
The next couple of months took me elsewhere as I was pretty fortunate to draw an archery bull tag in northern Arizona. I’ll admit, even while chasing rutting bulls, I couldn’t help but think of my Coues deer tag. What can I say, I’m a deer hunter.
On the 11th day of my elk hunt I shot a bull and headed home. It was now into the 3rd week of September and I couldn’t wait to go glass for this buck. A few days after I got home I talked my wife into letting me go check.
I hiked in and got to camp at about 415pm. I looked for the tent I had stashed, only to find it strung out along the mountain-side by a curious bear. Sleeping in the late August grass in southern AZ wasn’t going to be fun either, but I didn’t see another option, if the tent wouldn’t work. I quickly set up what was left of the tent and started glassing. Within minutes of glassing, I caught a glimpse of a BIG buck. “It can’t be,” I thought. I thought there was no way that the first deer to show up in my 15s was the very buck I’ve been obsessing over for the past 11 months. A couple of other bucks, still in velvet, appeared as well and then the bigger, hard-horned buck stepped out. Wow, it WAS him and I knew it right away; except this year he was about 8-10″ bigger! Not to mention, he had some awesome new character as well; a small 4th point and a 2-inch drop tine on his left side!
I watched them until dark and went back to my “tent.” As I crawled inside and started blowing up my sleeping pad, I noticed the entire tent was covered in ticks. I eventually decided to hike down in the dark to the camera to pull the card and make the long hike back to the truck; certainly better than sleeping in a pile of ticks.
I got home about 2am the following morning. Exhausted, I still couldn’t sleep. I scrolled through picture after picture of this buck. This gave me a much better indication of the caliber of buck I was hunting. No doubt, I was looking at something pretty special.
The Hunt Continues
The next couple of weeks flew by and before I knew it, Mark and I were hiking in a couple of days before the hunt started. Mark had a tag as well, but he wanted to see the buck and I was just as glad to have him along.
We made it to camp with an hour or so of glassing light left. We quickly walked out to our glassing point and got to work. As luck would have it, I got a glimpse of a big buck moving fast and down into some mesquites. Right behind him, I recognized the second buck being the same 3×3 that had been hanging with the big buck. Shortly thereafter, we confirmed it was the big buck and we watched them until dark. It’s always a cool experience seeing a fellow Coues deer hunter like Mark watch such a special buck.
The next morning, we found the bucks much higher than expected. This turned out to be a blessing in the end. We watched them all day until about 330pm when they both got up and started feeding. In the same field of view, while watching the bucks, the largest black bear we’d ever seen came walking within 50yds of the bucks. The bucks wasted no time and bolted down the mountain. This was the day before the hunt started and once again, we got to watch the bucks until dark.
Opening day came and we were behind the glass at first light. We glassed hard in all of the places we’d seen the buck, but couldn’t turn him up. We weren’t too nervous because he’d been pretty predictable up to that point. Finally, at about 330pm, once again, I glanced up to where they were when the bear chased them off. Next to the same tree where they were bedded all day prior, there he stood. If we hadn’t put the time in and found the bucks in other locations we probably wouldn’t have bothered looking up there. Finally, it was about to happen. The bucks started feeding their way down hill, and I made my move. I bailed off the mountain and quickly noticed that it was much steeper than I previously thought. I made it to 550yds and this was all I had to work with. The bucks had no idea I was there as I set up for the shot. Then the big buck bedded down. This was a perfect scenario. He was slightly quartered away while the other buck fed a short distance from him. I checked the rangefinder multiple times and its compensation feature read 495 yards. My phone app had me at 18 degrees angle so I dialed in my turrets. I remember thinking “It’s all up to you now, don’t screw this up.” After settling in, I slowly squeezed the trigger until it broke.
I fell right back onto where the buck was bedded but he wasn’t there. I zoomed out and found the smaller buck in the same location. He was looking back behind the oak tree that the big buck was bedded in front of. I watched this for a couple of minutes or so until the angle started killing my neck, and then switched to my 15s and watched from there for a few more minutes. Finally, the big buck walked out from the oak and I jumped behind the rifle as quickly as possible, but the buck had already made it through by the time I settled in. This would be the last time I’d see the buck that day, as light faded.
At this point it was obvious the buck wasn’t hit hard enough to pursue in the dark, if he was hit at all. So, I made the lonely hike back up the mountain to camp where Mark was anxious to tell me his side of the story. He was pretty confident that the buck was hit low and back in the gut. This was the first time I’d ever personally left an animal overnight in hopes of finding him the next morning. I don’t recommend it.
The next morning found us looking into where we left him. For more than an hour we weren’t able to find either buck. A short time later, right where we left the big buck, the smaller buck was up and feeding. This got us excited, knowing the big buck had to be close. But it also indicated that the big buck may still be alive. Finally, about 30 minutes later, we found the big buck a few yards from where we left him and he appeared to be feeding! I instantly got sick to my stomach. We watched the buck for a while and noticed he wasn’t really feeding like we originally thought. He’d pick a little bit at some oak leaves but then just stand there for a few minutes. The hit was then confirmed when he went to take a step. Hunched up and obviously in pain; he didn’t move but just a couple of feet. The plan was then to go finish him off.
Expect the Unexpected
I made it down the mountain and I honestly couldn’t keep the smile off of my face. I knew I had this buck all but in my pack. I actually started going through the conversation I’d have with my wife about ANOTHER animal that would go on our wall. Just when these thoughts were going through my head, the unthinkable happened.
A shot rang out, and it wasn’t from my rifle. Then another shot! Now my cell phone is ringing and I know it’s Mark. “Please tell me that was you,” he asked. It wasn’t. I’d like to forget the next words that followed from Mark. “Dude, someone just killed your buck!”
You can only imagine what was going through my head at this point. I couldn’t even think straight. I just started running to where the shots came from not even knowing what I’d say when I found these other hunters. I whistled, and they whistled back. I kept moving into their direction until Mark called again. “The buck is back up! He’s still alive!”
A True Sportsman
I’ll admit, at first I laid down to try and shoot the buck. But, I quickly thought that if I did, it would totally negate the fact that I thought the buck was hit by my bullet first, and not just a flesh wound either. It just wouldn’t look good if I pulled the trigger and still wanted to plead my case to these hunters.
I gathered my pack and rifle and continued over to the other hunters. Thankfully, the buck was out of sight from them during this time, otherwise I know they would have finished him off, and rightfully so.
I rounded the corner and saw one guy behind a rifle and another behind the glass. I quickly recognized the hunter as a well known Coues deer hunter and I couldn’t believe it.
“The buck’s already hit! I hit him in the gut last night,” I exclaimed. They looked at me like I was crazy. Once again, rightfully so. I could only imagine what was going through their minds. At one point during my pleading the buck moved out into an opening and the spotter relayed this to the hunter. The hunter goes to get behind the rifle. I knew this was my last chance to convince him otherwise. I tried my hardest to plead my case, and to my amazement, he backed away and sat down.
We discussed the situation for quite some time. Meanwhile, I knew Mark was wondering what in the world was going on, while the buck was still alive and on the hillside.
The hunter was Roger Cook. His spotter that day was his brother, Terry. Both of them were beyond reasonable, especially given the caliber of this buck. They could have easily ignored anything I had to say, but they didn’t. Finally, we came to an agreement that if the buck was NOT hit in the gut like I thought, it was their buck. But if it was, they’d consider the circumstances and how badly the buck was injured and we’d discuss things further. We needed to dispatch the buck ASAP. This was all I could ask for up to this point and I was grateful.
Roger and I worked our way up the ridge-line to get across from the buck. Once again, the slope was much steeper than anticipated, so it took us a while. We finally made it across the draw from the buck and there he was, standing broadside with his head hanging low. I shared this with Roger. “Shoot him,” he said. I rested on a boulder and with one final bullet, the buck dropped less than 200yds away.
We worked our way over to the buck, where Terry met us at about the same time. We pulled the buck out from under an oak and took a moment to admire him. What I think I appreciated most during this moment was that none of us cared to investigate who’s bullet hit where at first. Holding such an impressive 3×3 Coues buck was enough for any of us. Eventually, we determined that I had hit the buck where Mark and I had thought, low and back in the gut. Roger hit the buck through the bridge of the nose and it exited the far eye-socket, causing the buck to be knocked unconscious. That shot only put the buck down temporarily, where his second shot struck his rump and broke his femur. I could then see the disappointment in Roger’s face. This was not an easy predicament for me to be in. I hated it! I could sense Roger was a great guy who was just as deserving of a buck like this. The circumstances were just unimaginable. Eventually he stuck his hand out to shake mine and said, “Congratulations on a great buck, Jake.”
Roger and Terry graciously helped me take pictures, quarter the buck and pack him down the slope. All of us low on water, I filtered some for everyone. We shook hands and parted ways, knowing it probably wasn’t the last time we’d see the other.
With my pack loaded down and Mark’s just the same with all of our camp and equipment, we met up further down the canyon. It gave me a chance to rest a bit and him a chance to admire the buck as well. It was a long hike out but we eventually made it to the trucks right at dark.
The drive home was a little bit of a blur. It wasn’t until I was almost home when I realized (in some small measure) what Roger actually did. I’m still amazed to this day. Words just can’t describe the magnitude of Roger’s actions. This was the epitome of a true sportsman.
Shortly after I got home, the wife and kids arrived from a BBQ. She’s the most understanding wife that I could ask for so when she mentioned to me how exhausted she was from her day and that she needed for me to run to the grocery store, I obliged. Honestly, in the back of my mind I thought “if you only knew how exhausted I am,” but I knew better. Being a full-time mother is way harder than any kind of hunting!
A special thanks needs to go to my wife and kids who support me with my obsession for hunting these amazing animals. Behind every successful hunt is a good story; and, in my case, a spectacular woman with mad editing skills. Thanks to Mark for sacrificing his own time and part of his hunt to help me with this buck. I’m sure I’ll pay him back in the near future. To Roger, I’m thankful for the obvious. Karma can be bad and good. I believe Roger has some very good things coming his way.
Editor In Chief’s Note: I for one, despise confrontation, especially while hunting. I will go well out of my way to avoid it at all costs, even if I know it will cost me the chance at a trophy animal. That being said, you cannot always control all aspects of your hunt (or life for that matter). In my opinion, both Jake and Roger, handled this difficult situation like men, something that is missing to some degree in society today. I know both of these men, personally, but just through an occasional interaction, and mostly online. Now, I have the utmost respect for both of them, and I hope to get to know them better in the near future. In my book, these two men are the Epitome of a True Sportsman! -Darren Choate