by Michael Kelly Farr
It was cold, real cold. Our water jugs were frozen, our canteens, everything that wasn’t inside the tent with us. Which brave soul would venture out and break the ice, literally? You see we have to pack our water in with us as there’s not a water source near our hunting grounds. A desert, but oh what a desert it is. We’ve hunted this area since 1995 and over the last 7 years have come to love this arid Mecca for deer. On the average hunt we see between 75 and 100 different bucks. That’s tough to take isn’t it? Of course they are mostly young deer, but occasionally a real wall hanger appears. And that’s what keeps us coming back and enduring the conditions of this hostile place.
This year it was a bit colder than normal. But that was just fine with us. Some years we are hunting in just a shirt, others in everything we own! We’ve found that the colder years are usually the better years for big bucks, then again, not always! We hope for snow, but being the low country, we just don’t seem to get it often.
There were 5 in our party this time around. My son Shane Farr, cousin Mike Farr, good friends Clint Proctor and Dave Earl, and myself. Now Dave had a bit of a handicap this year. He tried to cut off his thumb a couple of weeks prior to our hunt. But Dave being the trooper he is, sucked it up and talked the doctors into letting him go. We weren’t sure if he did it on purpose or what, as there are no roads in our hunting area, so we have to pack those big bucks out anywhere from 1 to 5 miles. The average over the years is about 4 miles per buck. Let me tell you, the deer cart Mike Designed and built is a real life saver, but it’s still quite a work out. Luckily I had my strong 16 year old son to replace Dave on the cart this year.
Opening day found us each wishing we’d have left a little earlier. There were other hunters in the area this year, and they’d beaten us to the punch. No matter, we know the area well and where the deer will go once bumped. Huge open expanses of sage, intermingled with small draws containing a few cedar trees make up the greatest portion of the area. There’s one big canyon that we love to hunt that seems to be our lucky spot. The canyon is about3 miles long and has multiple fingers at the top. They all come together to form a 150 yard wide by 100 yard deep canyon winding it’s way through the sage flats. Inside the canyon there are more cedars and pinions, with rocky outcroppings and cliffs. There are several areas of heavy cover at the head of the canyon. It’s perfect big buck country.
Over the years we’ve taken nearly 75% of our deer, and almost all the best bucks, with in a few hundred yards of this big canyon. We call it Kelly’s canyon, because I stumbled onto it the first year Mike and I hunted the area. You could draw a 500 yard circle in one spot on the edge of the canyon, and within that circle we’ve taken most of the big deer. It’s a great place to be when the light of day approaches from behind your back. You just know a big ole buck is coming up to you. And almost every year they do. Naturally it’s a fight to see who gets there first.
Mike found the general area back in 1997 when he took a 26 _ inch 4 point. Then later in that same hunt I scouted around and finally positioned myself on a small knob about 300 yards from where Mike shot his buck from, near where it fell. I ended up shooting a 27 _ inch buck. Eureka, we’d found the spot. We call it the knob, or 8:00 ridge now because you can expect to get your buck by 8:00 almost every time. Dave shot a heavy 27 inch buck there in 2000, and later that year I shot a beautiful 170 B&C 4 point that was only 23 inches wide, again from the same spot. We’ve taken most the big bucks within a few hundred yards of this knob.
Shane and I took the long way around to a place we call two point rock, named for a two point skull found at the base. Two point rock is within that magic circle around the knob by the way. Just as Shane and I were approaching two point rock, I heard the unmistakable bounding of a heavy bodied deer just in front of us. The deer had been about 50 yards from the knob when we jumped him. I knew right away it had to be a good deer. It sounded big, and it was by our knob, it just had to be big.
I caught a glimpse of the big buck bounding through the cedar pinion mix in front of us. He was heading straight into the head of Kelly’s canyon. If he got there he’d be tough to find again. We quickly moved forward to get into a shooting position. We could see the buck was going to cross a few small openings so we stopped and got ready. I wanted Shane to take the first shot, as this was his first real rifle deer hunt.
I could tell from the glimpses we’d got that this was a dandy buck. I told Shane he was big and to take him. I got ready to back Shane up, or take the shot myself if he couldn’t. Almost on queue the big buck bounded into a 30 yard clearing and stopped on a little ridge, broadside. He spun his head around as he stopped and looked at us. Whoa! What a hog. He was only a 3 point, but he was really heavy, and extremely tall. His width was 29 to 30 inches, and the height was incredible. Before I could get my crosshairs on the bucks chest and steady, Shane fired. I jumped bad, not expecting him to shoot so quickly. He missed. The buck bounded over the ridge and was gone. I flinched so badly when Shane shot that my cross hairs came off the buck by at least 10 feet. Scared the stuffin out of me it did.
We quickly moved over to where he’d gone over the ridge hoping to find sign of a hit. We found nothing. No blood, no hair, nothing. We tracked the ole boy for about 2 miles in the sandy soil with no sign of a hit. Finally he joined up with several other fresh tracks and the trail was lost in the sand. We never saw that wise old buck again. He was a real trophy. His height was impressive, one of the tallest bucks I’ve ever seen, live or in photos. And the mass matched. Only 3 points per side, but they were long and symmetrical. We would have been thrilled to take such a trophy. I consoled Shane and told him it was alright, there would be other deer. Experience can be a cruel teacher at times, but the lessons are learned much quicker when they hurt. Everyone saw a few smaller bucks, but nothing they wanted to take on the opening day.
Monday Shane and I decided to take just the pistols out. I had my contender in .308 Bellm caliber, and Shane an Encore in 7mm-08. Both are sweet shooters, and Shane and I wanted to take a good buck with a pistol. We again made our way up the 4 mile hike in the cool early morning air. About 500 yards from our intended ambush position, we spotted a couple of deer moving away down in a big canyon. Right away I could tell the buck in the rear was a good one. We quickly moved to get into a shooting position. We both got our “shootin’ stix” setup and were bearing down on the bucks. Unfortunately the sun was just peeking over the ridge, and we were now looking directly into it. The bucks were below the ridge in the deep shadows and it was extremely hard to see them. I could barely see the buck in the rear as he stopped and looked back at us for just a second. I almost got my Leupold dot on him, but at the last second he turned and quickly disappeared behind the cedar trees. Both bucks just seemed to vanish. We stayed in position for several minutes hoping they would reappear, but it was not to be. The bucks worked their way up the canyon under the cover of the thick cedars without ever letting us get another good look. We estimated the bigger buck to be about 27 inches wide, but never got a good look at his number of points. The other buck was about a 22 inch buck. We decided to leave them alone and keep moving up to our intended spot.
Shane and I decided to stop and set up a little above two point rock because we were behind schedule due to the earlier buck sighting. We’d been sitting there for about half an hour before we saw the first movement below us. I could see several deer working their way through the trees below us, about 400 yards out. They were headed right for the “knob”. “We should have been sitting on two point rock” I told Shane. Those deer came within 15 feet of it. That would have been a perfect position with the pistols. The deer slowly continued up past two point rock and straight toward us. By now I’d been able to pick out a couple bucks in the group. One of them I thought to be about 23 to 24 inches and thought he was a 3×4. Shane was getting excited and had decided to take the buck. As they moved ever closer, he looked better and better. I could now tell he was a 4×4, tall and looking nice. I started to think about taking him too, but kept telling myself that I would wait for a bigger deer.
The deer seemed a bit edgy and started to move quickly as they neared our position. Shane was all set up and waiting as the deer turned to go through a small opening just 40 yards below us. The deer started through, but to our disappointment took a slight detour that had them pass behind a small hill in the clearing. All we could see were their heads as they slipped through. We quickly moved back around the hill to cut them off and try for a shot. It worked. At least the cutting off part that is. The deer all stopped in a small sage flat and started to bunch up. Nervously looking in our direction they circled around in the flat several times. No matter how hard we tried we couldn’t see that 4 point. Shane held tight and I moved over a few yards to get a better look. The deer froze and stared in our direction. Where’s the buck we thought, he was right there with them. After about a minute we decided that the buck must have circle back around from where they came from. As Shane and I started to move back to our original position the deer spooked and started to file out the same way they came in. We hurried up to the hill we’d been sitting on and watched as they trotted off. There he was, right with them still. We couldn’t get a good shot at him with does all around and going away. We watched as they meandered back through the cedars and past the knob. I could have shot him a couple of times while he’d worked up to our position, and now passed on a couple more chances as he walked away, but I just kept thinking he’s about 23 maybe 24 inches, I’ll wait. About a minute after they disappeared, a shot rang out in the direction they had headed. I told Shane I bet that was Mike. He was going to be in that general area and I knew if he saw them he might take the buck.
We waited for a little while to see what would happen. We decided to work our way down to where the shot was to see if it really was Mike. Sure enough, Mike had originally been following these deer and spooked them up to us. He watched us wondering why we didn’t shoot the buck. When the deer had stopped in the flat and we were searching for the buck, Mike was watching it all happen. Apparently the buck was not more than 45 yards from us, standing broadside, but behind a tree to us. Mike thought for sure we’d shoot and was watching the show. When the deer spooked from us and came back down, he’d worked his way into a position across the canyon where he could watch where they went. He snuck up along the ridge and made a perfect 284 yard, ranged shot with his 7mm Magnum, dropping the buck in his tracks.
Looking down at Mike’s deer Shane and I couldn’t believe we’d let this buck go. I was amazed. This was not ground shrinkage, it was ground growth. The buck taped out at 26 _ inches wide, with good height and good forks. Only one front fork was weak. He had good eye guards too. I kept telling Shane that I couldn’t believe we let him go. We could have shot him several times when he was in the 200 yard range, but we’d waited for the close shot, and that never materialized. After slapping myself a couple times, we took some pictures and got the other guys over to take a look. He really is a beautiful buck as you can see.
L to R Clint, Shane, Kelly, and Mike with his dandy buck.
The next day Shane and I decided we’d go a bit further into the area and see what we could find. Mike was going to make a big sweep through the lower areas hoping to push deer up to us. From past experience I knew where the deer would come up. When we got near the spot Shane was pretty tired. I told him he should go just another 300 yards and sit on a small ridge and wait. He didn’t want to go any further and offered to stay there and have me go to the ridge. I told him it was a better spot and that the chances of a buck coming up over there were greater, but he insisted on staying put. Not that it was a bad spot. It was a good spot and I’d seen several good bucks come up through this area too. It was just that I’d seen more bucks use the little ridge when pushed from Mike’s particular position below us.
I stayed put with Shane for a few minutes, but knew that Mike would be pushing the deer up any moment and I just had to go over there. Besides we could cover twice as much ground that way. If the deer came to Shane’s right he had a good open shot out to 250 yards. If they came to his left they’d be between us and either of us could shoot up to 300 yards. I had a good view of the area from the little ridge I had chosen to sit on. It didn’t take long for deer to start moving. Three does came up first. Then two bucks started to work their way up to me. I looked over to Shane and tried to get his attention to wave him over, but he was fast asleep by now. I thought about hurrying over and waking him up, but there was just too much open area and the deer would see me. I pulled up my Leupold 10 x 40 binoculars and watched the bucks slowly approach. One buck was a 2×3 about 18 inches wide, but fairly heavy. The other buck looked to be about 22 to 24 inches wide. I didn’t get a very good look at him though as they worked through the trees. At first I had decided not to shoot. But as they got closer, the glimpses of that bigger buck looked better and better. I kept thinking back to the buck Mike had shot the day before and how I mis-judged him. I’m usually pretty close, so I was still surprised I’d been so far off. As the bucks worked their way up the draw it looked like they were going to head in Shane’s direction. And he was asleep. I could just see them walking right past him with out him waking up. But, the bucks turned and started to move straight to me again.
By now, between glimpses, I’d decided the bigger buck was a 3×4 with a fairly nice rack about 23 inches wide. The bucks disappeared completely into the trees about 150 yards below me. I still hadn’t made up my mind to take this buck, but I got ready just in case. With the shootin stix firmly planted in the sandy soil, and my Contender resting in the V, I was starting to get excited. I told myself that this was a good buck, and with a pistol, he was a really good buck. He would be my first buck with my pistol if I decided to take him. The more I thought the more I wanted to take him. When the 2×3 suddenly appeared directly across the draw at 100 yards walking broadside, I was about 80% convinced that if I got a good shot I should take the bigger buck. I figured the bigger buck would be right behind the 2×3, and sure enough he stepped out perfectly broadside, and he looked nice. I quickly placed the dot of my leupold scope on him and followed a few feet. He paused and looked back behind him. I was now convinced I better take him. I put the dot right behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The deafening blast from the .308 Bellm with my muzzle brake about knocked me over. I forgot how loud that puppy is when you don’t have ear plugs in. The buck didn’t move. I missed him completely. How could I miss such a perfect shot? Shane was now awake and watching everything I was doing. He could see me but not the buck. I quickly opened the Contender and loaded another round. The buck took a couple steps then paused just for a second before going over the ridge, giving me the chance I needed. I placed the dot on his front shoulder again and slowly squeezed the trigger this time. Whomp! The buck staggered as the bullet hit him squarely in the shoulder. Oh boy, were my ears ringing now! The buck whirled around and stumbled back down into the trees where he’d come from. I thought the shot was good but quickly reloaded and stood up to see if I could get a fix on the buck. He must have piled up in the draw I thought as I could see all around the trees where he went in. I motioned for Shane to come over and turned back looking for the buck to move. The 2×3 came trotting back over the ridge, looked down to where my buck had gone and then moved into the trees. I knew for sure he was right there now.
After about two minutes the bucks suddenly came busting out of the trees about 100 yards away. I pulled up and swung on the fleeing buck. It’s a tough shot with a contender, but I was able to get him in the scope and fire before he disappeared in the trees. The buck turned and stumbled over to a big cedar and lay down. I thought for sure that was it, but I reloaded and got ready to shoot just in case. The bucks head was still up and that’s not a good sign, so I position my shooting stix for a solid rest. I pulled out the range finder and ranged him right at 125 yards. I was anxious as he kept his head up for another minute. I had just decided to not chance it and shoot him there even though he was facing me and not in an ideal position for a shot. Just as I was about to pull the trigger, Shane showed up behind me. I turned to look at him and looked back. The buck was up and running. Apparently he saw Shane walk up to me on the ridge and spooked.
Shane and I took off around the trees to head him off and try to put him down. Mike was coming up the draw now with his video camera in hand and was trying to get the buck on film. The buck saw Mike, stopping he turned broadside, but he was behind the trees still. I quickly dropped down and put the stix in the sand. I was ready for him to step out from behind the big cedar tree. The buck had stopped right in the middle of it and I couldn’t get a shot off. I waited as my heart pounded with adrenaline. If he turns and runs down behind that tree I won’t get a shot I thought. I didn’t realize Mike was within 50 yards of him, and right below keeping him form doing just that. I quickly moved over and set up again where I could see him standing. I put that dot on his chest again and slowly squeezed the trigger. Whomp! Again a solid hit. The buck took off again wildly running another 50 yards and crashing in the sage. Shane and I moved up a little to get a better view of the buck. Mike came over near us and had the camera on. He’d got the last shot and said it was a good hit. I couldn’t believe the buck was still going. I quickly reloaded and set up again. The bucks head was still up. This time I didn’t hesitate. I put the dot on his chest aiming through a sparse sage he was laying by and touched off another round. Whomp! Another solid hit and the bucks head went down. Yes! We all gave high fives and started the congratulations when the bucks head suddenly popped back up. Whoa, his heads back up. I put anther round in and dropped to the ground for another 100 yard shot. I put the dot on his back which was now facing me and touched the trigger again. Whomp! Another solid hit and down his head went again. This time I reloaded and waited for a couple minutes before standing up and celebrating!
We cautiously moved over to the buck to make sure he was finished. To my surprise he was a very symmetrical 4×4 with big deep forks in the front. I had never really looked at his rack again after I decided he was a 3×4, about 23 inches. The 23 inches turned out to be right on, but I was glad I was wrong on the number of points. What a tough buck. I had hit him 5 out of the 6 shots taken. Only the first and easiest shot was a miss. 4 of the 5 hits were directly into the chest cavity and any one of them should have been quickly fatal. The one running shot I’d taken had hit him in the jaw just about at the hinge point. I still can’t believe this buck stayed up and going as long as he did. He traveled about 300 yards from the first shot, but that took several minutes in total. As you can see he is a nice buck, especially with a pistol. What a tough buck!
L to R Shane Farr and Kelly Farr with one tough buck!
After my second shot at this buck I’d heard shots in the distance back from where we’d come from earlier. They were too far away for Clint and Dave as they were positioned across the big canyon about 750 yards away from Shane. During our chase to put my buck down, several shots were fired from where we thought Dave and Clint would be. I didn’t pay too much attention though as we were a little preoccupied.
Come to find out, some other hunters had jumped and shot at a couple of really nice bucks, the first distant shots I’d heard. The bucks worked their way up toward Dave and Clint, who where wondering what the heck I was shooting at. They decided they should go back over the ridge and see what might be coming from the other hunters. When they topped the ridge there were two big bucks running up into Kelly’s canyon. Dave and Clint moved to cut them off. Dave slowly came over a small rise and there just 50 yard away stood one of the big bucks. The only problem was that Dave could only see his back, neck and head. A few more steps and the buck would be in the thick trees and into the big canyon ahead. Dave decided to try a spine shot with his .280 Remington. When Dave shot the big buck’s front end dropped to the ground and he stumbled backward. Spinning around he leaped around the small hill out of Dave’s site. As Dave quickly moved to get another shot, Clint shot! Whomp! Clint thinking that Dave must have shot the other buck, saw this big buck coming back around the hill and lowered the boom on him. The 300 win. Magnum did the job and the buck crashed into the ground.
Both Dave and Clint were in awe at the buck that lay at their feet. What a beautiful deer. He was 29 _ inches wide with 6 on one side and 7 on the other. Long sweeping, almost whitetail main beams and beautiful eye guards, really made his rack look impressive. Now for the decision, whose buck is it? Luckily Shane, Mike and I were all over finishing my buck off on the other side of the canyon and didn’t have to get into that debate. It was decided that if Dave’s shot, which had left a 2 inch diameter hole in the bucks back, had entered the chest cavity they’d have Dave tag him. If not, Clint would. This isn’t the first time these two, or Mike for that matter, have had to decide on who’s deer it was. When they dressed the big buck out, it turned out that Dave’s bullet had not entered the cavity, although it had severed all but a tiny strand of the spinal cord. It was absolutely incredible that this buck had turned and took off with no real spinal cord left. I’m telling you these bucks are tough in this area! Dave graciously gave in and let Clint tag the big buck. I think Dave’s a little nicer than me, right Clint? Anyway you spin it Dave and Clint took a fine trophy. But of course we had to really razz Clint, and still do, about shooting someone else’s deer, again! You see the year before I’d guided Mike, Clint and Dave in on a nice buck that all 3 of them hit, and yes Clint tagged him. So we get to give Clint a bad time and he knows it.
L to R Clint and Dave with the big buck they took together.
We hunted hard for the next few days trying to get Shane and Dave their own bucks, but the going was tough. With all the other hunters in the area, and us already taking 3 fine bucks, the deer were getting more and more scarce. We decided to push an old tried and true area the next to the last day of the season. Clint and Mike were the drivers, Dave took up a position and I went with Shane to help him set up in a spot I knew the deer would try to go through. We’d been there for an hour or so when the first few deer started to move up. Shane was still trying to get his buck with the pistol, but this late in the hunt I made sure we had his rifle too.
The deer began to move off to our right behind a long ridge. We knew there was a decent buck coming up but hadn’t seen him clearly yet. Shane and I hurried and moved over to the ridge line where we thought we could see the deer. Just then Mike came out of the trees about 300 yards from us. And right in front of him stood the buck. He was real tall, but not too wide, but a shooter for Shane. Unfortunately Shane and I had moved. If we would’ve stayed put the buck would have trotted within 50 yards of our hidden position. Instead we were caught out in the open. The buck looked at Mike, then at us, then at Mike again. He must have not liked the way Mike looked, because he suddenly took off like he’d been stung by a bee. He headed right between us as fast as he could go. He was really tearing up the ground. I had already told Shane to grab the rifle as the shot might be long. I’m glad I did.
Shane fired and hit well behind the speeding buck. I told Shane to move forward as the buck dropped into a small ravine and disappeared. The buck immerged running dead away from us, still with his after burners on. Shane now thoroughly excited shot again, hitting to the side of the buck. The buck continued on unaffected. The buck was now about 300 yards out and still tearing it up. Shane shot again, just off to the side. The buck was closing the gap on 400 yards now and I told Shane to put the crosshairs between his antlers and shoot. He did and the bullet hit right in front of the buck. That turned him and he slowed to a trot, now going broadside. The buck only had to go another 10 yards and he was over the ridge and out of sight. I told Shane to relax, put the cross hair just over the top of his back and squeeze the trigger. Just as the buck was topping the ridge, and I was thinking Shane wasn’t going to get the shot off, he pulled the trigger. The buck had turned slightly and started to drop off the ridge when he shot, whomp! You hit him Shane you hit him. Good shot I told him! I was excited. I ranged the spot at 394 yards, not bad for a 16 year old.
The buck didn’t go right down, so we all tracked him down a rocky ravine. Shane was up a little, and out in front in case we jumped him up. The buck left a good blood trail and tracking was easy. The buck suddenly jumped up, and Shane lowered the boom on him. One more quick finishing shot to keep him from going any further and Shane had his first rifle buck. A nice tall 3×4, with a good heavy body. I think I was more excited than Shane. What a great experience to share with your son. High fives and congrats, and then the work began.
Dave didn’t take a buck this year. He had the chance at several smaller bucks but held to his guns and didn’t take a deer. Of course he did help Clint take the biggest buck any of us has ever taken out there to date. And I think that may help bit. Maybe Clint will let Dave hang the mount at his house for a while? Then again, maybe not? Until next time good hunting.
Shane Farr with his first rifle buck.