When I first met Judge Bob Hamilton (ret.), he was an up and coming lawyer with a penchant for reloading rifle bullets and running good bird dogs. We hunted quail together and he reloaded some Nosler Partition bullets for my deer rifle. They shot great and now and then, we killed a few quail.
At the time, we both had some pretty good bird dogs. Mine were just dogs. His were hi-power, field trial dogs. Back then, there were quite a few wild quail in Middle Tennessee and few deer.
Bob lived out on Horn Springs Road and got us permission to hunt on some land behind his house.
One opening day, he shot a buck he could not recover. I found the carcass a few days later. On Thanksgiving afternoon, trying to work off the big dinner, I killed a nice eight-point on that land.
So that is how we met.
Bob has come a long way. He still reloads his bullets and shoots fine rifles. He has hunted Africa a couple times and been "out west" several times. But Bob had never killed a better than average mule deer.
Until a few weeks ago.
Bob, along with my fishing partner, Judge Dave Durham, (also ret.), returned to an area of Wyoming they had hunted on previous trips. The ranch is just about in my former backyard in the Rattlesnake Hills near Bill, WY. That area, on the edge of the Thunder Basin National Grassland, for years has fluctuated in terms of wildlife. Some years, there are plenty, some years few. It all depends on the rain.
The mule deer population has come back in great style. When I lived there, in the late '60's, the land along the edge of the South Fork of the Cheyenne River was prime mule deer country. It is deceptive land where what looks flat isn't and what looks somewhat hilly is steep as a mule's face. It is not as open as it looks.
This was Judge Hamilton's ninth trip out there. You would think by now, the judges would have learned something about camping.
Cardinal rule No. 1 -- A popup camper is always better than a bad cot and a tent.) This is especially true when you have a bad back as Judge Durham claims he does. They did not have a popup camper.
That may be why Judge Durham insisted Bob take the first shot. You see, when two friends hunt together as they did, it is always decided beforehand, and who will shoot first. "No argument about it." Said Judge Durham, "You take the first shot." I can't remember him ever saying that to me.
"As luck would have it," said Judge H., "Dave spotted this really nice, mature mulie buck the first day and the stalk was on. We had to go up and down some of the buttes and I was out of breath with no solid rest or shooting sticks so I had to shoot offhand. My first shot was not a good one but I was able to get a finishing shot and quickly put him down."
"I have always wanted a mature mule deer buck. In fact, he was on my bucket list. Now that list is getting more complete."
For the next four days, the pair hunted the area at a somewhat leisurely pace. "Dave felt his cot was actually hurting his back and had been sleeping on the ground." Said Judge Hamilton. "I don't think he hunted as hard as he usually would. He passed up a lot of young bucks and we just enjoyed ourselves. We even took two days each way traveling this time instead of driving straight through."
Bob was shooting a Winchester Model 70 STW, a rifle designed for long range shooting and for him, a 150-yard is a gimme. But I learned many years ago, no shot on a live animal at 150-yards, when your heart is beating double time is a gimme. So congrats on a fine trophy.
At present, our two globetrotting jurists do not have another trip to the Dark Continent planned. However, with two big Safari Club International shows coming up, you can't take that off the table.
My suggestion is, book an elk hunt before the real mountains get too steep and by all means, don't sleep in a tent unless it is equipped with a complete bed.
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