Crunch Time

The author puts it all together on a deer hunt in South America.

Boddington used a Remington 700 in .300 Ultra Mag to take this Argentine axis deer late on the last day of his hunt.

Four o'clock on a hot afternoon--the last afternoon of a four-day hunt for axis deer, a species I'd never taken in South America. The area was thick and brushy, with little chance for glassing, the ground too hard for tracking. So we had still-hunted the most likely areas, and in four days had been rewarded by two glimpses of spotted deer running hard. Now, on this last afternoon, we were waiting in a makeshift blind by a waterhole that, most likely, would be visited by axis deer at some time of the day.

I hate to sit still. But, like the pilot said, we were running out of airspeed, altitude and ideas all at the same time. So my outfitter friend and guide Alejandro Trigo and I had been sitting for hours. Red stag had come and gone, quite a lot of them. Blackbuck, too. Then, about four o'clock, Alejandro hissed, "Axis deer."

There were two bucks and a number of does. It took a little while to figure this out because they were feeding through a jumble of leafy trees at the limit of our vision. Time passed, and they made little progress, but one of them was a pretty good buck.

Now and again, through 10X binoculars I could see beams and points on one side of a tree or another, but they weren't getting any closer. Plenty of light remained, and sooner or later they must come this way. Or must they?

The wind was okay, but it had been unstable earlier in the day. One stray puff and this hunt was over. The deer weren't very far away, not 300 yards, but with lots of stuff in the way. After a time it seemed right to crawl out there until it was clear enough, then take the shot.

Oh, boy, last day, last chance--but nobody was going to do it for me. I marked a stout tree with a major fork several feet off the ground. It looked like it might provide both cover and a rest, and I started crawling to it. Slowly. If I stayed low I was unlikely to see the deer until I got much closer, so I didn't even try. I sweated and crawled steadily, pushing the .300 Remington Ultra Mag ahead of me a few inches at a time.

I made the tree and took shelter behind it. For some reason, belly crawling is harder work today than it was 40 years ago, so I took a few deep breaths, then, keeping behind the tree, I slowly got to my knees and carefully peeked out underneath a limb. Nothing.

I rose up again and snuck another peek with the Leicas. Still nothing, but they had to be there. Behind the tree once more I got my feet under me, stood up carefully, then looked again from a few inches more height. Yes, those were spots. Not far, but very hard to see in the dappled shade.

There were spots on one side of a tree, and more spots on the other side, but it was two halves of the same deer, bisected by a tree with the head behind another tree. Or was I seeing different halves of two different deer? And which deer was this, or these, and where were the rest?

The latter question I couldn't answer. If one deer was still there, so were the rest, but I just couldn't see them in the tangle. So, first things first, I went to work on the first question. The head was completely hidden, but this was the approximate location of the larger buck when I'd started crawling, so just maybe'¦

Then I spotted a pale antler, above the spots. The deer was feeding, head to the right, and every now and then part of an antler came out from behind the right-hand tree.

The beams were long, so this was certainly the larger of the two bucks. Long moments passed, and I was sure I had seen the brow tines on both antlers and the upper caudal tines. He was complete, and he looked good--a great last-day buck and not a bad first-day buck. So what was I waiting for? Doubt, indecision, pure cowardice. The deer was probably a bit less than 100 yards out, and although the head was hidden, the right-hand spots had to be on the shoulder. I had a window, and it was unlikely to get better.

Pulling back behind the tree, I reached down and picked up the rifle for the first time, thinking about that circle of spots. There was still grass and brush in the way in the lower part of that window, so I needed to stand as tall as I could, all the way up to the major fork.

I stood to the major fork and slowly slipped the rifle into place. The buck was still there, still feeding, head still hidden, as were the other deer. From this angle I could see a few more spots, and it still appeared that the right-hand spots had to be on or slightly behind the shoulder. I put the post of the Trijicon as far down into the spots as I could and as far to the right as I dared, just to the left of the blocking tree trunk.

At the shot, axis deer exploded everywhere. I have no idea where they had been, but suddenly there were two bucks and at least four does, all moving left, all mixed up. There was the big buck, with tall narrow antlers, in the group. Did I miss? Did I shoot the wrong deer?

There was just enough time for doubt, and then the big buck stopped, wobbled, and fell over. The 180-grain bonded Core-Lokt had entered just behind the on-shoulder, halfway up, and had exited the off-shoulder. This time I'd done things right.

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