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feature By: Brad Fenson | March, 19
Driving toward camp, we saw hundreds of deer feeding in fields along the highways and backroads. Wildlife, in general, was plentiful with turkeys, ducks, geese and a smattering of predators making the red-dirt hills look productive. Oklahoma is still part of the Wild West, rich in history thanks to characters like Roy Rogers, and the landscape remains excellent habitat for wildlife. The view has changed since Rogers rode his horse through the hills, and instead of campfire smoke rising from the ridgetops, there are miles of power-generating windmills.
White-tailed deer have always been part of the landscape, but populations today are robust compared to times when settlers were faced with drought and not knowing where the next meal would come from. I’ve hunted the state a couple of times, knowing that it holds incredible trophy potential. Bordered by Kansas to the north, Missouri to the northeast and Texas to the south leaves little doubt there are grand bucks with great trophy potential.
I arrived at camp in the early afternoon and was seated at the range before unpacking my hunting clothes. I was shooting .308 Winchester in a Remington R-25 GII 7.62x51mm and wanted to ensure it was punching cloverleaves before heading out for the evening hunt. Two shots were low and right, but after a bit of scope adjustment, three more shots grouped perfectly, and I knew it was ready to take on Oklahoma’s cagey whitetails that know how to use the terrain to their advantage.
I was hunting with Todd Rogers of Rut N Strut Guide Service, and he had seen firsthand on previous hunts how deer can vanish. “Now you see them – now you don’t,” he said.
There is more to the rolling hills than meets the eye, and washouts, creek bottoms and hidden swales are where the deer prefer to travel. To the untrained eye, a hunter might swear there were no deer in the hills. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and the number of deer we saw in open agricultural fields was nothing compared to what roamed and utilized the unique habitat.
It didn’t take long to change clothes and go over licenses and options with Todd. He had a spot in mind for me, with a bird’s-eye view of some incredible deer country. We drove to a remote area with steep hills and finally came to a stop at the bottom of a long, rocky ridge. Todd pointed up the hill and told me to head through the saddle where there was a shallow bench on the other side. I was to build a nest, so to speak, and watch the country below. There were no roads, two-tracks or sign of human activity in the rugged country that sprawled below on the far side of the ridge.
I was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the ridgetop and picked each step carefully to avoid cactus and other prickly plants. I found the bench and used a chair pad to make myself comfortable. I propped my backpack up beside me for easy access and started to look the country over with my binocular. It was easy to tell where the deer would move, and I ranged features below where I expected to see deer. The hunt had an exciting western feel to it. There were no treestands or blinds; this was a good old-fashioned ambush from the hills, where a hunter blends into the landscape and sits so high the deer never think of looking up that far.
The confluence of three creek channels carved deep into the red Oklahoma soil sprawled out below me. If a hunter was standing on top of the hill, there was no way he could see a deer in any of the fingers below. I knew it was the perfect ambush point, and the ledge was the perfect place to settle in for the evening and watch the cover below. The ledge was one of Rogers’ favorite spots, knowing the deer traveled up and down the creek bottoms. To top things off, the rut was in full swing, meaning there should be plenty of action to keep me entertained and excited about finding a big buck.
While perched like an eagle on the precipice of a mountain looking for prey, the height advantage was better than any treestand could afford, and some freedom to move around. I had brought a set of shooting sticks and practiced mounting the rifle and acquiring a target without having to move my body.
After sitting for only 15 minutes, the first deer showed up. They could be seen coming from a long way off, often disappearing in dense cover before coming back into view. Does and fawns trickled out of the hills, appearing like apparitions that showed up out of nowhere. When the deer hit an open stretch of grassland, they’d run until they were back in cover. Some headed to a nearby field and started feeding.
I loved the perch and the opportunity to watch deer. It was like I was watching a documentary on whitetails of the West, with enough action to keep me glued to my Bushnell binocular. A young buck making its way through a creek bottom provided brief glimpses of its white antlers moving through the brush and rolling terrain. Tracking its movement was like a game, trying to decipher where the buck would show up next. Luckily, all the deer were moving out of the hills toward me. Several of the trails were right below my rocky cliff, offering a near vertical view of deer from the top.
Several does and fawns were feeding to my right about 150 yards from the ridge. The young buck showed up and raised its upper lip over its nose to test the air for pheromones the does were putting off. The classic rutting behavior had me excited for the evening show, and I wasn’t disappointed.
After just two hours, a big buck showed up on the scene. The large-antlered whitetail wasted no time flying into action and creating chaos below. The buck actively chased does and put the run on the younger buck that was timidly tending the does like an awkward teenager. Another buck then emerged on the scene and stopped dead in its tracks to watch the show. The boss buck intimidated every buck in the area, and deer ran in circles as it checked every doe and kept other bucks at bay.
Looking the deer over carefully with the binocular, it only sported four points on each antler. It was the first day of the hunt, and I knew the area held great potential for big bucks. On the other hand, the solid 8-point was a mature deer that ruled the area. It didn’t take long to decide to shoot the buck if it provided an opportunity.
The biggest problem was trying to find an opening in the brush where the deer stood still long enough to offer a shot. The old boy reminded me more of a pronghorn buck in the way it chased the competition and herded does.
The buck had just run back up a draw and out of sight. When it returned, the buck headed right for a big doe that was standing about 130 yards from where I sat. The buck ran at the doe, which scurried to get out of its way. The buck stopped where the doe had been standing and checked the air, raising its nose and stretching its neck out. I slowly tucked the rifle into my shoulder, remaining undetected from the deer below. I found the buck in the scope, settled the crosshair on its vitals and slowly squeezed the trigger. At the report of the rifle, the buck collapsed in its tracks. The bullet found its mark and the Sooner State buck hit the ground right where it stood.
Sitting in disbelief for several minutes, I couldn’t remember the last time a buck was shot on the first sit, but I wasn’t complaining. I phoned Todd from my elevated position, and he was back to pick me up before sunset.
The Oklahoma experience was my first with an AR rifle. They are short, compact and quick and easy to mount to your shoulder to acquire a target. I found the R-25 advantageous in my hunting situation as the short barrel reduced any movement the deer might pick up when the time came to shoot. Whitetails don’t miss much, and sitting in the open left me vulnerable to detection, even though I was elevated.
The good news was that the predator season was open, and I’d have the opportunity to set up and call for coyotes. The rugged country and a spiderweb of creek bottoms and fingers are ideal for predators.
The next morning Todd got other hunters out on stand before daylight, and then we headed for coyote country. A “screaming cottontail” e-caller eventually brought a coyote in on our left. The dog was focused on the call and trotted right past us to get to the “rabbit.” A well-placed shot anchored the coyote in its tracks.
We then moved to a long draw and sat on the sidehill overlooking a large area downwind. We turned the caller on and sat for 15 minutes before Todd pointed to a coyote watching from the ridgetop. The coyote could hear the distressed calls but wasn’t coming any closer. Todd switched calls to a “young jackrabbit” and the coyote immediately started trotting down the ridge. The switch of sounds made an immediate impact on the coyote’s focus. The big dog coyote cut the distance quickly and approached the call through tall grass, making it hard to find in the scope. At 120 yards I squeezed the trigger and collected the second coyote of the trip.
Oklahoma proved to be a fun and action-packed place to hunt. The incredible vistas and abundance of wildlife make it a great place to visit, and a place where a hunter is not likely to run out of things to do.
The Remington R-25 GII is based on years of engineering and refinement that went into the development of the DPMS GII rifle. It is lightweight, easy to maneuver and is extremely accurate. A titanium firing pin, enlarged ejection port and steel insert feed-ramp add up to reliability. The lighter bolt carrier, improved extractor and dual ejectors ensure consistent cycling.
The GII is built on a downsized frame with forged, anodized, Teflon-coated 7075 upper and lower receivers. Every component was examined to see if changes could be made to reduce weight without compromising durability and performance. A new skeletonized stock with an ambidextrous cheekpiece and a carbon fiber, free-floating barrel reduced weight and improved balance.
Good optics are a must for finding and tracking deer, and to identify a buck’s maturity. Bushnell’s Trophy Xtreme 10x50mm binocular was ideal for long-range reconnaissance and evaluating headgear on bucks. The Trophy Xtreme Rangefinder was also valuable, as judging distance in the open country can be challenging. The Bushnell Trophy Xtreme 2.5x44mm riflescope with a Multi-X reticle features a 30mm tube and offered reliable and consistent performance. bushnell.com