One hunter's story of the "Magic Mile" and an Oregon Blacktail Buck of a lifetime harvested near Oakridge.
Ray Livingston showed up to deer camp in Oakridge on December 3 with his camper trailer, ready to simply fill his freezer. Livingston, a Search and Rescue K9 handler, spends most of his free time staying in shape for finding missing persons and wild game by climbing mountains as much as possible.
"As with everyone, I went into the 2016 archery season with very high hopes," says Livingston, who had put in the work traveling to multiple hunting locations across the state, putting in over 100 miles of pre-season hiking, scouting and setting trail cameras to track animal movement.
Livingston hunted three one-day hunts in eastern Oregon and a multitude of day trips to the coast, primarily in pursuit of elk. During his hunts, he encountered several targets, but kept coming up short. "It was mildly frustrating, but I learned and grew as a hunter from each of those live animal contacts and always left the field excited and refreshed!" He ended his early season without letting an arrow fly at an elk, and missed two 150"-160" class, 5x5 eastern Oregon white tails, that both jumped his string, resulting in clean misses.
Ray began hunting an area near Oakridge that he calls "The Magic Mile" 17 years ago. In an effort to get the most meat for his tag, he passed on smaller bucks in the early season, and planned on hunting this area hard during the late season.
Ray calls the area the "Magic Mile" because he's seen more quality bucks in that area than in any public forest he's ever been in during his 28 years of bowhunting, hiking, and exploring the woods of Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. Snow plays a factor in movement during rut, funneling deer through the area. Once he got to camp, the snow began to fall, creating the setting for a successful hunt.
A pair of snowshoes, physical fitness, a strong heart and a good set of lungs are necessary for tracking in the snow. "I'm always excited for snow in the late season there," says Livingston.
One benefit to the snow is that fresh activity can be timed based on the appearance of tracks in relation to the snowfall.
Livingston prepared for the late archery season with a trip into the area, three weeks before it opened. His elder son, Dezmon hiked in with him, chose tree stand trees, trimmed shooting and travel lanes and set a trail camera. Of course, with no snow or frost, there was little sign of deer activity then. When he returned on opening day, he hiked in and checked the camera. Shocked that he had not captured a single animal on camera, he went to higher ground.
Hiking 400-500 feet in elevation, Livingston began chasing the 4x4 blacktail buck he nicknamed "Thumper." Spotting him below in an old clear cut, loosely following a doe around about half a mile out, he watched him for about an hour or so until the buck bedded down. Livingston picked a route with the wind in his favor and went after him.
Livingston spent about an hour to carefully and quietly get down onto the flat he was bedded on, dropping his pack about 70 yards from his bed. He creeped in another 40 yards and stopped, trying to see a glimpse of him through the thick buck brush. One snapped branch too many and I saw him as he slowly sneak out through the thick cover. Knowing the direction the buck was headed was all clear cut, he circled around behind the hill towards the cover of the trees, working his way down the tree line.
Hearing the distinct sound of a buck's grunt, he turned his head in the direction of the noise, only to see the buck walking paralell 20 yards away, on the other side of another thick patch of brush. The buck saw Livingston first, and when he cleared the other end of the brush, bolted over the mountain. That hunt would conclude his weekend, but the season wasn't done yet.
On the way back to camp during the final weekend of his season, Livingston spotted "Thumper" with a couple of does, about 40-50 yards out. The deer were looking back at them from a thicket, and he didn't go in after him for fear of running the deer out of the area. Heading for higher ground again, Livingston spotted tracks in the snow and another 7 does in the area that day, but had no shot opportunities.
Having felt somewhat burned out physically and mentally from the previous hunts, Livingston decided to take a day to go into town for groceries, returning back to the hunting grounds to explore some new areas, let his dog play in the snow, then stripped down to nothing but his boots to go for a walk and "commune with nature."
Feeling like he needed to put his hopes and desires to harvest a deer to the side and just have fun for a while, he got dressed and headed back to camp feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
On the way back to camp, he spotted a doe on the snow covered road. Stopping to watch for a moment, a good buck appeared. As they went off the road to the right, Livingston started their direction and headed up a steep hill. He started climbing the hill parallel to the deer until he saw the buck in a patch of buck brush about 25-30 yards out. The doe was up the hill further so he knew the buck would follow suit. Livingston drew his PSE full throttle. When the buck started up the hill, he whistled in an attempt to stop him. As the buck paused for a second, Livingston sent his 538 grain FMJ, tipped with a Toxic broadhead and stabilized by Nockturnal Helios lighted vanes 268 FPS toward the deer, striking him right behind the left shoulder. The buck dropped, then jumped and bolted up hill, obviously having problems using its right front leg. He went about 30 yards before falling over and sliding down hill back towards Livingston, coming to rest on a downed tree. He tried to get up once more then went motionless.
"My heart was racing! I fought the urge to run up to him, and stood and watched him for about 10 mins. Then I approached him, gave him a poke to make sure he was down, then kneeled beside him and thanked him for his sacrifice. I prayed over him and blessed his spirit on its travels to the next world. It wasn't until then I realized just how big of a blacktail buck he was! He was a heavy 3x4 with 2+" eye guards. A nice heavy mature buck. And based on his tooth wear, fairly old as well. My arrows did exit through his right shoulder blade, I assume his running motion stopped it from passing all the way through, but there was arrow sticking out of both sides of him. The wound channel was nothing short of impressive and devastating. I've shot 4 deer since switching to Toxic heads, none have ran more than 50 yards."
Livingston field dressed the buck and headed back to camp to break him down. Going to sleep that night with fond memories from his late season hunt at the Magic Mile that resulted in his personal best blacktail buck.