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The King – A B&C Audio Adventure

By Lester H. Miller
18th Big Game Awards Program | From Legendary Hunts

From the very first moment that I saw this buck, I knew I had to have him, no mat­ter the cost in time or effort.

He was standing at the back-end of an open hay field, near a patch of second-growth timber. His antlers glistened in the morning sun and he looked almost like an elk. I had been walking up an old railroad grade that was half obscured by willow and alder. It appeared that I might be able to get close enough for a clear shot at him, but that was not to be. I was carrying my Winchester, Model 94, .30-30 carbine, not capable of making clean kills at any great distance. My deer hunting had been limited to heavy brush shooting at ranges of 150 yards or less, and this big buck stood at least 300 yards away. I care­fully moved to a small opening and peeked out. The buck either saw or heard me. He vanished into the second-growth in a flash.

For the greater part of every day of every legal hunting season in the years of 1950, 1951, and 1952, and until that all-important day in October 1953, I stalked, drove thickets, and took stands in the Upper Lincoln Creek Area of Lewis County, Wash­ington.

On as many as a dozen different occasions during that period, we were able to see him in the vicinity of Lincoln Creek. At Grange meetings, livestock auctions, and wher­ever people gathered in the nearby towns of Chehalis, Centralia, Fords Prairie, or Adna, it was not unusual to hear someone mention this majestic animal. Mostly, they would talk about his huge antlers, four points or bigger. Of course, the stories grew in the tell­ing and soon he was almost a legend. Although I had twice jumped this deer out of his bed, and had seen him running down a runway on three or four different occasions, I still had never fired a shot at him, fearful that I might wound him and not make a clean kill.

And so it went. The sightings continued to be reported, with an occasional shot fired at the buck. He was seen often in the company of two other large bucks in late summer and early fall. He was seen in many different places (sometimes at the same time), from Doty Lookout to Adna, up Bunker Creek Road to Lincoln Creek. To hunt and to take this fine buck became an obsession with me. As the 1953 season approached, a gnawing kind of fear grew in me that a poacher might kill him or someone else would get him during the coming season.

I began to look for him on foot, cold-tracking him mostly, but many times hot on his trail. The purpose of this was for me to get familiar with his whereabouts and his habits, and hopefully to catch a glimpse of him and rid myself of a little of the “buck fever” I usually felt when I would see him. I covered a lot of ground during this period as I was not hampered by carrying a gun or being heavily dressed. This game came to an end two days before the general buck season opening in 1953. For the greater part of that day, I had been traveling along the creek bottoms and alder swamps, hoping to cut sign.

The day was rainy and the brush was wet. I was wearying of the game, when right in front of me in the muddy crossing, I saw the unmistakable tracks of several large deer and one smaller one.

My pace quickened as I began to follow the very fresh tracks. They led me up the side of a small hog-backed ridge, covered with thick hemlock. I worked my way through this wet brush and merged on the other side to look down into a large, open alder bot­tom. There, not 50 yards away, were two large bucks, one a fork-horn and one a very nice four-point. But the size and majesty of a third buck dwarfed the other two. Here was my prize buck! He was nuzzling the neck of a young doe, occasionally watching the other two deer as they sparred with each other.

As quietly as I could, I worked myself back into the heavy cover and made my way down to the creek bank where I sat down. I noticed that my hands were trembling, and they continued to do so for some time. Naturally, my mind was full of thoughts and plans for opening day of the buck season, 36 hours away.

My plan for the hunt was fairly simple. As I saw it, I would drive up the Forest Service road to a point where I could park. As soon as it was daylight, I would walk to the creek, which I felt certain would be an excellent place to start hunting. However, I rea­soned that those deer could move some distance in any direction since sighting them two days before. Daylight found me parked on the road, preparing to enter the woods. My pack contained a hatchet, knife, whetstone, rope, first-aid kit, lunch, a water-proof tube of “kitchen” matches, a liver bag, and a handful of .30-30 shells.

Arriving at the crossing where I had picked up the tracks before, I discovered more tracks in the mud. They indicated that the deer had returned on their back-track to this creek bottom. It took me quite awhile to figure out the direction the deer had gone when they left the bottom. After several false starts, I finally found the right trail and pro­ceeded to follow the tracks. The deer were obviously following a well established game trail to another locality.

Although it was raining once again so that any sounds I made were muted, it was difficult to travel this muddy runway without making considerable “sloshing” sounds. I had left the runway, walking on moss, grass, and rotting wood parallel to it, when I rounded a bend in the trail and found myself face-to-face with a huge four-point buck. He was no more than 25 feet from me! I don’t know to this day what kept me from shooting that deer. He was a prize in any man’s language. I guess instinctively I must have known that he wasn’t the one. He whirled half-around and bounded 30 feet away to the creek, jumped it, and disappeared into the woods.

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At the same time, a short way up the creek, I saw the ghostly figures of two other deer cross the creek and disappear. The relatively small clearing in which I was standing came to an abrupt end about 50 yards upstream. At that point, a fringe of sapling spruce made an almost solid wall. The runway went through this spruce thicket. As I moved up to peer through it, I saw the rump of a very large deer disappearing up the trail. I bent over and began to trot as best I could after the now running animal. My pursuit slowed, faltered, and came to a stop after a time, as I became winded and needed rest. I felt that unless the deer entered a clearing or an area of sparse timber, and stopped, I had lost him.

As I sat there, I could see a fairly high ridgetop over the alder trees and what appeared to be an opening on the side of the ridge. I got to my feet and began making my way toward that clearing. It was only about 150 yards through the bottom to the base of the ridge. When I arrived at the opening, I found that the clearing had been created by a massive debris torrent. Supersaturated dirt and debris had let go to slide down the ridge. In the middle of the clearing, 80 yards away, stood my buck! He was quartering away from me, looking downhill right at me. I raised my rifle and fired; the bullet struck him behind the shoulder. He went down in his tracks and never moved.

I have taken many elk in my lifetime. But, no animal has ever had the impact on me that this huge buck had when I looked down on him as he lay there on the side of that ridge.

The antlers were awesome to see with their spread, color, and symmetry. In addition, they were hanging heavy with moss and lichen that he had accumulated while feed­ing or “horning” the alders and willows along the creek.

I placed the game department seal on an antler and field-dressed him, putting the liver and heart in my liver bag. With my hatchet, I cut alder poles, turning the carcass belly-down on them to cool-out while protected from the rain.

With one last look at my magnificent buck, I hurried downstream to try and get help to get him out to the road. By my reckoning, the road was about three miles away.

Although this hunt began over 30 years ago, certain things are as clear now in my mind as they were then: the first time I saw him; the times he outsmarted me; and, of course, the day his luck ran out.

One of the things that keeps the hunt fresh in my mind is the never-ending stream of visitors that come to see and admire “The King,” and the letters I have received from those who pursued him in vain. 

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-Theodore Roosevelt