The California Grey Ghost

By Sereena Thompson

Some of my favorite hunting memories come from my California blacktail hunts. Every year my husband, our five year old son and four year old daughter and I take a week long vacation in Northern California at my grandparents ranch that sits in the mountains just off the Northern California coast. The rolling hills covered in yellow grass from the late Summer’s heat seem to go on forever. The steep, oak covered gulches make for great blacktail habitat. Its breathtaking to say the least.

Hunting at the ranch isn’t like hunting back home in Oregon. Everything is different: the terrain, the climate and the deer, which demands the use of alternate hunting techniques. It’s a completely different approach.

After two days of hunting in a hard rain we finally had a break in the weather. After nine inches of rain in forty-eight hours it was nice to see a little sunshine even if it was intermittent between patches of fog. As we got out of the rhino, loaded our packs and grabbed our guns I got a feeling. You know that feeling you get in your gut that tells you “go this way” and you can visually see yourself creeping up to the top of a null, peaking over and looking down to see a nice buck about 300 yards away. Yeah, that’s the feeling I had and exactly how the morning

We snuck up to the edge as a nice, heavy horned, 20 inch three point with eye guards was feeding along with a smaller, crab claw four point and a couple does. From the position we were in, with the angle of the shot and the fact that two angus bulls had just walked up directly in between us and the buck we knew we were going to have to back out and try to get closer. As we were backing out I couldn’t help but feel the excitement come over me. I felt like I was rounding third base and as soon as I took the shot it would be home plate from there!

While we continued to side hill around to the next point I ran scenarios through my head. What would his position be? What could I use for a rest? The questions I had were endless.

As we peaked over the null to our surprise he was gone! It was like he was a ghost and just disappeared. I guess that’s why they call them the “Grey Ghost”. At that moment my heart sank and the high I had began to deflate. The feeling of defeat came over me and I wanted to give up. To top it off the fog rolled in and we couldn’t see five feet in front of us. At this point I knew I had two choices: 1. I could give up OR 2. I could push forward hoping to cross paths with the elusive Grey Ghost again. Knowing that giving up wasn’t really an option I turned to my husband Nate who was hunting with me and said, “Let’s go”.

We made our way to the edge of the oaks where we had last seen the buck. We glassed down the ridge and spotted a couple does. With the excitement coming back we waited for what seemed like forever, patiently waiting for the buck to feed back up to us. After a good 20 minutes I slowly stood up from behind the oak tree I was crouched behind and to my surprise there he was feeding from my right side, over to the does we had been watching. I ranged him at about 100 yards and found a nice steady rest on a branch of an oak tree then waited for what
seemed like an eternity until he walked out into an opening and stopped broadside. I feathered off the safety, hands shaking and trembling not only with excitement, but also nervousness. As a hunter the last thing I want to do is wound an animal. As I applied pressure to the trigger, the sound of my .243 Weatherby Camilla rang through the sweet, yet previously silent morning air. The buck didn’t hunch, he didn’t even move. Had I missed?! The scenario ran through my head as I chambered another round, placed my cross hairs right behind the front shoulder and pulled the trigger again. This time I knew he was hit as he instantly went down.

I couldn’t contain my excitement and started to jump up and down thanking God for allowing me to aim fly straight and for allowing me to provide for my family.

There have been many times throughout my life where I faced the most important decision made that day: to call it quits or keep pushing on. Over and over I go with option two, to keep pushing on. It doesn’t always end as this story did. There have been many times where I came back empty handed. Its those days, however, that helped me refine my skills, learn from my mistakes and ultimately helped me harvest my buck.

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