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2200 words
7 fotos, negs on request
Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

Lion Lunch Bucks
Rob F. Sanderson

           A hunting narrative of two American hunters who drive southward over rough desert trails to the wilds of Sonora, and cheat a couple of mountain lions out of their venison lunch.

Lion Lunch Bucks

           The sun had sunk into the western desert when Chuck and I turned off the graded Nogales-Guaymas road. In the heavy dusk we passed by the fain turn-off three times before we found it by searchlight.

           "There it is." I affirmed, remembering a peculiar rock formation between the wheel tracks that I had gotten stuck on in December.

           The road bobbed and twined and jumped over steep banked arroyos that scraped the rear bumper as we went down in and out again. Confused desert jackrabbits galloped awkwardly in the car headlights. Once a little gray fox zipped nimbly across the track. Gnarled blanches of dwarfed desert trees slapped at the car sides as we went by in second gear.

           Presently a moon came up - a Mexican desert moon. It climbed over the mountains of the east, big and round and red. It silhouetted the giant saguaro cacti. As the road dodged around the forlorn hills and followed a dry creek bed, the moon played hide and seek along the changing horizon.

           For twenty miles we drove into the moon. The winding, rocky road crossed the creek bed seven times, and the last three crossings had water in them. Fortunate in only using our shovel once, at last I drove out into a small cleared space in the canyon bottom. Ahead in the car lights stood a brown adobe house. This was the end of the all but impassable auto trail.

           "No dogs," I observed. "Nobody home. They must be at the camp two miles up the creek."

           The yellow moon was now at zenith. We were tired from the strenuous night drive. Leaving Tucson at 2:30 p.m. and driving 180 miles into Mexico, off the main highway, is a feat only for the imprudent. But this was the last week of the Sonoran deer season and our only chance to make the trip we had been planning ever since the New Year.

           "We'd better go up and tell them we're here," I suggested, "If we want an early start in the morning."

           Single file we crossed the creek on stepping-stones and started up the rocky trail. High sycamores and cottonwoods growing in the creek bottom laced the moonlight on the uneven trail. The night was very still. Somewhere a coyote howled at the moon.

           By and by dogs barked ahead. I knew the owners would be greatly disturbed by the approach of unknown persons at this hour of night, and shouted ahead.

           "It is Senor Roberto and an amigo from the Estados Unidos!" I called, walking forward.

           I listened but no answer. I called again and waited. Then a halloo came from up the canyon and across

           "Buenas noches, amigos," came a voice. It was Pedro, my old friend.

           The group lay in the moonlight in front of the adobe house. The reclining forms raised sleepily on elbows to appraise the nocturnal intruders. Early February, and here these men were sleeping on bare ground under a single blanket, heads pillowed on their saddles and not even their boots removed.

           "We wish to go hunting early in the morning," I explained. "Could you give us horses, Pedro?"

           "The horses," he apologized, "are far off in the hills, grazing. It will take some time to find them. Perhaps mid-day."

           As soon as you find the animals, then," I agreed, knowing better than to hurry a Mexican, and we departed down the trail followed by a chorus of, "Buenas noches, amigos."

           We spread our sleeping bags in the car shadow and dozed soundly until dawn.

           About nine o'clock that morning we heard the clatter of hurried hooves in the stony creek bed. It was the armada, the men experienced good luck in finding the horses. Chuck and I saddled immediately, tied on scabbards and guns, and rode off on the trail into the lower mountains. Chuck sat on a large-boned buckskin, Pedro on a jittery dark brown three-year-old, and myself on a bay bronc.

           Our route went down the creek, over the hills to the next canyon, back into rocky mountains covered with saguaros and ocatillos. Pedro showed me a crude cross-chopped into an oak trunk, marking where a guerrilla fighter had been killed in a skirmish between troopers and a band of rebels, back in 1918.

           The day promised to meet the standard Sonoran winter specifications; 60-70 degrees in the sunlight, 15 degrees cooler in the shade. I don't think Pedro knows the Spanish word for "cloudy".

           We kept our mounts walking briskly, watching for deer as we went, headed for a large valley in the mountains where, as Pedro put it, "There are many deer - sometimes."

           At some of the rock tanks (hollow basins in the bed rock which hold water) we saw old hoof marks. A few deer had watered here several days ago, but had not stayed. The tanks were all full from the only rain since Christmas.

           Ahead at the opening to the broad intermountain valley, I spied a movement on one of the hills. Deer conscious, I at first hoped it was a "venado", but soon I perceived the form was that of a lone horseman. Riding recklessly down an abrupt rock slope, he rode out onto the lower mesa and reined up until we approached.

           It was Pedro's younger brother, Guadalupe, come to join us. He had stayed behind to catch a different horse, and had he been longer in roping his mount, he could have tracked us for miles. I have seen those Mexican vaqueros track deer from a trotting horse, so keenly trained are their eyes.

           We separated into two parties, sending Pedro with Chuck. The first day we figured it best to cover as much ground as possible, in order to ascertain where the deer were ranging.

           Until afternoon I did not see a buck. About two o'clock my companion spied a deer on a side hill, about four hundred yards away. I rode up one slope and he the other. As I dismounted to circle on foot, I jumped the bedded animal. I was in an awkward position and managed to get in a snap shot at not over a hundred yards - a very moderate distance for this spacious, sparsely settled country. However my shot did not draw blood.

           About four o'clock we saw a doe, and apparently very close by was a young buck, for I spied him running out of a canyon up another hill about two hundred and fifty yards distant. I dropped to my knees and fired. When I saw the bullet strike a couple yards to the left on three consecutive shots, I became aware my sights must be out of adjustment.

           I took six shots at a distant rock to target the sights. When I had left the United States, my gun had centered very well for I had recently tested it. As I slipped the weapon back into the saddle scabbard I noticed the friction of the snugly fitting leather turned the wind age- an occurrence, which likely cost me a deer. I resolved to obtain a new receiver sight before my next trip.

           That night in camp we compared notes. Chich had seen more deer than I, mostly does. Since the rain, the deer changed their range and it was evident we had not yet found their new habitat.

           Next day we rode into lower country, thinking perhaps they had moved down for the food. The recent rain would allow them to move down, where for sometime there had been no drinking tanks, and where the browsing was good. But the deer hadn't thought of this and a few old tracks was all we found.

           By elimination, this left only the higher country to investigate. The third morning we worked up a canyon, switched back along the mountainside and got into the higher brush country. Green-ribbed and spiney, the huge fingered saguaros grew but sparsely here, whereas in certain areas of the lower country they formed almost a forest of grotesque skeletons. The most picturesque of all cacti, some have almost lyre-like symmetry while others are twisted like a deformed pretzel.

           Three miles from camp we hit fresh deer sign among the rocks of a steep hillside. It looked like we had hit deer range at last!

           We separated in two parties again; each pair to ride opposite slopes of a chain of low mountains, (in theory at least) driving the deer across to each other.

           Hardly had we parted company when I glimpsed a sneaking deer ahead of me in the brush. I called down to my vaquero companion, riding below me, and we at once dismounted and started on foot.

           I climbed the slope hurriedly. Further east and along the rising crest of the small mountain a white flag bobbed in the thick cover. Gaining a vantage point I glimpsed horns. I raised my .270 and fired.

           After the shot I could see nothing. I found the buck's track but no blood. It entered thick brush, and I circled to pick it up. I soon came to where the track crossed through a small saddle to the opposite slope of the low mountain.

           Below me I could see Chuck and Pedro. "See a deer?" I shouted down.

           "No," he called, and even as he answered I heard a scrambling on the slope not seventy yards from where I stood. The buck!

           I brought my gun up for a quick, left-handed shot. The brush was so thick I could not see the effect of the shot. Chuck saw him at the same time and opened up with his new 30-OG, a special feature for this trip.

           "Wham!" the rifle echoed into the slope. Chuck jerked the bolt. "Wham!"

           "Think I connected," he yelled from below. I took the track. About a hundred and a half yards along the track, I came upon the buck, dead! It was drilled very neatly through the heart.

           Chuck arrived breathless from his speedy ascent, fondling the firearm that had downed the close-to-200-yard running shot. It was a masterpiece of bullet placement.

           Pedro wormed his horse up the slope through the dense brush and took the deer carcass across his lap, carrying it to the foot of the steep down slope where he hung it from the horns in a low branch of a mountain oak. We could easily pick it up on our return.

           Returning over the crest to get my horse I had a chance to look the deer tracks over more closely. Making a half effort to ferret out the buck's route, I suddenly realized there had not been one deer, but a herd of three.

           Judging from the tracks, there was another buck and a doe. My eyes jumped to an ocatillo stem along the tracks. A fleck of blood - I had scored after all!

           Vaquero Guadalupe and I spurred our horses forward, following the tracks along and down our mountain, along a narrow connecting ridge to the slope of the next mountain. Here we dismounted.

           We split, to converge later on the mountaintop, about a half-mile distant. About half way to the top I heard a deer bucking the brush ahead. Knowing the deer was perhaps only fifty yards away; I felt a helpless impotence at not being able to see over the brush.

           I ran along the slope to the right until I came to a steep ravine leading down from the summit. Below, the ravine grew into a canyon. At its head was a saddle in the mountain crest. I started for the summit.

           Barely had I climbed thirty feet when I heard a noise in the saddle. Guadalupe had frightened the deer back. I froze, gun with safety off and ready to shoot. In about two minutes my chance came.

           The deer were slipping down the other side of the ravine; a heavy bush. I knew in a flash that he had winded me.

           He was perhaps ninety yards away, ordinarily a set-up. But though I was positive he was behind a certain bush, I could not distinguish an outline. When he left his concealment I knew he would bolt downhill and I resolved to shoot first.

           Dropping to sitting position, a favorite stance when shooting across to another slope, I drew careful bead and squeezed the trigger.

           The rifle roared and I felt the punch of recoil. For a moment there was not a movement. I though, "Seeing things; there's nothing there!"

           Thirty seconds. Then a collapse from behind the bush. Sliding into the ravine and puffing up the other slope I found my little buck. Shrapnel had split off the bullet as it shattered on the brush and peppered the deer's hide.

           Tying a white kerchief on a Palo Verde limb so I could find the carcass easily. I left for the mountaintop to signal my companion. Across on the opposite mountain I spotted two large, tawny animals loping up the thinly covered slop. Soon Guadalupe was beside me.

           "Lioness," he explained when I pointed out the buff colored pair. "I found their tracks all along the two mountains. They were hunting our deer. You do not mind eating a limb for dinner, do you, Senor?"

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob