The sun was low on the horizon and we had time for one last hike to try and find a public land whitetail buck. After a long day of no luck, with multiple set ups and calling, we finally found ourselves with lots of deer sign and a fresh scrape under a yellow pine tree. We knew we had a whitetail buck within hearing distance of us. When we reached the roll of the hill that over looked the small drainage we wanted to call into, we saw a fresh buck track in the melting snow. We slowly moved up to the edge and quietly sat down to call. After a few grunts, a doe bleat or two, and a little rattle of the horns, we caught a small glimpse of a buck through the thick timber. He was quickly headed our way. We had to move slightly to get a better shooting lane for the direction he was headed. There he was, 50 yards away, all I could see was his tail angled up and out flagging, looking for a fight. As he came up the finger ridge closer to us, we could see his dark antlers. Due to the roll of the hill, I wasn’t able to see his vitals from my sitting position. I rose up, and took an off hand shot with a heavy cannon of a rifle. Being that he was so close, I forgot to aim low. All I could see was a cloud of smoke from the gun; I had just hoped Benji saw where I hit him. He went down instantly. In the amount of time it took us to reload the muzzleloader, he got back up and took off down the ridge. Aspen and I went after him while Benji hiked back to get the truck to pick us up at the bottom of the drainage. Aspen and I followed a good blood trail to the bottom of the drainage. He crossed the creek and went up the other mountainside. We followed his blood until dark. My heart sank with fear. The fear of not recovering an animal, something I have always feared since the day I started hunting. As tears rolled down my cheeks, we headed home and decided to take off work Monday to try and find him. When we got home we discussed what might have happened. Benji felt with a shot that high above the spine, the shot had just shocked the buck and Benji was certain he would live. Hearing this didn’t make it any easier for me to sleep that night. We headed back to the mountain before daylight and went to where we had last seen his blood. The fresh snow made for fairly easy tracking, even with minimal blood at times. He went straight up a north side for nearly half a mile, never appearing to stop. When he neared the top, tracking him became hard, as there were many other deer tracks. As he started into the next drainage, Benji felt like the odds of catching up to him were slim. We pushed on and up another north side to another ridge. At the top we sat down to talk about our options because there was almost no blood and many other deer tracks. At this point, we have probably hiked a mile and a half since I shot him. We spent an hour on that slope with all the other deer tracks wondering around. Looking for any blood or tracks that might be his. We spotted a similar buck at 250 yards but were able to tell through the binos that it wasn’t him. I found a bed where he laid under a yellow pine tree and the tracks leaving the bed were headed up the hill towards the ridge we just came up. At the top of the ridge, there was a small amount of blood and a set of buck tracks leading into the steep north side. We followed the tracks for several hundred yards. When we crested a small finger ridge, Benji spotted a buck under a tree, about a hundred yards away. Benji was certain it was him, as his back was wet and the antlers were as we remembered him from the night before. I got the muzzleloader pressed up on the side of a huge fir tree and in an awkward position. As Aspen sat quietly at our feet the buck looked up in our direction. Fearing that he had just caught our wind, it was now or never. At 100 yards, I knew to aim straight on this time. As I squeezed the trigger a huge cloud of smoke filled the air. Benji watched as the buck laid his head over and never moved from his bed. The mountainside the buck had finally decided to bed on was extremely steep and unforgiving. We made our way to the downed buck across the old avalanche chute. I was overcome with joy and thankfulness when we reached him and I saw where I had hit him high in the back. Benji said, “that’s him, that’s your buck babe”, and I began to cry. I put my hand on him and silently said a prayer. Where he had chose to bed was quite incredible, had he gotten up and fell, he would have slid straight down for several hundred yards. We took some photos in the exact spot the buck laid. Aspen appeared to be just as excited as we were to recover the buck after all she had been there every step of the way from the first set up and shot to every drop of blood and track we followed. We had about a half-mile to get the big-bodied buck to the road below us. With six inches of fresh snow a very steep hill it was hard to stay safe and keep the deer from busting all his antlers. Several long slides and close calls over some small cliffs we neared the end of this adventure. Getting him to the road safe and all in one piece never felt so good. As nice as it would have been for the buck to never get up from the 1st shot, everything that we went through and experienced helped us gain more knowledge as outdoorsmen and hunters, and forever to be thankful for God’s creatures. We are forever thankful for the meat this buck will provide our family and for the memories that can be told for many years to come.