Scene: It’s the day after the end of Washington’s muley rifle season. All members of Deer Camp von Walgamott, located somewhere in the mountains of western Okanogan County, have returned home, but a pack of hungry reporters have caught up to Coach Walgamott as he puts his hunting gear away.
Reporter 1: Coach, can you tell us what happened over there these past two weekends at deer camp?
Coach: Well, I tell you what, we fielded what we thought was a good team of deer hunters — some veterans, some recent buck killers, a newby or two to the area for beginner’s luck. One of our guys was over there for six and a half days, Dad and I were there for four days each. We ran a lot of different routes, brought in reinforcements for the second half, gave it a good go and thought we’d have a couple muleys hanging in camp, but didn’t. They beat us pretty soundly this year.
Reporter 1: Follow up — see any bucks?
Coach: Oh, yeah, our boys saw bucks, maybe more than “usual” too, but outside of one, maybe two, they were all sublegal spikes and two-points. That’s a great sign for next year, but doesn’t do diddly for our freezers this winter. I’d say we also saw a fair number of does and fawns. Personally I’d hesitate to say whether I saw more or less than past years. Probably more than some previous seasons, less than others. Plenty of tracks, rubs, sign — just no clear legal animals in front of our guns.
Reporter 2: You trumpeted that 29:100 buck-to-doe ratio coming out of last season, the winter was “mild,” and yet your team couldn’t convert.
Coach: Yeah, I did, you’re right. Certainly it’s disappointing and there was some grumbling — Why can’t season be longer? Why can’t it be later? Why do we need so many bucks postseason? Why not a two-point minimum or go back to the any buck? But you hunt the season you’re dealt. Look at the bright side — we had no moon at night, we had repeated rains that kept the ground moistened after a long dry spell, it seemed like there were fewer pumpkins out there, we saw deer and we saw bucks. It was a better than some years in a lot of ways, we just didn’t come home with meat. That’s what it’s about for some of us, though for others it’s also the experience — there’s no more gorgeous a time of year to be in that country.
Reporter 1: Are you disappointed in your team’s performance?
Coach: No, not at all. They got out of their warm beds in the mornings, they hunted, two guys brought those nice canopies, everyone had a good time in camp, can’t ask for much more than that. I’d say if I’m disappointed in anybody’s performance, it would be my own. I had a game plan to go back further and deeper, get to a fairly inaccessible and overlooked drainage and hunt it for more of the day, but I only peaked around the side of it once for maybe half an hour in the middle of the day. Come on, what sort of pansy maneuver is that? Then there was the Friday and Saturday afternoons of the second weekend. My gut told me, “Go high, that’s where you’ve seen bucks late in the day, late in the hunt in past seasons,” but I went low instead. Didn’t see jack.
Reporter 2: And you left camp with time still on the clock — basically forfeited the second Sunday afternoon.
Coach: Yep, we again called it with a half day left. That last afternoon’s ripe. There’s nobody on the mountain — nobody. It’s a long drive home, though, and we had to send a magazine today, so, yeah, we threw the flag in a little early. That’s always hard to do and annoying as heck, but next year I swear we’re staying till Monday — bag our bucks and avoid that GD traffic mess from Gold Bar through Sultan to boot.
Reporter 1: What can you say about the quality of the competition?
Coach: Other hunters or the deer?
Reporter 1: Sorry, the deer.
Coach: Well, again, they beat us pretty soundly — at least the legal bucks. Gave us the slip big time. We might be able to turn that around next year if we’re lucky. There were some pretty stupid spikes and two-points on the hill — one posed for a guy’s cell phone camera. I guess the forks were pretty obvious in the image, that’s how close he was. The does were a mixed bag. Some beat feet but others seemed to be genuinely annoyed with our presence — one snort/wheezed at me for a long time before moving off. Every fall’s deer squad is different — sometimes there might be more early migrants, maybe local production was better, it all depends, but overall I’d have to say this was one of the better teams we’ve faced, despite some obvious weaknesses among new recruits. They had some new tricks too, were able to distract my attention with creaking tree trunks while a pair slipped by below me — probably a legal buck or two, I’ll betcha. Some sort of Jedi mind trick or something we’ll have to game plan for next season.
Reporter 2: As for other hunters …
Coach: Yeah, I’m not going to go there. We were playing our own game on our mountain, pretty much ran the plays we wanted. Those other camps are their own camps, I can’t answer for them or their coaches.
Reporter 1: Any equipment issues or injuries to report?
Coach: Well, we had one guy — yours truly — who forgot his pair of, shall we say, comfortable old hiking boots for the second weekend, and with that chance of snow and rain in the forecast, Thursday evening Dad and I had to stop by Cabela’s and pick up a new pair. Those old boots sure were good for creeping around in the woods — real soft soles after two years of use, nice toe ventilation too — while those new ones were clompers. The deer could hear me coming a mile away. Another guy had some hip issues, wasn’t really into it, we’ll see if he’s back next year. On the bright side, a big fella we thought was done hunting after his serious injury on the mountain last fall showed up for the first weekend. Gotta admire that spunk.
Reporter 2: Someone pulled a 9×10 out of western Okanogan County last weekend — it was reported from the Tripod Burn. That’s got to be disheartening for you, Coach.
Coach: It is and it isn’t. I’d remind you that in two of the past four years, our camp has killed very large bucks too. And I literally had a shot at the stud of the mountain before that fire. The genetics, the feed — they’re there. We just gotta have guys in the field of play at the right moment to connect. Can’t do that sitting at home or on the forums.
Reporter 1: Will you do anything differently next year?
Coach: Yeah, bring my shotgun — I could’ve killed so many grouse! You know, as my wife, Amy, and mother-in-law both pointed out last night, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result. Amy wants me to hunt in Eastern Oregon with her uncle the deer killer next fall, but that’s spendy even for a highly paid deer camp coach like myself. I’ll go back to Okanogan County, but really try to hunt bucks and not does. I mean, I was thinking about this yesterday: Most of the spots I hit I hit because I’ve seen deer in them, but almost all of those have been does, so in essence I’m hunting does, not bucks. We’ve killed bucks with does and in areas does frequent, but there’s just something random about that that’s got me rethinking 2013′s game plan.
Reporter 1: Think predators are having any affect on your hunting area?
Coach: Predators were more of a topic at night than past years, I’d say. The bears sure were hungry for bugs, I’ll tell you that much. I saw seemingly more stumps and logs ripped apart than past years. And we had a lot of coyote crap around camp too — it looked like one ate a bad bunny and had to clean out its system with grass. We heard a couple rabbits or something get bit on a couple nights. Saw a pic of a hunter with a cougar from somewhere in the area, but I can’t say any of us came across any deer kills though one guy did see a pretty messed up fawn limping along with some healthier deer. One of the guys reported hearing a howl, and WDFW’s going to check into that.
Reporter 2: Coach, about the blacktail incident …
Coach: Taunting, just pure, uncalled-for, spiteful, flagrant taunting. When Dad and I got back to his place yesterday afternoon Amy came to pick me up. As we’re all standing there overlooking the lower 40 what should walk out from behind the old horse barn but a 1×2 — a legal buck. The local game wardens were watching me pretty hard so I could only shoot him with the camera.
Reporter 1: So then do you think you’ll go out for blacktail this weekend?
Coach: The desire’s there, but that’s a tough one. We’ve got a decent record against whitetails, so-so with muleys over the years, but blacktails, we’ve been abysmal against them. But it’s deer hunting. And we’re hungry for venison.