If you know my hunting past, you know that I have never had mule deer tag soup. Every hunt that I have gone on, I have harvested an animal, whether it was a buck or a doe. Okay, so the does were when I had a junior tag. Proud to say I’ve shot all bucks since then!
And I wasn’t going to let this hunt stop that streak. After not having shot anything since 2013 when I shot my first antelope, I was itching to feel that uncontrollable joy of harvesting an animal. I didn’t care if it was a trophy 4×4 or dinky forked horn, I was going to get something. I even packed my lucky beanie that I wore 15 years ago on my first hunt ever. I was determined.
The season opened on a Monday. We left Sunday morning at 5 AM and never looked back. We were hunting in the same area where I have gotten 5 out of the 6 mulies. We knew they were there and we knew where to look. We had gotten to our camping spot before noon and got camp all set up. After setting up, we headed down to the ranch who was letting us stay on their property up a little draw. We’ve been hunting this area for 18 years (well my dad has, for me it’s been 15) and so we’ve become friends with the ranch family. We talked with them for about a half hour then headed back to camp.
While my dad took a nap, I decided to head up the draw for a little walk. My favorite part is that it is filled with aspens. Aspen groves are like heaven to me; the smells, the colors, the sounds. I could seriously live being surrounded by aspens. And what I like most about this wooded draw is that these aspens aren’t little. Most of them are over 60 feet tall.
That evening, around 4 PM, we went out in the UTV for a drive, to just spot and scout. We were leery of how many deer we would see, mainly because the main area we hunt had been seeing a lot of truck traffic from some mining drilling that’s been going on. So we headed on out, first place being the area where my sister shot her first 4×4. As we drove up the hill, we busted out about 13 does. A good sign. The area was a big, open muddy flat with smalls trees surrounding it’s edges.
We kept driving through the hills along the road, occasionally stopping and glassing for deer. Nothing that we could see on the back side, so we moved on and decided to head down to an area I’ve never hunted. Unfortunately, there was a water truck for the miners blocking the road because he was filling up in the creek. We didn’t feel like waiting, so we turned around and headed back to our regular area. We headed up a road we call Ridge Road, well, because it’s on the ridge of a mountain. So creative, I know. Before we head up the hill, we always stop to glass the backside of the mountain. There’s a canyon back there that is filled with thick aspens and in the fall, it is absolutely gorgeous.
Driving up and over the mountain, we headed back down, stopping at flat spot to overlook a giant bowl and the canyon. All we saw were two does and two fawns. We weren’t sure if we startled them or if something else had spooked them, but they kept side-hilling until they made it over the ridge.
We headed further down the hill, stopping and glassing to the left where we spotted about 10 deer total. Our last stop was a lower ridge, overlooking a small canyon that I have named Buck Canyon, seeing as how I’ve shot all three of my bucks in it. Seemed appropriate.
There were 4 deer down at the bottom, 3 does and a forked horn. It was nice to see that there were still deer in the area. As we got back on the main road, there was a forked horn and a few does only about 15 yards off the road, walking up a hill, stopping to look back us. We had seen about 40 deer that evening and I was more than willing to take my chance at one of those little bucks.
That night, we tried to make a game plan. Where we would park and what area we’d try our luck at. It was a no-brainer. We were going to make the same plan we always did opening morning. It was a hike that we always saw deer on. It was a hunt that wasn’t drastic up and downs, one that was easy on my dad’s body and one that I could pack out a deer fairly easy should I get one.
5:15AM couldn’t have come soon enough. I was filled with adrenaline. Ready to get out and get going. I was so excited that all I had eaten that morning was a piece of bread. It was time to go. It was a cold ride through the canyon. I had layers on, but my face was still freezing. Finally pulled up to the water trough and parked. We threw on our backpacks and I grabbed my gun. It was go time.
We started out up the road until we decided to turn in to the hills. Up the hill we went. We started along the hill, heading in the direction of the water trough. Looking ahead, we see 9 deer galloping away from us in the direction we were headed. My dad said they were all does. I looked at them again as they neared the ridge. There was a small forked horn with them. Continuing on along the hill, we walked over the little ridge and above a small draw. My dad spotted about 4 deer about 2 knobs over. We turned back and got out of the buck’s line of sight and we booked it around the back side, hoping to come up above him. As we walked our way over there, a deer was watching us from about 200 yards away. It was a buck. I sat down to get in a good shooting position. He was a 3×3. “213. If you want him, shoot.” I flipped off my safety and he started walking. I lowered my gun and turned the safety back on. I don’t know why I didn’t shoot, but something inside me told me to pass.
We snuck up over the knob we had seen the larger buck on. They weren’t there anymore. As we walked further over, a nice sized 4×4 went running down the draw. We figured he would go down and wrap back around the hill like they usually do, so we turned around and walked around the opposite. As we looked down the hill, there were 6 does feeding, but no sign of the buck. We continued around the hill until we made it to the other side. Not a sign of anything. We headed down through a draw and back up to another small ridge that had a wooded draw below it. Nothing.
Turned around and kept walking, deciding to go the backside of the big mountain so we could drop in on top of anything that might be there. We got a quarter of the way until we saw him. A silhouette of a buck with a giant rack on a ridge about 1,000 yards away. Frozen in our tracks, we continued to watch him. Below him we could see another rack just peaking over the ridge. This was our chance. We waited until they went fully over the ridge before we booked it up the hill. As we drew near to the ridge, we crept slowly as to not spook the deer. They weren’t there. What the hell? We knew they couldn’t have gone down and crossed the road, so we went left, through a tiny draw and around a small knob that was at the edge of a small flat.
As we crept up the knob, my dad stopped me. He spotted one. We hunkered down low and got in between two big bushes for cover. I laid down and used a shorter bush as a rest. He spotted 3 more to the left. The first one we spotted wouldn’t lift his head out of the bush, but the other 3 weren’t shy. “Shoot the first one. He’s the biggest.” They started moving up the hill as I got my sights on the front one. They stopped, looked at us and I switched off my safety. As I was about to pull the trigger, they moved. I hit the first one and watched as he stumbled and fell down. The two bucks with him went to the left and the one with his head in the bush started to gallop away up the hill. He was a nice 4×4, the one we believe was the silhouette on the ridge.
I was shaking, my heart racing, my eyes tearing up. I was filled with so much excitement that I could barely speak. My dad actually started to smile and laugh at me for it. I couldn’t help it.
We picked up my stuff and headed towards my deer. As we got closer, he got up and started walking. I dropped my pack and shot offhand standing up. I missed, shooting right over the top of him. He walked behind a bush and I walked 10 yards closer, waiting for him to walk out just enough for me to put him down. Inching his way forward, he got out just enough and I shot. He dropped and rolled down the hill a few feet. I threw my rifle over my back and made the 50 yard trek up the hill to get him. My heart skipped a beat as I came up on him. Big bodied, heavy antlered, I was beyond stoked for this guy. I grabbed his antlers and drug him down the hill through thick, tall sage until we could get him to a flatter area. I got my biggest buck to date, a 3×4, who was mature, dark antlered and scoring around 137″.
If it weren’t for my dad and all his knowledge, I’d have no idea what I’m doing. He busted his ass to get me this deer and I couldn’t be anymore thankful for it.
After quartering the deer up and getting ready to make the trek back to the UTV, I refused to have to make two trips to get the meat. My dad took a hind and a shoulder, leaving me to carry the rest. After all the working out I’ve been doing, I was going to carry it all. I had my backpack with the head, my gun, a hind, a shoulder, two back straps and brisket, and a bag of neck meat with tenderloins. I probably rearranged my carrying situation about 4 times, just trying to make it easy on myself. I made it 3/4 of the way before I fell in a bush going down a hill. I threw a hissy fit and said, “Forget it, I’ll make two trips now.” I put down 3 bags of meat and took my pack, head, gun and small meat bag down to a bush by the road. I went back to get the rest of the meat.
We started hiking at 6:15AM, I shot my deer at 9:05AM opening morning and we were back at camp by 11:30AM. It was an amazing hunt and beyond rewarding. It was time to relax and take it easy. We ate some lunch, changed clothes and decided to go for a drive back in the mountains.
As we made our way back to camp for dinner, I couldn’t help but stop to take a picture of our hunting area. It has provided myself, as well as my dad and sister with some beautiful animals and I couldn’t be more grateful for what we’ve been blessed with.
Making this long story short…
Michelle: 7 — Deer: 0