The rest of the good country in that area was where Ron potentially was and I didn’t want to mess him up, so I went back towards camp and went the opposite way we’d come. I got to another high point and set up the spotter to glass the next mountain with country that was between 1-3 miles away. I found two bucks after about 20 minutes. One appeared to be a 2 year old fork and the other a 3 year old 3x3 with eyegaurds. They were out on a finger ridge that had cliffs on all sides except from uphill behind them. I decided to go after them. They were about 2 miles away beyond a large creek. I crossed the creek and went up the drainage to the right of them. I got above them and glassed back – they were at about 500 yards at that point and they were bedded. The problem was that there were two cliffs with a creek that emptied into the creek that I’d crossed between myself and the deer. I followed the creek uphill. Over a mile later, it was still impassable and as I crested a rise, I could see that at least another mile uphill was still impassable. It was late in the afternoon at this point and I knew I wouldn’t get around it and back down to the bucks, kill one, butcher it, and get back till well after dark, so I backed out.
Turns out, he’d followed the buck’s old path and spotted him bedded in the alders with just a small patch of neck visible. He’d threaded an arrow in there with a perfect shot and pretty much took out the entire neck from the spine forward just under the jaw, leaving just a thread of hide connected, taking out both jugulars and carotid arteries (he uses one of those big-bladed mechanicals, something we give each other crap about back and forth).
The buck crashed downhill through the alders, but didn’t go too far. By this time, it was late morning. Ron didn’t want photos in the alders and convinced me to help him drag this buck uphill for photos. We dropped our packs and bows. I had to take off my release and all outer clothes as we were literally laying on Cliffside and pushing the buck a few inches at a time. We finally got him back up, took pictures, and broke him down.
Right then, I realized that my release, which I’d taken off while we were dragging, was no longer in my pocket. It’d come out on the slope while we were dragging. The alders were beyond thick and where there were none, the grass and flowers were 18 inches thick. I followed the trail but couldn’t find it. I was devastated. I didn’t have a backup and I shoot my 32 inch ATA bow horribly with fingers. Ron let me wallow in my misery for several minutes before saying, “well, it’s a good thing one of us thought ahead and brought a backup…” I was so relieved. But I decided to walk the path one more time and finally found it. I put it in my pack and we set to work with pictures and deboning the buck.
By the time we finished breaking down the deer, it was around 1:30. I figured that we were already this far and that if we packed the meat out now, that our day would pretty much be over, so I decided to go up the mountain and leave Ron with the meat and pick up ½ of it and hike back together and he’d just hang out.
As I approached the rock, I belly crawled up and over and he was still bedded right there facing away from me. I ranged him at 45 yards. I took an arrow out of my quiver and put it on the rest. I went to attach my release to the string… and it wasn’t on my wrist. I immediately realized that I’d put it in my pack while breaking down Ron’s buck and I hadn’t brought my pack. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. This was a nice buck – 3x3 with eyegards, mature deer. There was no way I could take a 45 yard shot with fingers – my group is about 3 feet at that distance without my release. I decided to back out and leave this buck and try him another day.
I got back to Ron late afternoon and told him the story. There was a comment about all my good decision making that day and then we packed up the meat and headed back to camp.
Another side note, we ate deer every night even though we had some good food. Sitka blacktail fried in butter and EVOO with Stubs meat rub is absolutely amazing. I thought the Coues deer I’d shot the previous January was the best deer I’d ever had, but the blacktail was even better. I think it’s by far better than mule deer and Midwestern white tail, even a young one that’s been eating corn.
After we’d gained the first mountain and were in the saddle, we glassed the rolling bench. I quickly spotted a herd that were about a mile away. They all appeared to be does. Ron took out his spotting scope and noted that one was a buck, but a small buck. Another 1.5 year old forky.
We continued on about ½ way down the far side of the larger rise and posted up to glass the next mountain. After about an hour, I’d counted 12-13 deer. Through the scope, nothing was that big. To the left, there were 3 bucks with one being a wide fork. The rest of the deer were does and fawns. Ron decided to stay put and I was going to put a stalk on the bucks on the left side of the mountain.
All the sudden, Ron says, “Goat.”
Right at the top of the mountain, over to the left, was a big goat. Alone. We watched him graze a while – he’d come from the other side of the mountain, which was a cliff, and was grazing at the top where grass grew. Goat opener was still a couple days away, but an experienced Kodiak goat bowhunter I met at work told me that you just have to watch them and they’ll do the same thing every day. We discussed me going after this goat on opener and waiting at the top of that mountain till he came up and over.
I backed up, climbed up to the top of the mountain which was about 300 yards up, and got over on top of them. This took a while because it was quite a climb straight up. I finally got sight of them and worked directly over above them. At this point, I could see 2 of the deer. The big forky and the smaller forky. They were both bedded about 30 yards apart, looking downhill. The other 3 deer ended up being directly in front of them, but out of view down hill.
I got down to the point where the larger forky, that was wider than his ears, was directly below me, ranged at 45 yards. The smaller forkie was to my right, ranged at 65 yards.
The shot I want is 25 yards, but I’m money at 45 yards and that’s the distance I decided I would take a shot. I got to 45 yards, surprised I’d made it without busting them out. I nocked an arrow, sat up, drew, and surprised they were still looking away, so I decided that I’d stand. I stood, drew again, lined up my shot, and released.
I nocked another arrow. I knew he was going to die in a few seconds, but I wasn’t going to give him that. I aimed for his heart and released the string. I hit him well, right through the heart, the arrow hitting bone on the other side. He buckled, and fell down the cliff. As he fell, the last thing I saw were his hooves, pointing straight up.
I went to the right to try and find a way down and got cliffed out. I went back left the way I’d come and had to go almost all the way back to where I’d ascended in the first place, nearly a mile back to the base of the mountain. I started down the creek where he’d gone, now almost a mile away. At first I followed the mountain above the alders, but I got cliffed out. I tried the other side and got cliffed out again. There was no wading through the alders; that was impossible, so I just started walking down the creek. With great difficulty, I made it about 500 yards before the creek turned into a set of falls that were not passable.
At that point, I realized that recovering this buck was physically impossible. I couldn’t get into the area he’d fallen and he’d fallen into a large area of alders. I was really disappointed. I questioned whether or not he’d have fallen if I hadn’t shot him again. There was nothing I could do at that point.
I climbed the 1000 foot slope, worked to the right, and started doing just that. About the 4th belly crawl over, I ran right into him. The mountain was not a peak at the top, but had a sort of ravine running on top with two peaks on each side of a 40-50 yard U shaped crest that was about 10 yards deep. He was there with a smaller buck and a doe. I got over and got a look at him without them spotting me as I was already on my belly. He was an amazing buck. This is when I got the good look at him and why I can say he was such a fine buck, because I looked at him for a minute before inching back down. He was grazing in the little saddle right at the edge of the next ridge above the cliff. I ranged him at 45 yards.
After inching down, I nocked an arrow, crouched, and then stood and walked the couple steps back up the slope till he was in view and drew. He was quartered away. The smaller buck was at 20 yards and saw me and snorted and ran a few yards. The buck looked back at me right as I was steadying my pin behind his shoulder. He spun and ran right as I released the arrow, which missed the lip on the cliff and sailed into the bowl beyond. Look out below…
t-roy, the entire story is written. I'll get it all up tonight.
A mile from camp, up and over the saddle again, across the 2 mile bench. I plopped down on the far side of the high rise of the 2 mile bench and glassed the goat. By this time, my 3rd day of laying eyes on him, I knew his schedule. Climb up to the top of the cliff around 8, graze till about 10, go back into the cliffs till around 4 or 5, then pop back over for dinner and graze till late before returning to the cliff for the night.
I watched him graze till 10 when he popped back into the cliff. I made the 1000 foot ascent, much to the right of where he liked to go over and then worked my way over on my side of the mountain to where he liked to come over between two spires. I found that there was a well-worn trail up and over, even in the scree. It was obvious that goats had been walking this route for many years.
I set up on the goat path next to one of the spires at the crest of the mountain where I could still see him and waited him out.
About 4 PM, he got up, took a leak, then started slowly walking up the goat path in the scree right to me. I watched with only my eyes and the top of my head visible to him till he got to 150 yards, then I slowly crouched and backed up a few paces to get out of view.
I nocked an arrow, got in the shooting position, took one step off of the goat path downhill with my head about 2 feet below the crest of the mountain, rested my bow on my left thigh, put my range finder in my right hand and up to my eye, and pointed it down the goat path. And I waited. There was only one way he could possibly go and that was directly into my lap. And I waited. And waited.
It seemed like it was taking forever and I started to doubt that he’d come this way and was fighting back panic, when I saw his horns crest the mountain. Then his head, then his body. His horns crested when he was about 40 yards away. I watched him approach through my range finder up to my eye the entire time, frozen in place. I was one step off the goat path to my left. He walked completely into view of me and finally spotted me. He stopped, facing me, quartered maybe 10 degrees. I ranged him: 24 yards.
I slowly let go of my range finder, found the D loop with my release, drew, and shot him in the chest.
I ran to the edge of the cliff and saw him running down the path he’d come up, but he was limping bad. Through my binoculars, I could see that his left front leg was dangling and flopping like jello. His brilliant white fur was red and he was leaving a good blood trail on the rocks. I knew he was done for, but he was making some serious distance. I kept waiting for him fall, but he didn’t.
He got across the bowl, about 200 yards away, and got to the edge of it where it was an absolute cliff. He kept looking back at me, there sitting out in the open sky-lined like an idiot with my 10s up to my eyes watching him. He tried to climb the cliff, be he couldn’t with his broken leg. He made his way to a knife ridge and started to work his way around it. I could tell he was trying to hide, so I backed down and worked left, then belly crawled up to the ridge.
I backed out, made my way around, then walked to the crest of the mountain.
I made my way up to the knife ridge the goat was on. I got directly below it and started working my way up the scree as quietly as I could. I actually did a pretty good job of being quiet as far as scree goes and got right up to the base, just below him, but below him about 2 stories.
All the sudden, the scree gave out from under me and I hit the rocks with my bow hammering the rocks as I fell in a very ungraceful manner, the way scree makes you avoid getting cut up. I looked up and the goat stood up and peered down at me.
Now, at this point, I’m going to pause to explain something. I use a hip quiver. I’m not going to get into it, but I just cannot or will not use a bow quiver. My quiver holds 4 arrows. I’d made a critical mistake. The prior hunting day, when I’d shot at the buck, I never replaced that arrow. I have a lot of pictures of me hunting with 2 or 3 arrows. It’s usually all I carry. Part of it is hubris. Part of it keeps me from flinging arrows. I really feel that you should need 1 arrow, maybe a backup. I often get into my treestand with 2 arrows. I like to hike with 3 arrows because it keeps the forward arrow in my quiver from hitting my arm. Anyways, I didn’t think anything of it when I set off with 3 arrows in my quiver, which is usually all I have.
I had 2 arrows left. I knew it was a long shot straight up, but It was a good hour since I’d shot him the first time and I wanted to end it. I had the opportunity. So I took it.
I nocked an arrow, drew on the flat, then bent at the hip, took my time, and released.
I hit higher than I wanted. I center punched the nearside lung. The arrow did miss the spine and passed through. I actually saw the arrow after it passed through as it crested and fell. The goat stumbled back into his hidey-hole.
I felt I had him at this point, so I started working my way up closer. I got right up on the base of the knife ridge. I was still about 20 feet below him. I wasn’t trying to be quiet at this point, stumbling through the scree to get up on him.
I ranged him: 25 yards. I decided to shoot him again.
I really debated. It was my last arrow. I’ve never run out of arrows before. But it was a close shot. I felt confident that I could make it.
The shot was almost straight up, thus, again, it was much farther than 25 yards. I took my time, drew on the level, bended at the waist the best I could. My last shot was high, so I decided to shoot low. Which was a mistake. I aimed for the heart. I hit him right next to the sternum in the chest. The arrow passed through and flew into oblivion; I never saw it. He flopped again into his little cubby.
At that point, I had an empty quiver. That’s a pretty helpless feeling as a bowhunter. I’d never experienced that before.
I scaled the cliff. It was a three-points-of-contact type of climb. I got up to him and ended it with my Havalon. They are tough animals. There’s a bit more to that story, but I’ll save that for the campfire.
Picture of the shattered humerus.
I boned him out and filled 5 ovis deer sized game bags to capacity. I put it all into my pack just to see if I could, and there was no way I could carry it. So I put 3 bags in and climbed the scree to the crappiest place I could get to, then went back for the other 2 and the head. Once I’d gotten them all there up on the cliff, I covered them with the 8x10 foot tarp I always carry while hunting and secured it with 200 lbs of rocks.
I took both backstraps and headed for camp at 930 PM.
I got up and over the mountain, then made the 1000 foot decent. It really started to get dark as I made my way through the alders at the bottom of the mountain.
I still had some light as I headed up the 2 mile bench. It was pitch black before I made it to the top of the high point. And it started to drizzle on my way up.
Great. Thanks Ron. We’re on Kodiak Island where the largest bears in the world live. It’s pitch black, foggy, and drizzling, reducing my visibility to about 12 feet. I’m covered in blood and carrying raw meat. I have hours of walking over miles of tundra. Warning me that large bears are about, is so damn helpful.
I walked the rest of the way, bow in my left hand, Glock 10mm in my right. If a Kodiak bear attacks you when you have 12 feet of visibility, I assure you, you are going to die. But you will feel just a little bit better about the whole situation with a pistol in your hand.
When you walk about Kodiak in the dark, you run into every damn patch of alder and willow there is. You can’t see which way to go left or right, so you invariably just charge through it like a chimpanzee that just had his banana taken away from him.
What would have taken me a few hours to traverse, ended up with me rolling into camp at 2:30 AM, a good 4 hours after dark, with a heavy drizzle the entire time. When I got to the scree slope, I followed the wrong scree slope up because the entrance to it on GPS was only a few yards away and it was raining so I didn’t consult it frequently enough. I got cliffed out and had to descend half way down the mountain and move over one scree slope and climb back up.
Climbing a scree slope in the dark while it’s raining at 1 in the morning is one of the most wonderful experiences you’ll ever enjoy. I just love hunting.
At that point, I’d learned something from sliding down this grass-covered portion of the mountain a few days prior. I put all the meat in the tarp and tied it like a purse string, but without puncturing the tarp. I then sat on the meat and slid down the top half of the mountain. I did about 300 feet of elevation loss in about 45 seconds. At one point I was going so fast that I couldn’t put my feet down or else I figured I’d just roll, but luckily, the grade decreased and I just slowed down.
I then just rolled the meat the rest of the way with para chord around the open end of the tarp. The tough part was the alders at the bottom, but the entire decent only took a few minutes.
That night, we enjoyed mountain goat backstrap. The finest tasting, toughest meat you’ll ever eat. We damn near broke our jaws on it and this was backstrap.
The next day, I came back, got two bags of meat and hauled them to the saddle, then went back and got the other two bags, then rolled all 4 down the mountain in the tarp and then packed them in two trips to camp.
Also, it is really nice to have a tent that you can stand up in. I mentioned our Cabela’s guide gear 8 man tent we got for this trip earlier in the story. It’s an $800 tent and it was worth every penny. Not only could you stand up in it, which is really nice when you can’t leave the tent for 36 hours at a time, but it took the 50mph winds that we had on two separate days like a champ.
Our plan was to leave the tent on Kodiak with a guy I know who lives there and sell it to one of you guys for $700, but I decided to keep it.
I figured I could get a quick hunt in the PM as long as I stayed close to camp so I headed past the saddle and got on the mountain about 1.5 miles from camp. I sat there with the spotting scope on the opposite mountain and finally the clouds blew through. In the few minutes I had, I saw a nice buck on the opposite mountain about a mile away. There were a lot of clouds, so I took a compass heading, packed up, and walked through the fog in that direction.
As I got close to the ascent, I came over a rise and bumped a doe and fawn. Where did they run, but right towards where the buck was bedded on the mountain. I got on a high point and waited for the clouds to blow through with glass on the area, but he was gone.
I got back to camp right before dark and we had tasty boot leather for dinner again.
I weighed my meat unscientifically by standing on a bathroom scale holding the cooler, then subtracting my weight and the weight of the empty cooler and came up with 94 lbs. There is an incredible amount of neck meat on these animals. They have giant necks. In fact, I’d say there’s as much neck meat on a mature billy as there is on an elk. I took the trapezius muscles off whole and they were as thick as the hams. When I was cutting up the meat at home, I grabbed one of the trapezius muscles and was looking for the strip down the side of the ham that you dissect down to the femur before I realized it was neck meat.
Old billy goat meat is tougher than nails. It’s absolutely delicious, but I had to grind most of it. The other backstrap I still had to slow cook. It has an incredibly mild flavor and makes an amazing burger. But there is not a single steak in that entire animal. I’ve heard the 2 year old billies and the nannies are not so tough.
Fortunately, I have a grade A hunting partner back in CA (Ron) who drove out to the strip and scouted for me for a couple days.
Here’s the deal with the strip. The genetics are absolutely amazing. One unit has 15 tags and the other has 25, so the quality and the pressure is unlike anywhere. There’s two areas: the high desert flats and the mountains up against the north rim of the Grand Canyon. You have to drive into New Mexico to access the strip and it’s 50 miles on dirt roads to get to the southern end.
The desert area has these big collection tanks that are basically huge tarps that are 100 yards across and collect water and siphon them into tanks for cattle, otherwise the land would be barren of big game. The deer population down there is very sparse, but the bucks get old and they have amazing genetics for huge antlers.
Then there’s the mountains. There’s more deer up there, but they are not known for producing the massive atypical mule deer that the desert has.
I gave Ron a couple areas that I’d like glassed and he spent some time there with some duds where there was no water and then found some nice bucks in another area, specifically, one monster 35+ inch wide 3x4 with extra points.
I needed to head to WY for my elk hunt because I had prior plans. Thus, from the moment I drew the tag, I had 5 days to hunt this tag. Losing a day stuck on Kodiak meant I had 4 days.
When I got to the base of the mountain I would glass the next AM, it was well after dark. . I was able to get a couple hours sleep, but woke up well before dark so I could make the climb and have my spotter set up before sunrise. I was up there and in position. I had about a 220 degree visual field spanning 2-4 miles in front of me. The sun rose and I glassed. And I saw not one damn deer.
The sun came up and it got hot. I mean hot. As in 98 degrees and humid. The truck’s thermometer said 95-98 in the shade all afternoon. After 2 months in coastal AK, 98 degrees will melt you. I found a lonely place in the trees, parked my truck, took off all my clothes, and laid on my sleeping pad on a north slope. It was miserable. To make matters worse, I’d picked up some of those pre-made sandwhiches at the Walmart in St George and I definitely ate someone’s stink finger. I started shitting my brains out and had a fever. I was miserable.
By sunset, it was still over 80 degrees, but I walked a ridge and glassed the mountain closer to where Ron had seen the big 3x4. Still, not a single deer.
The next day, I was up at 4 AM and at the knob I’d gone to the night prior, hoping to see deer before sunrise. I had a 200 degree view ranging 1-2 miles. Not a single deer was seen, even though I could see standing water.
By 4 PM I’d had enough. I remember, in my heat-stroke delirium yelling, “this is xxxxing horse xxxx!”
I got in my truck and headed south for the mountains. They rise up to just above tree line and are topped with virgin ponderosa pine forest. This is what I cut my teeth hunting on in the mountains of California. I could see the monsoon clouds dropping rain on them and I was headed there, leaving Hell and its huge deer behind.
I arrived late afternoon and immediately started seeing deer. I stopped before I got to the top because there was a nice ridge I’d Google Earth scouted that looked good. I did a PM hunt and saw tons of does. I was finally on deer, I just had to find the bucks.
Well, it was August and I was on the side of the mountain in does. Obviously, the bucks were up at the top. I headed up there after sunset. On the road up, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The road got bad, I mean ATV road bad, but there were bucks everywhere. Running across the road, just off the road… My truck’s lights were lighting up bucks every couple hundred yards.
I was really excited for the AM hunt. I was in the middle of nowhere, I hadn’t seen another truck in 2 days, and I had one of the best mule deer tags in the country. I had to calm myself down and think about what I’d do. I often set goals for what I want to shoot, but then end up killing the first legal animal because that’s just what I do.
But I really wanted a big deer and this was the time to do it. So I decided that I would not shoot any deer under 180 inches and set myself at that standard.
I decided to hang tight till first light instead of just bumping deer. At first light, I started still hunting towards the first draw. As I got to where it started to drop down into the draw, I came upon 3 bucks. One was a massive wide fork. 35 inches wide with eye gaurds. The other two were 3x3s, one was wide, one was tall.
In any other unit, I’d have shot any one of these deer, but they were just big, not huge. Plus, they spotted me about 80 yards out and walked off.
I walked in farther, into the draw, and down in the mess of tangled deadfall, I spotted a giant, right as he spotted me. I ranged him at 90 yards. He was huge. 4x4 typical frame, wide, tall, an easy 190 inch deer, one of the biggest I’d ever seen.
His problem was that he had a tangled mess in his escape route, so he had to walk parallel to me. I ducked down and moved quickly to cut him off. I got to a huge downed ponderosa deadfall that was 3+ feet in diameter that I was able to crouch and walk behind. When I ran out of tree, I peeked over and there he was. I ranged him, 74 yards. Farther than I wanted to shoot.
I thought I could get closer and I worked past the tree and got closer and when I did, the next time I saw him, he was at 95 yards, stopped to look at me, then bounded up the hill.
I busted a doe and a fawn at the base of the hill and then crested the first hill. I expected to find deer, but only found beds on the north side. I moved between the hills and there was nothing. I crested the 2nd hill and nothing again.
At that point, I let my guard down and started moving a little too quick. Still hunting is an exercise in patience. As soon as you speed up, you bust deer and lose all the work you’ve done, it never fails. As I descended the second hill, I felt a very cool breeze on my face as I got into a moist area with huge ponderosas, the kind that are 4-5 feet in diameter and spaced every 30 yards from each other.
As soon as I thought that I should slow down, I spotted the bucks. There were 5 of them, bedded right out in the open 150 yards away facing in all directions, invulnerable. They all stood, looking at me. The gig was up, but I fortunately had a huge ponderosa just to my right and in one step I was behind it.
I quickly reached into my pack and pulled out my bow-mounted mule deer doe decoy and attached it to my bow, having already had the Velcro attached to my bow. I peaked around the tree and they were all still there, staring my way.
I flicked the ear, let the decoy have a long stare down with them, then started making my way towards them, straight, then diagonal, then straight, then diagonal. They just stood there. I was looking at them through the arrow window in the decoy. They were all mature, large-bodied deer. One was a massive fork. The other 4 were all 3x3s. Two were definite shooters, wide, tall-tined bucks with extra points sticking off of every tine.
They let me get to 80 yards and then sauntered off. I followed their tracks for a mile before they came to a cliff with pine needles on it and I lost them. While tracking them, I busted a group of 3 bucks that were 2-3 year olds and a single 1 year old.
It was about 11 by then and I’d made a giant circle back to the truck. I grabbed a sandwich (not premade), jumped into the driver’s seat, reclined the seat, and took a nap. I was amazed to be awakened by AZ F&G. It was sorta awkward because I was butt-ass naked because it was still damn hot up there and there was no one around out there so I just rolled around camp naked. You could not sleep in clothes.
He drove up to me and I put my pillow over my junk and we talked like we weren’t two guys in the middle of nowhere with one of us sitting there butt-ass naked.
I was amazed he was all the way in here as it was a several hour drive from the nearest paved road. He had a lifted truck with offroad tires and two spares in the bed. What an awesome job.
Eventually, he asked me for my tag. “Right,” I said, as I realized that it was in my pack in the back seat of my truck. I had no choice but to lean over the center divider and grab my pack. That’s when he saw my butt and probably my balls because they were knee level by then due to the heat. I sat back down, dug through my pack, and handed him the ziplock with my hunting license, tag, and ID.
He had this mortified look on his face and I realized that he just figured I didn’t have a shirt on, but I thought from his vantage in the truck next to mine, that he could see that I had a pillow over my stuff and was just acting like it was no big deal.
He checked my tag, handed it back to me, said, “have a good hunt,” and drove off the way he came.
I went back to sleep.
I got in there really early. I was up the tree and quiet way before first light. The sun peaked over horizon. And then, it happened….
Nothing. I saw no deer. I couldn’t believe it. I sat till 11 AM and saw no deer. It heated up and I was in the sun so I got down and went back to the truck. I’d grown so accustomed to seeing a bunch of bucks up here that I was truly incredulous.
I moved farther down the road, one mountain over, and got out, walked 200 yards, and then slowed down. One step, glass, glass, one step, glass, glass.
I didn’t make it 100 yards and I bumped bucks. 2 and 3 year olds. 5 of them. I continued on. I bumped another group about an hour and 200 yards further. 3 of them. A wide 4x4 with shallow forks, a 2x3 that was really wide, and a big 3x3 with a few abnormal stickers, tall and wide with good mass.
A pattern was emerging: The bucks ran in bachelor herds of 3-5 of them. There were the 2-3 year old groups and the 4-5 year old groups.
I kept going. It got hot. And that was good because it slowed me down. I got around the hill and was able to look south when I came through an opening.
Right on que, 3 bucks came through from my right, walking straight to my left. I was stuck behind the deadfall, there was nothing I could do to move. I watched them as they walked past. When they were straight away, I ranged them at 72 yards. Too far.
One was a pretty big fork, I think he was one of the ones I’d seen the day prior. One was a 3x4 and one was a 3x3. They were all mature deer and at that point, I’d have shot any of them. They were all massive bodied deer with antlers well beyond their ears. They walked by and I couldn’t do anything about it. Not in August at least.
My plan was to get into the same tree. I knew bucks were coming through there. There were fresh tracks on the deep game trails on each side of the drainage. The tree was perfect. I just had to wait them out.
As I headed down the road, it started raining. I knew there was a chance of rain, so I was ready for it and had on my rain jacket. It opened up and really started coming down.
I got under a giant ponderosa to block the downpour. I waited 15 minutes, eventually putting my climber down because I knew I’d have to wait this out. It didn’t let up. Eventually, the ponderosa started to rain down gallons of rain upon me, divided up into fist-sized drops.
I pointed my head to the ground and told myself that it would stop, just another monsoon. I’d been rained on several times since arriving and never more than a few minutes. It just continued on. Half hour later, I felt the tops of my soaked socks start to leak into my boots. It wasn’t cold, so I didn’t care. I knew that as soon as the rain gave up, the bucks would be moving and I needed to be waiting for them.
Half hour later, first light appeared and it was still pouring. I could see the road because the tree I was under was just 10 yards from it. The road looked like a creek. The only part of me that was dry was the small of my back. I cursed myself for not wearing or bringing my rain pants.
I still had a chance. But as the sun rose and the road began to look worse and worse, I realized that if it continued, that I was going to be stuck out here for several days. 50 miles and 4 hour’s drive from the nearest paved road or cell signal.
I had to decide if I was going to get out of there or commit to staying for the next several days. I chose to leave.
A wide bodied mature buck, stocky and tall, with a mainframe 4x4 with symmetric atypical tines off of his G3s. His G2/G3 forks were 18 inches long. Half way up his G3s, he had another fork with tines that paralleled his G2s and were a foot long and equal on each side. His G4s forked off the main beam and each continued on 18 inches.
He was a gorgeous deer. He stopped on the far side of the road and just stared at me. I’d stopped my truck at that point and just looked at him. He walked off into the sage.
I had to decide if I’d go after him at that point. In AZ, it’s illegal to road hunt, but if you’re driving from point A to point B and see an animal, you can go after them. I also despise road hunters with all my soul. I just couldn’t do it. I watched him disappear into the junipers and then I drove north towards Wyoming.
Opening morning, Mike and I were at a place I’d found bulls in the past. We were up in the woods before first light and had 2 or 3 bulls responding to us in the dark. We got pretty close to one and had to wait for legal shooting light. Mike went up ahead and I did some calling and raking. The bull got close – Mike saw him, but didn’t have a shot. As it got lighter, the bulls got pretty quiet as it was still pretty early in the season.
We spent the next couple days mixing up hanging some stands and running and gunning and we were seeing or hearing elk every day.
The second evening, Chuck and I went into a new area where I’d seen bulls in the past. We didn’t see or hear anything till we were almost back to the truck after sunset, but a bull was off in the distance to our right. He seemed too far away to get on before it got dark, but the second time he bugled, I realized that he was heading sorta towards our path. I bugled again and he seemed to be coming my way.
I sent Chuck forward to head him off and I kept bugling. He started challenging, so I ramped up the intensity of my bugles and started growling. We went back and forth probably 30 times. He got as close as 100 yards. As it got dark, he got quiet and I figured he was either dead or busted. I headed down and met up with Chuck who said that he had him at about 50 yards, but through brush and he got busted. He was 320 bull. I would see this bull again later in the hunt.
I motioned Mike to move up so that we had two shooters forward with them being separated by about 80 yards. 5-10 minutes after I motioned Mike forward, a 5x5 bull walked out into the park to my left silent and was honed into the trees I was in making all the noise. He was 70 yards from me and he stopped 20 yards from where Mike had been. If I hadn’t motioned him forward, he’d have had a chip shot on that bull.
I think it was that evening that we went to a new area that I’d always wanted to check out, but never did because it was a bit too long of a hike for my dad. The three of us worked our way in with a goal of getting into a set of parks that were a mile in with the ultimate goal of some parks that were 2-3 miles in.
As it started getting dark, we ran into a very nice bull with 2 cows. Chuck spotted them through the trees. I did some cow calling and the cows actually came around to check us out, but the bull didn’t budge. They ended up taking off.
We saw him go around a turn about 120 yards up and Chuck motioned for me to stalk him. I worked my way through the park and he grazed back into my view just over the rise of a small hill. I could see him from the leg joints up, so that when he put his head down to feed, his eyes were out of view. He was broadside feeding and I ranged him. 69 yards.
Now, I know a lot of you can make that shot and I can too. I’m a pretty good shot out to 80 yards. I used to be a good shot out to 100, but I don’t do a lot of long-distance shooting anymore. My self-imposed limit on any animal is 60 yards. I let him walk. He walked back around the corner he’d come from and I worked up another 10 yards and got ready to shoot him when he came back out. But he never did.
Eventually, we went into the cubby of that park where he’d gone and he’d just vanished into the trees.
On the evening of the 10th, Mike and I went to a new area that I’d wanted to check out in the past, but it was pretty nasty getting in there. There’s an easier way to get in, but you’d come in with the wind at your back, so to get in with the wind in your favor, you had to walk through some nasty stuff. We’d hunted it a couple days prior and saw two spikes in there, but they wouldn’t come to calls.
We got in, set up a Head’s Up and Montana decoys in a park. Mike was the shooter and I was calling back by the decoys. Mike was up in the trees at the entrance of the park about 100 yards in front of me. I got a response to my first bugle. Mike was in a great place for him with wind in his favor.
I continued with herd talk and the elk bugled a couple times and was obviously coming in. It was about sunset. I couldn’t see Mike, but all the sudden I saw him move to my left, intently looking in the direction I heard the elk.
All the sudden, he drew, aimed, and released. I did some quick cow calls to try and stop the bull, but I heard him crash through the woods. I went up to Mike and he said he’d hit him, but was unsure of the shot because it happened so fast and he was out of view immediately.
Before we’d finished talking, there was another bugle behind us. We still had a cross wind. Mike backed up into the trees and I moved over to some trees by the decoys and waited. Mike started doing some cow calls and the bull did the “come on over ladies,” bugle, but wouldn’t come into the park or I’d have had a 20 yard shot on him. For a minute there, it looked like we were about to double up. But after several minutes, the bull backtracked and took off.
We gave him 30 minutes and then examined the hit location. There was pretty good blood. It was dark; looked like regular venous blood. 10 yards later I found the arrow. It didn’t stink. It has good venous blood on it.
The blood trail was fair to begin with, with several quarter size spots, but within 20 yards it slowed to small specks and then they started getting farther and farther apart. I was down on my hands and knees with a light as it was now dark. After 80 yards, I couldn’t find any more blood. We decided to back out and come back in the AM.
I could see both the entrance and the exit were both intestinal hits. We backed out, went into town for breakfast, and decided to come back in the afternoon. When we came back, we bumped him again 80 yards from where he had bedded for the night. This time he took off pretty quickly so there was no chance of getting an arrow in him.
We backed out again. I encouraged dad to sit his stand that evening as I knew we’d find him and could get him out ourselves. We came back 4 hours later, near sunset and found him dead 100 yards downhill from where we’d bumped him the second time.
I led the way and took us back to the truck via the worst possible path over the worst of the terrain and deadfall. I was so frustrated by the time we got back because I kept taking wrong turns and we knew this area as we’d been in and out of there a couple times. I felt bad for Mike because he was the one that was really working. I’m usually a better navigator than that.
That evening, Mike told me he’d gone over to another area we’d checked out and called in the 320 to like 80-100 yards. I was kicking myself for not being there, but hind-sight is 20/20.
I had to work around to the left of the mountain to get down to them because it was bare and open up to them where they were grazing about 250 yards away. I got down there and ran out of cover. I was running out of light. It was after sunset. All the sudden, the bull got up and started walking almost directly at me. This was going to happen.
I had crawled up to the last cover which was a couple of 4 foot pines. I crouched and watched him. He bugled a couple times and continued towards me. I watched through my range finder. 100 yards, 90 yards, 80 yards, 70 yards… and he stopped. He then turned around and walked back the way he came. “You’ve gotta be xxxxing kidding me,” is what I recall thinking.
I hiked over there and he was kind enough to give me 3 more bugles over the next 20 minutes so that I could get on the herd. I ended up bumping a cow at 50 yards. She ran off, but the rest of the herd just kept moving down the ridge they were on. He was herded up at this point and had about 6 cows with him. They were on the move and I had to get in front of them, which proved to be no easy task. I slipped down the far side of the ridge and ran through the trees to get ahead of them.
A couple times I came to openings and worked up a bit, but seemed to always be right behind them. Finally they stopped to graze and I got in front of them. Where I worked back up the ridge I walked right into them and was lucky not to bump them as I came around a tree and saw cow rump and the top of one of his antlers. I got a range on the tree he was behind at 72 yards and the cow was at 55.
I was kinda pinned down because there was nothing in front of me and the only cover I had were a few saplings. If I called at all, all they’d have to do was look right at me and know that there were no elk there. I stood ready to shoot if any of the elk gave me an open shot.
They milled around for a few minutes and then walked on down the ridge and I never had a clear shot at them. I started after them again and they were again leaving me in the dust. I tried doing some calling and did get him to bugle back at me a few times, but they were not going to play and headed off to bed.
The problem with calling in close around 100 yards away through cover is that you can only be so aggressive moving forward, but they often times will sit there for a few minutes calling to you, then get quiet and walk off a long distance while you’re wondering if they’re sitting still or perhaps even coming in. That’s what happened and within a few minutes, they’d moved out quietly and were gone.
I really wanted to hunt him a few more days, but I had to fly out to Alaska for work in 7 days and I’d been hunting nonstop for 36 days – I hadn’t even cut up my goat. He was still in game bags in the freezer.
I’d had a great fall so far. I was a little disappointed to only have one animal in the freezer thus far. I’d had opportunities and with a little more luck and a little more hunting skill, I’d have had a bunch of dead animals, but I still had November and January. I packed up and drove back to California.
I say this to explain that while I select for mature animals, I end up needing to fling some arrows at whatever gives me a shot and since January only gave me one Coues tag, I had to kill some animals in November or else face running out of meat.
He was a large-bodied mature buck. His left antler was actually two main beams without forking. The front beam was a spike about 10 inches long that went almost straight forward. There was another spike that went almost straight back that was about 18 inches long.
The right antler was a huge club that went straight up. It had huge mass compared to the two spikes on the left and was about 2 feet long. At the end, it flanged like it had wanted to branch, but didn’t really branch. There was one knob that was definitely an inch long. In CA, for a buck to be legal, it has to have a branch on at least one antler that is 1/3 the way up the antler and has a tine that is at least one inch long. I looked at this buck for a long time, but I just couldn’t tell for sure if he was legal or not. He was a really cool buck and I really wanted to shoot him, but without a game warden sitting right next to me telling me he was legal, I wasn’t going to take the chance shooting an illegal buck.
He stopped at 40 yards and would have been an easy shot as he turned quartered away and looked the other way, giving me a chance to draw. After that, he walked back the way he came.
So I ended up in the same area I’d seen the bucks and knew of a pinch point where the deer and elk came around a private land fence and a ravine. The area had just received a foot of snow before I arrived. Getting a stand and decoy in there was a chore with the snow, but I got it set up the afternoon after I’d left for an all-day sit the next day. There were some deer tracks and elk tracks that I passed on the way in and deer tracks under where I put my stand at the pinch point.
I debated what to do the next day. I wasn’t seeing many deer, although there were fresh prints in the snow every day and one appeared to be buck-sized. I sat the morning, didn’t see anything, so pulled my stand and decoy around noon and relocated.
About a 45 minute drive from where I was, there was a river valley that looked very whitetailish with some public land between a couple of ranches. I went there that afternoon and walked it to scout. On the way in, I saw several mule deer. Right in the middle of the best bedding area, I bumped a nice 8 point white tail out of his bed. I’d found my area. I found a tree on two intersecting game trails where a west wind would blow my scent over the creek and prepared my stand.
I repaired the decoy and got into my stand right at first light. Right at sunrise, I was looking through my 10s and saw the big buck about 200 yards away. There was a row of trees and I could see just past into a small area of the field, but in that little spot, I could see him. It was the same big WT buck I’d bumped 2 days prior. And he was doing the rut-march directly in my direction.
I got ready for a shot as he closed the distance and came through the trees at 70 yards. He was coming straight for the decoy. All the sudden, a 2 year old WT came in from my right and the two met 50 yards from me. They sniffed each other for a minute and then started fighting. They were really going at each other, throwing dirt up, ranging all around. I almost had a 40 yard shot on the big buck between spars, but they only took a break long enough to take a couple breaths before resuming fighting.
I was ready for when it ended. I figured the big buck would win, I’d grunt, and then the buck would come to the decoy and give it a turn. The problem was, the deer didn’t follow the script. All the sudden, the big buck lost his footing and fell on his side. Immediately, the smaller buck was on his belly, horning him mercilessly. The bigger buck got back on his feet and took off.
I couldn’t believe it. What lousy luck. The bigger deer had to have 2 years on this 2 year old. The smaller buck was feeling his oats at that point, shaking his head like a dog kills a pheasant, grunting and snorting. I was so mad. The victor then turned his attention to my decoy and walked up and started posturing.
That was all I could take. I had one day left to hunt, but I just decided to take out my frustration on this little buck. I put an arrow through his heart.
My brother doesn’t get much time to hunt and he’s a new hunter. He only bought his .30-06 a few years ago. I helped him kill his first big game animal last year with it in the same area we’d go to in San Diego County, where he’d drawn a LE doe tag (there’s not many doe tags in California). (That was a cool hunt. The first doe we came on was at 45 yards and he was shaking so bad that he shot under the deer by two feet with a scoped rifle. He ended up taking the second deer we found at 80 yards). This year, he’d not drawn the doe tag, so he just had an OTC buck tag. He had one day to hunt.
We planned a midweek hunt date and went in. This place is very remote, which is why it’s a good hunting spot at all. Southern California public land deer hunting is a tough thing. There’s 24 million people who live within 80 miles of the deer we hunt. It took me years to find this little nook that holds unpressured deer. The unit my house is in, D19, has a 4-8% success rate for rifle hunters year in, year out. San Diego (D16) is a little better.
We still hunted for about a half hour and all the sudden my brother spotted deer to our left. About 100 yards away, there were two bucks trailing a doe. One was a forkie and one was a nice, mature buck. One of the biggest I’ve ever seen in California. They walked behind some trees and we hurried forward to try and cut them off. We got set up for what would have been 90 yard shot, but they never exited the trees. They had turned to their right and walked straight away from us. We got around the trees, but they spotted us and sped up a little. There was no getting a shot at that point.
So we continued on the way we were, into a drainage that is full of oaks where I always seem to see deer and where my brother killed his doe the year prior. We came over a crest and there were 6 deer in front of us at 45 yards. 3 does and 3 bucks. The biggest buck ran forward uphill to our right and was immediately out of sight. Right as he took off, one of the does took off and then the rest of the herd started walking uphill. I told my brother to lean up against the oak on his right and get ready.
I gave out a loud whistle and one of the bucks stopped to look. “Kill him now!” I whispered. BOOM! Man, it always surprises me how loud that gun is. The deer did not fall, ran forward, but I got my glass on him right as he went out of view and I could see that he center punched the lungs and the deer was broadside at the shot.
We backed up and discussed the shot. He felt it was a good shot, but the deer had run away and we could see for 50 yards where he’d gone. I decided we should give him 30 minutes. After the wait, we went to where he was standing and there was a good bloodtrail. We followed it and the buck had gone down just out of our view at the top of a hill, 60 yards from where he was shot.
Mid day after it’d warmed up, I walked farther in still hunting and looking for a tree. There’s very few pines in this area or any trees you can put a stand in, but I found a small stand of pinyons that was near a pinch point. I bumped a spike as I got into this area, and then a doe and fawn on my way out. There were rubs everywhere and good amounts of scat.
I want really close shots on Coues. The year prior, I’d had two clean misses, one at 45 and one at 25 yards, when the bucks had jumped the string and I’d recovered clean arrows stuck in the dirt. The shot I’m looking for on a Coues is under 20 yards. So I found a spot where I had two openings with good cover at 15 yards.
At 8 AM, I did a rattling sequence and heard something walking slowly in from the north. I had no view to the north. As it got closer, I was sure it was a buck and I readied for a shot. The buck was taking one step, then smelling the ground. Then one step, and smelling the ground again, walking very deliberately. The last stick that blocked my shot was at 17 yards. He stopped and I got a good look at him as he smelled the ground.
He was a mature 6 point. His main beams and tines had that cool-looking triangle shape to them and he was big-bodied (for a Coues). The problem was that he was smelling right where I’d walked in. He took one more step and I now had a clear shot to his neck, but not his chest. He smelled the ground again right where I’d walked. Looked up. Turned around. And walked back the way he’d come. So close.
I didn’t see any deer that afternoon.
The same thing happened. He got to 20 yards, smelling the ground the whole time, came into view, but caught my trail just a step or two before I had a shot and turned around and left the way he’d come.
The spike came back through around 10 AM but after that, I didn’t see any other deer.
At this point, I had a decision to make. This buck had smelled my path twice. I figured I would never see him again. I considered moving and during the hot part of the afternoon, I did scout further up stream and found a water tank that held water and a few pines along a game trail.
I figured I’d give this tree one more day since I was seeing deer there and the pinch of the hill and creek were putting them right under me.
8 AM rolled around and I did a rattling sequence and was hoping that buck would come through again, but he didn’t. I did another rattling sequence about 8:30 and heard a something to the north. I looked through and caught site of a buck coming through the brush, but this was a different buck. He came in from behind me and then turned right as he reached my cover. He never came into my shooting lanes. At 25 yards, he stopped, quartered away and I had about an 8x8 inch shooting window through the twigs and was at full draw, but decided to let him walk because I just didn’t like the shot.
He continued walking the same direction and I let him get out of view and about 80 yards away I figured and then did a short rattling sequence. He came right back in and this time walked right into one of my shooting windows at 17 yards and stopped, almost broadside, slightly quartered-to.
I’d gotten to full-draw as he passed through the trees at 25 yards. I aimed for his heart and dropped the string. He so plainly jumped the string that I saw it all happen in slow motion. I’d made a good shot and my arrow went where I wanted it to, but he jumped bad and I hit him square in the guts. I got one good view of him at 40 yards as he ran off and I knew I was in the guts.
I was sick. If I could tell you the whole history of 4 years of Coues hunting, only for it to come down to this… And I’d done everything right, so far as I could figure. I’d done the right thing as far as my scent went, I’d passed on iffy shots. I’d taken a close shot. And I still ended up in the guts.
I was really starting to give up hope of finding the buck and I was really hating bowhunting at that point. I started to despair, so I went back to my pack to eat and regroup. It was dark now and I only had my tiny backup headlight because I’d lost my good one a few days prior. I went back out for a mag light and decided that I’d give the blood trail another try.
I got to the point of my last blood and got down on my hands and knees. After quite some time, I found one new drop of blood about 15 yards from my last drop. My spirits soared. Now I knew which way he was traveling and he’d made a 90 degree turn. I stayed on my hands and knees another 80 yards and found about 5 more specs of blood. But I was getting into dense brush and there was only so many ways he could go so I just had to explore each path till it dead ended.
Much of the trailing I was doing was by observing kicked rocks. Due to the rain a few days prior, the hard-clay soil was rock hard everywhere the buck kicked over a rock, you could tell from the slightly moist under-side of where the rock had been, that he’d walked through there.
I lost blood again as the trail came to a 3-way fork. I went right first as it seemed to be the quickest dead end and I was right… it go so thick that there was no going that way. I went left next as it opened up into a big area. I spent quite a bit of time in that opening looking for blood and found none. Lastly, I took the straight trail and it opened up into a small area inside some scrub oak that made a 6x12 foot opening, surrounded on all sides by thick scrub oak.
It was dark that night as it was only a day or two till the new moon and I was staring into the reflection of a mag light, so I had no peripheral vision – I could only see where my light was pointed. As I got into this opening, I came upon a pile of deer scat. Then another. 1 foot further and it was solid deer scat; 100s of turds in various degrees of decay. I immediately realized I was in his bedroom.
I stood up and shined the mag light in a circle and there he was, dead 6 feet to my left.
This was the toughest tracking job I’ve ever had. He’d only gone 120 yards as the crow flew from the shot. But the winding path he took per the GPS was 250 yards and everything after 30 yards was done on hands and knees.
Again, sorry about the lousy photos. It was tough getting a picture in that cramped area with zero light and I wanted to get him broken down due to the poor shot, so that’s the best I could get.
I’m looking forward to this year’s adventures. I’ll be hunting Dall sheep in AK and already have an elk tag in Wyoming with Ron and Mike.
As a side note, I wanted to mention something else. I keep seeing a lot of people saying that the costs of hunting are getting out of hand and that western hunting is becoming a “rich man’s sport.” To that, I say bullshit. If you really want to hunt western game, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to hunt with a guide or hunt private ground. I did all these hunts for about $10,000 and that includes my 40 tag applications, the tags, transport, gas, everything. If you really want to go on these hunts, you just have to do some research and go. There’s a learning curve, but you don’t need a professional to help you do this. Sure, it helps to be an AK resident, which opens up a few more species, but I hunted 6 different species and only 1 requires a guide for non-residents and there’s plenty other species that can be hunted without one. You can do any of these hunts if you want to.
Good luck to you all in the draws and hunting season to come!
What a great morning read! Congrats on your successes and adventures!
Best of Luck, Jeff
For those that get to share a campfire with Ike know some of his adventures are down right entertaining. BTW how are the Kuiu pants doing?
This years bulls will be going out on a game cart. No heavy pack’s this year!
Congrats on a great year.
Had to smile at the release thing and lack of arrows. Been there and done that.
Continued good wishes on following your dreams. C
Great recap man that's a heck of a lot of writing and a great effort you put in. What a year! That's a ton of hunting to get in. Those great memories will be with you forever.
Thanks for sharing, I always enjoy it!
Thanks for taking the time to post. I know it takes a long time to write a season long post up. We all appreciate it!
Good luck in 2018!
Coupla things got stuck in my head.
Are those leather seats in your truck? Does manscaping create a contact paper-like tack in hot weather or with enough sweat do you just slide around?
And for the rest of that trip, when you went to sleep, did you try to make sure to position your loin cloth pillow so that the sweaty junk side was down?
Congrats on your season!!
Congrats on a great season.
Thank you for the great work, and congratulations!
Wish you could have spent more time on the strip....wow! The game warden story was hilarious!
Thanks for sharing
Gotta wonder what kind of tale that Game Officer had back at the station. He's probably still scarred from that unexpected view!
I assure you all that's not the case. While I do own a home in CA, this is not my primary residence. I lose a sizable tax deduction because of this. I have a job in Alaska, spend the majority of the year in Alaska, have an AK DL, I vote in AK, I have an apartment in Alaska, and have for nearly 4 years. By AZ GFD's definition and by the state, I am an AK resident.
In order to make sure I was kosher, before I ever bought my first AK resident hunting license, I called the GFD's HQ and talked with two different people, explained my entire life, and was assured that I was indeed a resident. I also contacted an attorney in AK who deals with residency issues and he told me I was an AK resident.
Alaska residents are allowed to vacation outside the state. And that's what I do when I visit California, Arizona, Wyoming, etc. I spend a minority of my time in CA. It's really no one's business, but since I get a lot of these personal questions and comments about my family time, I'm going to leave it at saying that my kid's mom and I don't have a typical relationship like many seem to assume and haven't for many years. We live apart - me living in AK and her living in CA with the kids. I'm not just going up to AK to work. I live in AK. If it weren't for my kids, I'd probably never return to CA ever again.
I'm saying all this because I've had a couple people question me and I want it known that I'm not breaking the law or gaming the system.
Congrats on an incredible season....we look forward to your 2018 season!
Everything from hand to hand combat with mountain goats to the hands and knees finish. Pretty cool. And thanks for putting your clothes back on for the hero shots........
However he has become a work in progress. He took all my hero shots of my bull. He even took the one with both of us in the picture.