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Seven years ago…maybe even eight, I wanted to venture west and get a nice mule deer. I had been doing well on Wisconsin whitetails while on heavily hunted property. For whatever reason, spot’n stalk deer hunting for velvet bucks out west just really appealed to me. More so than even elk hunting. While in WI, I met up with a guy here from Bowsite (Ruger1022) that used to live out west. He invited me to his house one spring. I took good notes. How hard could it be right? Well, like I said that conversation was SEVEN or EIGHT years ago. Could've been closer to NINE. Since that day, I have hunted every year on public land with a general tag. I’d primarily hunt in August and compiled an impressive and all-encompassing list of excuses for failed stalks on nice bucks. That might be a good thread topic now that I think about it. Heck, I even shot the wrong buck accidentally in 2013! Fortunately, this year I am able to finally post a decent buck on the meat pole thread. Here’s how it went down:
Early August scouting- This area is a 4.5 mile and 2.5hr hike in from the trailhead. I hunted it last year but not much since I was helping my wife with her LE elk tag instead. Saw some nice bucks though so I was anxious to get back there. Took my daughter for an August scouting trip. As soon as the sun even came close to rising, I found some nice bucks including a tall narrow buck I’d chased the year before. Strangely, while a couple were relatively low, most of them were VERY high up on the mountain. After they bedded in cover, we did a little hiking to confirm a hunch. Unfortunately it was confirmed as I found two other spike camps…one if which was right in the middle of their core bedding area. During subsequent scouting trips, I’d find them in the same general area but could never get one patterned.
Opening Days- I packed in a spike camp the afternoon before which was strategically located above others but not high enough to spook the deer. Found a little bench and carved out a “flat enough” spot. Great cover from noise and ideal for wind. Unfortunately, the first few days ended up being a bust. The bucks were very high and I blew a few stalks with token excuses (wind switched, fell and made noise, and unseen deer picking me off drawing). They kicked me down from around 11k feet.
I was beat and needed a break……so I went elk hunting in an OTC unit, called in and shot a bull. Easy eh?
Time to get back after deer. Hiked in and camped a couple more times. By now they’ve stripping velvet and are hiding in cover. Found very few in stalkable positions.
Into early Octoberish now. Mixed it up and tried rifle hunting in Idaho with my daughter. We didn’t get anything. It was fun to do something different. It was very cold and I went through an entire BOX of hot hands.
For archery, I stayed closer to home a couple weekends and glassed nearby mountains instead. Another week or two went by. The regular season ended and we could now shoot does. My youngest kid wanted to tag along. He had never been with me hunting. No way could he get up to where I chase bucks. I had a lone doe patterned by home though. Took him for a hike and tried to ambush her. He struggled up the loose rocks to the base of the mountain. I was wondering why he had such a big back pack. Hmm. We got settled. “OK Dad. Where are all these deer you tell us about?” Me: “Sit tight, we’ll see them in a few hours and move closer when the wind starts coming down hill?” Him: “What? Did you say hours? I’m not waiting hours.” He opened his back pack and proceeded to pull out three sections of a big Nerf gun and put them together…loudly. “Brought some backup. Figured you’d need it”. He settled down nicely, opened a bag of candy corns but couldn’t wait until close. We packed up a few minutes early. Stood up to leave. “Hey Dad, why don’t you shoot that one?” Yep, we stood up and she walked out. Busted. Oh well. It was fun.
Late October now. Still watching a big group of does by the house. FINALLY, a nice buck showed up after does and it’s close to home. Put a plan together. Used Google earth to figure out how I’m going to get up there for the first time…in the dark and ambush them. I ended up there the next morning waiting in a saddle. Bingo. Here they come. A doe picked me off and she took them with up into cliffs and around me. The buck stayed below the cliffs thinking “I’m not going up there. I’ll just walk through this saddle instead” He knew something was up but committed after a very long staring contest. Now he’s 60 yards broadside opposite a small saddle…just like I envisioned the night before. No problem. I’ve been around enough muleys by now to know when to draw and about what I can get away with.
I draw, settle, check bubble, whoa, waayyy off…level it out, settle pin again. Send it. Looks good…for a while then it drops…and drops more…then hits low…way low. I’m dumb. While I was messing with leveling my bow, he slowly walked off 5 more yards. Hit him in the brisket right behind the leg. He mule kicked and bolted. I waited to track him. It was muscle blood for sure. Good at first but hours later and two ridges away, it was pin drops every couple hundred yards and then nothing. I blew it. This curse will never end. My buddy’s teenage kid even graciously hiked up to help out. Needless to say, he won’t help again after realizing how high I was! Still, the help tracking, food and water he brought me was awesome. I’m anxious to help him get a deer this year.
Now it’s past Halloween. I looked for the buck for a few more days. He moved into a canyon with a separate herd of deer and I moved on to my regular stomping grounds much higher in elevation. That means up at 3am for a decent drive then a long hike. Head back down early November. Get to the trail head on time. Yes, I’m obsessive compulsive as it relates to gear tuning and starting my hikes early…but at the trail head are 4 college kids stranded after a cold night of trying to camp in snow in sub-freezing temps. Their car had been disabled, broken into and a bunch of stuff stolen. They were freezing so I put the morning hunt on hold and let them warm up until police came. It was fun conversing with non-hunters and having the chance to make a good impression. That day I stalked one of my target bucks right around 11k feet but the crunchy snow made it a bust. He’s in the middle of this pic somewhere. Couldn’t get closer than 100 yards.
I go home defeated and watch the Green Bay Packers feel the same way the next day. Next weekend I’m back at it. Head down at 3am on Friday morning. Sweet, no smashed up cars. Head up to glass first. Nothing. Weird. Glass more. OK a few does and no bucks. Nothing else. I hike the spine where they usually bed. Busted halfway up. I run right into a doe…with one of my target bucks in tow. She bolted and he went with. He tried to cut her off but it didn’t work. I chased up to a saddle but the wind was bad. All I would’ve done is push them further. Ugh, back down for another long hike.
Gave it a break for a day. Kid had a wrestling tournament and did great. He won so now it’s my turn. Sunday I’m back at it with a new game plan. That doe and buck were 1/3 up the mountain. I was up early enough to get up there in the dark and up the next ridge to the north. With a south wind I’d be in the area and able to cut distance should it be necessary. At sun-up, I start glassing and moving. 10 does/fawns hold me up. Nothing in tow. I get to where the nice buck was two days prior. I see a familiar small 3x3 and a small forky nervously walking on the next ridge 300 yards away. Then a doe steps out…then the big 3x3 steps out. Bingo…but they’re higher than expected. Check and adjust. Not much cover up there but I found a “ditch” to conceal me as I hiked up a couple hundred yards to their elevation. Fortunately, the deeper snow in the ditch was quiet and I covered the elevation relatively easy. “Easy” is a relative term at elevation (so say my legs/lungs).
I peeked over to the next ridge and saw a white rear bolting the opposite way. Thought I was busted but the big 3x3 was chasing off the smaller bucks. Each time he returned to what was obviously the only hot doe in the county. Unfortunately, I was 157 yards away with minimal cover but at the same elevation. I stayed patient and held up. Wind was perfect. No rush so I kept at it trying to figure out how to get over. After 20 minutes she starts walking my way! They dropped down into a little draw. I adjusted position but she heard my knees crunching through ice as she crested the little spine 60 yards away. She froze staring me down for five minutes. The buck was now right on her and nudging her forward. She gave in and started. After a few steps I drew in a smooth motion. He slowed, I settled and sent it.
Crap! Hit him a little lower than I wanted but it sounded good. He bolted back to the next ridge. Covered 100+ yards in seconds and stood there. I could see my arrow sticking out of him. He was dragging it in the snow (look at the drag mark in the pic). I could even see a trail in the snow from the arrow. He stopped and I watched as a dark blob in the snow beneath him kept getting bigger fast. After a few seconds he bolted downhill again and eventually out of sight. Now 200 yards away I could see his tracks and blood in the snow.
I wait a nervous hour freezing. Thinking I hit lung and/or liver. The snow is very quiet so I step/glass, step, glass my way over to where he stood. I find his trail easily including the drag mark of my arrow as it continued to do damage. The trail was easy to follow and glass way ahead into the pine covered ridge. Eventually I spot him laying down…head down! Wait…head up! He’s still alive so I butt slide down the ridge inching closer for a follow up shot. Now I’m really nervous. There lies the buck and I don’t dare bump him. Eventually, I slid low enough to send another arrow. Good grief. It hit cover and went off target. The deer didn’t flinch. He was obviously not going anywhere so I moved into a clear lane and promptly ended it with a well-placed shot.
Five hours later I was back at the trail head with the heaviest pack I’d ever carried. It was a sketchy pack out initially. Nearly a week later now the fact that I don’t have an un-punched deer tag is finally settling in. It sure would’ve been awesome to get him in velvet (the very first picture) but I learned a lot this year. Hopefully it won’t take me seven years to get another.
Great buck and story!
Great buck and well earned! Congrats YZF, a buck to be proud of for sure!
Excellent story! Way to persevere!
Congrats, what a success after a long time coming! Go get another next year!
Congratulations... thanks for taking us along. Looking forward to next year's success story.
Great buck! Congrats and thanks for sharing.
Congrats on your success.....beautiful buck!
Congrats! Awesome, Great Story
Great job on a well earned buck,Thanks for the pics,and the writeup.
Great story !! Thanks for posting. First of many . Hunt
Very well deserved and what a beautiful buck.. congrats!!!!
Supa! Thanks for posting.
Great stuff! Congrats and thanks for the story
Great buck and story. Congrats!
Well earned! Congrats! Great story and thanks for sharing.
That was a fantastic read. Exceptional effort, and superbly written. Thanks for posting.
That's a good one! Nice work!
Well done Jason!!!
Good luck, Robb
Great buck. Way to persevere.
Great hunt jason,,well written,excellent pics,,your discipline and tough resilance shines thru....congrats bro,,,the nerf gun was fantastic!!!!!
Well Jason you surely did the work for that deer. What a great, no excellent story/pictures. I know from experience that the words and pictures do not even come close in telling the whole story of the challenges you faced. Had me following along with eyes glued to the screen. my best, Paul
Congrats! Perseverance pays off. Thanks for taking the time to post.
Where do you live/hunt that you get such a long season???
Wow, way to keep at it! Grats! Some people say hunting mature mule deer is easy. Perhaps in certain conditions, but that's a tough hunt you did. It's going to be great seeing his antlers on the wall and being reminded of that special season.
Thanks for the kind words.
Back at it trying to find a buck for my buddies teenage kid with a tag. Found this buck checking does...but he came from way up on the mountain on public land all the way down to my unhuntable glassing spot! Almost a 1/2 mile.
Let us know if y'all get one,,,,,,way to give back brother!!! Nothing but respect here...
Congrats on your success, Jason! Great thread as well.
Great buck. You guys that keep at it in this cold weather have my admiration. Thanks for sharing your story.
Awesome Effort! Great story. Congrats, your persistence paid off.