But I digress. Last year, January 2018, was a great step forward for me. I had just finished a project in GJ CO. The company I work for, gave me 6 weeks off, with pay, starting December 1, 2017.
There was no thinking twice on what I was doing. I camped and scouted probably 21 days of December. Spotted, photo'd and video'd quite a few deer, and many from the truck.
My screen name comes straight from a group of cactus filled hills, with mesquite and yuccas littering the hillsides, that my buddy's and I had nicknamed. We always saw big bucks while scouting in the old days, when I carried a rifle. Before the hoards found "our spot". But the bucks always disappeared before the hunt.
Anyway, there is a rough azz 4wd 2 track that takes you thru these hills. I had seen a few good bucks in here while scouting, so I knew where I was starting opening morning.
As I'm creeping up the second hill in 4 low while the sun is cracking the horizon, there they are! 4 bucks, with a dozen or more does! Only problem is I'm in my truck, and the deer are a couple hundred yards on the other side of the barbwire fence that runs beside the 2 track.
I stopped and believe me, all eyes were on my truck. Most of you reading this know what I'm talking about, and know what usually comes next. For those who don't know, let's just say they don't stick around very long.
However, during the rut, I've found once they get out of site, they go back to doing what they were doing when they feel safe. Rutting! These deer were no different
It wasn't long and I was on them. I got to the edge of the bare hill, and they were in the draw a couple hundred yards below. Rats......no cover. We've all been there. All I can do is sit and watch the show. I crawled undetected and got to 125 yards and had to stop. And watch.
It's so cool seeing these big bucks, swollen necks stretched out pushing and sniffing does, and occasionally postering against one another. I literally watched these deer all day. Thought I was gonna see a fight on several occasions. As the sun waned, they'd moved off, but from past experience, I knew they wouldn't be far the next morning.
I'd managed to stay within a couple hundred yards and stayed patient. And more importantly, undetected.
He was broke off on his right where his antler started to turn up. The previous day, he was a 28" buck. I decided right then and there, I wanted that buck. Though he was broke off, he was pushing 300#. If I could stay undetected on day 1, I could do it on day 2.
In the past, I would've blew it and got impatient. This was the first time I would concentrate my effort on hunting a particular buck. It totally changed my mindset.
I never could get close enough that day. There was alot of cat and mouse and the bucks just wouldn't push the does where I wanted them to. But I went unnoticed again! I knew I could hunt him again on day 3.
Another day of cat and mouse. Only this time I had some cover to work in. I had managed to get within 40 yards of the nearest doe. I'd learned to crawl on this hunt.
And let me tell ya, crawling thru cactus, rocks, and everything that grows seemingly having sharp ends, is not easy! I also learned how to use my bow as a crutch while crawling. I wore the paint where my riser meets the limbs. This D350 is as tough as they come.
I got as close as 80 yards to the big broke off buck. Clipped my release several times in hopes of him stepping out from behind a mesquite bush. But he just wouldn't do it. I swear they have a sixth sense. I walked out after dark once again, the herd never seeing, hearing, or smelling me.
Day 6 I had trouble finding them. At first. Glassed a lot. Finally after a couple hours, I saw 2 does cross over a hill over a mile away, skylighting as they went over. However I did not see the buck. But my gut was telling me to go. Down the hill, and across the valley I go. When I got to the bottom of the hill I saw them go over, I looked up a cut between this hill and another, and there he was. This time there were less does, and only a small forky. They were also scattered a couple hundred yards, making it difficult to keep tabs on all of them. So I sat and watched with no cover whatsoever.
At 1 point, around 150 quail came wandering over. They were all around me chirping and sqwaking. I just knew they'd blow up at any second. Nature's alarm! But they didn't. And just wandered off thru the sparse mesquite. I'd dodged a bullet and was able to keep watching the deer.
I saw the buck slip out thru a small cut. I backed out and circled around to where I thought they'd be.......and nothing. About the time I got up and decided to go back to the truck for some lunch, I jumped him up, and watched him run until he was outta site. Reminded me of my old rifle hunts.
I've never had much luck with grunting muleys. They stop but don't come in. A soft wispy bleat does the trick (Lohman's K'mee Deer bite call is golden) and calls the does and the bucks. As far as decoying, if I'm in a travel route or staging area I use a feeding and alert Montana does. On the move I use the hat and a Heads-up. Works best to "show" it and then make it disappear and reappear. Rattling can be killer too.
The evening of the 6th day, I knew I'd never see that buck again. It was nice knowing him. And I felt like I did at that point. Intimately. Almost like I knew his next move minute by minute. I was sad to see him go. I don't know where these big bucks go the rest of the year, but am convinced they are exclusively nocturnal until it's time to rut.
I had decent phone service and had been staying in touch with my buddy JP periodically with short text exchanges. He'd been experiencing very similar situations of his own on another big buck 15 miles or so away.
After getting back to my travel trailer that night, I called my buddy Harold, who fancies himself "Clyde the phone guide" to fill him in on the events leading up until now. I wasn't looking for Dr Phil, but he was happy to give his "free" advice.
He told me to go to mile marker 44, go thru the second gate, and hunt back there. He said the deer I had been hunting, knew I was there, or at least the does did, and this is why I couldn't get close. Who's he kidding? Or was I kidding myself? (The mile marker was changed to protect my "secret spot" ;)
So after talking to Clyde the phone guide, I had reservations. I had scouted in there and didn't even see a rabbit. But the next morning my truck seemed to have a mind of its own and headed me in that direction.
When I got to the second gate, I spotted a couple does in the distance. So I slowly creeped along the 2 track inching closer. As I topped the second hill, a herd was in the bottom with 1 buck sniffing and pushing a doe. Comical to watch the doe snubb him and watch him go to the next one with the same result. I'm guessing these does were already bred, or I'd of seen a big buck in this herd. I think I may have mentioned in a previous thread that I'm an equal opportunity killer.
My pickup had full attention once again as it did on opening day. Then suddenly they started moving away from the 2 track in a mesquite choked draw. This was my chance. I backed the truck up, and down the hill to the draw on the other side of the ridge, and slammed it in to park, and quickly threw on my pack, and grabbed the D350.
The plan was to hustle down the draw to the east, and cross into the draw the deer were in, and move slowly back to the West with the wind in my face. As luck would have it, this draw merged with the other draw, so I was able to stay in the cover and start back west toward the last place I saw the herd. I took my sweet time glassing thru the mesquite after nearly every step, trying to find a piece of a deer before I was seen.
I looked up and saw the fence line next to the 2 track, and didn't run into the herd. When I looked across the fence, I saw 20-30 does scattered about. They had decided to hop the fence after all. But I still hadn't seen that buck I knew was with them.
There was 1 mesquite bush tall and thick enough, that if I could get to without being seen by 1 of those does, I had a fighting chance to hop the fence and get closer to the herd, and hope to find the buck.
There's no turning back. It's now or never. I'm thinking slow as I go. The same way I had just moved up this draw to get to this point. You ever tried to move in on a herd that's scattered? You have to step at the right time, or it's over. I've been busted so many times by a doe I hadn't seen, though I thought I knew where they were all at. Again, there are always does doing what they do the rest of the year. Looking for predators, like bowhunters.
After moving maybe 20 yards, I felt eyes on me to my right. It was that buck, and he hadn't jumped the fence. Now I have nothing to lose. He's burning a hole thru me with his eyes, and I know the slightest movement will send him on his way.
I slowly reach for my range finder, knowing he will see the movement and bolt. He stayed put perfectly broadside.
Now I'm thinking, surely he's gonna bolt when I slip my rangefinder back into my pocket. But again he stood his ground.
Now I'm thinking he's gonna go when I nock an arrow, and clip my release. But he stayed put!
Is this really happening? Do I have a chance at this deer? I still have to turn 90 degrees and draw my bow. With zero cover! These deer see any kind of movement. Sometimes I think they notice your chest move as you inhale and exhale, but no matter. I turned and drew. To my amazement he didn't even flinch. And neither did I! I pulled thru the shot, and a split second later, he took off. Then I watched him fall! The blood trail was unreal! I wish I would have taken a picture of that. It looked like someone painted a 4' wide red stripe on the dry desert grass!
After cleaning him up a bit and moving him, I realized my pos phone didn't have a delay function where I could take the hero shot. So all I could do is take a couple pics, and get to work. It was already 65 degree's, and getting warmer. So here's last year's little guy :)
I'm really starting to get the itch to spend January's in Arizona! I've only hunted a few days a couple of times, but it is just so different from my regular beat. Thanks for taking us along!
I'd love to experience rutting Muleys in that Country someday...bucket list!
Too bad they cut most of our Jan tags in half and put them in Sept, going to be a tough draw even for residents.