Sweet String Music

By Michael Waddell

Michael WaddellMichael Waddell
Colorado, 2006

Rhett Akins is used to being under pressure to perform from the many years of being a country music singer. Many nights the responsibility of entertaining screaming fans rested firmly on his ability to sing in tune and pick his trusty camo guitar. However, the spotlight was shining a little different on this cool Colorado morning as Rhett found himself lying fl at on his stomach inching closer and closer to what looked like a 190-inch mule deer bedded down in the middle of a huge milo field. As he stalked ever so slowly, the Realtree Roadtrip cameras were documenting every sand spur that pricked his hands and knees as well as every breath he took. His heartbeat could be heard plain as day through the wireless mic that was placed on his chest for the TV show.

Rhett's guide, Brian, was sneaking right beside him and at around 33 yards he whispered to Rhett, 'This is close enough. Get ready to come to full draw!'The wind in their face and Max-1 camo had kept them hidden from the eyes and ears of the P&Y mule deer until this point. In position, the crew looked like statues growing out of the knee-high milo as they came up on their knees anticipating a shot. Rhett came to full draw and waited for Brian to grunt at the buck to get him to stand up.

'Ahhhng, ahhhhhhg,' Brian blurted. Realtree cameraman, Chuck Sumner rolled his focus in the direction of the non-typical mule deer as he looked right at the lens and rose to his feet.

Within seconds the brute was standing broadside looking towards the odd noise in the milo. Rhett readied, aimed and then aimed even harder swapping pins, trying to gauge if the buck was 30 yards or closer to 40? Quick decisions can take forever when in crunch time. Rhett�s mind was made up. He would hold his 40-yard pin mid-ship and pray for mule deer venison. He sent a carbon arrow toward the big buck only to see it sail over the monarch�s back. It was a clean miss, and he was sick. Four hours of stalking, numerous sand spurs and a sore lower back from all the crouching and crawling were the only reminders of his fi rst encounter with the monster mule deer of southeast Colorado.

Headed West
This Roadtrip had been one I had looked forward to for a long time. I love to hunt the western states; there is just something about this wild frontier and its unspoiled wildlife that lights a fi re in any bowhunter who pursues trophy animals.

I knew Aaron Neilson, Owner of Adventures Wild, ran a great outfit from having the chance to visit there the year before and seeing tons of huge mule deer. There were more than just big mule deer running around this country though. Long time pal Cameron Hanes, the western big game hammer man, shot a whitetail on a spot-and-stalk hunt a couple years ago that scored well over 170 P&Y.

Let's Go Hunting.
The first morning of our hunt we glassed large crop fields trying to find big whitetail or mulies drifting back toward the wide open plains to bed. The strategy was simple, find a trophy, watch him bed, check the wind and plan the stalk that could result in a good arrow..

Good optics are the key and even with high-end glasses it takes your eyes several hours, sometimes days to adjust to fi nding deer miles away on the open prairie. Aaron found deer with ease, while I struggled to make out the animals that he had already spotted..

My heart beat wildly when Aaron mumbled, ' Oh my goodness, now that is a big whitetail.'I really did not need to even see the buck or even find out an estimate on score after that. I was just hoping we could keep an eye on him and that he would bed down in an area that would allow a stalk. Luck was certainly on our side as the monster 155-inch buck bedded down in a little depression on top of a small fl at in a perfect area to try a stalk. Glassing the stud from around a mile away, we had to pick our landmarks carefully before heading in for the kill. We had picked a large yucca bush for a landmark a top the ridge the buck bedded on, and in no time we were within a 100 yards of the large white rack that stuck out over the sage and other small yucca's on the ridge. The wind was blowing briskly in our face and making just enough noise to cover the noise of our crouched walk..

Moving in on the bedded buck in a crouched position we had made it to 50 yards, and kept closing the distance, 47, 42, 38, 37. By the time we reached 32 yards we had transitioned to a kneeling position and I was coming to full draw. I could only see the tips of the antlers, but I could tell that he was indeed a giant, looking closer to a 160-inch buck rather than 150. One thing was for sure he was plenty big enough, even for the first stalk, of the first day of hunting. Truthfully, I was disappointed a little because it almost seemed too easy. I was not nervous and it seemed like our whole group had gotten a little cocky. I glanced back towards Aaron and Marc Womack, the producer and cameraman for Realtree Roadtrips TV. Marc was actually grinning like a possum eating briars, almost like, 'Man this is easy, but go ahead an kill em'. I was thinking the same thing.

The plan was for Aaron to pick up a dried piece of cow manure and throw it in the direction of the bedded buck. This was a strategy that he had used many, many times on prior stalks to get his hunter's good clean shots. I slowly came to full draw, took some deep breaths and found my anchor point. My 30-yard pin needed be a little hot to pick up the extra 2 to 3 yards that the rangefinder had found the distance to be.

Aaron tossed a cow pie, and the buck did not even move. The second try proved to make him not only move, but get up and run like an impala being chased by lions. It would be safe to say we were all humbled. The cocky little grins that we had all sported just seconds prior had turned to looks of confusion and, 'Oh damn,'stares.

Time to Get Serious...
Our second day of the hunt offered no great opportunities for stalks, but we did fi nd plenty more specimens worthy of our Colorado archery deer tags. I still could not get over the size of the some of the whitetails in this country. On average every deer spotted that looked over 3 1/2 years of age, sported headgear that would easily go over 150, and the mule deer genetics seemed to hold on strong too. Most mature deer looked to be 165 or better. No doubt we were in the right place! It was time to get serious as we awoke to the third day of our hunt.

Shoot Straight and Bring the Truck
Rhett and his crew headed out and it did not take the posse long after daybreak to spot a solid 185-plus mule deer bedded down with 8 to 10 does. This always makes stalking more difficult with all the other eyes in the group, but there is no way to fill a tag talking about how impossible things can be, it was time to close the coffin. Slowly but surely the three hunters crawled along side high sage on the edge of a milo field where the deer had been feeding at daylight. It had taken a solid hour to get within 100 yards, and ended up taking another two to close 50 more yards. As always, the camera made the situation even more difficult. At 45 yards, one of the does saw some movement and got nervous making all the other deer begin to get up including the big buck. It was now or never. Rhett quickly got a range, drew back, doubled checked with the cameraman and let his arrow fly.

The camera perfectly captured the arch of the arrow sailing toward the broadside buck. It appeared the arrow was going high, just before it dropped in perfectly. Rhett had delivered in the crunch on a very difficult shot and was now about to have a heart attack absorbing what had just went down.

After a quick tracking job, Rhett and the gang recovered his giant buck that ended up grossing out at 185 6/8 Pope & Young. By the time we made it to them we were not only welcomed with the sight of Rhett's dead buck, but also with the knowledge that they had just found the buck that Rhett had missed on the first day, bedded down in a thick yucca patch. A quick high five to Rhett and we once again had the cameras rolling trying to knock number two down for the day.

Sure enough the stud was bedded in a perfect position to stalk. His head, neck and body were completely covered and the only thing visible was a huge high rack that towered over the thorny yucca plant. My heart was thumping. I knew this more than likely was going to be my chance, and my country music singing buddy had put some serious pressure on me by lacing his buck with a perfect 45-yard shot. To lay it on even heavier, Rhett and his 'A Team'of guide and cameraman were perched on a little ridge about 700 yards away watching our entire stalk.

The great thing about making this stalk was that the wind was blowing; the bad news on this stalk was that the wind was blowing very, very hard making it impossible to shoot past 30 yards. I was hoping I could get 20 yards for an ultra, high-percentage shot.

I don't think it took us 30 minutes to get within 40 yards. At this point we slowed our pace down to a crawl and got on edge as we slid in for the kill. I just buried my head and shoulders in the grass and counted off the yards in my head as I crawled. Slowly, I gathered my composure and looked back at Marc to make sure he was ready. One last quick glance was made to my compadre, Aaron, who had made the stalk with me and now was two yards behind me to my right. Nothing was said, but our expressions said it all. I slowly made my way up to my knees only to see the biggest mule deer rack I've ever seen 15 yards away. The buck did not even have a clue we were in the universe much less in his bedroom. I drew my bow and readying myself to play a little Hoyt string music. Settling in with the string lightly touching my nose and with my 20-yard pin hovering over the buck, I waited for my trophy to rise from the milo.

At the same time, Aaron and I let out a loud grunt, and almost immediately the monster stood up and started to look our way. He never even settled in broadside before he started to run, but it was too late. The release had already given in and let the arrow fly toward his now quartering away body. I remember seeing the orange nock and yellow vanes disappear into the buck just behind the last rib, lodging lengthwise up into the boiler room. The buck bounded off into the prairie land a short 75-yards before piling up. My first ever mule deer with a bow was now lying down the trail in front of me... what a feeling.

Our last night there in camp Rhett and I sat around the campfire holding our mule deer racks, only putting them down to pick up the guitars and play Hank Jr.'s, 'A Country Boy Can Survive.'Rhett sounded out, putting on a great show for everyone in camp. Personally, I don't know if the song has ever sounded any sweeter or true as it did that night with the fire doing its best to hold off the bite of that cold Colorado air. It was truly an experience I'll never forget.