DIY, public land
It was January 16th, 2002. I had just sat down to do some coyote calling when out of the juniper trees came three bucks. The best buck had a good spread, but looked young. He didn’t appear to have much mass to his head gear. Even so, I was impressed and excited by the potential that buck could have if allowed to reach his prime.
That is how the saga began.
Over the next three years I didn’t devote much time to the buck, because I was hunting bucks that were already in their prime years. In December 2004, I located the buck again and was quite impressed at what a few years had done. He had grown to a thirty-plus, 195” class typical. He had a great typical frame with a little extra off his left G2. He was preaching to the other bucks on how to grow a magnificent typical rack. Respectfully, I named him “Pastor”.
The hunt for the Pastor intensified. The shed hunting in the spring of ‘05 was miserable, to say the least. The grass was already a foot high by the time the bigger bucks had dropped their antlers. I had a great time with my children, looking and enjoying the great spring weather, but we came up short. The heat of summer started to pour on and I gave up on the search until cooler temperatures came.
The archery hunt proved fruitless, with no sign of the pastor in the area yet. The muzzleloader hunt was the same; I scouted the area a few days prior to the hunt. Still no sign - so I went to help my cousin, Willie Billings, with a limited muzzleloader bull elk tag. He killed a great 350-class bull. While we were elk hunting another fellow was hunting the Pastor and picked up the last two sets of his sheds. It was hard to swallow, but I made a resolution that I was going to be the one to harvest that giant buck.
The rifle hunt was much the same, with no sign of the Pastor, but I did learn much about his home range. He finally showed up during the rut. I was glassing one cold crisp morning when, there he was. When I spotted him it was like seeing a long lost friend. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he had made it through all the hunts. It was astonishing to see such a magnificent specimen. He had grown to an incredible 208 inches. I had been worried he would not come back as strong, because as I watched him the previous winter, I noticed he had a runny nose. Throughout the next couple months I went to the mountain to watch him preach. It was nice to know that he was continuing to pass on great genetics.
The spring of 2006 was full of excitement, as I watched and anticipated the moment that he would drop those coveted ornaments. Within a four day period he had dropped them, and the hunt was on. After seven days, and on my birthday, I found both antlers stacked on top of each other - what a sight! Brad Anderson, Kristine (My wife) and some of my children were along for the fun. It was an awesome moment. I have the sheds mounted in my archery shop.
Later, in 2006, I received noticed I had drawn a coveted Paunsagaunt tag through the dedicated hunter program. It was for the rifle season and was take it or leave it. I gambled that we would have another warm fall and the Pastor would not be huntable on winter ground. I kept tabs on his haunts through all the seasons, but there was no sign of that legend. My Paunsagaunt hunt was tough; I was very fortunate to harvest a great 30 1/2-inch, eight-year-old buck.
Just like clock-work, he showed up to take care of business with the does. He had declined about 7-8 percent from the previous season. We did not have quite as good a spring in 2006 as 2005. He had added some mass to his antlers though.
I was doing some figuring and thought I would have a good chance of picking up his sheds, on a certain day. Mike Ahlstrom, my partner in Lightning Archery, along with some of my kids and I were searching for him. Mike found him, and he only had one antler!” I came over and videoed the Pastor for a minute, then he made tracks to the other side of the valley. We kept watching him and to our amazement, he dropped his remaining antler.
The 2007 summer scouting was going good at higher elevations. I was seeing more big bucks than I had seen for a number of years. Little did I know that one evening in July would change the whole bowhunt for me. Mike and I were out in search of that giant of a deer, looking in some of the places I had seen him in the past. I think my jaw was sore from dropping to the ground when we saw him. I had dreamed of what it would be like to see him in the velvet for many years now - oh, what a sight to behold. For nearly the next month I spent all my extra time watching him, trying to devise a strategy that would be fool proof. The day before the opener, he was nowhere to be found. Much like the old bucks, I had done my best to watch my backtrack as well. I didn’t see anyone else in search of him, so I planned to wait above one of the beds he frequented.
Now I had a great team with me to help harvest The Pastor: Three of my brothers, Steven, Richard, and Matthew, two of my children, Bailee and Brigham and Mike Ahlstrom. Mike and Steven were filming and everyone else was spotting. Mike and I waited for nearly five hours above the anticipated final bed while watching him bed across the canyon just 180 yards away.
Finally, at nearly 11 a.m., some of the other bucks started to get up and I thought “it won't be long now”. The Pastor finally stood, stretched, turned around and vacated the canyon. We all watched in disbelief thinking “what now”. We did our best to follow him with optics, but no one could see him anymore. We had a good idea that he had bedded in a large group of trees. We relocate closer to where we last saw him, to try spotting him again. Steven made an incredible spot by glassing him bedded. He bedded for about an hour and then started to move again. We decided to have Richard keep an eye on him while the rest moved to another vantage point. He went about 600 yards and bedded within 200 yards of Richard. We all gathered in the early afternoon and watched him. While we tried to formulate a new strategy, Kristine came up and joined the group.
While Kristine and I were looking at him through the scope, it came to me. With hardly a moment to waste, I set out on the stalk of a lifetime. I kept telling myself “you are in no hurry to mess this one up”.
I was able to get within 32 yards by crab crawling down the steep rocky ledge above him. For nearly three and a half hours I endured muscle cramps, southern Utah’s scorching sun and the almost constant stare of one of the bucks. I could’ve shot him in his bed, but I held out for him to stand, move out from behind the tree and pose for the camera. That was probably the most foolish thing I’ve ever done, but I had to much invested in that buck to not do everything I could to capture it on video. Luckily, my gamble paid off. He finally stood, walked around the tree, and down the hill.
I used my rangefinder to give me the true range of 42 yards. It was a very steep angle and I held my 40-yard pin high and back on his left side. I was sitting jammed into a rock to my left, so it was difficult for me to keep everything squared up for the shot. I have practiced many precarious shooting positions, but never one that tough. I drew my bow, aimed, released and watched my arrow disappear into his vitals behind his left front shoulder. He lunged to the right and shattered the arrow as it exited his brisket. He busted down the hill, separated from the other bucks, and slipped down into some trees.
He stood there with his head low, but didn't lay down. My shot had been less than perfect. Wondering if it was fatal, I decided to try to put another arrow in him. I was able to make one final stalk to within 36 yards and put another arrow through his lungs. He went 40 yards and the saga was over. It was an awesome moment to witness the fallen giant. He is 30 1/4 inches wide, with a 204 1/8 Pope & Young gross score. Not his best year, but I felt very fortunate as I wrapped my tag around those beautiful velvet antlers.
I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have helped or inspired me. Thanks, Dad, for taking me to the mountains and teaching me appreciation for God’s creations. Thanks to my team of hunters who showed their dedication to trophy mule deer. Thank you EBJ for all that you have done to make this experience live forever. Thanks to Damon Stone and Kregg Thomassen of Determination Outdoors - the video of my hunt will be on “Determination #3”. I can never say enough about my wonderful wife, Kristine, and family. Their support for my obsession with Lightning Archery Inc. and hunting is unequaled. I thank God for all that I have.
About the Author:
Mike and Kristine have been married for nearly 18 years and live in Hurricane, Utah. They have eight children - four girls and four boys - also in that order. They include Allie, 15, Bailee, 13, Caitlyn, 12, Mckenzie, 10, Brigham, 8, Zebediah, 6, Judd, 3 and Luke, 2. Mike is the manager of Farmer Brothers, St. George Branch, and also owns and operates Lightning Archery with his business partner. With all that and church callings, their house is a busy place.
Bow: Hoyt Vectrix XL.
Arrows: Easton ACC.
Broadheads: Innerloc stainless extreme.
Rangefinder: Leupold RX-II.
Rest: Whisker Bisket.