Utah, 2009, DIY, Public Land
There he stood only 39 yards away, a giant of a buck I had been watching for three years now. My pre-hunt intention was to let him live another year. But now, as I sat watching him feed unaware of my presence, I knew I had a buck of a lifetime at my fingertips.
It was a hot August afternoon. My brother Richard and I had hunted hard all morning with no success in locating the trophy mulies we had watched throughout the summer. Many thoughts coursed through me.
My father, Tom Hirschi, and mother, the late Kaye Wright Hirschi, both came from families who spent much time outdoors either turning the earth or chasing cattle. Both of them have a great love for the outdoors. One of my first memories afield is that of deer hunting in Nevada. As a small boy, I fell off the bunk bed in the camper while sleeping. My dad helped me climb into bed next to him and mom. A short time later, I wet the bed, because I was so afraid of mountain lions I didn’t want to go outside in the middle of the night! Dad forgave me, and still continued to take me hunting.
As soon as I was old enough to hunt pheasants, I was there. I had two great mentors, Gerald Tichenor and Don Lay. Gerald had a great enthusiasm for hunting birds. He would show up at about 7:45 a.m., hand me a beautiful shotgun, and say “Let’s go get `em!” I also anticipated the days that Don Lay would bring one of his fine dogs to uncover those hard hunted birds. The pheasant hunt was never long enough.
I can still remember the smell of pine nuts roasting in the small log cabin stove, as family, friends, and I lay in our sleeping bags, reliving the stories of yesteryear, and dreaming about the big mulies of tomorrow. It was October 1981; we were gathered together for a deer hunt like no other. The late Harlon Winder would always provide plenty of pine nuts. Without fail, he would show up with a new hunting rifle, something with a beautiful wood stock that looked like it could shoot across large canyons with ease. My late uncle, Joe C a m p b e l l , came back to camp later on opening day with blood on his hands. We helped him bring back his big buck, the best deer taken out of our camp that year. What an inspiration. He could cover ground, and I figured then that that’s one of the keys to finding the big ones. I was 13, totally enamored by big deer at that point, and my enthusiasm was multiplying with every thought of hunting.
My first mule deer hunt was not at all what I had imagined. Dad and Uncle Dick (Richard Hirschi) had drawn limited entry tags for the Bumble Bee Unit, along with Don Lay. Uncle Dick let me take his shiny Remington .30-06 BDL on my first hunt, and many more. He never complained about how I seemed to always bring it back with a few more marks in the stock. I would be hunting with my Grandpa, Keith Campbell, and a cousin, Merlin Spendlove. We spent most of the morning trying to get unstuck and then somehow made it back to town for the BYU game.
The second weekend I spent on Monroe Mountain. My uncle Kelly Dutton and I rode horses up into the hills to find that first buck. We spotted a couple of deer across a small canyon. I dropped the reins and let the lead fly. The excitement was unreal, and after five shots, I had hit him once. He dropped into a wash and I tracked him for a finishing shot. What a sight as we emerged from the canyons with bucks across the saddles leading our horses! Uncle Kelly’s buck won the most unique in a contest, and I had my first buck - a yearling - which wasn’t much, but I had tasted success. I was so excited to think I was now adding to the freezer and not just consuming.
Now, with much more enthusiasm, I searched the issues of Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, and many others. Dreams of big bucks filled my mind.
For my second hunt, I was hunting with my friend, Jay Hinton, and younger brother, Steven. We had hiked up into the ledges because it was there that my father said the “big ones” lived. We jumped a deer out of his bed and I heard the distinct sound of his antlers rattling through the limbs of a tree as he slipped away. Now I was living the stories of famous hunting legends. I waited about 20 minutes and then made a big loop. After still-hunting for 30 minutes, I walked up on the giant mulie, giving myself a 35-yard shot. I fired and then realized I had killed a big buck that was trying to outwit me. Dreams materialized that day.
Uncle Dick let us take his Chevy truck on one of our most memorable elk hunts, where my older brother David and I both harvested our first bulls. We still talk about where that truck went, but not in the presence of Uncle Dick. It took us hours to clean and polish it.
Archery hunting sounded so exciting as I listened to my cousins, Ted Dutton and Willie Billings, tell about chasing big bulls with bows and arrows. I began to envision myself slipping an arrow through the ribs of an unexpecting elk. This became a serious challenge. I began working on selling this idea to my friends and family.
Dan Gubler, Craig Leavitt, and I ventured out on our first archery hunt with great hopes. We had elk licenses and planned to hunt Boulder Mountain. This was a great leap of faith as we soon learned how tough archery hunting can be. We three greenhorns were being educated by the school of hard knocks. Many memories were made, including walking off the top of Boulder Mountain after a blown motor, eating enough orange bread to last anyone a lifetime, and the failed opportunities to harvest an elk.
Elk encounters were few but very exciting. Many hard lessons were learned at first and problems were solved as I spent some valuable time visiting with Rich VanAusdal and Bob Cobb, of Van’s Archery. If I could have absorbed all they gave me in knowledge I’d be much further ahead. I am very grateful for these lessons, which challenged me to improve and seek more knowledge.
My younger brother, Steven, was now “converted” to archery. In September of 1994, Steven, Craig, and I headed for Colorado. It was our first out of state elk hunting experience. True to the slogan, greener pastures were ahead. We had an incredible time chasing big bulls every day. One exciting week later, I harvested my first elk with a bow. A milestone was reached that day.
My focus was changing. I initially started bowhunting for the opportunity to chase elk during the rut. However, over the past few seasons in the woods during archery elk season, I started to believe it might be possible to consistently harvest a big mulie with a bow. Now this began to be my focus. I’m not the sharpest stick in the bunch, so it took me awhile to transition from a gun hunter to a successful bowhunter. I think age helped in slowing me down. I’ve been educated more times than I care to tell by these smart, old mulies and I still continue to make my share of mistakes.
I had a chance meeting with Jace Ferguson from Wyoming while going to Dixie College. I had dabbled in calling coyotes, but with no real success. He offered to take me out and show me the ropes. We had coyotes howling all around us. We sneaked in and let out a rabbit squeal. I can still hear that coyote busting through the brush as if his fur was on fire. Hunting coyotes has helped educate me with firsthand experience to understand the effect that predators have on our struggling deer herds. Since then I’ve expedited the expiration of hundreds of coyotes.
Over the years, I’ve grown to have a greater appreciation for God’s creations. We have been given dominion over the earth and all things therein. It is our responsibility to manage and use them with thankfulness of heart.
So, as I knelt, watching this magnificent buck, pondering all the experiences and people that have brought me to this point, I am grateful. I would like to dedicate this story to those who have inspired, helped, urged, and loved me.
Tension is building. Is he going to turn and allow me a shot or am I just chalking this one up to experience? He turns and looks back. I’m frozen, wondering if I’ve just been cheated by the wind. He looks away, and immediately my racing heart begins to settle as I prepare to deliver one deadly arrow. I draw on him with a flood of memories of thousands of arrows released with this one shot in mind, and watch the arrow as it almost instantaneously slips through him.
As I come upon him, I collapse to the earth and offer thanks for all I’ve been given. He is a beautiful 8x10, grossing 236 Pope and Young. This was one of those rare hunting moments that we work so hard for. It was incredible to have my brother Richard with me, watching the entire event unfold.