New Mexico, 2010, Guided, Public Land
When I think about hunting, it’s probably the weather that starts to define my emotional connection with each memory. Is it cold and crisp? Is it filled with the scent of trees and plants? Is it hot and humid so I seek shade every chance? The things outside our control, such as weather, can be taken as a limitation or as a gift; it is what it is and there’s no need to worry about it. The fact that there was almost a foot of snow on the ground at the beginning of our mule deer hunt was just a matter of fact, but it was also the enabling catalyst of our success.
No one would miss 2009 – a year of terrible economic challenges and stress for many Americans. So what better way to end it than scouting with three friends leading up to archery mule deer season in northwest New Mexico? Dan, Daniel, and James all live in the southwest corner of the state near the Gila National Forest. My deer hunt in New Mexico was a chance to kill a big buck, so I asked for their help and they jumped at the chance to do this together.
I am not a trophy hunter; I am an “experience” hunter. If you called me to join you on an adventure for a species I’ve never even heard of, I’ll be checking airfares and my work schedule within seconds. I don’t care if I’m shooting or filming, or simply an extra pair of eyes. If I like the people or the place, I’m in. Luckily, this hunt would combine great people and amazing scenery.
My hunt area is full of high mesas, sheer cliffs, and hidden valleys. The roads in this territory meander like the random path of an energy-filled four-year-old. These roads always seem to want to end around the next corner but usually continue to wander off, seemingly forever.
The randomness belies an underlying system that holds the deer in certain places, for their own reasons. You don’t need to understand every reason why they do it; you simply need to accept it, and find the sign.
We drove and walked the paths for four days, through New Year’s Eve and Day, to narrow down the best spot for deer activity. Dan, Daniel and James (I’ll call them DDJ) are like the Jacks in a deck of cards, each with his own style but with the same purpose – in this case, to find and harvest the best quality animal. Their friendship underlies their interactions. A quick comment, a polite suggestion, or, if you are the hunter, a shot of confidence flows naturally from the three.
The bucks were cutting back and forth across the mesa tops and showing themselves in the edges of daylight. Pretty soon an overwhelming expanse of hunting ground became one particular mesa. Eight tanks of gas later, it revealed itself to be the spot in which we would plant our hope.
I have never been blessed with the opportunity to hunt mule deer. For me, having only moved to the West in 2008, this was the opportunity for which I came here. After hunting four times with these guys previously, we could share experiences equally without regard to who carries the weapon. The honor was being able to work together as one unit to see more, interpret more, and to arrive at a group conclusion.
We left at 5 a.m. on Jan. 2 to set up at first light near the edge of a field where we bedded a huge-bodied buck the night before. A second buck provided the relative contrast to emphasize the mass of this old boy. He had a wide rack with average tine length, but his heft left just as big an impression. He still has that mass as far as I know, because we never saw him that morning.
For a full account of John's adventure, go to page 44 in the November/December 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.