May/June 2013 EBJ (Issue 77) - I have found that a big mule deer is one of the hardest North American species to bowhunt successfully on a consistent basis. There aren’t that many of them, they get a lot of pressure from hunters and predators, and you can’t make any mistakes under 70 yards. I love hunting them in the early season in the velvet when they are visible and semi-predictable, but as my business has grown I find myself being more responsible about leaving my pro shop in August. I know I am going to get some laughs from my buddies about claiming to be responsible.
Alberta has their early season in September, which works much better for me. They have really cut back on their rifle tags, have very little archery pressure and unlimited groceries for their wildlife. I missed a 195-class buck there by inches on a long shot and took my best whitetail on the same hunt a 178” monster in mild weather.
My other favorite time to hunt really big stuff is in the rut when we are all vulnerable. I intercepted a really nice buck last January in Sonora that was following some does out of an alfalfa field into an arroyo, a classic 5x5 typical that grossed 189”even with weak back points. My ultimate trophy would be a huge nontypical mule deer with extra points and double drop tines, like a Cody Robbins buck, but since we can’t hunt Saskatchewan and there will probably never be another buck like that, the other mecca for big nontypicals is eastern Colorado.
I have hunted the plains one other time in the late nineties taking a buck named Stickers. He had been missed many times by rifle hunters, muzzleloaders, and archers. I was lucky enough to grunt him in and arrow him on the first afternoon one late November afternoon at 50 yards. With a great main frame, a 30” outside spread and some stickers, he grossed 196. He was a little past his prime, and had probably been even bigger at one time, but was still truly a legend. It was time to revisit the eastern plains of Colorado.
Wes Atkinson of Atkinson Expeditions has a passion for taking huge bucks. He’s not only a good negotiator in securing the best leases, but a great bowhunter, and as I was to find out later a pretty darn good videographer.
Our first conversation was classic. I told him I was interested in shooting a 200-class buck and his reply was, "You know how many times a day I hear that?”
He said that it could be done because they usually take several bucks that will gross over 200” every year, but that they aren’t around every corner, volunteering to be arrowed. I was thinking that November would be the best time to hunt them catching them out on the prowl during the rut, but he recommended that we hunt the opener on October 1st and pattern a buck that was still in his summer routine. He said the rut is fantastic for seeing lots of deer, but it’s hard to keep track of the few truly giant bucks that we wanted to target. I am not a guy that is obsessed with score, but it just so happens that the most impressive trophies have a lot of inches associated with them.
An outfitter is only as good as his guides and he said he would pair me up with Jeremy Fiscus. Jeremy has lived in the plains his whole life and taken a great buck just about every year with his bow, including a 208” that was featured on the cover of EBJ. Jeremy hunts nonstop and has by far the best instincts of any deer hunter that I have ever been around. He is a humble, cool dude to hang out with. Hunting with Jeremy was like hunting with your best buddy that has hunted in a really good place and is willing to share his spot with you.
By mid-July the bucks were starting to show their potential, Wes and Jeremy had several quality candidates that looked like they were going to finish up in the "excellent” category. Because the terrain is real open, most of the glassing is done at real long range in CRP crops that the farmers aren’t using any more. The less they’re harassed, the better the chances of them staying put. There has been a pretty severe drought across most of the West and I was hoping for a big non-typical but I told Wes that I would be happy hunting the best buck we could find with the conditions that we were dealt.
The buck that Jeremy was most impressed with had a great frame with some extra points and great mass; he thought it would be in there mid-190 class. There were several other Plan B bucks that were in and out of corn patches, making them less conspicuous and harder to pattern.
I had a week after my Alberta Shiras moose hunt to take care of business, do a little surfing, and make sure my open country bow set up was still dialed in. I am shooting the new Limbsaver Proton bow set at 72 pounds, with Victory VAP 350 arrows tipped with an Ulmer Edge 100 broadhead. For moose and other ultra-tough animals I have another bow set at 74 pounds and use the Shuttle T-lock 125 fixed-blade heads or Ulmer Edge Stainless 125’s. I also practiced shooting on my knees quite a bit.
I arrived the evening before the opener and Wes was pretty jacked up. They had spotted the targeted buck in a really good place. Now if he would just stay put overnight we should have a good opportunity at a quality stalk.
Gray light found the three of us glassing from a grassy knoll about a mile and a half from the sorghum and weed patch that the big boy had been calling home. It was cold, which was great for deer movement and there was a steady 20 mph wind coming out of the north to help negate two of his major senses. It wasn’t long before we started seeing deer dotted across the semi-open landscape.
Jeremy spotted a big-framed deer in the general area that our target buck had been frequenting, but wasn’t sure if he was our guy. There were several other mature bucks roaming about and the conditions were making it hard to positively identify our boy, even through the Swarovski spotting scope. After about an hour the buck fed over some rolling hills just out of sight to bed down. He was by himself, which was a real plus, but we didn’t see exactly where he bedded. The stars were starting to align and the compass was pointing in the right direction. It was time to make something happen.
As we were circling downwind of the bedding area I spotted a coyote working his way right to us. We were still a long way from the buck so I decided to do a little predator control warmup shot. We all got down on our knees as he hunted his way right to us. I ranged him at 38 yards, drew my bow back, and waited for a decent angle. When he squared up I got a good sight picture but I got into the release a little strong and the arrow zinged inches over his back. I was a little disappointed at the miss but it was going to make me focus on proper shot execution in the very near future.
Our approach brought us to the lower edge of the cover where we anticipated the buck had bedded. As we navigated between sorghum patches with a strong cross wind we had the task of picking apart any cover that could possibly hide a deer. Most of the cover was waist to chest high.
An hour and a half into our stalk Jeremy picked out an antler tip. It was almost impossible to see at 68 yards but what made it stand out in the 20 mph wind was that it was the only thing that was not moving. It was the most impressive job of spotting I have ever seen. I told Jeremy that I didn’t want to get too close because the closer you try to get, the better the chance of blowing him out.
With the cover we had and the strong crosswind, 30 yards was the distance that I knew I could close the deal. We inched closer until we got to our destination. I detached my quiver to make aiming in the wind easier and settled in for what could have been a very long wait.
About an hour and a half later the buck shook his antlers. I came to full draw just in case he decided to stand, which is exactly what he did. He was broadside, looking right at us with only his head and massive rack exposed. His demeanor wasn’t full panic but it didn’t look like he was going to step out and offer a perfectly clear shot. My 30-yard pin found a gap in between the stalks right where my instincts decided that the vitals were. I eased into my release with steady back tension and followed through. The arrow hit exactly where it was aimed because as the buck bounded into the open a large red spot appeared right in the sweet spot. I remember Wes saying, "You smoked him!”
He bounded for about a hundred yards, did a buttonhook, and fell over on camera. This is the moment where all of the tension and thoughts of past failures are overcome with pure elation and disbelief. It was a total team effort. Wes looked over at Jeremy and said that they had way underestimated the size of the buck, Jeremy agreed. I was just so happy that we closed the deal so cleanly on such a majestic animal.
As we approached the biggest buck of my life some of the extras became evident; there were extra points, extra-long eye guards, and extra mass everywhere. He probably weighed 280 pounds on the hoof and was the best eating deer that I have ever taken. Wes and Jeremy are official scorers, and after double-checking the calculations they came up with 226-4/8 official SCI score with a 209” main typical frame.