May/June 2013 EBJ (Issue 77) - I could not believe what had just happened. I sat down and fell over, overcome by emotions, and was lying in a cactus. I had just harvested one of the most massive bucks I had ever hunted! I had followed this particular buck for three years and I was almost convinced that I had used everything I knew about hunting to finally put an arrow through him. I lay there, reminiscing about the journey that brought me to this point.
It was Friday, the eve of the 2010 bow season and I was sitting at the funeral services for Todd Hall. A tragic accident had ended his life too early. His father Jeff is a good friend and hunting buddy of mine. I was pondering what to do this year and I had the impression to write Todd’s name on my tag and stuff it away. The purpose was to remind me to spend more time hunting with my family and friends.
The next morning as the hunting season began, I was excited to focus on helping others reach their hunting goals. Daylight found my daughter McKenzie, my brother Matt, and me glassing for big mulies. I spotted a big mature buck about 7:30 a.m., so we watched him most of the day. After changing beds six times, he was finally in a stalkable location. Matt put the moves on him and whack, he nailed him at 60 yards. To see Matt and the look that was on his face was unforgettable.
McKenzie and Jeff both had deer tags, but after several days and as many shots, we became resigned to the fact that we had not failed, but learned some valuable lessons. We were able to spend some quality time with Jeff, and in so doing, we were strengthened by his example and his vision of life.
My brother Richard had a limited bull elk tag for the same area we were hunting and we spent quite a bit of time together on that beautiful mountain. I was excited to help him harvest his first archery bull.
The muzzleloader hunt was next. Our second daughter Bailee had a tag, so we ventured out into the hills together. We had a good time glassing for bucks, but it proved to be a challenging hunt. We hunted hard for six days until we glassed our first mature buck. I had been watching this buck for three years and I knew he had the potential to be a giant. As a four year old he was impressive, to say the least. So we had to make a tough decision. Do we take him this year or leave him to grow? We decided that with only one day left, we were going to go for him.
Bailee and I stalked to about 90 yards from where the buck was bedded. We crawled over a small ridge with the buck looking directly at us. He got nervous, jumped to his feet and up the hill he went.
I whispered to Bailee, "Get ready! He’s going to stop at the top of the ridge, but you won’t have much time.”
She steadied herself, and when the buck stopped, she fired. Smoke filled the air and I knew she had hit him good. He ran over the ridge and disappeared. We hurried to the spot on the ridge where he had last been seen. Looking over the edge, I could see the buck. He had gone about 25 yards and fell down a small cliff to his end. Bailee had taken her first buck, and he was a trophy! She was excited.
Now it was Caitlyn’s turn. Caitlyn is our third daughter. We spent opening day looking for a couple bucks we had been keeping tabs on. At last light I spotted "Butch” with no time to make a play on him. Monday morning came, and because it had been raining all morning, we wondered if we should stay in or head out and look for Butch again. We decided to head for the hills to try and glass for bucks and worked one particular ridge all morning as it continued to rain steadily. We were almost back to the truck when it suddenly began to clear, so we decided to go at it again.
Not long into our glassing, I spotted him about 1,000 yards away. I watched him for a while, hoping he would not go too far. After feeling confident that he would stay put, we began making a stalk on him. We needed to move to a spot where I could video and Caitlyn could get an optimal shot.
After a long, cold, wet six hours, the buck rose from his bed to feed and Caitlyn fired a shot, dropping him in his tracks. He rolled and fell off a 15 foot cliff, breaking his left antler. WOW! Caitlyn had just harvested a 10-year-old buck that I had watched for several years.
The spike elk hunt was upon us, so Jeff and I ventured into the hills once again. We saw eight spikes but could not make anything work. It’s amazing to me that, even when there is no harvest, there is something about being at one with nature that brings peace to the soul and invigoration to life.
Later, my son, Brigham, and I went with Jeff on his cow elk hunt. It was a rainy, cold December day and we lots of elk as the fog moved in and out. We found some elk after the fog cleared and put a stalk on them, getting about 250 yards from a small herd. Jeff finally picked a big cow out of the herd and dropped her. Then the work began. The three of us hauled elk meat through the rain and cold for the rest of the day. It was a tough pack out, but finally Jeff ’s first elk was loaded and in the truck.
That fall was one I’ll never forget - helping family and friends, making memories, and building relationships – moments never to be forgotten. The priceless memories we will cherish forever because of lessons we learned from Todd’s life. All these memories flooded through my head as I lay there in the cactus, soaking in the magnitude of the shot I had just made.
For a full account of Mike's adventure, go to page 20 in the May/June 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.