November/December 2013 EBJ (Issue 80) - "Dad, which one do you like the best, the typical or non-typical?”
I can remember the question coming from my son as we would look at deer pictures together some 30 years ago.
As hunters we dream, fantasize and hope of one day taking the animal of our dreams. However, I never thought it would become reality. It always happened to the other guy – the one who for all the right reasons, ends up in the two Eastmans’ journals. But, after 16 years of applying, I had finally drawn an archery tag on the Paunsaugunt unit of southwest Utah.
It was August 19, 2012, the second morning of our hunt. Two hours earlier our guide Jeremy had dropped us off at the blind and explained that he had early season trail cam pictures of a typical buck that would score in the low to mid 180s.
It was an enjoyable but quiet morning when suddenly a buck came walking in from the facing slope, jumped the barbed wire fence and joined two small bucks that had been feeding in front of our blind. That had to be him! When he looked straight at me his velvet antlers were high, wide, had mass and simply beautiful.
"I’m going to shoot that deer,” I whispered to Frank, who was running the video camera.
Sixteen years earlier, Frank and I started applying for the coveted Paunsaugunt tag. We began applying as a party for the late season muzzleloader hunt and after ten unsuccessful years we divorced and applied individually. Our new plan was for Frank to apply for a tag and I would apply for points only. When Frank drew I would accompany him and vice versa. In the 14th year Frank drew and the result was a great buck and wonderful experience.
Louis L’Amour once reflected that "the only thing that doesn’t change is that things always change.” During sixteen years of applying things had changed – the Paunsaugunt deer herd went from great to average. But, in 2011 and 2012 it returned to one of the top mule deer units in the west. To increase draw odds during those sixteen years I became an archer. And most importantly, my philosophy changed during those sixteen years. Early on I measured success by the size of the antlers; now with age I’ve come to enjoy the journey – the process of applying for tags, the anticipation of the draw, months of planning, new equipment, target practice and tons of phone calls to your hunting partner. Then there is the traveling to get there, meeting new people, seeing new terrain, glassing big game animals and occasionally filling a tag. I’ve never seen a buck I didn’t like, it’s just that I like some better than others.
As the big buck fed closer my mind began to race as I questioned my decision to shoot. When the buck looked straight at me I finally decided he was a shooter, but then he turned broadside and his fronts appeared weak. Should I wait? Sixteen years of waiting to draw this tag and it was only Day Two of the hunt. I’m hunting the famed Paunsaugunt and all the stories and pictures of big bucks swirl around in my head. Is there a bigger one out there?
By now, my mental battle and indecision caused me to start shaking. Over the last ten minutes the buck had come to twenty-one yards and was feeding. He showed signs of becoming nervous. I felt Frank’s hand on my knee and I could sense he was telling me to calm down. Suddenly my decision was clear – it’s the journey, and the opportunity was now.
As I came to full draw the buck jerked his head up, tensed his body and stared directly at me. My pin settled, I counted to three and squeezed the trigger. The arrow buried up to the fletch in the buck’s chest and he leaped a barbed wire fence and was gone.
My first words to Frank were, "I made a good shot, I’m humbly grateful.”
Frank and I babbled as we relived the experience we had just shared. The most difficult part, the tracking and recovery was waiting to begin. We found the arrow at 40 yards and the buck piled up another 60 yards beyond. I gave thanks to God for his grace and for the buck of my dreams. The buck was a clean typical, just like the one I picked out 30-plus years ago when my sons and I would look at pictures and dream.
The buck will forever be honored in my memories and in my home. His official gross score was 187-7/8 inches and he netted 183-1/8 inches. At age 72, as I look back over my many outdoor experiences, the ones I remember the most are the friendships. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is important – it’s the journey.