March/April 2014 EBJ (Issue 82) - My hunting buddy encouraged me to apply for a nonresident Wyoming trophy mule deer tag I knew little about. It sounded like a good unit and fueled with my love for mountain bowhunting, I knew I had to try. I’ve never spent more than $16 on a deer license, but I knew I would get my $600 refund check back when I didn’t draw.
A couple months went by and the draw results date arrived. I checked my status and saw I was successful, then logged back into the website to make sure there wasn’t a mistake. I was pumped to be able to do an extra hunt this fall, but at the same time I wondered what I had gotten myself into!
I planned on breaking up a sixday hunt into two three-day hunts. This would keep my pack light and manageable so I could go farther if I needed to. I also didn’t want to overdo it since I’d be hunting at 9,000+ feet in very rugged terrain.
Planning for this hunt involved digging up as much information as I could about the area, using Google Earth and placing myself high on key vantage points to look over as much area as possible. I knew this would maximize my chances of finding a big muley buck.
After months of anticipation, the 29th of August rolled around. My hunting partner was stuck in the middle of a construction job so I loaded up and headed for Wyoming on a solo trip. Opening day was still two days away and after a long drive I arrived at the trailhead well after dark.
A few short hours of sleep later I got up before daylight to hike into my vantage point with high hopes of finding deer. First light revealed a rutting bull elk and some bucks in a couple basins that were about three miles away. The air was hazy from summer fires so I couldn’t see how big the bucks were. I figured it was as good of a place as any to start and committed to getting back into those basins.
That afternoon I began the 2,000- foot ascent to my anticipated campsite. After a grueling two-mile hike, early evening found me on a ridge with a panoramic view. I spent the rest of the evening looking into basins close to camp. I found a few bucks, one of which was a 150-class buck that I watched until dark.
My plan for opening morning was too look over a bunch of new country and find as many bucks as possible but I kept that 150 buck in the back of my mind. The first hour of opening day revealed 10 bucks, including multiple 120 to 140-inch deer, one 170 and a giant 3x4 main frame that I estimated to be 190. I spotted the big guy 20 minutes after daylight when the sun was shining at its fullest on him. This was the largest mule deer I’d ever seen and he was a mile and a half away as the crow flies.
Shortly after I got the spotting scope on him, he started quickly moving straight down off the mountain. It didn’t appear that anything spooked him so I figured he was headed down to the bottom of the basin and up the other side to bed. I knew from the aerial photo that it was heavily timbered. It was apparent this buck was a master of his craft and I nicknamed him "Hubert.”
I lazily glassed up some smaller bucks while formulating my plan to hunt Hubert. Part of my plan was at last light to be right on the ridge overlooking the small basin he was living in. The rest of the day, I concentrated on getting hydrated and getting some sleep. Being up at 10,000 feet and hiking hard, I became dehydrated faster than normal. Luckily, I saw a spring along my route on the evening hunt. I spent the better part of the day at the spring, drinking water and sleeping.
That evening I was overlooking the basin where I spotted Hubert earlier that morning. I stayed until dark, but the buck didn’t show himself. I had a threemile, 2,000-foot climb back to my tent in the dark, so I had plenty of time to think about my morning hunt for him. Before I knew it, I arrived at my camp at 10 p.m., made a couple phone calls, scarfed down a meal and hit the sack.
At 5 a.m. I grabbed my gear and took off into the drizzling darkness. I kept a fast pace, excited about what the morning might have in store. I arrived early at my glassing spot, opposite to where the buck was the morning before. It was dark and gloomy; daylight was taking its time.
I frantically began glassing. I knew I had a small window to find Hubert. Twenty minutes into legal shooting light, I spotted a small buck. Then another buck appeared. Instantly, I knew it was Hubert. Just like the day before, he started moving straight down the mountain. Autopilot kicked in. I picked reference points, grabbed my bow and video camera and took off running down into the basin.
As I ran down the trail, I continually checked my reference points as I cut the distance. I caught a glimpse of him on my way down and he was about 400 yards away. I kept running down the trail as quietly as possible and as I rounded a clump of trees, there he was at 200 yards. He stopped in the meadow, looked right, then left and continued across and up the other side.
As soon as he entered the timber, I took off and angled up the hill in anticipation of where I would intercept him. I cut 100 yards off fairly quick and proceeded through the old growth timber using the thickest clumps of trees for cover. After I cut off another 30 yards, it started to get steep. From here, I slowed down my approach; thankfully I had the drizzling rain for cover noise.
I stopped at the edge of an open meadow, as I knew the bucks had to be close. Soon after, I spotted a buck in front of me 75 yards away. It was the smaller buck so I figured Hubert had to be there too. Under the security of the sparse old growth timber, the bucks were moving slow and feeding. This was perfect! I only had 30 yards of gravelly hillside to get across to where I wanted to shoot.
Hunched over, I started across the gravel carrying my bow on the downhill side with an arrow nocked. My heart was pounding, and I was trying to be quiet as possible. I didn’t want to screw up on the biggest buck of my life. As I reached the far side of the meadow, I got my feet under me and slowly stood up.
I couldn’t see anything! I stood on my tiptoes and the back of a deer became visible over the knoll and through the timber. He took another step forward and I saw the top of his rack while he was feeding. It had to be him!
There was an obvious shooting lane above him so I got ready. The far side of the shooting lane was 53 yards; the near side was 38 yards. I figured I would split the difference and hold for 45. Everything seemed perfect as I clipped on my release. His antlers emerged in the left side of my lane, so I drew. He picked his head up and slowly walked into plain sight. Everything was perfectly clear. I released as he was slowly walking through the lane and in what seemed like slow motion, I watched my arrow fly true.
He bound up the hill 40 yards and disappeared over a small ridge. Not 15 seconds later I heard a crash. I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to give him some time, so I hiked back up and got my pack and the rest of my gear. By the time I made it back down to where I shot him from, 45 minutes had passed. I found my arrow and it looked good. I immediately went to where I last saw him go over the ridge.
I spotted a patch of white 60 yards below me. I pulled up the binos and there was Hubert! He only went 40 yards. I ran down to him and soaked in the moment. I pulled him out of the brush, revealing a velvet giant that was even bigger than I thought – lots of surprises and no ground shrinkage here! I misjudged him by a long shot at 190 as he ended up grossing 210!