Public Land, DIY
I began applying for non-resident Wyoming deer tags 13 years ago. After being unsuccessful for the first five years, I felt as if I was never going to get a chance to hunt the high country bucks I had read about.
That all changed when I finally drew my first tag. It was my first out-of-state hunt; I was excited about possibly killing a giant buck. It turned out to be a humbling experience. The mountains and hills I grew up hunting in northern Utah could not hold a candle to the vastness and magnitude of those in western Wyoming. I was not in the kind of shape I needed to be for that hunt; I was overwhelmed. After the first day I was done, with no buck.
I have since learned a great deal about hunting the high country. I bought Mike Eastman's book, 'Hunting High Country Mule Deer,' and read it cover to cover several times. I was amazed at the information I picked up about the types of areas to look for and tactics and equipment to use. My motivation was renewed and killing a true trophy buck in the high country became my primary hunting goal. I continued to research the proper equipment and tactics and read every article and book I could find. Over the years my knowledge and abilities grew, as did my achievements. The first few years I had mixed success and several close calls, but a true trophy buck still eluded me.
When the 2007 Wyoming draw results came out I was excited to see that my good friends, Jeff Hill and Jon Nielson, and I had all been drawn. John and I had hunted Wyoming together several times in the past, but this was going to be Jeff's first time. Preparations began immediately. I wanted to take the hunt more serious than I ever had before and knew what needed to be done. Backpacking is our hunting method of choice and I wanted to go into this hunt in better shape and more prepared than even.
Jeff and I went on our first scouting trip at the end of July. We packed into an area neither of us had been to before. It was steep and very open, with small pockets of scrub pines. It was hot and dry, but our anticipation was high. It was great to finally be back in the high country. We found several bachelor herds of bucks, including the group with the buck I would eventually harvest. The group included eight bucks - one of which we thought would gross close to 180 and another that seemed close to 190. The bucks were hanging out in an open basin with ribbon cliffs throughout it. They had positioned themselves between sets of cliffs, so that they could see for miles in any direction. We wondered how in the world we would ever get to them if the opportunity presented itself once the season opened. Over the course of the summer we made several more scouting trips and found many nice bucks, but my mind always wandered back to the big buck we had seen on our first trip.
As opening day approached, we began weighing our options and discussing the areas we had scouted. We decided to start our hunt in the area we had seen the big buck. Jeff, Jon, and I packed in two days before the opener, so we would have more time to scout and rest up. We set up camp in a group of pines on a small bench surrounded by cliffs. Also on the bench was a small lake that would provide us with water. It was a beautiful view looking out over the pine-covered canyons and valleys that gave way to the high grassy basins we were going to hunt. We could look over miles of country by walking just a few feet from out tent. It was perfect.
That evening, we went to the glassing point from which we had spotted the big buck during the summer. After glassing a while, Jeff said, "There's a big buck."
I looked up and down the basin and through the cliffs, trying to catch a glimpse of the deer he had seen; I could not see what he was so excited about. That's when Jeff said, 'No not up in the cliffs, right there.' I refocused as the big buck fed out of the trees 300 yards from us.
I thought for sure we were busted. We laid as low as we could in hopes the deer would not notice us and spook. In all, five bucks fed out of the trees, including another large four-point. The bucks fed around the hill right up through the cliffs to where we had first spotted them during the summer. The big buck looked huge as he fed around the hill away from us. Luckily the wind was blowing down the hill from the deer to us, so the group never scented nor saw us. We watched as they fed and then bedded down, looking out over the large basin. It was a truly a beautiful and majestic sight to see the big buck lying there, surveying all of the country below. Right at dark, we snuck back to camp. The next day we remained as quite as possible and hung around camp waiting for opening day.
After a long sleepless night of tossing and turning, it was finally time hunt. We were going after the buck we had dreamed about since first seeing him. As we were leaving camp that morning, many thoughts were racing through my head. Would he still be in the area? Would we even see him? If so, would we get a shot - or would someone else beat us to him? I could do little but hope all of the time and effort we had put into this would pay off. It is the anticipation and anxiety that makes hunting such a rush and why we experience so many highs and lows in a matter of seconds.
We decided it would be best to split up to increase our chances of finding him or one of the other big bucks. Jeff wanted to go low in hopes of catching the deer feeding back towards their bedding areas, and Jon and I chose to go high in case the deer were still in the cliffs. Jon and I left camp an hour before dawn in order to reach a high saddle we wanted to glass from at first light.
After reaching our spot, we crawled under one of the few pines and waited for it to get light enough to see. At times like that, the quality optics really becomes a big help. As it began to get light enough to see, we spotted three bucks in the cliffs toward the top of the basin. Unfortunately, the big buck was nowhere to be seen. One of the bucks was a nice four-point and the other two were smaller. Jon decided he wanted to go after the big-four point.
The deer were higher up the mountain than we had seen them on any of our previous trips. We quickly came up with a route that would take us to the base of the first set of cliffs. We needed to get there fast; the sun was coming up and we did not want the sun to hit us before we were in place. As we climbed farther up the mountain, we kept our eyes on the big-four point, but he continued to feed farther away from us. I thought we were never going to get to were we could get a shot before the buck fed out of site. Jon pulled his rangefinder out and ranged the deer at 530 yards. We were much closer than I had thought. That encouraged us both. We picked a high spot at the edge of a ravine running the length of the basin, and knew if we could get there we would be in range and might have a chance.
About halfway to the ravine edge I got a sick feeling as we looked down and noticed two other hunters working their way around the mountain. They were between Jeff and us and I was sure our stalk was blown. They were heading the direction of the buck we were going after. We picked up our pace and got to the edge of the ravine just in time to see the big four point going over the top of the hill. The two smaller bucks were still standing there looking somewhat confused. I felt terrible; I thought we had blown everything.
As Jon and I stood there trying to decide what to do next I glanced back toward the two smaller bucks. What I saw through my binoculars caught me by total surprise. The big buck we had watched all summer was standing there with them. I have no idea were he came from, but he was there. It was too good to be true. I instantly took a prone position and shot, hitting the big buck. A second shot sent him tumbling down through the cliffs. Jon and I both stared in horror as the buck went over one set of cliffs and continued to roll towards the next. I was praying that he wouldn't break his antlers and they would be intact. About two feet before going over the next set of cliffs the big bucks antlers stuck in the dirt. That stopped him from going over.
Jon went back to pick up our packs and I slowly made my way over to were the buck lay. As I reached the deer and saw him up close for the first time a wave of emotions came over me. I didn't dare touch him until Jeff and Jon arrived. I was afraid he would continue to roll and I wouldn't be able to hold him by myself. After Jeff and Jon got up to me, we lifted his head out of the dirt and shrubs. He was beautiful. I have never felt a greater sense of accomplishment. After photos, Jon held the buck as Jeff and I began the job of boning the deer out. Once we had the deer boned and caped we loaded our packs for the long, steep hike off of the mountain. It was a long hard hike out, but I was running on adrenaline the whole time. The big buck ended up being a little over 32 inches wide and grossed 186.
It was a very memorable rewarding hunt with great friends in beautiful country. I would like to thank Jeff and Jon for all of the help they gave me over the course of the hunt. I would also like to thank my parents for instilling in me a love of the outdoors. I can't imagine living any other way.
About the Author:
Wade, 34, is a lifelong resident of Utah. He works as an engineer for a medical device company that manufactures kidney dialysis products.
Rifle: Remington Sendero, 7mm ultra magnum, with a Leupold 4.5 X 14 VXIII scope.
Ammo: 60 grain Nosler Accubonds
Optics: Swarovski SLC 10 x 42, Pentax PF 65 ED spotter.
Boots: Cabela's Perfect Hunters by Meindel