Wyoming, 2008, DIY, Public Land
My mule deer hunt in 2008 had a number of things that could have gone wrong, but everything fell into place and I took the buck of a lifetime. I still ask myself if it was luck, skill, karma, or a combination of all these things that allowed me to harvest the type of trophy buck I had always wanted.
After several years of hunting mule deer with no success, I actually took a few years off from hunting them to focus on other big game like elk and pronghorn. I had opportunities to harvest several smaller bucks in years past, but always let them walk, holding out for a nicer buck and then never finding one. After a few years of hard hunting and going home empty-handed, I honestly gave up.
I was sitting at home one evening when a friend of mine called and said to put my dad and me in for a limited quota deer license that he was applying for. He called on May 31, the last day to apply. With only hours left, I started up my computer and filled out the application, and called my dad so he could do the same. Two months later I happened to be one of the few people to draw the license.
The season came quickly and my dad and I were off for a week of mule deer hunting. The area I was hunting was BLM with national forest land above it and private land surrounding a river bottom below. The country consisted mostly of sagebrush flats between canyons. Each canyon holds a small creek in the bottom with sagebrush on the south-facing slopes, and mixed sage, aspen, juniper, and pine on the northfacing slopes.
The first afternoon we drove to an area where we had seen nice bucks. We hiked to a draw and spent the afternoon glassing and seeing several deer. The next morning we went higher up in elevation in the same draw and looked things over without seeing much. Most of the deer were down slightly lower in the sagebrush flats.
After lunch we glassed the next draw to the south and slowly made our way to the top of a large pile of rocks to get a different vantage point. I soon spotted a buck in the size class we came here to hunt. He was feeding his way down a grassy slope toward the bottom of the draw. The setting sun was shining perfectly on his antlers.
My dad stayed in the rock pile to give me hand signals while I made a stalk. I stayed low, keeping small ridges between me and the deer and working my way down a small side draw. Peering into the bottom, I saw many more deer below me. There were two decent four-point bucks and one big forked horn with heavy tines. The only buck I didn’t see was the one I was after.
I scanned the hillside with no luck. I actually started to wonder if the deer I saw earlier was actually the large, heavy forked horn. Maybe he looked larger than he was with the sun shining on him just right. I looked back through my binoculars at the rock pile to see if my dad could give me a signal as to where the buck had gone, but he was nowhere to be found. That’s when I figured something had gone wrong.
I looked and finally located Dad crossing over to the opposite side of the draw and working his way toward me. My mind raced as I tried to figure out what he was doing. I assumed he saw the large buck on the other side of the draw and was trying to drive him back my direction.
About that time, all of the deer in the bottom noticed my dad and took off uphill across and away from me. I still didn’t see the big buck and figured the hunt was over for the day.
I looked back to the bottom and was shocked when I saw the big buck just standing there! He must have been in the tall brush in the bottom the entire time. All I could see was very tall antlers with heavy mass, but I knew I had to focus on the deer and not the antlers. He had spotted my dad walking down the opposite slope, but didn’t panic or run. Instead, he slowly walked up the slope in my direction, sneaking away from my dad without knowing I was above him.
I looked around and saw a big flat rock 20 yards away. It was three feet high and would be just like shooting off a bench. I crept uphill, got the rifle set up, and looked over to make the shot, but the buck was gone again! What could have happened now?
There was a small patch of junipers and aspen higher on the slope, and I figured he must be in there. Dad kept coming and sure enough the buck popped out of the tree patch with several does. Once again I thought everything was going to fall apart, with the herd going straight over the top of the ridge and away from me for good. However, for some reason they turned at the top and angled quartering toward me.
Even though I had five days of hunting left, I had that feeling that it was now or never. The distance had closed to 200 yards, so I led the buck in the scope and waited for him to step into the crosshairs. As soon as he did, I touched off the shot and heard a loud thud as the bullet hit.
I recovered from the recoil and looked over the top of the scope in time to see a big dust cloud fly up above the tree patch. I figured the buck stumbled and fell down, so I started hiking to where I hit the deer.
Dad met me at the top of the tree patch and told me I had a dead deer on the ground. I asked him if it was a nice one and he told me he thought it was but wasn’t sure.
We made our way to the buck and couldn’t believe what we saw when we got there. In awe, we took in the view of this wonderful trophy I had just taken. The old buck had a heavy, tall set of non-typical antlers with many points sticking out on both sides. It was now easy to see why the antlers looked so big, even at a mile away. The body size was enormous also, with a big saggy gut and a large scar on his nose. We later learned that he scored 213 B&C.
The weather was perfect the next day, so we took our time and relived the hunt a hundred times while retrieving this amazing animal. It was a great day, with the pressure of the hunt gone and time to just relax and enjoy the moment. We relaxed back at camp and looked at many more deer for two more days before heading home.
I couldn’t have asked for a better hunt or a finer trophy, and I keep going back to why everything fell into place for this hunt. Why did my friend remind me to apply for the license at the last minute? Why did I draw the tag with such a low chance of being successful? Why did this buck come in my direction instead of going the other way with the rest of the deer? I still don’t have the answers to these questions. I would like to think that good things come to those who wait, so if any hunters are thinking of giving up on their dream of a trophy animal, I would like to tell them to be patient and hunt hard. It can be done on public land without a guide when you put in the time and effort, and have a few things go your way.
For a full account of Kylers' adventure, go to page 6 in the June/July 2010 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.