Go Big or Go Home

By Mical Bracken
Utah, 2011, DIY, Public Land

Mical Bracken - Go Big or Go HomeAugust/September 2012 EHJ (Issue 132) - It’s the last morning of your hunt. As you tiptoe through a maze of cedar and sage, you notice the first signs of dawn on the far side of the valley below. It still feels dark in the back of the remote desert canyon where you are, but a quick glance at your watch confirms that you’ve just entered legal shooting light.

Suddenly you hear a crash in the brush below, followed by the unmistakable sound of a mule deer bounding away. It’s still too dark to get a good look at it, but you quickly realize that it wasn’t alone. As your eyes begin to adjust, you discover a herd of 30 does feeding on the hillside directly across from you. This late in the year, you know there has to be at least one buck with them. And then you see him.

Even with the naked eye you can tell he’s a shooter. When you finally find him in your binoculars, you realize this could be the buck of a lifetime. But he’s starting to get nervous. You range him at just over 200 yards as he stands broadside, now fully alert. You may only have a few seconds before he disappears forever. You’ve dreamed about this moment your whole life.

There’s just one problem – you don’t have a tag. Your younger brother does, but the two of you had split up that morning to cover more ground. You frantically search the other side of the ridge where you last saw him, but he’s nowhere to be found. By now the deer are starting to work their way up and out of the canyon. This dream is quickly turning into a nightmare.

Lucky for me, I was the younger brother with the tag and this wasn’t my nightmare. Somewhere on the other side of the ridge, I was tucked away in some rocks out of the wind, fidgeting with the focus dial on my spotting scope. I had spent the past six days with my two older brothers, Dallin and Rand, who had both travelled from out of state to help out on this hunt. By that morning, we had put a lot of miles on our boots and passed on at least a dozen smaller bucks, but still hadn’t found the one we were looking for. This general season area is not known for producing trophy mule deer, but we were prepared to go big or go home.

As I sat there, completely oblivious to the whirlwind about to hit when my brother Rand finally found me, I couldn’t help but think back on how we got to this point. We were fortunate to grow up in a small town in southern Utah where just about everyone hunted deer in the fall. I don’t remember our dad killing very many deer in those days, but that might have something to do with the fact that he always let us kids tag along. On those cold mornings, just getting us to step softly and keep our voices down was considered a successful hunt.

As we grew older, we occasionally notched our tags as members of the general season "firing squad.” Along with dozens of other hunters, we would line the ridges overlooking private farm land and wait for the first buck who dared to run the gauntlet. Looking back, this may not have been the best approach, but it was all we knew at the time. Rarely did we ever get anything worth hanging on the wall, but we kept the freezer full and made memories to last a lifetime.

Mical Bracken - Go Big or Go Home

For a full account of Mical's adventure, go to page 18 in the August/September 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.