February/March 2013 EHJ (Issue 135) - When my buddies and I planned this hunt we had no idea what was in store for us. We always hunt hard to make something happen and are usually successful, but I had no idea that this would be a Booner year for me. It wasn’t until I took a moment to sit down next to the second mature mule deer I shot in three days that it all began to sink in. I was so lucky and fortunate that my mule deer stars lined up for me on that hunt. I always try to take a minute to sit down and really reflect on the day and get everything I can out of that feeling you get after a successful hunt. As I sat there next to the 170-inch buck that I would not think twice about shooting on any day, I still couldn’t help but think about the once-in-a-lifetime, 270-inch buck that I shot three days earlier, and that’s where this story begins.
It was a chilly, late-October morning when my buddy Ryan and I set out. Ryan killed a nice buck the day before, so I was up to bat. The plan was to start our hunt about four miles out of camp. We made it there about fifteen minutes before daylight and used that time to get our gear together and finalize our plan for the day. We decided to hunt our way up to a saddle where we could look into the next drainage over. In all the years we’ve hunted this area, we had yet to see what that next drainage had to offer. We wanted to get to that vantage point before it got too late in the morning but we knew that there would be deer along the way, so we didn’t want to pass through it in the dark without giving it a good look.
Once it was barely light enough to see through our binoculars, we started hiking our way up a couple-hundred yards, side-hilling to gain elevation. As soon as we broke out the spotting scope there were deer everywhere we looked. Ryan would spot a group of deer and I’d pick through them with the spotting scope. An hour later, all we had turned up were does and small bucks. Knowing that we still had a hike ahead of us to reach the next canyon, we packed up our gear and started climbing again, keeping our eyes glued to all the new real estate we could see with each step. Groups of deer were spotted with every new angle we got, but we didn’t see any shooters in any of those groups, so we kept moving.
Stopping to look back across at the last group of deer we saw, we noticed there were more deer over there than we could originally see. Ryan said he caught a glimpse of a buck that we should take a better look at. The deer were over 600 yards away, feeding in and out of openings in the timber. I set up my spotting scope and focused it on a buck that was rubbing his horns on a stunted alder. When he lifted his head, I couldn’t believe my eyes. As he shook his head to free branches stuck in his horns, I could see all the extra points and mass. One thing that caught my eye at that moment was the matching cheaters off of his G3s. Not only did this buck have the biggest rack I had ever seen, but his body was huge. I could tell instantly he was old. He had a potbelly, thick chest, and the skin under his chin hung off his neck.
I told Ryan, "LOOK AT THIS BUCK!”
I wanted him to see it, even if it was just to prove that I wasn’t making this story up when I told the rest of my buddies about this buck back at camp.
The thing is, I didn’t want to just tell them about this buck; I wanted to show it to them. I started getting a range, checking the wind, and looking for a rest. By the time I found a solid rest he was 618 yards away. He had moved into some thick stuff, but we could still see deer moving through the trees above the opening he was in. As I lay there waiting and looking through the scope, the seconds ticked by and turned into minutes.
Finally, deer started coming into view. I got comfortable and tried to control my heart and breathing. First, I spotted a small buck and then another. I saw a good buck through the trees about to come into the opening. I flipped my safety off and settled in behind my gun.
Ryan was looking through the spotting scope and suddenly said, "DON’T SHOOT! Don’t shoot that buck. It’s a good buck, but it’s not him.”
I sat up to look through my binoculars when a shot rang out from down the canyon. All the deer froze and went on high alert with their heads straight up and ears pinned back. I knew the gig was up, and like a chain reaction, all the deer broke out into a run through the trees and were heading up over the top. All I could do was watch as they single-filed over the top at over 800 yards. My buck was the last one to come out. He paused on the skyline, giving us one last look at him before disappearing over the top. I rolled away from my gun with my face in my hands. I had the worst feeling in my guts. It was like someone let the air out of me. I thought I’d never see that buck again.
We sat there in silence for a minute, and then I asked Ryan, "Do you realize how big that deer was?”
That was all I could say. That’s all I could think about. Bucks like that just seem to disappear after getting spooked, and we knew chances of finding him again were slim to none. I didn’t know whether to be mad or sad, but I felt honored to even have had the privilege of seeing a buck of that caliber. Feeling a bit defeated, we almost stuck with our original plan to look into the unseen canyon with the top only a couple hundred yards above us.
We took a few strides towards the top when I turned to Ryan and said, "I have to go hunt that buck.”
The plan was to go back down to where we started, cross over the ridge that the deer went over and head up the other side. Then, we would walk the ridgeline until we got across from where the deer came over the top. By the time we got there it was well into the heat of the day, but I wasted no time getting my spotting scope out to start glassing. I knew exactly where I wanted to look. From where we were you could see to the top of the draw. It was rocky with scattered clumps of stunted nobles. I’ve seen deer disappear in this area before. I started looking into the shadows of the rocks and scattered trees with my spotting scope. I would focus it on a spot and stare at it until my eyes felt like they were bleeding. I would then move it just enough to get a new field of view.
Finally, I spotted some horns sticking out of the rocks. It was a small buck, but I needed that. It gave me my second wind, or should I say, third or fourth wind, to glass harder and slower. As the shadows grew longer I would spot a leg sticking out from behind a tree or a nose sticking out from behind a rock, but I wasn’t sure if it was the same bachelor group until I spotted a big three-point that I remembered being with my buck earlier that day. Time was ticking and I was starting to worry if I’d have time to make a play if he did come out. Without knowing if my buck was with them or not, I decided time was running out and I had to make a move.
The plan was to slip down into the creek bottom and use the trees and vegetation along the creek to sneak up the drainage. We made it as far as we could using the cover. From there I could see all the places that he might be bedded in. I started ranging all the clumps of trees and rock piles. If he showed himself, I would have a 500-600 yard shot. I took my time to level my bipod and rested the butt of my gun on my pack. It felt good, and I was happy with my decision to put myself within range. If he came out before dark, he was in big trouble.
I had just finished glassing all the spots he might have been hiding, and like a ghost, he appeared. I can’t even explain the feeling I had at that moment when I threw up my binoculars and in an instant knew it was him. I almost couldn’t believe it.
I told Ryan, "THERE HE IS!”
He had just come out of a group of trees, moving from left to right. I ranged him at 540 yards, then lay down prone behind my gun. It was perfect. He actually walked right into my cross hairs. I said, "When he stops, I’m going to shoot.”
I aimed for 500 yards because of the steep uphill angle, and as he stopped I let out a breath and squeezed the trigger. I had just sent a 180-grain Accubond at the biggest buck I have ever seen.
At the sound of the hit he lifted his front leg and started across the hill on three legs. With the way he acted, we thought I might have hit him low. I followed him in my scope and waited for him to stop. Just before entering the next group of trees he slowed to a walk. I squeezed the trigger again and "CLICK”… a misfire. It took me a second to realize what had just happened; I have never had a misfire until then. What are the chances?
We could see him standing in the trees, but there was no clear shot. He stood there for a couple minutes and we could tell that he was hit. He was hunched up and still had his front leg pinned up against his chest. He finally hobbled a couple steps and bedded down. Where he bedded, I had a clear shot at his vitals, but I decided to give him some time and watch him. I went back and forth between my spotting scope and riflescope for what seemed like an eternity. I was saying out loud, "Just put your head down and stay down.”
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to put another one in him. After waiting for his horns to clear his vitals, I touched one off. At the shot, he jumped up and within 10 yards was over the ridge and out of sight.
We packed up our gear and started up to where he had bedded. It was a brutal climb. The whole time my mind was racing and I was thinking, I hope I hit him good. Maybe I should have given him more time. He might have died right there in his bed.
We made it to his bed and there was good blood in it. We followed the blood over the top. Within a short distance, I could see where he fell and started sliding down the hill. As I looked down below, I could see his chest and feet sticking up out of the grass with his head and horns stuck under his body. As we rolled his body over and freed his horns, we could not believe it. He was HUGE!
I knew he was a 200-inch buck when I saw him in the spotting scope, but I couldn’t even begin to believe that he was closer to 300. We hooted and hollered, giving high-fives and hugs. We sat there looking at the buck, shaking our heads in amazement and counting points. I could have sat there looking at him all night, but it was getting late. We dug out the knives and headlamps and went to work. By the time we caped him, boned out the meat, loaded our packs, and made it back to camp, it was hours after dark. Jason and Tyson heard us coming into camp, and they came out to meet us. The looks on their faces were priceless, then came another round of hoots and hollers, high-fives and hugs. I propped the head up against a tree, and we poured a celebratory drink as I told them the story.
My buck had 16 scoreable points on his right side and 14 on his left. The greatest spread was 35 inches and he had a final score of 266-5/8.
The hard part about hunting is being away from my boys Brett and Brody, but I look forward to the day that they will get to come along. I would like to thank my hunting group: Ryan, Jason, Jeff and Tyson. Thanks guys! Also, I’d like to thank my girlfriend Amy for talking me into sharing this story.