Taking Mr. Cheater

By Dean Dolenc
Utah, Guided, Public Land

Dean dolenc - taking mr. cheaterOctober/November 2013 EHJ (Issue 139) - Like the hunters in many stories, I drew a tag, scouted, worked hard and got a big buck, but in this story I wanted to showcase another couple aspects of my hunt. I found that you need confidence in your abilities and that a little common sense can solve an ugly situation.

On an early May morning I was eagerly watching the hunting blogs and my credit card for any signs that tags had been awarded. After 17 years, this was a pretty common routine during this time of year. It would turn out that I was one of the fortunate individuals to draw a Henry rifle tag and keep it after a Utah drawing error caused many to give up theirs.

Almost immediately, a trip to the boss’s office was in order to request the three weeks of vacation I had been saving for this trip. My parents, wife, and kids were the first to be called, followed closely by calls to a few great hunting buddies I have known over the years.

I was very thankful for the tag, but it also came with some sadness because the point system has really made this literally a once-in-a-lifetime hunt for most. My son that is turning 16 may be waiting 25 or 30 years for this tag! I wish the future generations all the luck in the world.

The biggest decision that faces many of us with this type of tag is, do you go guided or try it on your own? In the past I was strictly a DIY type of guy that would venture out on his own or with a few select friends. Without a posse of friends to help out this time and it being the worst two weeks of the entire year from a work standpoint, this was going to be a tough decision. I originally decided that a DIY hunt was the way I would go—I mean how hard could it be? There are 200-inch deer under every tree in the Henrys - right? My goal was firmly set on a 215-inch buck with trash and a 30-inch main frame. After talking to friends and past hunters, I decided that maybe I should not rule out a guide.

If I went with a guide, I wanted one that would offer true a hands-on experience and not a fly in and kill type of hunt. I did not need someone to hold my hand but more of a friend that had a vast knowledge of the area, a large network of resources and of course time to help with the scouting.

Dean dolenc - taking mr. cheater

I eventually found that with High Top Outfitters and more specifically with my two guides, Taylor Albrecht and Coby Hunt. These guys had my back through this entire process and most importantly listened to what I wanted and to my ideas. This was key to me and helped me gain two great new friends.

Our first scouting trip was July 22. We found my buck and got video of him on that trip. We called him Mr. Cheater.

Many of the people we talked with were concerned at the lack of BIG trashy bucks. Sure, we were seeing 50 bucks a day and more, but they were all in that 160-190 range. Yes, that is great in any other unit, but for crying out loud, this was the Henrys! We were after 215-plus.

A couple bucks we found that made our top-five list ended up being taken by other hunters in the archery and muzzy seasons. Many times during our scouting season I was ready to turn my tag back in and wait for another year; there just seemed to be less BIG bucks with trash and more guide pressure than I was hoping. Coby told me that it was up to me of course, but he thought that we could outsmart, outhunt, and outwork anyone to get Mr. Cheater or find another great buck in the nine days of rifle season.

Finally, in the days right before the hunt we were getting up and going to bed with Mr. Cheater. During this time we would see many other guys watching him. We knew this would come down to strategy. I knew that I could leave nothing to chance and suggested to Coby that we needed to spend the night on the mountain to beat everyone.

Coby and I spent most of the night strategizing under the stars and trying to figure out every option. I would wake up every couple of hours just to make sure no one was sneaking in early on us. When 4:00 A.M. approached it was time to go.

I made my way only 150 yards below the truck to a rock pile with my name on it. Coby had a longer hike to give him a better vantage point.

It was not until after 6:00 that the other hunters finally made it up the mountain. I was sure that once they saw our vehicles and talked to our friend that they would move to a different spot—not the case. Unknown to me, walking in the dark, they ended up sitting only 100 yards from me and about the same from my truck.

We have all had that person sit in the same clearing as us on the elk opener, shoot over our spread of ducks, or fish right on top of us, but I just never figured out why. It does not seem like fun to me.

I knew that shooting time was here and I had to find Mr. Cheater. I made a quick glance back up toward the truck. There I saw a deer’s butt. It was him, but a position change would be needed to compensate for some dead trees. A quick run back up the hill put me behind a huge rock, perfect for a rest, I thought.

I made one more look—dang! Another buck had moved in behind him and this presented an unethical shot. They were in a slight depression so I was the only one able to see them.

Crap, they’re moving. What caused them to move? Oh well, they’re heading right toward me…60, then 50, then 40.

At 30 yards away I was just squeezing the trigger when a shot rang out. The bucks went sprinting for cover. Who shot? Was it me? No.

With no signs of the buck being hit I figured the other hunter had hit one of several burned trees. I was having trouble keeping the buck in the scope as he was hell-bent on getting out of dodge and moving fast. My brain was screaming at me, what should I do? Do I have to knock him down before he makes it to the trees?

Then my dad’s voice popped into my head, "Calm down and pick a spot in front of him and squeeze as he enters the scope.”

I quickly found an opening in the burned timber and waited. Then my .300 WSM barked and the buck hit the dirt. A loud yell of excitement escaped as I headed down to him. He was still kicking so one more behind the shoulder ended it.

Dean dolenc - taking mr. cheater

As I stood looking over this great buck, I let myself drift back to 2008 when my good friend Ernesto and I were looking at my Wyoming buck on the ground. Here I was four years later with my new friend Coby, hunting with the gun and the hat I had won through the Eastmans’ Hunting Journal. Let’s just say I felt GREAT, even if it was for a few minutes.

After a more detailed investigation, we found that the other hunter had hit the deer far back in the guts. The other hunter called the Conservation Officer to verify what the Utah rule was. I had no idea there was even an official rule, but I guess in the State of Utah he who kills the animal is awarded the animal. The officer explained to us that just wounding the animal, whether it be a gut shot, a shoulder shot, or just a graze means there is no way to know if that animal would live or be found. The prefect shot means everything. We all have stories of animals that were not recovered or lived well after being hit.

Even though the deer was awarded to me, I hope others can learn that the one thing us hunters can control is how close we hunt to each other. If someone beats you to a spot, move on to Plan B.

Mr. Cheater turned out to be a 6x8 and scored 220 inches with a spread of 34 inches and huge 20-inch backs and a little trash-goal achieved!

It turned out that the real help I needed from Taylor & Coby was not only to help scout, but to provide that extra confidence I needed that this was possible against tough odds. I want to thank Coby, Taylor, and everyone that took the time to provide information, watch over my family, and had my back. I’d like to give a special thanks to my Grandpa Willy, age 95, and Grandma Priscilla (93) for introducing us to the great outdoors!