37 Years, 361 Days
Having just wrapped up a limited entry elk hunt, I decided to try my luck at finding a mule deer buck with just a few days left in the season. I had not yet purchased my deer tag and knew it would be a tall order with a shortened season because of the harsh winters Wyoming had endured over the last few years. I bought my tag, grabbed my gear, and headed out the door. The first day I went to one of my favorite spots and worked through the trees and open sage, and as the evening started winding down I realized the winters had proven to be worse than what I had anticipated. I did not see a single deer.
The days passed one by one, and with the season nearing its end, I decided to try a spot where I had been successful in the past. I parked the truck, and as I worked up the hillside, I spotted a doe feeding into the trees. It was the first deer I had seen so far. On the way back to the truck, I found a buck track left in the mud from an earlier September snowstorm, and with no other evidence thus far I decided that I was going to hunt here until the close of the season. I was determined to turn up the buck that left this mark.
With just three days left, I was hunting a buck that I had never seen. I didn’t even know if he had already been harvested, and he may well have moved on to another area, but it was all I had. I carefully worked the hillside until I got the wind in my favor, then I slowly began stalking through the pines and quaking aspens. The wind was still, and every step seemed louder than the last. As I walked, I would stop and survey the area with my binoculars before continuing on. Eventually, I caught movement in the trees ahead. “Was it him?” I thought. I pulled up my binos to see a rag horn bull feeding for a split second as my heart skipped a beat. While it was exciting to see, it still wasn’t what I had come to pursue, so I pressed on.
I was running out of light, so I decided to loop around to where I had spotted the doe the night before. As I headed that way, I saw a deer off in the distance, feeding in a small opening in the trees. I glassed over the area, and the deer seemed to be the lonely doe I had found the night before. As I carefully moved closer, I could see another deer drinking on the edge of a small pond. It had its head down and appeared to have antlers, so I started to get excited. Could it be the buck that had left the big track in the mud?
It must have smelled me or known something wasn’t right, because all of a sudden it lifted its head up, spun around, and stared in my direction. It was a buck–a BIG buck! I dropped my binoculars and extended my shooting sticks in preparation for a shot. When I sat down, the brush was too thick to see the buck, so I scooted to my left to find an opening. A pine tree was still covering his head and I could only see his body. I found the buck in my scope, settled the crosshairs, and flipped off the safety. Next came the unmistakable ‘thud’ from the bullet hitting its mark.
At this point, besides a legal buck, I truly didn’t know what I had shot. The deer jumped straight into the air and bolted toward the trees upon impact. I couldn’t see him from my location but I knew it had to have been a good hit, so I readied another round and worked my way toward where he had disappeared. As I crested a small rise, there was another young buck that I had not seen before, staring off to the east. As I glanced in the direction he was looking, I spotted my buck laying there. It grew with every step I took in my approach. He was bigger than I had initially thought; no ground shrinkage here.
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I got to my buck and was in awe. I called my wife Amanda and was nearly in tears, shaking as I told her I had just harvested the biggest buck of my life. At first, she didn’t believe me, but then she recognized the emotion in my voice. “You’re serious!” she finally said before getting really excited herself. “Hun, I’m proud of you, congratulations!” The next call was to my father who took me everywhere as a child and had taught me the art of hunting. Amanda had called my friend’s wife and told them I just shot a big buck.
The word was out and the next thing I knew, I received a text from my hunting partners Brad and Allen asking if I needed help. I called them and told them I shot a dang nice buck and I could use the help if they wanted to come and meet me. They showed up an hour later and brought my daughter Lillian with them as a surprise. We reached the buck well after dark, and our cheers and high-fives broke the silence of the night. We took pictures, broke the deer down, and headed off the mountain. It will be a memory I won’t soon forget.
I reached the magic mark that every mule deer hunter desires yet very few ever achieve on the evening of October 8th, 2020. After 37 years and 361 days of life on earth, I had done it. My buck broke the 200-inch mark as a 28 ¾” wide 6x6, scoring an impressive 204 ⅛”. My birthday present came early that year! Thanks again to my family for allowing me to spend the time I do, pursuing the sport that I love. Thanks again to Brad, Allen, and Lillian for the help that evening.
By Waylon Willett