Accepting the Challenge
Two hard-working hunters make the most out of a tough hunt
High Country Mule Deer
Anyone who has hunted mule deer knows how hard it can be to go out and harvest a mature buck. Bucks that live past four or five years old live that long for a reason. They either learn to avoid danger from the older bucks they grow up with or from their own near-death experiences. They acquire that “sixth sense”, and when you throw in other hunters and good ol’ Mother Nature, you have yourself one of the toughest challenges a hunter can undertake.
I’m an opportunistic hunter and try to hunt every chance I get! This means I don’t limit myself to one weapon. If I hunt with a bow, muzzleloader, and a rifle, there’s normally a season I can hunt from mid-August to the end of January!
Since I’m always looking for more opportunity, when my friend Thad asked me if I wanted to put in for a rifle hunt in Wyoming, I was in! With our combination of points, we managed to draw the area we wanted. Opening day was three months away and I couldn’t wait to start preparing to hunt this new area.
After looking over maps and doing as much research as I could, I finally decided which trailhead to begin our hike. However, plans quickly changed when Thad and I arrived to find 15 horse trailers and ten other pickup trucks.
As I went to plan B and then to plan C, I realized every trailhead was packed full of vehicles. We were either going to have to join the masses or go home.
With enough gear to stay for six days we hiked in about five miles and set up camp. The next morning was opening day, so I was gong to have a hard time sleeping.
After four hours of tossing and turning in my sleeping bag, I heard the tapping start on the tent wall. “Tap…tap…tap” . The slow periodic tapping soon turned into to pitter-patter and then was followed by a chest-rattling BOOM that echoed through the canyon walls. We knew the weather called for rain, but we didn’t know how bad it was going to be. From the sound of that thunder, it would appear that the storm was going to be a good one.
Although the weather was bad, we knew we weren’t going to kill a deer by staying in the tent. We made it to our glassing point before daylight and by the time we got there, we were already soaked to the bone.
As it began to get light, we realized our binoculars weren’t going to do us any good. The low-pressure system had put the clouds in our laps and we couldn’t see 150 yards. The rain and fog continued all day and we began to second-guess our ability to wait out the storm.“When is the rain going to stop? Are the deer even moving in this weather? I wonder if my sleeping bag is still dry? With everything so wet, can we even start a fire?” With wildlife sightings nonexistent, and these questions bouncing around between my ears, Thad and I decided to let the high country weather beat us. We packed up and went to find a hotel for the night.
It poured down rain for the next couple of days. The sight of the sun peeking through the clouds was a real relief come day three. Back up the mountain we went, only this time we thought we’d try a different location that we discovered while driving around on the rainy days.
After hiking in eight miles, we ran into a huge outfitter camp. Great! Just when I thought we were in farther than most people would ever want to go, we stumbled onto tent city! I was now more discouraged than when the fog had rolled in. I didn’t think we would ever find a deer.
The next couple days were actually perfect days for hunting. After the rainstorm, the deer and elk were active and feeding on every patch of grass I looked at though my binoculars. Thad and I saw plenty of little bucks and does, but nothing really into that five-year-old age class.
Every morning we would pick a different high point to glass from and move farther down the main ridge we were hunting. Finally, on day five, I spotted what looked to be a good buck. He didn’t have far to feed before he would disappear into the tree line, so I made a quick decision that he was the one and took the shot!
BOOM! The deer picked his head up and just stood there. I asked Thad if I hit him and he said no, so I quickly racked another cartridge in and focused harder on squeezing the trigger.
BOOM! This time the buck dropped! I’m quite sure I got a little excited and jerked the trigger on the first shot. Oh well, I made the second one count and I was super excited! It had been a long five days of ups and downs, and to finally have a buck on the ground was a huge relief.
As we approached the buck, I couldn’t wait to see him up close. When I did, his antlers were so heavy that I couldn’t even wrap my fingers around them! The body on those high mountain bucks are huge, and his had all kinds of battle scars from previous rutting activity. This buck was exactly the kind I had come so far to hunt.
Last-Day Exclamation Point
After de-boning my deer, I was able to pack him out and get him to a meat locker by noon the next day. When I hiked back into the mountains that evening, I found out Thad had a fairly slow day but did spot a pretty good buck right at dark; he just couldn’t quite get a shot. We went after him the next morning and had a very close encounter, but the buck had a good escape route and managed to slip into the trees and disappear.
The next day was our last full day to hunt, so we needed to make it count. We put ourselves into position well before daylight and waited.
As the black of darkness turned to gray and we could start to make out shapes, we spotted the buck from the morning before. He was an old, mature pot-bellied buck with an impressive rack reaching out to 28 inches.
Thad got ready and took the shot, but just like the rest of the trip, nothing came easy and Thad hit a little high, grazing the buck’s back! A follow-up shot connected and the buck dropped!
There is a reputation that goes along with western Wyoming high country hunting. People say it’s one of the best hunts there is - and that may be their opinion - but I’m inclined to disagree. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the beautiful country and the deer numbers were plentiful. However, with its 10,000-foot peaks and rugged landscape, many people believe that this region is vast and untouched, with big bucks running everywhere.
Although it might be undeveloped, it’s far from untouched. Everywhere you go, you run into camps and people, even in places you’d never think anyone would go. It can be very frustrating when you find a deer, try to make a move on him, and then he’s gone by the time you get there due to another hunter doing the same thing.
I may sound ungrateful, but that’s far from the truth. I was very happy with the way this hunt turned out. I feel truly blessed and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m just going to learn from it and adapt for the next time I return to those mountains.