late season redemption
Updated: Mar 8, 2019
Like most of you reading this, hunting high country mule deer is more than just a hobby, it becomes a way of life. It gets in our blood, consuming our thoughts and every waking moment. We patiently wait as we count down the days until late summer rolls back around as we begin scouting and planning our upcoming fall. The fall of 2018 began as most years do for my dad and I, finding time to scout as often as possible and talk tactics on where we want to hunt come opening day. Often times we find ourselves saddling the horses at the trail head, packs heavy as we begin our journey into the high country. We had planned to do the same this year, going into a drainage that I had only been to one other time and my old man had success in before I was able to hunt. Despite my dad spotting a great buck in the lower country in early September, we decided to stick to our original plan knowing the drainage would likely hold good bucks and him wanting me to learn the lay of the land in this certain area a little better. Or in his words, "before I get too damn old to climb back up there again!" As September 15th began to creep closer and closer, it was also prime time to stick a bull elk with the bow. It was September 13th and the two of us had packed in several miles to a familiar elk spot, tagging my first bull with a bow! As you all know, hunting is a whole lot of fun but the moment an animal hits the ground, it becomes a whole lot of work. It was a grueling day, waking up to a 3am alarm and returning back to the cabin around 8pm. But tomorrow was September 14th and we knew this meant waking up early and heading to the high country. Come the next morning, achy muscles and lack of energy had zipped our enthusiasm to pursue the timberline and the buck he had previously spotted in a "more accessible" location looked more and more appealing. Although we knew we weren't the only ones who had eyes on the buck, as the same morning my dad had spotted him a friend of ours had been watching as well. The morning of the 15th rolled around and that dreadful 3am alarm came all too early as the pack out from two days prior still took its toll on us. We saddled the horses at the trail head to save our legs as much as possible, before we tied up the horses in the bottom and took on the steep climb to where he had last seen the buck. This was an area I was very familiar with and the buck bedded under a prominent point just a little over a week ago. As the trail split, my dad went one way and I went the next since we knew the buck could easily be in both places. As the sun began to light up the side of the mountain, the steep climb had taken its toll on some already warn out legs and I was behind schedule. As I come to the area I knew the buck was last seen, I raised my binos to where he had bedded and there was nothing to be found. Knowing I still had a lot of land above me, I kept climbing. I looked up to the skyline and came across an orange hat, knowing the hunters had come in from the top and would have already spotted any deer in the head of the draw. As the hunters above me worked their way down the ridge, I continued my way up in hopes to catch a buck sneaking out behind them. When I got to the point I could glass the head, as expected there was nothing trailing behind the hunters. Tired and convinced the buck had moved to a different location, I turned around to take in the beautiful morning view and to my surprise, a dreaded sound rang out.... The buck had shown himself as my back was turned and the fellow hunters above me had let the lead fly. As I turned up hill I flipped my binos up and saw a familiar face! I knew what had just unfolded but I had to see this buck... I had to see what I had been after. I beat feet up hill as quickly as I could and began helping a few old friends look for the trophy. There lay 200" of beautiful freshly stripped velvet horns, with an exceptional frame, deep forks, and several non-typical tines. The old buck was truly a sight and I couldn't have been happier for the man who just accomplished a lifelong goal! As I turned and walked away, as happy as I was for them it truly felt like I got punched in the gut. Knowing I had been so close to what we all search for each fall. Sick to my stomach, I stumbled back down towards my old man some several hundred yards as I kicked myself for losing focus, knowing how sneaky the grey ghost can be.
It was still opening day and I knew there was a long season ahead of me but as dawn turned to dusk, a hazy smoke in the distance quickly turned into a prominent smoke column. This would inevitably close many of the areas we hunt and force us to learn new land, a challenge in itself. With limited visibility in many of the surrounding areas, we were unable to spot a buck that fulfilled our desires as September drew to an end. With only a few days left in the season I knew the chances of finding a trophy muley were getting slim. As the fires died down due to the cooler weather moving through, areas of familiarity reopened. It was October 5th as we woke to a light skiff of snow on the ground and cold morning air. There was an area we had hunted over the years with great potential but as we all know, the more you become familiar with an area the more you learn about where to place yourself. As the sun began to rise over the far mountains, the area we were watching began to take shape. It was a small park with a few scattered pines and was a crossing from feeding ground to bedding area. We began to glass the area over and with nothing in sight, I began to walk over the ridge to get a better view of the next basin. After no more than a few minutes I heard my dad lightly calling my name and waving his arm. I ran back to him as quickly and quietly as possible knowing all too well what it meant... the old man had spotted what we had came here for. As I got back to where he was glassing from, he pointed to the ridge side at the smallest of openings in the dense pine. A buck had stopped exactly in the opening and peered down right towards him, giving him a quick glimpse of his big frame as several other deer followed. From the opening in the dense pine to the park we were watching was only about 100-150 yards and we knew this was our chance to get a better view of the buck as well as our only hope for a shot. As my dad set up the spotting scope and I prepared my rifle, I ranged different points within the park that he may cross. We knew it was just a matter of time before they showed themselves... or so we thought. We sat there dead still, 10-15 minutes had passed and no sign of the buck. We both looked at each other speechless, confused how the smart old buck had out done us. Several more minutes went by as we still sat there in disbelief that this old boy never showed himself... Until the ghost appeared again out of nowhere. Crossing the opening and not wasting a moments time. As the three bucks stepped out, my dad and I talked back and forth confirming which buck it was while trying to get a good judge on him. The moment he stepped into the opening the early morning sun lit up his mahogany colored horns like there was a spot light on him, there was no denying he was the one. There was a large pine in the middle of the park making the buck disappear for a brief moment and my decision to pull the trigger even quicker. Just as he was approaching the final patch of trees before he would disappear, I let it fly. The shot rang out, as the recoil of the gun threw my eye off the scope and that bitter sweet ringing in my ears. I loaded a second round as fast as I could and set the stock back into my shoulder, hoping to see him roll downhill... Nothing. Not a flicker of movement was to be found in the park. It was as if the earth stood still and I had just woken up from a dream. I took my eye away from the scope and asked "Did you see anything?" All he did was shake his head... No. Neither one of us were able to keep eyes on the deer as the shot rang out. We didn't have a clue what had just happened all in a matter of 10 seconds. As we both sat there in silence, we started to load our packs back up and decided that I would walk up to the park where the deer stood as my dad directs me from below. As some of you may have experienced, that walk feels like a lifetime. Replaying over and over in your head if you missed your target, if you adjusted for the range accurately, or the million things that could go wrong. As I come to where I thought the buck last stood, I began searching up and down the hill for any sign of blood. Nothing. I was certain I had missed but wasn't going to stop until I was positive. After 20 minutes or so my dad began to work his way up and give me a hand in searching for any sign. Just as he was 100 yards below me I spotted some deer tracks in the dirt and began to follow them. Low and behold I found a drop of blood... and I mean the smallest speck of blood you could imagine. At this point I obviously knew I had connected with my target but due to the lack of blood, I was sick to my stomach thinking I had wounded him. As my dad got closer I found a few more specks of blood some 30 yards away and kept yelling "Dad it's up here!" but him being the older/wiser one... he walked below me knowing that if I connected well the buck would have rolled down hill. Still frustrated, my dad suddenly said " BIG BUCK TY!" In disbelief, I started running down hill towards him as I said "Don't joke with me!" And if you know my old man... he isn't the type to joke around in those kind of moments but I was in total disbelief. As I got past a small patch of pines, I turned down hill and there he lay, with his back against a group of trees and one perfect shot. I'll let you be the judge but he was everything we had worked for over the years, with some gnarly ol' bases! Having the privilege to win the Alpine Muley Big Buck Contest hosted by The Wyld Company and all the love my buck received through the process is just the icing on the cake!
There are countless memories we hold close to our hearts as we reminisce on our hunts, but for me it's the ones I get to share with my old man. It's the priceless grin on his face and excitement in his voice, followed by a hand shack and a celebratory hug. These are the moments he lives for and in turn, are also the ones I live for as well. Even at the age of 25, seeing the pride on his face makes it all worth it. It's amazing to look back on how everything unfolded that day and how hunting can be just as much luck if not more, than skill. Right place right time, and the best hunting partner a guy could ask for. Had the ol' boy not shown himself in the smallest of openings on a dense timbered ridge, we would have never known he was coming and I would have never got a shot off in time. I owe everything I know about hunting to my old man and I'm thankful to say he has been right by my side during every animal I have harvested. Now it's my turn to be the guide, Dad.