The Story of RED
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
Growing up in Wyoming, every fall I had the opportunity of seeing other hunters bring home magnificent trophies, me never being one of them. I don’t have a memory of not being “in-the-thick of it” hunting and hunting hard. It seemed like no matter how hard my dad and I hunted, nothing ever seemed to work out the way I planned it in my mind.
My love of the back country begins with the memory of the one that got away. I must have been thirteen or fourteen and my dad and I were in the rocks above where we normally elk hunt, but this time in search for the highly coveted monster high country muley. At this time I didn’t understand the difference between a big buck and a big buck in the back country. My dad and I were skirting an old deer trail in some questionable terrain. I will never forget all the times as a youngster that I was pulling myself up a mountain using grass roots as guide rope, following my old man and thinking to myself, “Do other fathers risk their children’s lives like this? Couldn’t we just road hunt like the other guys that bring home the big animals?” As we were making our way around a rocky corner my dad let me take the lead. Exhausted from our recent climb I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was on the trail ahead of me. Feeling a tap on my shoulder I stopped and looked up. There, standing only 20 yards in front of me were two of the biggest bucks I can ever remember. With their ears forward and on high alert they realized they were walking into trouble. I raised my rifle and picked out the bigger one…click. I forgot to camber a bullet! Both of the bucks whipped around and bounded back the way they came. I sprinted after and followed them into the trees. Once I finally made it back to my dad who was sitting in the last place I left him, he filled me in and told me he watched the two bucks run all the way to the bottom, stop look back and the bound out of site. He too said they were giants and that I would never be that close to not only one buck, but two bucks of that caliber again. I had a feeling of disappointment, but something else was stirring inside of me, something new. For me this is when it all began.
The following years were not completely uneventful. I had a 20 yard encounter with a 30” non-typical buck with my bow and misjudged the distance and shot over. A couple years later I managed to revert back to my same old ways of forgetting a bullet right at sunlight with a buck with big in-lines only to see him on the back of a four wheeler later that day. I grew up practically hating other hunters. I never understood how a 12 year old girl with nail polish on could be sleeping in the passenger seat and awake to her dad saying shoot him and come home with a 350” elk loaded whole in the back of the truck. Or some “out of stater” that has never been in the mountains coming to our camp asking for help getting his giant deer off the mountain. I thought that they didn’t deserve it. And that I did. I thought I worked hard and had put my time in. My heart was hard and not in the right place. I wanted the fame and glory, and could care less about the memories or meeting God in a very personal way on the mountain.
I grew to understand how hunting the high country in the pursuit of the grey ghost truly was. The conditions have to be perfect. The wind has to be just right. The days leading up to the hunt have to be just right. Scouting is key. Other hunters WILL screw up your plans, so plan on that. Your gear must be prepped and ready for action. Big bucks are patternable, until they aren’t. You think you are in shape and can chase deer, well think again. The mountain is as beautiful as it is unforgiving. Going through high school and college didn’t make it easy to spend the time I needed in the high-country either. Every fall I would give it all I had, but all I had was never enough. In my early teens I would end up filling the freezer with the time I had, but eventually that wasn’t enough. I made a decision that I would not kill another deer unless it was a giant from the back country. After 9 years of passing on smaller bucks, trips being cut short, and missed opportunities I finally focused myself and decided this was it.
Knowing the number one enemy in the backcountry was my-self I made it my duty to be in the gym at least 5 days a week from the last day of hunting in 2014 to the first day on the mountain in the fall of 2015. I was not going to let my lack of physical preparation be the determining factor over who would win in this game I had grown to love.
Late July approached and I loaded up the family and headed to the mountains. We got to the campsite late that night and rigged up the best we could. After some shut eye and before the sun rose, my pack was loaded down with 4 trail cameras and my boots were strapped.
My dad also came along with me on this scouting trip. I guess it was all the vertical miles that eventually got to him, because the recent years he has spent most of his hunting from a 4 wheeler and has become very successful at it. I was very happy to have him along again.
Dad stayed in the bottom of the canyon and aimed his spotting scope up toward the cliffs. I told him to keep a good eye out and I was going to head to the top and start setting some cameras. I knew that a key to finding big bucks was to find a good vantage point and sit, watch and wait, but I also wanted to discover as much country as I could and figure out the drainages that I wanted to hunt. After a grueling hike to the top that seemed like 5 miles of climbing a ladder, I found myself on the skyline. There was deer sign everywhere but I didn’t see much for big bucks on the way up, something I half expected. I knew that where I was there wasn’t going to be ANYONE. Well I guess I forgot something I learned about hunting in the high-country. I got to the trail that ran across the long ridge and there were fresh boot tracks. I couldn’t believe it. One of the reasons I chose this drainage was because of the harsh, unforgivingly steep terrain and I figured there would be less people. This was not a good sign considering it was only July. I set my trail cameras in the best spots I could find and began my way down the trail. It wasn’t long before I ran into a bulky Montana man sporting some giant calves and nice gear. After talking for a while I soon learned his name was Kyle, he was very friendly and we both had the same thing in mind. Killing the buck of a lifetime in the most beautiful country known to man. We discussed our plans for September and wished each other luck. But before we parted he showed me some footage he just took of a nice 180 class buck that just crested the top.
After the sun was plenty high in the sky I finally made it back to camp. My dad said that he saw two shooters. One on each side of the canyon. He described one as a beautiful typical framed 180” buck that walked from the cliff edge and over the sky-line. I figured this had to be the same buck the Montana man, Kyle, had shown me earlier.
Now that I had most of my plan laid out I still had one problem. It was the same problem I have always been faced with since my dad quit hunting the high-country. I needed a partner. I was prepared to hunt it alone, but knew that I would stay more focused and in better cheer if I had a friend I could trust with me. Earlier that month I met a new friend at a bible study I started to attend who shared much of the same joys as I do. Don is one of the most determined men I have ever met. He jumped at the chance as soon as the invitation was sent. I needed to go and check the cameras and wanted to take a full 3 days of scouting before the hunt, so I, along with Don this time, headed back up to the high country in mid-August.
After being there in July I knew that at that elevation there was little to no water. Water, or the lack of it, was the new enemy. I had plans of staying on the mountain for 14 days straight if I had to during the hunt, so Don and I muscled up every ounce of energy we had and we packed in as much water as our packs and backs could handle. On top of that we had tents, sleeping bags, camping necessities and we decided to bring in all of the dry meals we could and stow them in a tree. Five hours after we left the trail and began our accent we finally made it to the top where I placed my first trail camera. As I sat against a tree sucking down a bottle of water I looked down to the bottom of the canyon and told Don, “That was probably the hardest thing I have ever done.” Between his deep breaths and rubbing sweat out of his eyes I figured he agreed. The trail cameras didn’t produce much. The first night an elk rubbed a tree with a camera that resulted in positioning it toward the sky for the rest of the month. We had pictures of some decent deer and a bear on one as well as a couple hikers. This time some people that were not Kyle. Things were not looking good so far. We made it to where we thought would be a good place to set up the tent and stow away our water and food and set camp. Then as it started to get cooler we made our way up the ridge and started glassing for big bucks. We found several bucks that most people would not hesitate to shoot in just the first 10 minutes. Okay, so maybe everything would turn out alright. Most of our time that night was consumed by what we were guessing to be only a 3 year old deer with a four point frame and unreal mass. He had it all; good forks, heavy bases, just was not quite what we wanted, but he made for a good photo shoot.
The light was dimming and we decided we could check one more drainage before dark. I slowly crept over the side and looked down on a flat grassy bench that Don and I soon landmarked as the football field. There were two bucks and one was a decent four point. Neither had seen me so I spent a few seconds with them in my binoculars. When I brought them down, my eyes caught a big frame on the far sideline of the football field. There he was. Laying down staring right at us was the most beautiful buck I have ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I crept back out of site and then crept back and put a tree between us and him. I raised my binoculars and stuck the camera lens of my iPhone into the glass and snapped a few pictures of him as he stood up. Then I just watched in disbelief of this magnificent animal. He wasn’t extremely wide. Probably 27 or 28 wide, but he was unbelievably massive and tall. I picked out a few characteristics such as the two cheaters on his right side coming off of his G3. Then he, and the other two trotted into the trees and off of the football field. With all of my experience, I knew that generally once you blow a big buck, you will not see him again. To my surprise when they made it to the next hill side and under some cliffs they decided to stop and fill their bellies with some more high altitude nutrient rich grasses. It was getting to dark to see specifics but we knew they weren’t too far.
Don and I looked at each other and couldn’t believe what we just saw. I told him it had been years since I have seen a buck that big. He replied with big white eyes, “I have never seen a buck that big.” There were fires burning all around the country and the way the light was hitting his late summer coat, Don gave him the name Red. I figured he scored somewhere around 195”-200” as dark as it was we were never able to get a perfect shot of him. I happened to have a trail camera in my pack, and ran down to the football field and placed it on one of the trees on the edge. In the tent that night we decided to head back to the same spot and see if Red was anywhere to be found.
The next morning we made it to the drainage where we left Red. Looking down to the bottom we spotted a couple bucks that were making their way out of the meadow and back up into the rocks. I rushed to get my spotting scope out and found a big buck in my lens with only seconds to look at him, I determined that it wasn’t Red. This buck wasn’t as heavy or tall, but had some extra cheaters on both sides. That made me pretty excited and longing for another look that I was never allotted. From out of nowhere in the middle of the meadow there he was. It was Red. He followed the previous bucks right out of the meadow and up the trail into the cliffs. I couldn’t believe it. We had just found two awesome bucks and started a pattern on a buck of a life time. The rest of the weekend we checked other drainages and found some nice bucks including a 30” 3 point with a drop tine. Something anyone would be proud to have in their packs, but nothing I wanted. The next two evenings we sat and watched Red. I told myself that even if this buck wasn’t here come time to hunt, that this was all worth it. Just to see a buck like this and to know I put my time in was all worth it. But none the less I left that scouting trip determined. This was my year. I was not going to let anything in my control change that.
After that grueling hike with all the water and camp, I knew that I still wasn’t where I needed to be physically. I ordered an altitude training mask and had it overnighted. The next few weeks leading up to the hunt I ran more miles than I could count on low oxygen and built myself to a point that I was somewhat satisfied with. The picture of Red on my phone screensaver, and my dreams of hunting and harvesting him, kept my hopes, nerves and determination as high as ever.
September finally came and Don and I headed for the high country. We made it to the parking area after dark and laid a tarp on the ground and would start our accent in the morning hours. Laying on the tarp, I heard a rustling of the tarp next to my head and figured there was a mouse eating my crumbs from dinner. The noise went away and then I heard it again. Suddenly, something a little heavier walked across my chest. I slightly freaked out and yelled and scrambled for my flash light. When I flicked it on there was nothing to be found, but I noticed my hat that I laid next to me was gone. I stood up and pointed my flashlight toward the trees and caught the glimpse of some fur. It was a fox and he was chewing on my lucky hat! Well I guess you could say things were already becoming interesting.
After a difficult hike in we finally made it to where we were going to call home for the next 11 days. It was a week before the rifle opener and we had packed our bows and rifles in hopes that we could make something happen with a stick and string, but if not we knew opening day for rifle would be the next best shot. Somewhat to our surprise, but also half expected, there were two tents set up under the trees that we hung all of our water and food in from the previous trip. After some snooping around it was apparent that someone had just brought their camp up and was not occupying it. We figured they would be here on the opening day of rifle. To keep our “foot print” as small as possible, we decided to set up practically right next to them and embrace the fact that we would have neighbors soon. We were very anxious to see if red was still around so we made our way to the trail camera and slipped the SD card into the viewer we brought.
The card had over 400 pictures on it and the first one was a small two point buck. My heart got excited. As I pressed the next button over and over and brushed past multiple pictures of bucks licking the camera, filling their tummies as they passed by and young bucks practicing their sparing techniques it became apparent that I placed it in a good spot and there was plenty of activity. Since I had gone through over 300 pictures and not seen Red I began to give up hope and decide he probably got spooked out, maybe by our new neighbors, as I knew it didn’t take much for big bucks to leave home and head for their hunting season hideouts. Wait, what was that?! I passed a picture and immediately pressed that back button. I couldn’t believe it. There was a series of Red walking across the football field and right next to my camera. All of this open country and he actually walked right in front of my hidden scouting weapon. I couldn’t believe it. He was bigger than I thought. The night flash from the camera shone off his velvet making his antlers look twice as thick as they were. After gawking over the pictures, I knew I had another 50 or so to look at. It didn’t take long and there he was again. This time it was him walking in the other direction with pictures of a side we had yet to see. His right side was palmated like a moose paddle and absolutely massive! My excitement only grew. Even though all the pictures of him were in the dark the most encouraging thing was that it was only a couple days ago. He was still around. I came up the mountain that day not expecting to see a single picture of him. I honestly didn’t think I would ever see him again. Knowing that big bucks in the high-country have a tendency to “slip out” I tried not to get my hopes up.
We put the card viewer away and loaded our bows up and headed toward Red’s basin. After some time glassing the football field and the basin it was in, we found only a few small four points, nothing either Don or I would pursue. We went on to the next basin we had seen decent bucks in before and even a little water hole. Of course, the high country had another trick up its sleeve. The water was dried up. We knew we packed plenty of water to get us through a few days, but definitely not the whole trip. This meant that at some point we would have to hike to the bottom and bring back more water from the stream. As the sun started to disappear on that first night of our bow hunt, we decided to hurry back to Red’s basin to check one more time before dark. I made it and immediately found deer about 500 yards away. In the spotting scope I located at least 6 deer. There were a couple decent bucks and one that I could tell was pretty big, but not Red. It was getting darker and hard to tell, but I assumed this was the other buck I caught a glimpse of in august during our scout trip. It was almost too dark to see anymore and I was about to put the scope away, when I noticed one more deer coming out of a small trench and making its way into my field of view. I couldn’t see details, but I knew it was him. It was RED!! The massive frame. Not wide but tall and heavy. I didn’t see the cheaters but I knew that frame like the back of my hand. Red was still here. My breathing quickened and my heart raced. At this moment, Don made his way up to me and could tell I was happy. He looked at me with anxious eyes and asked what I saw. I told him, “Its Red! He is still here! And his friend looks big too.” Light faded and we left Red feeding below the football field. Coming off the ridge and back to camp I couldn’t help but sing praises. I felt overwhelmed by the blessing of not only getting to see the buck in August, but then to come back and have pictures of him I can take home and keep forever, and now seemingly getting the opportunity to pursue him with my bow. It seemed as though everything was falling into place, something I was not used to when it came to pursuing big game animals. I couldn’t wait to see what God had instore for us in the next days.
The next morning Don and I spread out along the top of the basin and waited for the sun to come up. It didn’t take long before my radio opened to life and I heard Don say, “I’ve got Red.” Then I found him. He was moving from the bottom and up toward the thick timber on the other side of the basin where he headed in August. With a bow it was pointless to pursue him while he was on his hooves, so our game plan was to watch and wait for him to find a good place to bed down for the day and hope that the wind was right and I could put a stalk on him. As the days went on, we watched Red every morning and night. We never saw his big friend during bow season again, but we did manage to jump an awesome non-typical at a cliff line that we unknowingly walked right by the first time and then when we walked back by the same cliffs he finally decided to get up and out of there. That buck was never seen again either. While watching Red, and to no surprise, every time he went to bed down he went deep into the timber and we never once got to see him lay down. Being the only ones on the mountain during bow season, there was no way I was going to go in after him not knowing exactly where he laid down and hope to stumble upon him in the thick timber without him knowing I was there and then get within 50 yards and fling an arrow into his lungs. Don and I agreed that the last thing we wanted to do was bump Red out.
It would have been absolutely amazing to stick him with my bow, and that’s something I really wanted to do, but I would have regretted blowing my chances by going in on a whim. So we got to enjoy 8 days of watching a mature 200” class buck every morning and every night. I never had felt so at peace in my entire life. Throughout those days Don and I would go to our perch and watch Red leave his grazing area early in the mornings and hope that he would bed down in a good spot for me to pursue, but he never did. We would sit there through the majority of the next days and watch other deer, make meals, let our feet get some fresh air and enjoy God’s beautiful creation. Don brought along a pocket bible and I felt blessed to fellowship with a good friend and there was nowhere else I would rather be. Normally during a hunt or a pursuit of a certain animal I would have felt anxious and would be constantly scheming on what to do next or what I could do to make it all work out. Where I needed to be. I would need to hurry. I would need to be in control. I. I. I. This was different though. I knew that if I walked off that mountain without Red in my pack that I was going to walk off happy and blessed. God had softened my heart and shown me what was truly important. He showed me why I do it and reminded me why He has given me so many blessings. Deep down I still felt like I would probably show up in town empty handed. I don’t think I knew what success felt like. Probably because I was never mature enough to figure out how to truly measure it. It didn’t take long into this hunting trip to understand that what Don and I had already accomplished was a complete success. I was humbled and at peace.
The morning before rifle season we decided Red wasn’t going anywhere. The way the terrain was where he was consistently hanging out and where he was bedding we knew it just wasn’t going to happen with a bow. We headed in the other direction from camp. We headed towards the area where the big buck from July that both my dad and Kyle from Montana had seen. As we walked on the trail and crested the first hill, I saw a couple deer just off the trail feeding with their heads down. I put up my binoculars and I was wrong. It was one deer. One very large deer. Its body was so big it gave the illusion that it was more than one. Then he lifted his head out of the grass. It was the big buck from that summer! He was in the exact same group of trees Kyle had videoed him in way back in July! We slid off the trail and I helped Don get ready for a stalk. I stayed back and watched him creep toward the buck we dubbed Dozer. With an arrow knocked Don got within 60 yards before the wind changed and Dozer bounded into the trees. What a blessing. We couldn’t comprehend how amazing this trip was. It was forming and changing in front of us every step of the way. Don and I discussed how Dozer had not moved more than 50 yards since July and probably had a lot to do with why his body was so big. Again, knowing what I thought I knew about hunting big bucks in the high-country we figured Dozer was probably already in Idaho by now and we headed back to Red’s basin to find him before the opener of the rifle hunt in the morning.
We spent the rest of the day behind glass searching every nook and cranny in the basin looking for Red. He was nowhere to be seen. By this time Kyle showed up on the trail. He also stopped in the basin and pulled his spotting scope out. After a few minutes he moved on to the next basin. A storm started to move in and it began to lightly rain as we moved into the evening. Still no Red. In fact, we couldn’t find a single deer in the whole basin, which we thought was impossible. Soon a man riding and trailing a horse came down the trail and then went off into the trees just past the basin. Probably to set camp. Doubts began to flood my mind. Did we bump Red out and not know it? Did Kyle or this horseman bump him? Did this pressure system move him to lower elevation? Is he treed up and staying out of the rain? Should have we been here in the morning instead of pursuing Dozer? As the evening went on and the sun began to slip lower and lower, I began to worry a little. Don brought me back to reality when he told me that all God has done this trip so far is bless us. Things that shouldn’t be happening up here, were. Maybe there was a bigger deer that He wanted for me. Maybe He wanted me to go home empty handed and just show me that I can still enjoy hunting hard and coming home without something while others bring home the goods. It was comforting and my heart was ready to accept any outcome. Don also reminded me that we still had 4 more days of rifle season to find him if he doesn’t show up.
When I came back to our perch from stretching my legs, Don had his binoculars fixed on something. It was all the way across the basin. He told me he thought that he was looking at Red’s mysterious friend, but once again it was too far and the rain made it hard to decide exactly what the buck had to offer other than that we knew he was big. This was a good sign as we knew that Red hangs around this mystery buck. It wasn’t long after and we caught a glimpse of Red through a small opening in the trees heading toward a big meadow. What a relief. That was the most we saw of him until it was too dark. But we knew he was there and we knew we were the only ones that knew exactly where he was. We formulated a game plan that would have us sitting anywhere from 300 to 500 yards of the grassy hillside we usually see him at in the early mornings.
When we reached camp that night we were greeted by two younger guys. Our neighbors. We introduced ourselves and quickly apologized for camping right on top of them, but explained our food and water situation and how we thought a smaller area of campers would be best for all hunters and wouldn’t push deer all over the mountain. They completely agreed with us. We told them our tentative plan and they had plans of going below camp, so we knew that we wouldn’t be interfering with each other’s morning hunt.
It was opening morning. It was still dark when Don and I exchanged our stick and strings for our long range rifles that we had packed in with us the week before. It had lightly rained all night but was clear now, but wouldn’t be for long. After saying a quick prayer we noticed some flashlights coming down toward camp. It was Kyle and his buddy. Kyle asked me where I was going and I told him exactly where I would be and he told me that was the exact spot he was planning on sitting. He told me how his dad killed a deer from that perch on the year he was born and it had sentimental value to him. At this point a suspicion I always had was confirmed. Kyle had been scouting Red too. I told him that I understand we both know what is in the basin. I would give him the perch and wish him the best. I would go about 200 yards down further. I figured this might actually be better because of where we saw Red the night before. I knew there were more trees in the way than the other spot, but I would actually have a closer shot if Red would be where I predicted. Don went to the top of the basin and would sit and keep his eyes open for the big framed deer. Kyle, his friend and I made our way down the spine and to the cliff edge where he would sit. As I left him I told him that I would be happy either way. We made a gentleman’s agreement that if one of us started to shoot that the other one wouldn’t shoot the deer “out from under” the other hunter. We wished each other good luck and parted ways.
I couldn’t keep my eyes out of my binoculars. I wanted to be the first one to find Red. At this point I was taken aback at how calm my nerves were. Of course I wanted Red, but I knew that Kyle had been working hard scouting this buck too. It would be a joy to see him up close whether I was walking to my trophy or walking to Kyles, or even a joy to see such a magnificent deer live another day. It started to get lighter and still no sign of Red. I was starting to get nervous. Who was going to find him first? It was almost a race. I finally found a deer about 200 yards down the cliff and pulled my gun up, at this moment I heard a voice behind me, “You must see a good one.” Honestly, a little frightened I turned around to see the horseman from last night had snuck up on me. As it was still pretty dark, he helped me determine that the buck wasn’t very big. I paused and out of nowhere I asked him if he believed in God. He said he did and I asked if I could say a prayer. I prayed for all the hunters on the mountain to have a safe and successful day. I prayed that we would enjoy not only the thrill of the hunt, but the majesty of His creation. When I said amen the man thanked me and walked further down the ridge. After he left even I thought that was a little out of character for me to do, but for some reason I felt so overjoyed.
It was getting lighter and lighter and still no break over the radio from Don. No gunshots. And I had yet to find another deer. I knew he had to be there, just where. In a basin that big it was a needle in a hay sta…BOOM!
Kyle’s gun went off, but it didn’t sound like it was a hit. I scrambled in my binoculars to try and find what he was shooting at. Hopefully it wasn’t Red! “Was that you?” Don asked. I told him it had to be Kyle. Don said he still could not find Red. Boom! Boom! It still didn’t sound like a hit. I told him to keep looking in case he is shooting at a different deer or if he misses. Boom! Then don on the radio said, “I don’t know if it is Red but I think I found him.” Then he tried telling me where he was. He said he was almost directly across from where I was positioned. I couldn’t find him. A tree or something must have been in the way. It was a helpless feeling, knowing I couldn’t see the deer I had been pursuing since early August and the last 9 days, not to mention that he was probably being shot at by another hunter. I sat there thinking well, if anyone other than Don or I deserves this deer it is Kyle. “Get him Kyle.” I’m pretty sure I said out loud. “You still cannot see him?” Don said again. I told him I couldn’t. Boom! Thwack! I told Don that sounded like a hit and asked if he could still see Red. He said he couldn’t. I knew Kyle got him. I sat down at stared out into the basin. It was a weird emotion. I was happy for Kyle and excited for the opportunity to go see Red up close. But I was very sad and felt like I was never going to kill a big deer. I was wondering what God’s plan was for this hunt. The most optimistic idea that went through my head was maybe God was letting me drool over a 200” deer all week just to let me stumble upon a 220” deer on the way out or something. Sitting on that cliff line I accepted what had happened and my heart was okay with it. It was time to congratulate a fellow hunter.
Probably ten minutes had gone by and I noticed a big bodied buck out across the basin. I stared at him through my binoculars for at least 5 more minutes. He wasn’t worth shooting and he was so big he really would have weighed my pack down. I wondered why he wasn’t running away after all that shooting that took place 15 minutes ago. With my eyes in the binoculars I noticed something move just feet away from the deer I was looking at. It was a set of antlers. They moved again. It was Red! He had been there the whole time! I couldn’t believe it. I put my gun into my double crossed shooting sticks and ranged him. 300 yards. Then I stopped and thought that maybe he was wounded. So I set my gun back down and looked again through my binoculars. He looked healthy as ever! He was just grazing with no care in the world! As I raised my gun again I thought about the “don’t shoot out from under each other” pact that Kyle and I made. I paused again. It had been at least 15 minutes since the 5 shots went off above me. I knew the 5th one hit something and Red was fine. I decided Kyle must have shot another deer.
I looked down my scope. Red was feeding downhill facing toward me across canyon. I put the cross hairs on his shoulder and waited for his rack to clear. With a light squeeze, the 7mm went off with a bang! Red’s legs fell out from under him and he ceased to move a muscle.
I calmly put my gun on my pack. Kneeling on the ground I looked toward heaven. The clouds opened up at that exact moment and it began pouring rain. Looking into the sky watching the clouds swirl, I felt the blood leave my face. Overcome with emotion, I noticed the difference between the rain and the tears. At that moment in my quiet time toward heaven, I thanked God.
“Was that Kyle again?” Don asked over the radio. I took a deep breath and tried to gather my words. All I could say was, “We did it. Red is dead.”
While waiting for Don to make it down to me, I just sat there and played every event through my head that lead to this moment. I was overwhelmed with emotion. After a few minutes, Kyle’s buddy came through the trees and down the muddy embankment to where I was. He was smiling and had true joy on his face. With outstretched arms he exclaimed, “You smoked him man! I saw the whole thing through the spotting scope!” Then he gave me a big hug. I asked him if Kyle killed another deer and he explained to me that Kyle was shooting at Red, but was almost 10 feet high with each shot. The turret on his scope was dialed a whole revolution off. After his last shot he realized he only brought five shells and left his bullet bag in the tent. Red didn’t seem to care that he was shooting so Kyle sprinted back to camp. Kyle’s friend showed me where they spotted Red first thing before shooting light and from where I was, Red was bedded behind a big rock. Apparently he didn’t get up until after Kyle’s fifth shot had hit the rock he was laying below
Don made it down to me and we started down off the cliff and rock slide to the deer. Kyle and his friend came down a little after us and helped us take pictures. I told Kyle I was sorry for how things turned out and I understand the feeling he is going through. He promptly replied with much humility and told me that this is obviously how it was meant to be and that if it wasn’t him who harvested Red, that he was happy it was me instead of someone else.
The mass of Red’s antlers was unbelievable. It was kind of weird to put my hands on a deer that we had been watching for so long. It seemed literally unreal. I couldn’t believe that after all the hunts I had been on and all the times I have seen other people harvest trophies that I was sitting here with a buck of a lifetime.
The rain was really coming down at this point and the other two hunters gave me their congratulations and headed back to their tent. Don and I loaded our packs with deer meat, the cape and massive rack. We decided that we accomplished our goal and would head off the mountain and take the deer home and then come right back up to continue the hunt for a deer for Don. After an intense hike down the slippery terrain we made it to the truck. As soon as we got service on the ride home, we called a legendary deer hunter and friend of ours and told him the news. After a long pause he expelled and said, “I have been waiting for this exact call all week!” The passion of the hunt for Red didn’t end when he hit the dirt. It was exciting for everyone involved, from start till even now.
We dropped the meat in the freezer at home and slept on a bed with our wives and then woke early to head back to the high country. When we arrived at the trail head we looked up the canyon to see that rain had turned into snow. It was almost 5 PM by the time we made it back to the top. It was very foggy and cold with a couple inches of snow on the ground. We planned to hunt our way to the tent, but the fog was really setting in. We had a few benches that we wanted to sit and glass before dark, but it didn’t seem like the weather was going to co-operate. We were at the exact spot on the trail where Don had put a stock on the nice buck earlier that week with his bow. Ironically, the hill side where that buck ran to was the only place on the mountain we could find that wasn’t socked in with fog. We descended the hill to get a better look at the spotty meadows and that was when I spotted a buck. He was only about 100 yards and I could tell that he was a good buck but the back ground of the dark timber was impeding the details. Don decided the buck was good enough and took a shot. The buck kicked and ran into the timber. While he kicked I saw through my binoculars that he was a pretty big buck. We waited for about 15 minutes and then we spotted 4 bucks come out of the timber and into the next grassy pocket. “There he is! You must have missed. Shoot again!” There was one other buck with him that was slightly smaller. I warned Don and told him to only shoot the farthest right buck. He was having a hard time finding him in his new fancy gun that he had only set up for long shots. Bang! The big buck was hit and hit hard. The others left as he limped into the timber.
Don and I celebrated and were in awe at what just happened. We just got back from taking a giant home, hiking for 2 hours up a snow covered mountain and within 10 minutes of making the summit Don had shot a big mature buck with his rifle almost exactly where he stalked a big buck earlier in the week with his bow. We said a prayer and thanked God for all of our blessings, then headed to the blood trail. The buck laying on the steep hillside was massive. It was indeed the same buck from July scouting that my dad found. The same buck that Kyle videoed on that day in July. The same buck that Don tried to stalk with his bow. It was the same group of trees from each encounter. We couldn’t believe it. We estimated that his body was almost 400 lbs. He must have just stored up so much body fat from never moving. Don gave him the name Dozer. He was a 7 or 8 year old mature buck with a beautiful typical frame. We were on cloud 9!
Our conversation during the skinning and pack out to camp seemed like it was on repeat in an old tape recorder. We couldn’t believe the events of the trip. How is it that the entire mountain was fogged out but this one little timber patch? How is it that this buck never moved for almost 3 months? How was it that Kyle ran out of bullets? How was it that we managed to conquer 11 days in the back country and be successful hunters and successful men? God used his marvelous creation to change my stone heart. It was truly a blessed trip and one I will never forget.
Most importantly I want to thank my wife for my success. Stasia is amazing in the fact that she lets me do what it takes to accomplish my dreams and fulfill my goals. When I succeed she succeeds. She works hard every time I am away or every day that I am training to hunt. She takes care of everything at home and when I succeed she gets to feel accomplished because without her help and understanding I would not be able to chase my dreams. Thank you, I love you.
Author: Braxton Hamilton