Mule deer are icons throughout the west and mid-west, and I have yet to run across another bow hunter that didn’t care to ever have a chance at one. Even though I have grown up in the mid-west and been around mule deer all of my life, I was no different. I have always wanted to say I was able to stalk a wise old mule deer buck within bow range and conquer him in his own backyard. Even though I had always, and still do, think about it everyday, it’s still a surreal feeling now knowing that I can say I have done it.
I had caught wind of a very nice mule deer hanging out on a neighbors ranch just across the fence from our ranch. After hearing this good news I immediately began thinking of how I would approach this particular hunt. The area is all choppy sandhills full of small pockets, perfect for a smart mule deer to tuck himself in out of sight. After gathering and checking gear multiple times I left the house and headed for the hills full of anticipation for what the October day might bring.
The first morning I quickly found him with seven other bucks feeding and working across an old field headed for the rough hills to bed for the day. After watching and waiting from a half mile away they dropped over a hill only to have five of the eight come out of the bottom and bed alongside the hill. Thinking the other three including the target buck, had to be bedded in the bottom I moved to get a better vantage point.
While circling downwind I bumped a doe and fawn, which started running straight towards the bedded bucks. Knowing the bucks would probably be startled and move I ran to a hill where I thought I could see them exit, which they did and I watched all eight disappear over the hill. After the initial frustration was over I began planning another approach. I knew the direction they were headed and also knew they couldn’t have been too spooked because they didn’t hear me, see me, or smell me which also had me thinking they wouldn’t have gone too far.
I got to a vantage point where I could see where I thought the bucks would go, and just as I suspected they were casually working their way to the area they had been seen before. The wind was perfect so I planned to ease in, work slow, and hopefully sneak up right behind them. I was walking down a fence line approaching the spot I saw them disappear when I caught a glimpse of antlers moving. After slowly ducking down and backing up I made my way around them, keeping hills in between us, to get a better look. Coming to a sharp hill I peeked my head over to find all eight deer bedded just outside of range. After a 3 hour wait laying in the sand they finally got up, along with the shooter who bedded down at 60 yards.
Another great deer was laying just above the number one deer and I decided he was the number two deer and would take him if the chance was available. I felt like this was as good as opportunity as any for a shot. I drew from the cover of the hill and sat up, exposing myself, steadied my pin over the bedded buck and squeezed. They all jumped up and took off over the hill with my arrow stuck bloodless in the yucca plant where the deer had been laying. The wind had come up during my wait, more than I had noticed laying behind the hill and drifted the arrow to hit just inches in front of the deer. Discouraged but not given up I went out day after day with close calls but no lethal opportunities. Finally I had gone a few days without catching sight of them and backed out of the area in hopes they would show back up closer to the rut.
Weeks had gone by with no sign of any of the deer when I got the news. My dad had been up at our alfalfa fields moving bales of hay home to prepare to feed our cows throughout the winter. After picking up a load and heading home he noticed four deer feeding in the corner of one of the fields, one of which was a very nice mule deer buck which he thought might be the one I had been after. I threw on my Sitka gear, quickly rubbed a little black paint on my face, grabbed my bow and headed out the door.
We quickly found the buck laying with his back against a hay bale and three doe behind him feeding. I knew it wasn’t the number one deer I’d been after but a great deer non the less. Keeping a line of bales in between the four deer and myself, I began inching closer being as quiet as possible in the somewhat crunchy snow. I reached a line of bales sitting adjacent to the bale he was laying against and made the final approach. At the end of the bales I hunched down and peeked around to find the deer laying contently out of the cool breeze. After studying the deer through my binoculars I realized he was the number two buck that had been hanging out with the number one buck I’d been after weeks ago. After ranging the deer a 34 yards I drew back in the cover of the bales and slowly stepped out. He stood up looking right at me, I settled the yellow 30 yard pin of my Spot Hogg sight on his shoulder and squeezed it off. Thwack. The best sound a bow hunter will ever hear, and one I had been longing to hear for a long time. He took off with his three doe and my arrow still stuck in him, disappearing over the hill trailing blood.
With the snow fall I was confident we’d be able to track him even without blood so we backed out and waited about an hour before pursuing him. After about a mile into the track with minimal but consistent blood we came upon a spot where he had bedded but then kept moving. We kept on his track and hoped he wouldn’t be too far ahead of us. While tracking in an open pasture examining for blood I looked up to see a rack sticking out of some tall red grass. I cautiously approached him from his blind side and touched him with my foot confirming he had expired.
After the initial adrenalin and excitement had worn off I began reflecting from weeks past, on the very long days I spent pursuing these animals. Even though I didn’t end up with the number one buck, I had spotted and stalked this deer just as many times as the rest. This season, like the rest, is a unique one that I will never forget. I can’t forget that my number one deer is still out there somewhere. I’ve got a black powder tag in my pocket and cannot wait to see what the month of December holds.
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