I grew up being very fortunate to hunt my family’s private ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. Being a subscriber to the big western magazine company’s like Eastman’s and Western Hunter, where DIY hunts on public land are the main focus. I’ve always loved the mountains and have wanted to hunt them quite a few years. I finally made a few summer scouting trips out to an area in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming and found a high country spot I believed would produce some good bucks.
After missing the draw in 2013 I would have another year to plan for the 2014 season starting in September for archery. After securing my tag in the spring I began looking at Google earth and other maps more frequently as well as making a scouting trip in July, where I did see a few bucks that I would be happy with. The way Wyoming’s license I really drew was the rifle tag good for October 15-31, but with the purchase of their additional archery tag it let me hunt the entire month of September with my Mathews in hand. My original plan was to reserve the first week of September to begin my hunt, then return on the weekends when possible between school and family obligations, if I wasn’t successful the first week. I never thought I would need to break the rifle out.
Things changed drastically for my fall plans when I accepted a job field producing for Best of the West TV out of Cody, WY. The first two sheep hunts were projected to run the first 10 days of September, with an additional friend’s archery elk hunt the third week of the month, I soon began preparing mentally and strategically for a hunt crunched for time. We ended up spending more time after the sheep than expected, which left me an evening and one full day to see what I could get done with the stick and string. Now in the mountains, you never know what the weather will be like day-to-day or even hour to hour, and I was depending on good weather for my primary spot between 10 and 11,000 ft. Unfortunately about two days before arriving it had snowed quite a bit and started pushing deer down into the trees at lower elevations. Hoping a bigger buck was still hanging high, and not really knowing what else to do, I stuck to my plan of sitting on a few choice glassing points throughout the day. I really didn’t know what to expect out of the deer as the weather warmed back up throughout the next couple of days.
The day ended just like the evening before. I was only able to turn up a doe, fawn, and a small 2-year-old buck running together. With few deer sightings and very little time the next morning before a 10 hour drive, I decided to pack up camp that evening and head off the mountain for a hot meal, shower, and real bed. While leaving the area I knew I wouldn’t be back again during archery season, so I hit the maps and the phone once again to gather as much intel as I could about some lower country spots that may have potential for the October rifle season. We had one antelope hunt planned into my season so I broke out my .300 win mag from H-S Precision, hoping to get at least a couple of days in between hunts to try out my luck. When our antelope hunt unexpectedly got cut short, it softened my timeline enough to get about 3-4 days in on the mountain.
I had heard the deer had been migrating down early so I left my original area and headed a lower elevation directed to me by a friend who had hunted there before. The first morning I took a 7 mile hike out of camp and tried to find a good glassing spot but the whipping wind up top made it difficult to glass much so I headed back down to camp. After a breakfast skillet meal from Mountain House, I decided to jump in my vehicle and cover some ground. After a few hours of glassing and staring at maps I found a really good-looking mountain side covered with aspens and sage brush, divided with small cuts. I decided to sit and glass the hill-side that evening. About 20 minutes before pitch black I picked up the outline of a deer about 3/4 of the way down the mountain and could tell he had descent height but only about as wide as his ears. Having this be the only buck I saw so far and the third deer total for the day I decided I’d be back on him in the morning.
I got up an extra half hour early the next morning to be sitting behind my spotting scope as it got light. Besides a few nice 300″ type bull elk my morning went without a deer. I checked a couple more drainage’s that morning but still no sign of deer. With the weather warming up quick and all animals bedding down I decided to head 30 miles down the mountain to the nearest town to fill up with fuel and use my phone. Playing the wind and thermals I figured I could side hill into the area I had seen him last and be within 500 yards for a shot. I got about 3/4 of a mile across the hill when I heard 3 gun shots on the far side of the hill-side from me. About the time I started thinking how bad the elk hunters had probably blown out the hill-side I caught movement ahead of me behind a tree. I paused, threw my binoculars up in time to see a respectable 3×3 walk out and look in my opposite direction. Immediately after looking at his frame I was almost sure it was the deer I had seen the night before.
I took off my backpack, tossed it over a sage brush plant and rested my gun over that and settled into a rock solid rest. By this time he had calmed down and bedded facing straight away from me. At 200 yards my rifle would be shooting 5″ high, wind was left to right but not enough to make a significant difference. After laying sucked into my rifle and thinking about the approaching shot for 1 1/2 hours he finally stood up after the sun had dropped off the horizon and the air started to chill. He was facing straight away from me for probably 5 minutes, scratching his back with his antlers and rubbing his face on his legs. He finally started moving while he fed. He was coming close to moving behind a tree when he turned enough for a quartering away shot. I put my crosshairs for an exit on the opposing shoulder, compensated the 5″, exhaled and squeezed it off. The shot felt great and he fell in his tracks.
I had a few moments to realize what I’d just done, pay my thanks, and figure out how I was going to get him back to camp. Luckily there was a two-track mountain road 1/2 mile or so down the hill I was pretty sure I could get into with my pickup. After punching my tag and a quick gut job with my Saddle Mountain Skinner from Benchmade HUNT, I latched onto his antlers and started dragging him towards the road. I reached a small tree in the bottom near the road with him after dark. After a mile or so pitch black hike back to the pickup I got on the trail and drove down to pick him up. I let him air out overnight back at camp then took pictures and quartered him up the next morning to head back home to western Nebraska.
I consider myself extremely blessed to have been able to harvest a mule deer and live the experiences in the mountains of Wyoming solo. Hunts never seem to go as planned but I suppose that’s a driving reason we do it year after year. I’m already thinking about next season and the different areas I may get into and deer or elk I might see. I encourage everyone to take a trip to the mountains and experience what it’s like to live near the stars.
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