A Public Land Surprise – Mike’s 2017 Mule Deer Hunt

To say I’m a mule deer Fanatic would be grossly understated. There is no animal I’d rather hunt. I look forward to each mule deer hunt with great anticipation.

Rought Start

This year began busy as we prepared for Expos and worked to developed new pieces for SKRE’s Extreme Layering Systems. I knew that my preseason scouting schedule would be minimal as there were too many pressing things that took priority over scouting. As the day before the Utah archery hunt arrived, I was not feeling very confident about my chances of hunting a big buck. The few times I was able to break away for a scouting trip did not result in finding a buck that really got me excited. To make matters worse, the day before I was to leave, I discovered my Hoyt was stolen out of my truck. Things just weren’t going my way.

I decided to spend opening weekend helping my nephews get on some good bucks. Opening day we found some respectable bucks and my nephews made some impressive stalks, unfortunately without connecting. Throughout the day, I was hoping to find a big buck I could hunt later in the season. Opening day came and went without finding the type of buck I was after.

I returned to the office Monday and my first order of business was to purchase a new Hoyt Pro-Defiant. It wasn’t until Thursday that my new bow arrived, and frankly I had too much going on at work to break away. Fortunately, I found some time to dial in my new bow and let the string settle in.

Hunters Intuition

I’ve never been a fan of hunting on the weekends. I hunt public land easy to draw units and prefer not to hunt weekends where the competition is fierce. I elected to wait until midweek of the following week to start getting serious.

I was finally able to break away from work late on Tuesday. I put in a short hunt that evening and had a close encounter with a respectable buck, but he just wasn’t the kind of deer I was after.

The next morning, I dropped off into a steep canyon and worked my way over to a small basin where I had found a good buck the previous year. The morning hunt was long and arduous and really not all that productive. As I hiked out of the canyon I was pretty disappointed. This was a spot that almost always produced for me.

I made it back to the truck mid morning, exhausted, and ready for some food and rest. Interestingly, I had this nagging feeling I needed to drop off into another canyon and check out some overhanging cliffs that formed a large cavern at the head of a canyon. I had previously found deer many times before bedded in these large caves. While I had only found small bucks and does, I always had a sneaky suspicion that a big buck would eventually bed there.

First Sighting

I watered up, gobbled down a few sticks of jerky, threw on my pack and headed off into the canyon. Upon arriving at my glassing spot, I immediately glassed up a smaller buck bedded just inside the cliff overhang. I’ve always found it fascinating to see deer bedded in the shade of these caves.

On previous trips I had glassed upwards of 6 deer in this one cave. Consequently, half the cavern was obstructed by trees and brush. I decided I would salvage the morning by shooting some stills of the small buck. Unbeknownst to me, as I was setting up my spotting scope, a big buck ran the small buck out of his bed. When I brought the location of the small buck into focus, I was abruptly staring at a big buck standing in the bed of his smaller companion. This was a surreal experience for me. I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

I immediately hit the record button on my phone and captured some great video and stills. I new this was a deer I wanted to kill and after a few minutes of watching him, he bedded down.

With the thermals rising, I knew the buck was probably not going anywhere. The buck was in an excellent location for a stalk. The cavern was situated below a 40 ft cliff and above the cliff was a small ravine perfect for an approach from above. I circled around and got above the ravine and started a slow approach to the cliff. About half way down the ravine, I removed my boots and continued towards the cliff. Once I got about 20 yards from the cliff, I sat down and decided to carefully consider all my options before proceeding. I knew I had been gift wrapped an almost perfect stalking situation, and I didn’t want to mess it up. I decided to wait the buck out all day if necessary.

Cave Dwellers

By this time, it was about 11 AM, and the thermals really begin to heat things up. I had possibly an 8 hour wait in front of me with no boots and no way to quench my thirst. 

As I sat there, I ranged several locations where the buck might appear. There were several trails coming out of the cavern, but three distinct trails that were used heavily. Two of the trails went hard right and left out of the cave and would put the buck on approximately the same elevation as the cave floor. There was a very heavily used trail that went right out the middle, dropped off a small lip, and continued down the bottom of the ravine. If the buck used the middle trail, there was a chance he could slip out of range almost undetected.

Almost an hour went by as I sat their baking in the sun and carefully evaluating every scenario. It suddenly occurred to me the big buck could have slipped away as I was

stalking in. Could I be waiting 8 hours for nothing. Big bucks don’t reach maturity by making mistakes. It also occurred to me if the buck was still below me, like most old cagey bucks, he may not leave his seclusion until after dark. It took me an hour, but I finally abandoned my original plan to wait him out. I was ready to make something happen.

Cliff Hanger

I crept to the edge of the cliff and veered down. It was 40 ft straight down. I knocked an arrow and made a loud kissing sound. Suddenly two small bucks exploded out of the cave to my hard right. They stopped and stared up at me as I froze motionless waiting for the big buck to appear. After a couple minutes the two bucks went to feeding, occasionally glaring up at me trying to figure out what I was. I picked up a fist size rock and tossed it off the cliff, this time the small buck I had originally spotted, bolted out of the cave and never stopped.

At this point I had all but convinced myself the big buck had left, but not being totally satisfied, I scooped up a rock the size of a bookend and tossed it off. It exploded as it hit the bottom, knocking several rocks loose as it tumbled down the canyon. The two smaller bucks finally ran off, and everything went quiet. I was now convinced the buck had slipped out, when he suddenly, but slowly walked out on the middle trail directly below me at 15 yards. He was completely unaware I was directly above him.

With my toes on the cliffs edge, I drew back, angled my bow vertical with the cliff face. When my top pin settled high on his back I turned one loose. The arrow hit its mark exiting the off side right in the sweet spot. The buck jumped and put on the after burners. I quickly swapped my bow for the binoculars and followed him until he lost steam and crashed.

Where the Mule Deer Roam

With adrenalin still coursing through my veins, I laid on my back and marveled at what had just happened. It’s experiences like these that solidify my commitment to conservation and the preservation of the wild and rugged places these animals call home. I feel privileged to pursue these magnificent creatures on public land on their terms, and in their terrain. My passion for mule deer has taken me to some of the most spectacular vistas in the west, and I feel blessed to grow up in the Rocky Mountain west where these animals roam.

(Trail Cam picture in July. Still growing them fuzzy antlers!)

 

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