I am trying to get some sleep the night before my next hunt, but the thought of chasing big mule deer has my mind racing. Am I prepared? Did I check all my equipment well enough? Am I sure I want to hunt this area in the morning or should I try another potentially great spot? Thoughts I am sure, most of us hunters think about the night before any opening morning. Opening morning of the season is like waking up on Christmas and seeing presents
under the tree. One of the most exciting days of the year for me, and I work all year long preparing for it. Shooting every day, getting myself physically fit for the hunt, and scouting deer at every opportunity is all part of the process. If you want to be successful, you must put in the work.
Archery hunting is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of dedication, passion, mental strength, and hard work to chase wild game around a mountain. Archery has given me some of the most amazing and incredible encounters that the mountains and woods have to offer. I predominantly hunt on my own, which has created opportunity for success more often than not. That self-reliance allows me to build that mental toughness and gain the experience I need to grow into a better hunter. As I reflect on seasons passed, there were opportunities given and opportunities missed, and with each one a new lesson was learned. This is where the mental toughness comes into play. Sometimes you’re given a hard lesson through failure, and you choose to keep going or call it quits.
About two weeks into this current season, I learned another hard lesson. I’ve done my scouting all year long and I had a spot picked out where I knew there were good bucks in the area. I decided to take a chance and hunt this area in hopes of coming across some nice muleys. Archery season runs through mid-August to mid-September, so it is still pretty dang hot outside, especially here in the Southern Utah desert. I knew if I wanted to find the deer I would have to hike, and hike up the mountain. I grabbed my pack and my bow and I headed off up the mountain. About three miles in, I found the perfect lookout point to set up and start glassing the ridges and hillsides around me. The terrain I was glassing was thick oak brush, which can give you a run for your money when looking for deer. For a while it was quiet and I did not see much movement, until one doe appeared into view, then four, then all the sudden there were mule deer and moo cows moving all around. I knew it wouldn’t be long until I started to see some antlers.
Keeping my eye on North-facing slopes about 3/4 of the way up, I saw some movement way off in the distance. As I focused more on that area, I made out big antlers, and not just one buck, but four. I moved positions to get a better look at them, and I studied them for another ten minutes. They bedded down under some thick oak brush and I decided it was game time. These bucks were about a mile out, three ridges over, with what felt like 100 does between us. Keeping the wind thermals in mind, with the sun starting to set, I knew I had to move and I had to move fast. Luckily, I was able to use the moo cows to my advantage knowing the deer would be less sensitive to the movement and the noise as I traversed the terrain. With the thermals heading down the ridge, I knew my best bet would to stay at the bottom of the draws and cross the far ridge to get in position. Solo hunting created yet another challenge, I had to make
note of a prominent landmark because I didn’t have anyone to guide me into their holding area. As stealthily as I could, I kept my eye on a prominent feature and I hiked up the far ridge beyond them to end up on top of the ridge they were bedded on. At the crest of the ridge, I took a second to slow my breathing, and then I saw him. Giant antlers swayed back and forth as the buck bobbled his head as he fell asleep. This is it, I ranged him, just 30 yards. I got ready to take the shot, and pulled the bow back. He was still bedded. I stepped on a stick and made some noise to get him to pop up so I could release the arrow. At full draw, when that buck finally stood up, his butt was directly facing me. There was not a lot of room for a great shot placement, especially on a deer this size. Hunting doesn’t always go according to plan, so I had to recognize a bad situation, adapt to the challenge and overcome the obstacle.
As the monster buck started to move forward behind a bush, I let my bow in and found a new position to set up. Ten yards further up the mountain, I saw his antlers raking bushes and i knew he would walk out of those trees perfectly broadside. I pulled back again, waiting for him to walk out, but he only took a step so all I could see was his neck and enormous antlers. I held full draw for about a minute, my arm shaking, and I wanted to let in, but if I moved he would catch sight of me. He finally took the step I was waiting for and appeared broadside at 40 yards. With my arm shaking and fatigue setting in, I found it increasingly difficult to stabilize my bow. My pin shaking but where I wanted it, I released my arrow, watched it fly and thwack him, but it him him high in the shoulder.
Now, nearly sunset, I decided to back out and give him a chance to bed back down to search for him in the morning. One of the longest, sleepless nights of my life, but I was back to the area I started as the sun started to peak over the rolling hills. I glassed the entire area looking for him or any sort of movement, and found nothing. 50 yards from the point I shot him I found a significant amount of blood, and it was time to start tracking. I stayed on the trail for about 400 yards and then it slowly started to disappear, and my heart started to sink. I searched for that deer for three more days, called in friends to join me with their dogs, but I was never able to retrieve that buck.
I was ready to put my bow up for the season. Losing a deer that size was heart wrenching, and I didn’t think that I should keep hunting. I am not one to give up easily, and I gave myself time to learn from this encounter and appreciate it for what it was, a lesson. If I am able to take my failure and learn from the mistakes I made, then I will be one step closer to success.
One week following my previous encounter with a big mule deer, it was time to get back out there and get after it. This time I wanted to do some scouting first and brought my five year old daughter, Addi, who loves to come with me. I always tell her if she finds a deer she gets a quarter and if the deer has antlers she gets a dollar. So we are sitting up on a ridge line looking into a draw, and Addi yells “Mom a buck deer! I get a dollar!” She points to where she sees this deer, and that’s when I caught a glimpse of him. The only thing I though to say to her was “yup, you definitely get a dollar.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to put a stalk on him that evening because I had my daughter with me, but I told Addi, “Let’s watch him go to sleep and I’ll get him first thing in the morning.” He was grazing with a few smaller bucks and some does, so we kept our eyes on him to watch where he would decide to bed for the night. The sun set and I could barely see him with the fading light, but I knew where he could potentially be in the morning. A big priority on this hunt was to be in position before the sun started to rise. I wanted to be near his path when he decided to get up and start grazing. Always keeping the wind and shooting lane in mind, I set up in a perfect spot for our paths to cross. The sun couldn’t rise any slower as the birds started chirping and the squirrels messing with my brain. I finally see deer, moving in the direct path I was hoping they be on. Doe, doe, doe, small buck, bigger buck, and then “Addi’s buck” comes into view. As I watch him walk in my direction, I knew I was about to get a shot on this buck. I tried to put all the lessons from the past season, all the experiences into this moment to help me perfect this shot. Don’t rush the shot, don’t anticipate the draw or the release, stay calm and breathe, and a little words of encouragement, “you got this.”
This buck walks as close as he is going to get to me at 34 yards, I wait for him to line up in my shooting lane and I pull back. He catches a glimpse of my draw and within a millisecond he moved from perfectly broadside to a hard quartering forward angle. “Adapt and overcome”- so I put my pin right to the side of his chest and let her fly. The feeling I had when I released, I knew it was a good shot. He took off running, and I kept my eye on him as long as I could, but I noticed him not using his hind leg. This worried me, but there was no way I shot
him in his back leg. When I found my arrow, I was able to get a complete pass through. Now I am reassured about the shot, so I gave him about an hour and finally my anxiety got the best of me and it was time to start tracking. There was a good amount of blood to follow for the first 200 yards, but then it started to slowly fade again. As the blood spots got less and less frequent and my fear of losing another deer was rising, I fought to stay focused and confident.
I remembered a previous lesson of ‘Don’t just track the blood, track the deer’, and I realized my arrow passed through his hind leg and he was dragging it behind him. This gave me the opportunity to use his tracks and continue my quest to recover the “Addi buck”. I followed his drag marks for another 100 yards and I look up, and I see antlers laying on the ground! Big buck down, and the first thing I did was call Addi and let her know that I got our buck! Hearing the excitement in her voice brought an overwhelming feeling of happiness, and I was so proud.
Hunting isn’t always about the success stories, but about the ‘in between’ stories that lead to that success. I don’t just see the victory of harvesting my buck, but I coincide my failure and the struggle with it as one journey. I had to choose to learn from my mistakes and keep pushing. It was a decision that took a lot of mental strength, determination and optimism, and another reason why I have this passion and love for archery hunting.