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High Country Mule Deer
Anyone who has hunted mule deer knows how hard it can be to go out and harvest a mature buck. Bucks that live past four or five years old, live that long for a reason. Whether they learn their habits of avoiding danger from the older bucks they grow up with, or learn from their own near death experiences. Hunting a smart mature buck can be like hunting an animal with a 6th sense. Then throw in other hunters and good ole mother nature and you have yourself one of the toughest experiences a hunter can endure.
I am an opportunistic hunter and I try to hunt every chance i get! This means I don’t limit myself to one weapon. If I hunt with a bow, muzzleloader, and a rifle there is normally a season i can hunt from mid-August to the end of January! So when my friend Thad asked me if I wanted to put in for a rifle hunt in Wyoming, of course I was in! With our combination of points we managed to draw the unit we wanted. Opening day was about three months away and I couldn’t wait to start preparing to hunt an area I had never been too.
After looking over maps and doing as much research as I could on the area. I finally decided which trail head to hike in from. Plans quickly changed as Thad and I arrived at that trail head only to find fifteen horse trailers and ten other pickup trucks. As I went to plan B, then plan C, I realized every trail head was packed full of vehicles and we were either going to have to join the masses or go home.
We hiked in about five miles with enough gear to stay for six days and set up camp. Tomorrow morning was opening day, and I was gong to have a hard time sleeping.
After about four hours of tossing and turning in my sleeping bag, I heard the tapping start on the tent wall. “Tap….tap… tap..” . The slow periodic tapping turned into to pitter-patter and then was followed by a chest rattling BOOM that echoed through the canyon walls. We knew the weather called for rain, but we didn’t know how bad it was going to be. From the sound of that thunder it would appear that the storm was going to be a good one.
Although the weather was bad we knew we were not going to kill a deer by staying in the tent. We made it to our glassing point before daylight and by the time we got there we were already soaked to the bone. As it began to get light outside we realized our binoculars were going to do us no good. The low pressure system had put the clouds in our lap and we couldn’t see 150 yards. The rain and fog continued all day and we began to second guess our ability to wait out the storm. “When Was the rain going to stop? Are the deer even moving in this weather? I wonder if my sleeping bag is still dry? With everything so wet can we even start a fire?” With wildlife sightings non-exsistant, and these questions bouncing around between my ears, Thad and i decided to let the high country weather beat us. We pack up and went to find a hotel for the night.
Post Rain Storm
It poured down rain for three days. The sight of the sun peaking through the clouds was a real relief come day three. Back up the mountain we went, only this time we thought we would try a different location that we discovered while driving around on the rainy days. After hiking in 8 miles we ran into a huge outfitter camp. Great! just when I thought we were hiked in farther than most people we stumble upon to tent city! I was more discouraged than when the fog rolled in and I didn’t think we would ever find a deer.
The next couple days were actually perfect days for hunting. After being huddled up waiting out the rain storm the deer and elk were very active and feeding on every patch of grass I looked at though my binoculars. Thad and I saw lots of little bucks and does but nothing really above that 5 year old age class. Every morning we would pick a different high point to glass from and move farther down the main ridge we were hunting. Finally on day five I spotted what looked to be a good buck. The buck didn’t have far to feed before he would disappear into the tree line. So I made a quick decision and decided he was the one and took the shot! BOOM! The deer picked his head up and just stood there. I asked Thad if I hit him and he said “no”. So I quickly racked another casing and focused harder on squeezing the trigger. BOOM! The buck dropped! Im quite sure I got a little excited and jerked the trigger on the first shot. Oh well, made the second one count and I was super excited! It had been a long five days of ups and downs and to finally have a buck on the ground was a huge relief. As we approached the buck and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on him. His antlers were so heavy I couldn’t wrap my hands around them and he had really nice points as well! The body on those high mountain bucks are huge and his had all kinds of battle scars from previous rutting activity. That buck was exactly what I was looking for.
One down One to go
After de-boning my deer, I was able to pack him out and get him to a meat locker by noon the next day. When I hiked back into the mountains that evening, I found out Thad had a fairly slow day but did spot a pretty good buck right at dark, just couldn’t quite get a shot. We went after him the next morning and had a very close encounter! However, the buck had a good escape route and managed to slip into the trees and disappear again!… The next day was our last full day to hunt. We needed to make it count. Thad and I put ourselves into position well before daylight and waited. As the black of darkness turned to grey and we could start to make out shapes we spotted that buck from the morning before. He was an old mature pot-belly buck with an impressive rack reaching out to 28 inches. Thad got ready and took the shot. Just like the rest of the trip nothing came easy and Thad hit a little high and grazing the bucks back! We moved down the ridge a little and was able to get a follow up shot. Thad connected this time and with a solid CRACK the buck dropped!
There is a deception about the western Wyoming high country hunting. People say its one of the best hunts there is. And that may be their opinion but I am incline to disagree. Don’t get me wrong I loved the beautiful country and the deer numbers were plentiful. But its believed that the Wyoming high country is vast and untouched with miles of public land and big bucks running everywhere. And although it might be undeveloped it isn’t untouched. Everywhere you go you run into camps and people. It is very frustrating when you find a deer, try to make a move on him and he’s gone by the time you get there due to another hunter. I may sound ungrateful but that is far from the truth. I was very happy with the way this hunt turned out. I feel truly blessed and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m just going to learn from it and adapt for the next time I return to those mountains.