Luck on the First Stalk of the General Season
A full velvet mule deer with a bow is never an easy feat. Those who find success chasing these early season deer have plenty of stories about failed stalks, unpredictable wind swirls, and getting busted by deer before you can get your bow drawn back. I've always enjoyed watching mule deer in their summer patterns where their focus is primarily on high-protein feed and water sources.
The 2020 season was my third year of the Dedicated Hunter Program offered by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. This program allows those drawn for a permit to have a guaranteed general deer permit for 3 consecutive years that are valid for all four seasons (archery, muzzleloader, early rifle, & main rifle). The two kickers are that you must complete 32 hours of wildlife related community service in the three year time period and you may only take 2 bucks in the 3 year period. As I took a nice rifle buck in 2019 on the early rifle season, I was hopeful that I could take an archery buck in 2020.
Scouting this season for the general deer hunt was done primarily in June and July for me. It was one of the hottest and driest summers on record for the state of Utah. Springs ran dry, creeks became dry washes, and wildfire danger ran rampant. I ran a few trail cameras over Trophy Rock minerals from Redmond Salt and had very few deer that peaked my interest. Southern Utah was home to many days of 100+ degree days and it was tough to find deer before they were bedded down in the brush.
Before headed north to Alaska to guide my Dall sheep season I had located a few nice 4 point bucks and one narrow buck with a kicker off his left side. I turned my focus to Alaska and hoped my Mathews bow would be ready for me when I returned after the season.
After returning from a successful Alaska Dall sheep season, I hussled out one morning to check and retrieve a trail camera I had not checked for a couple of weeks. Before entering the thick pinyon-juniper forest I decided to glass back down to the flat sage country to see if there were any deer moving to the bedding areas at first light. I couldnt believe my eyes when I spotted a buck at 1,100 yards that appeared to have a decent set of headgear and looked to be all by himself! "Well, why not give it a shot and try a stalk" I thought to myself. I had a brand new pair of Crispi Crossover GTX boots and I wanted to see how quiet they would be on dry ground.
I checked the wind and lined up with where I thought the buck would funnel into a pinch point before heading up the hillside to bed. It was a shot in the dark but I figured I could stay out of sight and have the wind in my favor. I hustled as quickly as I dared to the last set of bushes where I would post up and wait for the buck to move to me. I made up my mind to not use my binoculars anymore and to just focus on ranging potential distances and to not look at his antlers, only his vital.
At 70 yards I thought I would get one more chance at drawing my bow when he made a stop at about 30 yards but he put his head up and walked broadside at a quick pace until he locked his eyes on me at 25 yards. I was helpless! I did not have my bow drawn back, and he had me pegged. What seemed like an eternity was probably only 20 seconds before he turned around and bounced three times directly away from me before the famous "look back" stop at 42 yards. Draw. Settle. Level. Aim. Release! A loud thump sent the buck cruising by me with an arrow hanging out of his left side.
I watched him bound off in to the trees from whence he came at a distance of 200 yards. Now the shakes started settling in! Did I just kill this double hook cheater buck?? How come my arrow did not exit his right side? Was he dead already?
Carefully, I followed a blood trail that you couldn't follow without blood painting up your pant legs. He had to be dead! Before entering the trees on the trail I decided to back out and give him an hour to be safe and get an extra set of eyes out to help me recover him.
I am extremely grateful to Brady @highmark_pictures for coming out to help me find the buck and take photos of me with my largest archery mule deer! Did I get lucky, of course! But you can't get lucky without consistently placing yourself in the field, bow in hand, ready to take advantages of opportunities that may come.