Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

"Three for Three"

Dave's First Big Buck
Dave Wilson's first big buck and he is proud of it!That's a nice four point!
Growing up in Arizona, I have come to terms with our state's tough draw system. While hunting for 20+ years, the draw for the most part has not been in my favor. This year would be an exception to that rule. While waiting patiently for the dreaded pink slip and refund, we decided to find out early and called the Arizona Game and Fish drawing results telephone number. For those of you who have not been fortunate enough to experience this, be sure to set aside about 72 hours of constant redial and no sleep. The phone in my hand rang, startling me awake. It was my brother Dave, who was stammering something like, "We pulled it! We finally pulled it!" After putting in for this unit for well over a decade, the dream was finally going to become a reality.

It was late October, and the hunt was a little over two weeks away. My hunting partner, Russell Lane, and I set out to scout for the two weeks prior to opening day. Armed with some very helpful information from the Game and Fish warden in our unit, and everything we could compile from friends who knew the area, we were off.

Upon arriving in our unit, one word can best sum it up... BIG. Along with 70 other lucky hunters, who beat the 3% odds of getting drawn, we set out to find the muley of our dreams.

After the two weeks of scouting, we found several bucks in the 185" class and one that we thought would make the books. A good friend of ours, Todd "the-coues-whitetail-maniac" George, showed up the night before season. Todd has guided mule deer in several other units, as well as other states. He wanted to learn the unit and would be an additional set of eyes. Beating the draw odds are tough enough, but in today's world, finding a true trophy mule deer on public land poses to be the toughest challenge out there.

Opening day was finally here. The all-important question of who was going to be the first shooter was determined by a quick game of rock-paper-scissors. We headed off to an area where a big, trash buck had been seen. He would not score well but was very impressive on the hoof. Our hopes were that with the rut in full swing, a larger buck would slip into this herd of hot does and be rutting early in the morning.

Mark's Big Buck
Mark Wilson's buck looks gigantic in this photo. The body size of this brute is awesome.
At the crack of dawn, we glassed the ghostly shapes of deer slipping through the sage and bitter brush. After noticing the big, trash-horned buck was still in the herd, we decided to head off to another area. With a grin, we showed Todd the big buck and his exact words were, "Take me home right now. I'm not going to hunt with either of you if you're going to pass up that buck!"

The first two days resulted in a couple of legitimate 185" to 190" bucks, but none were what Russ and I were after. Dave pulled into camp late that night and was going nuts listening to the stories about the bucks we had passed. Dave is 22 years old, and had decided if he saw a 170+ inch buck, he was filling his tag and would be proud of it.

When day four arrived, Dave and I were glassing a tree-covered hillside with a small burn adjacent to it. Luck again was on our side because it had snowed about 8" the previous night. After glassing the hill, we were confident that the bucks we were after were not around. Dave suddenly said he had found some deer. The two bucks were only 200 yards away, and for the life of me, I have no idea how they went undetected that long. The larger of the two we thought would go about 190-195 gross, but was still not the buck I had in my dreams. The deer detected Dave's movement, while he tried to crawl toward a clear shooting lane, and began moving out in rapid fashion.

While mulling over the missed opportunity for the thousandth time, we drove to another area and hiked in where we had seen bucks before. As the sun was setting, a picture-perfect four-point stepped out just long enough for Dave to retire the buck where it stood.

Day six found Russ and I glassing a large rocky hill. This was the same area where Dave and I had found several large tracks and one impressive buck we had dubbed "kicker." The name was due to an approximate 7" point that protruded from the middle of his right side G-2 and forked. As we glassed every bush, stick, and rock, I looked up and was shocked at what I found. A doe was walking over the horizon, about 600 yards out, and following her was the buck I had been waiting for. The stalk would not be easy due to the crusty snow on the north side of the ridges, the lack of cover, and the noisy shale underfoot.

Russell's Big Buck
The buck Russell Lane ended up taking was one that was passed up earlier in the hunt. He would have been hard to pass up the first time.
The first 150 yards were murderous. I had to freeze in my tracks occasionally because a doe would glance in my direction. My heart was pounding with excitement, and the cottonmouth was setting in. Peering over a rock, I could see and hear the sound of the massive-horned buck chasing a hot doe back and forth across the hillside. Slowly slipping my rifle over the top of the rock, the wait for a clean shot began. The buck had one thing on his mind, and the doe had another. As I watched these two tear up the hillside and then drop out of sight below me, I thought to myself, "They're going to run me right over if they come up this side." I quickly cranked the power down to 2.5X on my scope, while thinking this is going to be more of a hip shot than anything else. The two finally came running back into view, on the opposite side, about 200 yards away. Again, I switched my scope back to 6X and followed the big buck, trying not to get caught watching the paint dry. The constant desire to just sit and stare in awe at this magnificent creature through my scope was incredible, but as the buck raced over the horizon offering only a backside view, my body went completely numb. With the buck completely out of sight, I began to question my ethics of deciding not to take a running shot. Just as I was convinced that I had blown the opportunity at the buck of my lifetime to date, the doe came busting back over the saddle with the buck in hot pursuit. He slowed ever so slightly and turned broadside. I took him. He has an outside spread of 32" and 6 1/2" bases. The buck grossed 210 6/8" B&C.

Now it was Russell's turn. We had only 2 days left in the season, and again, went back into the area where I had killed my buck. Russell wanted to get a good look at "kicker." We took a few minutes to enjoy the morning as the sun lined the horizon. It was breaking through an early morning fog. As it lifted, we glassed a large, mature buck walking directly away from our location. With the aid of a good spotting scope, we determined that the buck was indeed the one we were after. After one blown stalk, and a whole lot of tracking, we finally jumped "kicker" out of his bed. Russell made a tough shot, which officially ended our dream hunt. We were three for three. Kicker's outside spread was 35" and he also had 6 1/2" bases.

We never saw the beast of a buck that absolutely makes you gag when you see him, but with the size of some of the tracks we followed for miles on end, I can assure you now our dreams consist of even bigger mule deer. Appreciative? Absolutely. We were very fortunate to pull the tags and had the hunt of a lifetime, but that's the crazy thing about this sport...the buck of your dreams mysteriously grows larger with every passing success.

By Mark Wilson

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

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