MonsterMuleys.com

The "Meant To Be Buck"
Written by Steve Armstrong

The Meant To Be Buck
The day before the season opening day is one that is filled with anxiety and excitement. This day would be no exception. After scouting all day and seeing large tracks and rubs with the hope of seeing a big mule deer buck, our hope came true after spotting two very big bucks just 10 yards off the road just before dusk. We did not need binoculars, but used them anyway to see the mass and width of the two giants. We backed away from the area and tried successfully not to spook the deer with the plan laid out for the morning. This was my first day on the Arizona Strip.

Early in the application time period a good friend, neighbor, and guide, Tom Franklin, convinced me to apply for a unit on the Arizona Strip. I had my reservations because of the distance and time I would need for such a hunt, so I held him to a promise that he would "help" me with the hunt.

From the day that I was drawn until the day before the season began, I studied maps, talked to successful hunters, and went on the AZ Game and Fish web site with the hope of having enough preparation for the hunt. Tom's brother in law, Paul, was very helpful in pinpointing areas on my map where he had seen deer and where he had killed his buck the year before. I had planned a five day long scouting trip, but I could not find anyone to accompany me so I cancelled the trip.

So, there I was in camp the night before opening day with a friend, Chuey. He kept saying that we would find those two big bad boys in the morning. I just said with excitement, "I hope so."
We began to execute our plan in the morning when a vehicle drove into the area and parked very close to where we had seen the bucks the night before. I have had similar experiences in previous hunts but tried to remain positive.
After taking a good long walk and glassing the draws and flats of this area we were unable to locate even a doe, much less the bucks.

We knew this hunt was supposed to be during the rut, but since the big bucks were not with does we reasoned that the high pressure system that had sent the temperatures to record breaking levels the previous weeks, must be the reason the does were not with the bucks. This caused me concern since everyone that I had talked to said this hunt was in the rut and that it would be helpful to see the big bucks.

The rest of opening day and Saturday we spotted two herds of does, but could not find a buck. Our hopes increased when we talked to three hunters that had just killed a nice 4x5. We went to the area with the hopes of finding the two deer that were with the one that the lady shot. We saw the 2-point that they said was there, but could not locate the others.

It was 11:00 a.m. on Sunday and the deer were not moving. The strong wind from the last two days seemed to be blowing in rain and colder temperatures. I started to think that we should break camp and come back on a return trip later in the week. I thought that I would have a better chance with the colder temperatures.

Chuey was unable to go for the three days I had left in the season, so I asked another friend who also is a guide. Frank Foley went with me to try and locate a big buck. He had guided two hunters on an antelope hunt in the area and had good knowledge of where a few bucks were hanging out.

We made the long drive in the morning to the hunt area. We glassed and walked several different areas. We found fresh bedding areas and plenty of fresh tracks, but no deer.
It was a bit hard to remain positive after the brief two hour sleep the night before and also not seeing one deer all day. I felt that the next day and a half might turn out to be the same. Frank kept saying to me that we could find them in the morning and not to get down.

The Meant To Be Buck
The next morning was starting out very similar to the rest. The drive was dark and dusty on the way to the hunt area, when all of a sudden, things changed big time. In the head lights we were able to see a flash of a very large buck with very tall antlers. We backed up to see if we could locate his tracks on the road. Once we found the tracks, we decided quickly that this was the place to hunt, even though we were not yet to the area that we were intending to hunt.

We waited until daylight and found a road back into the area where the buck had gone. It was pretty open country with a few junipers dotting the landscape. We checked a water hole and found many tracks, so our hopes were starting to increase. Yet, little did we know what was about to happen.

We had just topped a ridge when I spotted a large deer with its head down feeding. Frank spotted a nice buck standing on the ridge, but told me to forget him when he saw the antlers on the one with his head down. He said, "That buck is your buck."
I took out my range finder and ranged him at 388 yards. Since the bucks were not moving, and we had confidence that we could get closer, we started our stalk. We walked on the side away from the huge mule deer bucks along a long point. Frank kept his eye on the spot where the bucks were and then lined a juniper tree up so that we could advance directly to the deer. It was as if this tree was set there for not only our blind, but also my rest. Frank broke a branch and cleared a rest on a limb in the juniper tree.
After collecting myself and trying to relax, I squeezed off the first round that hit him in the neck with a "whack" sound. The big buck went down in a flip that landed him on his back. Frank's voice rang out, "Congratulations you just killed the buck of your lifetime!" When I put the scope back over to him he was walking and I said, "He's up!" Frank was concerned that I was on the other buck, yet I knew this was the buck I had hit. I fired the next round and again had that "whack" sound and hit him in the front shoulder. This time he walked a few steps and went down.

As we approached the big deer, I was overcome by my feelings of such a magnificent animal lying there. His neck was very swollen and his rack was a very symmetrical four point with an inside spread of 30 inches. The big buck was 8 or 9 years old by looking at its teeth. We both hoped that he had passed his genes on to many offspring through the years.

After the high fives, hand shaking, heart pounding, yelling and celebrating, I went to get the truck and cameras. I had that satisfying feeling of finally being in the right place at the right time. I guess it was just meant to be.
The buck won the bronze award for the top typical muley of 2003 in Arizona.

I would like to thank: Tom Franklin of Clear Creek Outfitters (623) 486-8585