Archery Mule Deer on the Kaibab Plateau
By Cameron McQuillen
There are two things that come to mind when I think of the month of July, our independence as free Americans and that one word we all wanna see on the game and fish website. You know that word that you can't hide how excited you are, cause you waited all year to find out. That single five letter word, DRAWN! Right then it starts all over. I was going to the Kaibab again this year and boy my hopes were high. There is nothing I look forward to more than archery deer season on the Kaibab in my home state of Arizona! No matter how the year before was in this beautiful country, I return every year with the same anticipation and excitement of just being outdoors with my bow in hand. The only part about the trip thatís not necessarily bad, but can get a little slow at times, is that long, long six hour or so drive from my home in Mesa.
Well, I stuck it out with a couple magazines, day dreams and music from my ipod. Before I knew it we were arriving to the plateau around two A.M. on opening morning. Jacob Lake wouldnít be open till morning and we had no water. So in the mean time, we pulled the truck over and tried to sneak in a couple hours of sleep.
The first morning of opening day found me sitting at the bottom of a canyon full of fog, squirrels and gigantic bright and dull colored mushrooms. After a few hours of sitting and watching bushy tails run by me at ten feet, I made my way back up to the truck. After fillin up with water and gas, we were headed south. We still had about a half hour drive before we would reach the area we planned to hunt and camp.
Once camp was up and I took a couple reassuring shots with my bow, I was ready. The evening hunt was a little more interesting than the morning as a few does walked by, but that was it.
The second morning found me heading to an area I had really wanted to scout out. Having my grandfather, his friend, my future cousin-in-law all in the truck, and all with tags, plus it only being the second day. You bet that anticipation and excitement was strong.
It was about a twenty minute drive, and a few deer later, we finally got into the area. We pulled the truck over, grabbed our bows, and we headed in opposite directions. I was headin down the canyon to the north, and they went south. It was a little later than I had planned on getting out there, but that didnít matter. With it being light enough to shoot, I was in no hurry to make it to any certain spot. Well I didnít make it thirty yards from the truck when I saw deer. Big buck! Big buck! I thought to myself when I saw antlers.
Two nice bucks standing about a hundred yards from where we had parked the truck, I couldnít believe it! Fumbling with my rangefinder, I hurried to get a reading. It was light enough to shoot, but it was just a little too dark for my rangefinder. Finally, after about three attempts, I had it. A nice mule deer buck broadside at sixty five yards. Having a sixty yard pin, I drew back rested it on his back and squeezed the trigger. I watched that arrow arc over his back and then disappear in the dark shadows and brown fur. I didnít know what had happened! The shot felt perfect, the release was perfect, the yardage was perfect, but I never saw my arrow connect. I also never saw, but the smaller buck run off. My heart started racing faster and faster as I replayed the shot over and over trying to see my arrow connect. A little confused and with a pounding heart, I slowly took a couple steps forward. Unsure of what had just happened, I started making my way to where the buck had been standing. Five steps later I saw antlers laying where moments ago they were in the air. When I finally got up on him I couldnít believe what had happened. Iíve taken quite a few animals with my bow, but never have I made a shot like this. Right behind the shoulder just like we practice, but he dropped right there. The best way to sum it up is double lung, bad to the bone muzzy, opposite shoulder. Still amazed by the shot, I pulled myself together after a few loud bursts of excitement and falling to the ground to just lay there and enjoy this moment.
My buddies must have heard all the commotion, as I could see them all at the truck. It was so awesome to have them all there in that moment with me, having them to help carry my buck to the truck was pretty nice too! We loaded up and headed back to camp with a nice, full velvet 4x4 rack in the bed of the truck. A few thumbs up later, camp was in sight. The work was about to begin. Now if you recall its only the second day. Our hunt is planned for ten! So while everyone still hunted hard for deer, I was taken to the woods to hunt hard for turkey. Iíve been hunting turkey for ten years now with my bow and have never managed to connect on those darn thunder chickens.
Well six days passed and I hadnít seen one stinkin' turkey, nor did I ever find any sign. Just high on the outdoors it didnít bring me down. Until I managed to miss a turkey at thirty yards.
Hiking up from the bottom of a meadow filled canyon, a clucking sound echoed through the forest. I couldnít believe it, TURKEY! I thought to myself as I knocked an arrow. After covering maybe fifty more yards I saw those little colorful heads bobbing through the trees. Kicking into ambush mode, I snuck in front of the flock. A perfect spot as they all crossed at thirty to forty yards. As the last tom stepped out at thirty yards, I was already at full draw. With a loud crack ringing out, the turkeys scattered in all directions. The crack wasnít from my bow, or from a branch being broken as it was stepped on. No, no not at all. That loud crack was my arrow connecting with an aspen twenty yards in front of me, ten yards before it even would be to Mr. Tom. But thatís bow hunting. Missing your target at thirty yards or hitting your mark at sixty five, these arenít what make the hunt good or not, they just add to the excitement and enjoyment of hunting. After walking to the aspen, I pulled my arrow and was on my way to try and find the birds again.
About two hundred yards and up the opposite side of the canyon from where I had missed my shot, a single turkey ran out in front of me. Knocking an arrow and with no time to even think about ranging it, instinctively I thought forty yards and let that arrow fly. My vanes vanished and feathers flew. Tears came to my eyes as I had finally taken my first turkey. There is an amazing feeling that no drug can even compare to when you get outdoors and are up close to wildlife. There is a feeling that words can't even explain, you just have to experience it. The Kaibab plateau in my home state of Arizona is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. There is something about it that will never go away and brings me back every year with a bow in hand!