Two Big Montana Muleys
By: Chris Clasby
The cold final morning of our three-day mule deer hunt began well before dawn and with a little concern. This southeastern Montana hunt had culminated since the offer arose eight months prior, and I could feel it starting to slip away. Photos of big bucks taken from the area raised my expectations, and here we were on the last day with no tags marked. There was no lack of deer, and we'd seen some average to nice mature bucks, but we just had not sealed the deal. In fact, this last morning I was still a little sick at having not gotten a shot at the biggest buck I'd ever seen through a scope the evening before. Sometimes those rare, seemingly "gimme" chances just don't work for one reason or another.
I was hunting as usual with my good friend Dan Picchietti and my girlfriend Mary Watne, and we faced some unusual obstacles. Physical access barriers such as overly rough and steep terrain, cold temperatures, and unavoidable noise are more than just inconveniences, discomforts, or errors. Being that I'm a quadriplegic with no hand or arm movement and hunt from a power wheelchair, those factors affect or can stop my mobility or shut down equipment. I use a gun mount that attaches to my wheelchair, holds my rifle in front of me, and allows me to aim by moving a joystick with my chin and fire by sipping on a straw to activate the trigger solenoid. That system doesn't convene quick, sudden aiming nor shooting, so a few seconds time is required for an ethical killing shot. Nonetheless, "I" had taken quite a few animals over the years including a few decent muleys, lots of whitetails, six elk, and a few antelope from my chair. All in Montana, and all in fair chase settings. Nothing I'd ever shot had had a tape on it, but they were all personal trophies and I was proud of every one.
An experienced hunter having taken every Montana big game animal besides a bighorn sheep, Dan had dedicated almost his entire season to help me in the field. Mary often joined us and had awakened with me before anyone else many mornings to help me get dressed, in my chair, and ready to hunt. This was her first year carrying her own tags and rifle, and she fully intended to use both. Every opportunity we'd had and animal we had taken was a joint venture and joint success. Another companion that morning, Carl Silsbee, lived in this area part time, managed it, and had hunted there many years so knew it better than anyone. That pit I now felt in my stomach was not because I'd missed my first opportunity at a monster muley, but because others had worked so hard to allow it to happen and I had not held up my end of the bargain.
At Dan and Carl's suggestion, we headed right back to where we had seen that big buck the evening before where two coulees scattered with sage and scrub pine meandered away from one another. That buck had been in a heavy rut and hot pursuit of several does he was pursuing. The plan was to return to an area close, unload from my van, and traverse on foot and wheelchair tire the final mile to where we'd seen him disappear into the draw. We figured there was a chance, and all hoped, he'd still be in the area.
As shadows shortened and dark spots in front of us became bushes and trees with the coming of first light, we slowly made our way toward the coulees watching more for movement than forms. A few-second pause to glass the area revealed several deer halfway down the nearest draw, so our only chance was to make a move to get closer. Our advantage was a knob ahead next to the occupied coulee that would provide temporary cover as we moved around it to get closer. At that point, we split with Carl heading to the left to walk around the far coulee while Dan, Mary, and I began to round the base of the knob as quickly and quietly as possible.
A moment later we rounded the base of the knob and ascended a slight rise to gain view into and across the first coulee. The deer were still there, unaware and moving slowly through the scrub pine. As I scanned them, naked-eyed over my scope, I found that big buck and instantly wanted him. I dropped my head to look through the scope and shoved my chin upward on the joystick. Dan reached over and switched my rifle safety to 'off' as I watched that buck step behind a small pine. I pushed the joystick slightly to the right where he was headed and found a small opening between two bushes. Just as I stopped the rifle, he stepped into my crosshairs in that opening and paused while I made the final, fractional adjustment and sipped on the straw. There was no question about this shot, and I watched the massive body turn as it hit the ground.
Moments later, my rifle unloaded and off its mount, I saw Dan's arms elevated in victory as he approached our buck. Unable to cross that draw, I hollered for him to raise its head and realized in near disbelief he was larger than any of us thought.
The muley was non-typical with seven points on one side and nine on the other, including brow tines. At least as impressive was his mass, with broad and nearly spooned forks. It was most importantly another personal trophy taken with joint effort, but I was curious what it would "score." Before this year, those numbers other hunters mentioned were arbitrary to me. Once measured, I was told the gross score is 208 inches. Either way, it was a fine deer and provided an unforgettable experience.
As an added bonus, after taking care of him and heading back to camp for lunch, we made it out for one last quick hunt before the 400 mile journey home to Western Montana. Suffice to say, the day became even more memorable when Dan and Mary walked one last draw and found another nice muley. Mary's first animal with antlers was a 26-inch wide typical 4x4 monster muley.