Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

Smart High Country Hunting
By Sean Morgan

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This story doesn't start like the typical high country mule deer hunt should go. Unfortunately, there wasn't a summer full of scouting, fitness, and shooting the bow. Instead, my job had me back east doing sales all summer. My dad was still in Utah and able to do a bit of scouting for us as we both drew Utah General Archery Deer tags. This was going to be another tough season on public land as we choose to do it the hard way. I knew if we stuck to my rule of "Hunt Smarter, Not Harder", we would be successful.

Returning back to Utah in the early part of August, I was eager to get back on the mountain and into hunting mode. I purchased a new bow and spent countless hours on the mountain practicing to get myself comfortable shooting accurately and build trust in my equipment. After spending the past 3-months at 600' above sea level, I knew getting back up to 10,000' needed to be a slow acclimation. My scouting game plan was to get up as high as possible and glass into multiple basins to locate bucks. A wise man once told me…"Most hunters can "see" big bucks in the high country, but rarely can they "kill" that big buck". This same wise man would have a great influence later on in my hunt.

I scouted really hard those few short weeks before my hunt started, including a basin where my dad had taken a monster buck the previous year. We weren't able to locate anything to get excited about, so I decided to venture off and scout some new country. The sun began to rise and I could already see deer in the new basin below me. I counted about fifteen deer and then dropped off the back side of the ridge as I made my way up to a better vantage point. Once setup, I began to peek back over the ridge into the basin and could only see a couple of small bucks and does. Panic set in and I thought to myself, "Don't worry, the rest of the deer are just below you where you can't see and a giant buck is with them!"

As luck would have it, a few minutes later the buck worthy of getting excited about just walked into view. An impressive, mature, old warrior of a buck stood just 200 yards below me, feeding his way across the basin. He had everything I was looking for: heavy mass, great tine length, good width, long eye guards, cheaters, and inlines! With him were another shooter buck and some young good genetic bucks. I sat there and took video through my spotting scope and watched them disappear down into their bedding area.

I felt very fortunate to have located such a great buck, especially in a very huntable but unfamiliar area. I decided that this was the buck to focus all efforts on for opening day. I had shared a couple photos of the buck and knew it was only a matter of time before I got a call from my good friend Gary. I had kept pretty quiet about the location of this buck, but I knew it was time to get some intel from one of my most trusted partners. After a good conversation about tactics and history, I now had some knowledge to hunt this specific buck and felt prepared.

My Dad and I spent the day before opener packing up our gear and setting up camp relatively close to where we were going to be hunting. Waking up extra early on opening morning, we began our de-scenting routine and got into our hunting attire. The amount of exhaustion we must endure to get up into this amazing high country is very humbling and it was now time to see if all our hard work would pay off. The sense of silence we both shared reassured me that we made the right decision and were in for something great!

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Our tactic that first morning was to play it safe and just sit on escape routes, assuming other hunters would be moving the deer around. As a good son should do, I took the more difficult area and setup higher on the ridgeline while dad sat down lower. As the basin began to light up, I located the group of bucks feeding and began to analyze the hunt situation. There was a hunter on the top of the basin and another down below. We decided to hold our ground and interestingly enough the other hunters did the same. The bucks moved across the opposite side of the basin and slipped out unscathed.

After watching the bucks move out of sight and into the deep timber to bed, I thought about being aggressive and putting a stalk on them. I then realized this was unwise and knew they should return the next day. The evening's hunt was uneventful and as darkness came we resided back to camp. The revised game plan for the second day was to have me sit up in a tree stand on one side of the basin and Dad to stay mobile on the opposite ridge. The sun started to rise and I was immediately thankful I didn't chase the bucks the previous day as they were back in the basin feeding like usual. I noticed the other hunters were back and Dad made it to his spot of ambush.

The bucks began feeding their way up the basin but must have sensed something wasn't right above them and began to move my direction. Time stood still as I sat back and watched the buck of my dreams feed my way. I put my binoculars down and had to stop watching them so closely to regain my composure and halt the nervous shakes. They reached the patch of timber I was in, but took a trail high above through what I thought was to be impassable cliffs. As they settled down in the shelter of the pines, I realized they still had no clue of my presence!

Anxiously waiting for them to appear in my only shooting lane high above me, I noticed a small buck making his way towards it. If I was to get a chance at these bucks, it would most likely be a tough 65 yard shot straight up the steep hill. I could then see movement behind him and knew my chance was coming. One after another they filed through until there stood the other shooter buck we were after. I now had to make a very difficult decision to pass him up in hopes I would get a chance at the bigger buck at the rear of the pack. To make matters worse, he just stood there in that clearing teasing me while the other deer passed by. Then just as I hoped, the bigger buck I was after stepped into the shooting lane above the other buck just a few yards further.

It was now or never! My 200"+ dream buck was standing broadside at 68 yards up the hill from me! I then went into automatic hunter mode, turned around, sat down on the railing, and got settled to take the most difficult shot of my life. As I pulled my bow back and begin to rise up, and up, and further up, I really felt myself strain and began to shake. I put my pin just behind his shoulder as best as I could, and released. I immediately knew it was a good hit as my arrow slammed into the buck and he dropped in his tracks! The next twenty seconds following will be forever ingrained in my head not just by sight but sound…

After my buck hit the ground, he let out the most horrendous stunning death growl as my arrow had actually hit him through the upper lung and stopped at the spine. He then got back up with his two front legs and tipped down the steep hillside. As he crashed through the trees and slammed over the rocks, I noticed he had lost his entire right antler! After he came to a stop a couple hundred yards lower, I realized I had just killed the buck of a lifetime as he laid there dead. An overwhelming sense of emotions came over me as I almost cried after witnessing him get so mangled in the fall.

I then made the call to Dad across the basin to let him know that we had just done the impossible and killed the biggest buck on the mountain! He's dead Dad, he's dead! I climbed down from my stand and was able to find the other antler in his path of destruction. The amazing sense of accomplishment we shared while standing over this giant buck was a memory that will last forever. After taking many photos, we caped him out and began to haul the quarters off into the cool shade. With help on the way, our biggest priority was to get that buck off the mountain as fast as possible. The other hunters hiked up to congratulate us and were nice enough to help us haul some of the quarters down below. We made it back to camp and started the long heavy haul off the mountain. The good man that Gary is, he met us on the trail down to help with the pack out.

Thank You to my father, Ken Morgan for sharing this experience with me! Also huge thanks to Gary Wilson and a few others; I wouldn't have been able to do it without you! I'm beyond humbled and very grateful with taking this trophy mule deer in the high country of Utah!

Scouting and live footage of Sean's buck can be found on his YouTube Channel - Bugleboy Outdoors.

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