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Discussion Starter #1
Haven’t been on in a while, and don’t know where to start. Guess i can start with all the failed attempts since i started bow hunting in 2008. And there have been many! That’s all i’ll say about that accept i took those failures to heart and tried to learn from them. During this time, i’ve spoke with many seasoned western hunters about hunting “open country” mule deer. Unfortunately, many have not hunted them during the rut. I’ve read Schuh’s book. It does not address hunting rutting mule deer in open country that i can remember, but has “some” great information. I’ve talked to many on here and i thank you guys for even talking to me. I enjoy open country mule deer hunting with my bow as much as i enjoy elk hunting with my bow. In some instances even more as i view the mule deer as the icon of the west.

So here goes and i’ll try my best to recount the details, as there were many, and reliving this hunt, details and memories are popping up daily, even though it’s fairly fresh in my mind. In my prep for this hunt, i was able to scout 3 days each 2 and 3 weeks before the hunt, and the week leading up to the hunt. I scouted both with boots on the ground (spotting scope in tow) and from my truck with the spotter. In the past, i haven’t been able to put this much time in before the hunt. Although it doesn’t hurt that i know the country like the back of my hand from all the previous murderous rifle hunts prior to picking up my bow in 2008. I spent countless hours behind glass this year and found and or saw hundreds of deer while scouting. I even got some grainy video of some of the bucks i saw during my hunt. I can’t stress enough how this years scouting and glassing helped boost the confidence going in.

Another thing that really boosted my confidence was my gear. I’ve had great gear for quite some time now right down to my pack from elk hunting. Although the 1 thing that i hadn’t given much thought too in the past is my camo. I’m typically a mis mash of camo during my hunts. During my pre season studies this year though, i did some reading on different camo’s And the R&D that goes into developing camo. After hours of research, it was down to 2 choices for me. In part because of the research done by these 2 companies. Many camo’s are designed for specific types of cover, and or meant to be pleasing to the human eye and don’t give much thought to how an ungulate sees in relation to shapes and colors. I avoided these camo’s like the plague as i already have some of that. So i went to our new Cabela’s store with the intent of purchasing some ASAT camo.

Little did i know, our store did not have any. But they did have my other choice. The Sitka Sub Alpine. What i read about this camo is, it was created at Sitka by a former Navy guy who was charged with hiding men where there may not be much cover. The research also included studying how animals see. I won’t get into all that because there are videos you can watch for yourself on this with a little help from google. Having the new camo helped boost my confidence and i was eager to try it out realizing that no camo is fool proof, but some are better than others.

New Years Eve came quick. While many are out celebrating and figuring out how to beat the next day’s hangover, i was in my travel trailer checking my list for the last time and combating the pre hunt jitters. You see? For some reason, open country mule deer during the rut shake me up a bit compared to elk. Elk hunting, encounters happen so fast and furious. You can sometimes not have any action for days, then suddenly without warning, you may or may not have an opportunity when that elk shows up fast and furious. Then it’s back to more of the same. Whereas finding open country rutting bucks can be relatively easy to find, but i have a lot more time to watch the animals and have way too much time to over think the situation. And the closer i get to the animals, the harder my heart pounds.

New Years Day came and boy was i in for a cold day. 4 degrees is what my gps read when i exited my camper for opening day. It was a 12 mile drive to the area i decided i wanted to hunt first. If some are wondering how i came up with my screen name, there is a group of hills and ridges that my buddies and i nicknamed “trophyhills” from many years of scouting prior to our rifle hunts. And this is where it all started. The previous evening, i’d seen a group of does with 2 forky’s, a big 3x3, a big 5x4 a big broke off on one side 4 point and another big 4x4 plus eye guards. This one and the broke off buck were clearly heads and tails, bigger bodied deer than the rest and i couldn’t believe i’d seen all these bucks together the evening before.

Well it didn’t take long to find them. As soon as i drove up the rough azz 4wd 2 track to the top, i saw the herd at 200 yards minus the big 4x4 and the 3x3. I had my mind set on that broke off 300 lb buck. His broke off side went out about 3 or 4 inches past his ear and broke off where it began to turn up. I can only guess that this deer would have been 28” wide had he had both sides. Regardless, he was a buck of a lifetime, and if i played my cards right, he’d be on my wall. Did i mention that in addition to me playing my cards right, the deer have to cooperate? Well the deer obviously saw my truck when i drove to the top. All i could do is watch them, which did not hurt my feelers too much because the heater in my truck works very well. I watched the last deer slowly disappear over the ridge about 30 minutes later. It was go time.

I drove over the next ridge and parked my truck. This was a good spot to walk up a header and peer into the draw on the other side. And possibly catch something “flat hoofed” in the Choya Cactus on the ridge and possibly get a shot opportunity. I’ve played this game since 2008 and the one most important lesson i have learned when hunting open country is, you have to move slow! With every step, your view changes, and you coming into view to the animals changes as well. It took me an hour to move 300 yards. 2nd most important that directly ties in with moving slow is, seeing the animals before they see you. The way these things see movement is unreal. I’m convinced they also can identify the human silhouette quite easily as well. I did have one advantage though, confidence and new camo :)

More to come ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #2
As i moved through the Choya, the ridge and side of the ridge on the other side changed with every step. I glassed with every step or 2. First starting close, and then working my way out. (I’d also studied glassing techniques prior to my hunt). As i got closer to the edge of the Choya choked ridge i was working, i had stopped and glassed the draw below just in time. There they were! About 300 yards near and in the bottom of the draw. The drawback? No cover on the side of the ridge i was on to move in. All the Choya is on top. So, this is where Schuh’s book does not address what i am up against. The piercing eyes, all hearing ears, and noses pointed in all directions. Not from the 4 bucks i’m watching, but the 10 does and a couple fawns. Not all these does are in estrus and the ones that aren’t, are doing what deer do 350+ days a year. Looking for predators and human silhouettes. It’s time to test my new camo. My new Sub Alpine Mountain Pants have knee pads built in, and it was time to crawl. I know that to have any chance in hades, i have to get a lot closer than 300 yards. If this was a rifle hunt, it’s hunt over. But i resigned myself to the fact that my success rate would go way down once i picked up my bow.

Even though i would be crawling out of the Choya, now i have to navigate the prickly pear and half dozen other species of cactus and different types of yuccas and loose rock. Not too mention, everything that grows has stickers or thorns growing off it. (Still have a cactus thorn in my azz almost a week later. Wish it would fester up and work its way out lol). Last year i learned how to use my bow as a tool. It’s basically a crutch. The limbs and riser on the D350 lend itself perfectly to making contact with the ground repeadedly while crawling whereas i’m not sure a split limb bow could do this without sustaining damage. Crawling through this stuff is painstakingly slow, as you have to look up frequently to make sure you haven’t been seen, smelled or “herd” all the time avoiding the nasty’s waiting to puncture your skin. I managed to crawl sidehill and downward to get within 150 yards of the herd undetected. Now the herd is bedded. This is where i’ve screwed up in the past and rushed it. 1 wrong move now and all it takes is 1 doe to blow your cover. You don’t even have to be seen, “herd” or smelled. If a doe detects the slightest thing out of place, it’s over. And i want that big broke off buck.

Now i’m set up along a cut in the side of the ridge. Perfect if they decide to work up the cut to the cactus top later. I’m quite happy to sit there and observe for now because i know what happens next if that nearest doe catches any wind, site or even thinks anything is out of place. Did i mention it’s noon and only 11 degrees now? I was layered up though and managed to stay warm. For the moment. Periodically one or more of the smaller bucks would go get a doe up and acting love struck. Short lived it was though because even though that 300 pounder was broke off, he was clearly king. Not sure what happened to the 4x4 i saw the evening before as he rivaled this deer but obviously this guy was the clear winner. Let me just say that even though i wanted this big boy in a bad way, had he pushed 1 of these other bucks away from the herd and it came into bow range? Any open country Muley with a bow is a trophy in my book and would have been happy for any opportunity. Unfortunately these bucks would run maybe 50 yards and either bed down? Or go right back to a hot doe and get run off again by the “herd buck”.

This went on for the next 5 hours and there was no way to get close. Another thing i read during pre season was learning to recognize a lost cause. Although i did not agree with some of what i’d read on this subject, i did agree with some of it and decided i wanted to hunt this buck. I’d also read about hunting specific bucks before hand and knew if i charged in, i’d never see this buck again, let alone the other bucks that were hanging around. It’s all about the does and i can’t tell you how many times in years past i’ve spooked a doe and watched the herd run until they ran off the edge of the horizon. I did not want this to happen again. Oh i also wanted to mention that almost immediately upon getting out of my truck in the morning, the hose on my CamelBack froze even though i blew the water out before getting my pack out of the truck. I had not had a drink of water all day. To make matters worse, the bladder against my back was making me a little cold too. Instead of the herd feeding/rutting up towards me, they went straight down the draw. With darkness approaching, this was a good time to back out and live to hunt another day.

It was a fun first day with a lot of hunting ahead as long as i don’t come down with a case of pnumonia ;)
 

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Day2;

I’d thought about day 1 all night as i’m sure y’all have on your hunts. My good friend JP (and maybe he’ll share his great story too which you won’t want to miss if he does ;)) and his buddy are camped down the road a couple miles and we were able to swap experiences that first evening and daily after that. I think we both gain valuable intel from each other even though we hunt different areas. Can’t tell you what it means to me to know the similarities and the differences of our hunting styles and separate areas we are hunting.

I knew from the day before that the deer would probably not be far since i didn’t bump them. Bumping deer in this country means watching them run off the edge of the earth. Again it was a cold morning and decided to take my bladder out and take bottled water today. I parked in the same place, and took the same rout in once again. Once you get to the top of this ridge at the end of the header, you can glass a long ways and, you can work the ridge. The ridge runs northerly southerly to start out with subsequently looking across 3 or 4 ridges running in the same direction, and bends to run east west which these other ridges you look out over tie into. Each draw has a header that runs up and ties into this ridge.

I slowly made my way through the Choya, peaked into the draw, and glassed the ridges. Nothing. No movement. So i turned back south, followed the ridge through the Choya and followed the ridge around the bend and moving west. Constantly glassing close and working my way out in all directions as much as i could. When i reached the first saddle that crosses this ridge and forms a header/bowl on either side. i glassed down in trying not to miss anything! These are travel routes that are constantly in use and you never know when these deer are gonna be there unless you’ve already spotted them and see them on their way. Not to mention, now i’ve come out of the Choya and a sitting duck. I try to stay toward the middle at this point and slowly work from side to side to glass careful and hoping not to skyline as i approach the edge of the headers to glass down in. Again no movement or bedded deer.

As i get to the next saddle, i just happened to peak down in the bottom in the nick of time to see the big broke off buck reposition himself from one side of a “huckleberry” tree/bush, to the other and bed back down. I found them. Straight west of where they were the evening before. They were about 400 yards away. Time to stay low, and when i got about 300 and no cover whatsoever, it’s time to crawl again. I was able to get to about 200 yards to the nearest doe. As i was glassing, i noticed all the same players from the day before were there including a few more. There was another forky and half dozen does. It’s turning into what i would nickname the “super herd”. What started out as 12 the day before, was now over 20 over night. So i’m intent to set up my spotter between my legs with my back against a yucca, and trusting my camo to break me up, and just watching. If there was ever a time to “know when it’s a lost cause”, this was it. However, i didn’t agree with everything in that article as it was not addressing rutting open country mule deer. So i watched, and i watched. And i watched. Again they would get up occasionally and follow the shade around these hackleberrys, or the other bucks would get the does up and i’d get to watch the big broke off buck run the bucks off. When i say run them off, they’d run about 50 yards and either bed? Or nonchalantly work there way back pretending to feed and be submissive until they got too close and the scene would repeat itself. Love watching this stuff. National Geographic ain’t got nuthin compared to your own pair of eyes. You are narrating in your head and not listening to some moron pretending he knows exactly what the deer is thinking like they do on these silly nature shows nowadays. You’re witnessing it all first hand! Seeing what we as hunters see first hand, reveals things not even the most expensive telescopic lense can capture from a thousand yards away. Being close and observant is a constant teaching and learning experience with the “Icon of the West”.

The one advantage of these first 2 days of cold weather? I didn’t see a single rattle snake out sunning himself. They don’t rattle much if at all this time of year and they are very lethargic. Damn i hate snakes! ;)

After about 5 hours of sitting in the cold wind and watching, deep down i knew i had no chance at getting close to any of these deer but at least my bottled water tucked deep in my pack did not freeze and i was able to stay hydrated. However with the temps barely reaching freezing by 1:15, it was time to back out once again and head back to camp. Though it was not as cold as the previous day, the wind cut right through me there toward the end and it was time to go eat lunch and warm up. I had a samich in my pack but i had to stop my body from shivering. It did not take as long to get back to my truck as it did to sneak in there.

I know i’m supposed to be out there hunting and leaving the technologies of home far behind, but the temptation of my cell phone made it’s way into my pack. As i’m checking my messages (cuz all my rifle hunting buddies think i’m nuts for bow hunting “rifle country” and want to rub my failures in) i noticed JP had sent a text telling me he had a mishap with his bow and was heading to the nearest bow shop to get his bow worked on. Turned out, he needed a new string and cable. I called him at about 2 after he had just walked out the door. He told me they couldn’t have a string/cable for about a week. It was unacceptable to hear that his hunt was over on day 2. Then it dawns on me. I have the factory string/cable that i took off my bow in my bag of misc archery stuff back in my camper where i was headed anyway, and he also kilz with a D350. He promptly let them know and headed back out to meet me at my camp. So keep in mind i was about 10 minutes of the road on a rough azz 2 track and only another 12 miles back to camp. I swear i wasn’t back at camp 10 minutes and here comes JP rolling in. Had to be record time to get from where he was, to my camp. I was so happy to be able to help him. Over the years, he’s helped me a ton when it comes to elk hunting and i know he would have done the same for me if the shoe was on the other foot.

That evening i chose to see what i could find behind camp in one of my other favorite areas to hunt as i didn’t have enough time to get back to where i left the herd. Only saw 1 doe but walking back to my truck at sundown produced a spectacular sunset i’ve seen in a while. When i should have been hunting the last 20 minutes of daylight, i was using technology again snapping photo’s of the sunset while walking back to the truck. To see what we see while hunting is nothing short of “awe inspiring” to say the least.

Day 2 in the books and the most important thing to me is, JP made it back to camp and was ready for day 3. Sure do hope he posts his story. As his has a lot of meaning in a lot of ways.
 

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Day 3;

Overnight temps were in the teens and it’s gonna warm up to the upper 40’s. My CamelBack went back in my pack. I shed an under garment which freed up upper body movement. Had i had an opportunity the day before, though my arms probably looked like Arnold’s with the extra base layer, i’m not sure i could have drawn my bow and aim the way i like to. The day started the same way. Parked and walked in the same way using the same tactics. As i made it to that second saddle to the west, i found them again in the same draw. I slipped in as far as i could and watched from about 3-400 yards with glass. After 4 hours of watching the same activities as the previous day, i had to take a leak. Knowing how risky it was to raise to my knees, i couldn’t hold it anymore and did my business from my knees. Well this was the first major mistake i made and was seen by a doe bedded on the opposite hill that i hadn’t seen. You guys that hunt mule deer have all seen what i saw next. The deer stands up with eyes and those radar ears pointing in my direction. I knew what was coming after about 5 minutes of this. By now other deer are standing and looking. Just a matter of time now. Then the doe that initially saw me started stotting off in the opposite direction and stops and looks 200 yards later. The rest of the herd made their way to her and they made their way over the end of the finger ridge to the other side. The good news is, by the time they went over, they seemed to of forgotten about me. Had my camo done it’s job and hidden my human silouhette? In the past when i’ve been seen, they are running off the horizon. But not this time. They were back to rutting activity by the time they crossed over.

Little did i know at this time, but i may have just created my best opportunity to kill this buck that was now probably a half mile away and in a place i couldn’t see him. I was adapting my hunting tactics somewhat on the fly that would hopefully increase my odds and starting to think like the herd. If i was the herd, where would i be after crossing over that ridge. In my mind, it was relatively simple. Get back up on the ridge and hustle back to peak into the draw i’d peaked into previously on my way over there to begin with. And if they weren’t there, follow the ridge around and back to the north where i had originally walked in and check that draw. It took me roughly 15 minutes to get back to where i had walked in. The deer weren’t up high. Where can they be? They weren’t in the other draw and they weren’t here. So i wasted no time.

I made my way down into the draw. This draw headed north and far past where the little finger ridge gradually sloped down to nothing. Once i got past the ridge, i should be able to see up into the draw i had passed up on the way over to where i was at. I made my way to a mesquite tree in the draw that would give me momentary cover, and with any luck, the herd would be making their way over where i’d be in a perfect ambush position. And i had shade. By now, 49 degrees felt like a heat wave compared to what i’d been hunting the previous 2 days. After about 30 minutes of not seeing anything, i began to wonder where the deer had went. Because they were heading in this direction when i last saw them. As i glassed more thouroughly, i’d noticed i could not see up into the draw down near the base of the other side of this ridge knowing they had to be somewhere between me and where i had originally saw them cross over.

A few minutes later, i spotted a doe across the open valley sidehilling slowly back towards where i saw them in the first place. I’m thinking perfect. Usually the does are responsible for saving many a big bucks life by their awareness and attention to detail. But this one is going to lead me right to the herd. Now earlier, the 5x4 and the good sized forky were missing from the herd. I’d surmised that they done got ran off and were cruising for another herd of does. Then i see the 4 point thinking he has this doe all to himself as he makes his way toward her. Then out of a cut on the hill side, the 5x4 comes out of a cut and pushes the forky away and is hot on the trail of this doe. I’m thinking the “super herd” is fixin to be back together. I just need to follow behind. After they all 3 suddenly crossed over a small fold in the terrain, it’s time to go once again. So i pick a mesquite tree out, and tell myself, “that’s where i need to be”. As i get closer to the tree, i see that there is a hidden bowl that i could not see from back yonder. Then i see the 5x4 bed with 4 does. Now i have a “chance” i’ve got to be patient and see what happens. That voice was saying “you could crawl up another 100 yards” and that other voice was telling me, “sit tight stupid, you have no cover if you move up. How many times are you going to make that mistake knowing how many does are probably eager to help you blow another one”. So i sat tight for the next couple hours constantly glassing and keeping track of that 5x4 and 4 does i could see hoping for an opportunity.

Suddenly without notice, that big broke off buck stood up and was only about 100 yards directly in front of me. And then 4 or 5 does that i could see stood up in front of me even closer. Between 60 and 70 yards and start feeding. Within minutes the rest of the herd is up feeding and rutting. They have no clue i am there! Had i not had everything around me ranged, i would have guessed that big buck at 50 yards but thankfully knew better thanks to the rangefinder. As he was pushing does around, the other bucks would try to move in, the big broke off buck would push them away, and he’d start pushing the other does in my direction. Now i’m thinking “i’m going to get a shot at one of these bucks. That mesquite tree is 80 yards. Once they’re inside that mark, it’s game on!”

As suddenly as i thought i was gonna ambush and kill one of these bucks (hopefully the bigun but i’m not picky. Or so i think at the moment), the herd changes directions and starts heading back up the end of this finger ridge, and towards the cactus top where i walked in. “It’s over for the day” i thought. Well they weren’t moving very fast and still had no idea i was there so were acting love struck and still doing what they do. Rutting and feeding as they are moving away. I saw big broken buck run hard at 2 bucks. The forky and the 5x4. They both moved off and bedded on the side of the ridge about 2/3’s up. The rest of the herd went over the top and out of site. So now i’m watching the 2 bedded bucks hoping i can get close and kill one before it gets dark. So the forky gets up and moves toward the other deer and out of site. This is the perfect opportunity to move in on the 5x4. His head is down, and he’s sound asleep. This is my dream scenario. If i can get to that lone mesquite tree near the bottom of that ridge, i should be 80 yards or closer to that sleeping deer and in prime position to make it happen. I made it about 20 yards from the tree and then the unthinkable happens. The other forky stood up about 30 yards from the 5x4 and bolted. How did i not see him! Crucial mistake #2. The 5x4 jumps up and trots up and over the hill toward the cactus choked ridge.

Hunt over for the day as i make my way back to the draw that leads up to the cactus top ridge. I’m still glassing as i walk and seeing no movement whatsoever. The truck’s parked 300 yards the other side of the ridge once i get up there and the sun is going down. Once 5 o’clock hits, the sun goes down rather rapidly. As i reach the top of the ridge between me and my truck, to my amazement, i see 2 white azzes, head down and feeding. I immediately grab my rangefinder. I range the forky at 71 yards. Omg that’s a dead deer if i draw my bow back. Remember i said i wasn’t picky? I should not have ranged the 5x4. He’s 96 yards. Now i have a choice to make. Either i pass the forky? Or i kill him. Both deer are eating with their butts to me. Well dummy me thinks i can move into “my” comfort zone and get closer to the 5x4. I passed the forky. And the whole while hoping i don’t live to regret that gimme shot for he was quartered hard away and i have no doubt in my mind i can make that 70 yard shot. A chip shot.

So i start moving toward the 5x4 trying to knock off at least 15 yards, or more if i can. Well? Unfortunately crucial mistake #3 and 4 simultaneously happen. 3 was passing the forky, and 4 was tunnel vision. I was so fixated on the bigger of the 2 bucks that i missed the feeding doe that was just out of my site when i first spotted the deer. But about 10 yards into my stalk, she busted me sure as the day is long and off she goes. The bucks have no idea what just happened. Memories of my September elk hunt came flooding back and almost instinctually went to give a nervous grunt but quickly snapped back into reality realizing it was over. As i made it across the ridge toward my truck, i saw the herd just feeding and rutting about 200 yards away. I started toward them. I made it about 20 yards and another doe was feeding in front of me at 40 yards. Perfect time to test my new camo as there was no way it was gonna happen now with the sun rapidly setting. I stepped gingerly toward the doe 1 step at a time. The doe would snap her head up and stare, then go back to feeding. I got to about 30 yards and stopped. The deer would look in my direction but looked like she was looking past me instead of thru me. Finally as it was about to get dark, i lunged toward her and she finally took off and joined the herd.

Day 3 was in the books and it turned out to be a pretty exciting day. As i drifted off into sleep that night, i knew a pattern and hunting tactic was starting to emerge. Ambush. If i could figure out where the deer are heading or want to be in the morning once i find them, this ambush tactic is pretty fun when you successfully identify where they are going or where they want to be.
 

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Desert deer are pretty tough. My first one took me 14 days that season. Not consecutive, but between the open of the December hunt & by the time I finally connected on Jan 8, 2008, it was 14 days in the field to get it done.

Keep after it, it's coming.
 

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Nothing like desert muleys not sure what unit u were in but I too spent new yrs eve in the camper chomping to get out got this guy out of 2c Nm on the 5th had a heartbreaking stalk on a monster 4point that I had tried to get in on 3 strait night and never could get past the 8 doe he was gaming with. found this guy the morning of the 5th made it happen at e3 yrds and couldn't have been happier
 

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Day 4;

Day 4 started out the same. Parked and headed in from the same location. This was after all the best location to approach these deer. That is if they were still hanging out in the same zip code. I hadn’t seen them where i’d been seeing them and thoughts were running through my head that maybe i should head back to the truck and try one of my other “secret spots” knowing full well that there are no secret spots in this unit. Just some that get overlooked. When it takes you an hour to go 300 yards, many thoughts go thru your head. Particularly when you aren’t seeing anything. Those thoughts quickly were erased as i saw a doe staring at me from about 3 or 400 yards. I glassed intensely and saw no other deer. After staring at my human silhouette for about 10 minutes, she started moving to the west at a good pace but not running. Amazing how long these deer can stand perfectly still. I swear they can see your chest rise and fall as you breathe. So just like the previous day, i’m thinking to myself, “i’ll follow this deer and she’ll lead me to the herd. I followed her over another ridge to the west. Bingo! There they all were at the bottom of the draw, and scattered on the side of the hill on the other side. By now my knees were sore and getting calloused from crawling but it was time to crawl again. I made it to a good vantage point about 200 yards from them undetected and all i could do is watch. For had i started down the other side of this ridge with no cover, i already know how that plays out. At least the temps were warming up and gonna be in the 60’s today.

While watching the rutting activity with all the same players in the “super herd” of nearly 30 deer, today would be different. I could tell the big broke off buck was getting tired and not putting as much effort into keeping his does. They were scattered about 200 yards apart. And the other bucks hanging around the herd are seeing opportunity. Even if it was false hope on their part but, i watched the 5x4 “hook” 2 does and push them over the ridge while the big broke off buck was busy pushing 1 of the forky’s away from the 4 or 5 does he was tending.

Watching these smaller bucks constantly harassing and trying to get themselves a doe for the last 3 days briefly took my thoughts to the elkwoods. Since i don’t see this happening in the elkwoods because of the thick cover, and elk are bigger deer, i could only surmise that this is exactly how elk behave during the rut. Only difference being elk are very vocal. There were a couple times i thought the 5x4 was going to challenge big broken one to a fight but at the last minute changed his mind and wanted to keep his antlers in tact. The herd was moving to the west as the activity continued and all i could do is watch as the last deer worked out of site heading in the opposite direction. This is day 4 that i’ve hunted the same deer and still wanted that herd buck. So i have 2 choices once again. Follow the herd and hope i don’t get seen, or try to head them off. Since i know the lay of the land and how all these draws and ridges tie together from my rifle days, i decided to hustle down to the bottom of the draw and follow it around to the other side of the ridge they had just disappeared over. They weren’t in a hurry when they went over and i should be able to cut them off and hopefully catch them in the bottom of the draw.

When i got to the other side i glassed up just in time to see the herd coming over 1x1 at about 150 yards. First a few does, then a smaller buck, then a few more does and 1 of the smaller bucks then the rest of the herd with the herd buck. No 5x4. I am in perfect position once they feed/rut down the hill. I have key pieces of mesquite and yucca’s ranged, so i know where the kill zone is once they enter it. Did i mention before that one piece of the puzzle is, the deer have to cooperate? I’d done everything text book this morning (in my mind) and suddenly 1 by 1 the deer start bedding down. Believe you, me, i knew exactly where the big broke off buck was at all times. He was once again protected by the does. They were scattered about 150 yards wide across the side of the ridge with the buck slightly above them bedded beside what i assumed to be the next doe on his hit list. It was time to hunker down and watch. Bide my time. Hope they got up and fed/rutted down in my direction. Which is exactly what i thought they’d do since they seemed to be moving in a westerly direction. I watched them do what i’d seen them do countless times the last few days. A smaller buck would move in closer to a doe that was wreaking of estrus, the big buck would get up and push him off, the herd would feed around a little bit, and then bed back down. On several occasions, the big buck would head a couple does in my direction and i’m thinking to myself, “get ready, it’s fixin to happen”. Only to watch them bed again. Only slightly closer than before. I had high hopes for this day knowing that the more often i get myself this close, the more the odds are in my favor that the big buck will make a mistake and walk into an arrow.

Once again my plans were nixed by the herd. They got up and fed back in the direction they came from in the first place. I really wanted to kill this buck and was obsessed by now. My thoughts were “try to sneak in with no cover and experience what you experience every year, or back out and try again tomorrow”. Since i’d been successful at finding them for 4 consecutive days, i opted to back out. By now it’s probably about 3:30. I headed back to the truck. I was in my truck at 4:30 and decided to glass from my truck as i creeped out toward the highway on the 2 track roads. I have a window mount for my spotter and found other deer on my way out but too far from the 2 track to make a play on any of them before dark. Day 4 in the books with high hopes for the next day.

One thing that is going thru my mind is “never give up.....ever!”
 

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Day 5;

Having a camp trailer certainly has it’s advantages. Warm bed, hot meals, bathroom, radio etc etc. All the comforts i wouldn’t dream of having during an elk hunt. No way i’m sleeping in my 1 man tent and eating Mountain House meals in January. Back in my rifle days, i’d slept in the back of my pick up w/camper shell in November and like to froze my azz off. Every night after a hot meal, i’d make sure my pack was together. Water bladder full, lunch made and in my pack, clean lenses on my spotter and bino’s Etc and ready for the next day. I’d relive the previous days events and think to myself “what could i have done different?” I’m sure y’all have had these same thoughts as you relive your previous days hunts. I’m no different than many of you. I just want to improve every day out and fill my freezer. I want to be the best bowhunter i can be. Another thing that constantly goes thru my mind is proving my rifle hunting buddies wrong. I get so tired of hearing them tell me bowhunting rifle country is a waste of time and i should pick my Ruger 7mm Rem Mag back up if i want to taste success. Given my track record, sometimes i wonder if they are right. Up until now with only 2 kills in 9 years, i know they think they are right. But then i think about my last rifle kill. A 300 yard running 1 shot kill which was my 5th running kill in a row. It was too easy with a rifle. Not to mention that while field dressing the last one in 2007, WW3 broke out from the other side of the ridge and bullets were ricocheting off the ridge 10 feet above me. No, i think i’d rather hunt with my bow knowing that open country mule deer for me is the ultimate challenge with all those does protecting the buck i’m trying to kill.

As i make my way in on this morning, there is absolutely no movement. Working my way to the west, the pattern was developed. The deer were further to the west daily. Today was not different. Will i find them today? There were signs that the rut will be over soon and i’d be hunting post rut bucks that are harder to find very soon. I’d scouted before the rut began, as the rut began the week after Christmas, and now the first week of January knowing that peak rut will soon be over. And witnessing how tired the big ole broke off buck was getting by the day, it wouldn’t be long before the majority of does would be bred. Anywho i had made my way west slowly as i go. Further than in days past. I got past all the ridges that run north/south not seeing any deer and a big valley below me with the next ridge a mile to my west. Time to set up the spotter.

With no movement in the valley below as i glass from close up to further away as i do a grid search, i spot the big forky with 2 does feeding on the ridge to my west and a mile away. I started planning my route and once the deer cross over, i’m going to head that way and find them thinking the big broke off buck has to be on the other side. Since i saw that 5x4 steal a couple does the previous day never to be seen again though, doubts were creeping into my mind on if i’d see the herd buck again. In 9 previous hunts, i know that it all changes suddenly and that i could very well see a herd of does with spikes and forky’s trying to pick up the scraps and the big boys would disappear as quickly as they arrived on the scene for the biggest spectacle of the year. I could write a book that rival’s Schuh’s on everything i’ve seen since i started hunting with my bow. Accept mine would be filled with failed attempts ;)

Anyway, back to hunting. The deer crossed over and i had my route planned. I would head down off the ridge into the draw below, follow it around a small finger ridge to the south, and then head up a cut in the side of the ridge where the deer crossed over. This should conceal me on my way up and put me in perfect position to find them once i get to the top. I had picked the side of the ridge apart with my spotter and this plan was fool proof ;)

As i make my way thru the draw down below and start to turn south and almost to the cut in the side of the opposite ridge, here we go again. Up at the end of this draw where a small header forms, i see white azzes and feeding deer. It didn’t take long to see the big broke off buck. I found them! Only this time the herd was half the size as i’d seen in previous days. Maybe 10 or 12 deer in the herd and they had no clue i was there.

Taking a step and glassing had paid off again! I saw them before they saw me. It was game on. Unfortunately it was time to crawl again. Not sure how much more these 54 year old knees can handle this but here i go! As i place my left hand forward, ouch, straight into some kind of cactus. Thank God it wasn’t a prickly pear! I got to within 120 yards of the nearest doe that i could see. And she was on the side of the ridge to my left. I had to stop and set up where i could see right here with my back against a yucca. I’m relying on my camo to break me up. Elk hunting has taught me to set up in front of something instead of behind it. Although the way mule deer see movement and very wary, i have to wonder if i’m doing the right thing here.

So more of the same activity as previous days accept there is only 1 other forky buck hanging around the herd that is 1/3 to 1/2 the size now. A couple times, the buck would push the forky away and start pushing the does around. In my mind, i was ready to start thinking about taking that forky if he comes into range. However, each time the forky would get pushed away, he was a little more brazen, and would go right back. This poor herd buck was plumb wore out by now. I could see it. But he did manage to keep his does close and the forky still knew better than to get too close. As i’m sitting there, a covey of about 80 quail were somewhere close. They were chirping and squabbling and doing what quail do when they aren’t being chased by shotgun wielding hunters. How do i know there were around 80 of them? They ended up 5’ from me. My attention suddenly changed. Anyone ever “herd” a covey of quail blow up? In years past, i’ve had my share of stalks end when a covey blows up. It’s loud and natures alarm to other animals. Particularly desert mule deer. Now i don’t know how well quail see, but i know how well other birds see and i’m thinking this is the ultimate test for my new camo. These quail milled around for the next 15 minutes. Trying to stay perfectly still for 15 minutes might not seem very long for some, but for me it felt like an eternity. I’m watching these birds out of the corner of my eye and trying to keep tabs on the deer in front of me knowing that 1 false move, and it’s over. The cactus in my left hand and sore knees will be all for naught. Finally the quail moved off on their own without me spooking them. Whew! That was close! Now i can get back to the task at hand. Today is the day! Or at least it is in my mind at the time. I had beat the quail. How hard can it be to kill a deer after that?

Up until now, i’d reached new heights with my patients. I’d observed for countless hours both scouting from a distance, and hunting in close proximity. I’d seen these deer (the same herd) interact in their natural habitat and habits for record times for me. The patients allowed me to learn more about mule deer during this hunt than the previous 9 combined. As i’m watching these deer, i’m in position where there is no way these deer can leave this draw without me seeing them. I got them where i want them! And with the nearest doe at 120 yards, i’m closer to the herd now than i’ve been previously. Although there were a couple occasions when i had some does feed into bow range after watching from 150 yards or so. But at this point, i like my chances. Today is the day.

So as in previous observations, the deer would bed for a while, feed for a while, rut for a while, and bed back down. This isn’t something that takes place in 45 minutes. In some cases i’d sat in one spot for 6 hours. On this occasion it wasn’t any different. With the exception i had cactus quills in my left fingers and hand, and still have a thorn in my left cheek. As i’m watching the buck, there was a spot where he kept disappearing behind a couple yucca’s. Either these were some very tall yucca’s, or there was a cut or fold that i hadn’t seen. I began to wonder. Upon further glassing as the sun changed positions, there was indeed a fold they could escape out of. And escape, the big buck did. Next thing i know, he’s back up on top. All i could see was his thick antler sticking up above the fold as he made his way out of this draw! As i’m glassing and lay my bino’s back down against my chest, guess what i saw? A doe stood up at 80 yards that i had no clue was there with here antennas pointed right at me! This is not good as i know what usually happens next. There are still does and the forky bedded at the end of the draw. The doe bounds off in the opposite direction towards the last spot i saw the buck. The forky and other does got up and left out in the same direction. Seemingly unaware that the doe had spotted me.

The only thing i could do now was back out around the draw and head up over the top of the ridge, careful not to skyline, and peak over the other side where i saw them leave out. By the time i got over to the other side to where i saw them leave out, another doe got up from where she was bedded in the draw and fed out and over the ridge on the opposite side. There were no deer left that i could see but decided to sit and glass just to be sure for the next 30 minutes. Nothing! My cover was blown! Or was it. I certainly thought so at the time. Well it’s time to start back to the truck. This is the first time i’d blown my cover on this herd. As i start back to my truck, i know i have an hour walk and maybe i’ll get an hour of hunting in before dark once i get back to my truck.

Apparently as i snuck over towards where i’d last seen the big buck, i’d snuck right past him because as i started back toward the truck thinking these deer were long gone, he jumps up at about 50 yards and running full speed. He was by himself. He kept running and running and running down the ridge, into the valley below, up the other side, and out of site. He did not stop and look back like they frequently do, he did not stop and collect $200, he was gone! And he was alone. In all my years of bowhunting, i’d never got to hunt the same herd or same buck for 5 straight days like this, and now it was over. I knew i’d never see him again. He was out of my life forever and all i could think was “stupid. You did everything right to get to where you were, and because you throw caution to the wind so you can get back to your truck, you blow him out from 50 yards because you started moving hastily. Stupid. Now what are you going to do stupid?”

Let me tell you, it was a long walk back to the truck. It was disparaging really. I knew there were other deer to hunt in other areas but i knew i wouldn’t find any in this area any more. I screwed the pooch. When i got back to the truck i broke out the spotter and found some other deer but they were all does, and no bucks. I had to think to myself, is the rut over? Have we moved into post rut? All indications were there. What am i going to do tomorrow? Stay tuned ;)
 

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Day 6;

Let me drop back a little here. Each day i’d stayed in constant contact with JP and we’d go over the days events. Even though we were hunting 10-15 miles apart, i’m still very interested and in tune to how his hunt is going. I’ve picked up on his hunting style and incorporated some of his tactics and style with my own. He’d been on deer daily and experienced some of the same types of encounters i’d had. Maybe i’m trying to justify my own failures by listening to his attempts? He’d gotten close to making it happen a few times and spent countless hours observing just like I. His buddy Allen had gotten a few shots and muffed them during the last week. I know the area they are hunting pretty intimately from my rifle years but never hunted in there during archery and JP has learned the area intimately in just a couple short years. Pretty impressive. JP picked the area apart on maps before ever stepping foot in these hallowed hunting grounds. A talent unmatched by many others as witnessed on his success stories on his elk hunts. Hearing that Allen missed a few golden opportunities made me feel a little better about my own misgivings because i know he’s recounting those misses over and over in his mind. I wasn’t alone in my failures.

I’d also kept in touch with my good friend and part time bowhunter and part time rifle hunter Harold. He knows this country as well or better than i do. He’s killed some nice bucks with his biggest being a 160” buck. Believe me when i tell you this, i get to hear about his bucks quite frequently. Perhaps if i wouldn’t tell him how i’m going to kill a monster this year, every year, or until i actually do it, maybe i won’t have to relive his 160 every time we talk hunting lol. Our conversation actually took a turn the evening of Day 5 though. I knew i wouldn’t see that big buck again. He told me i needed a change of scenery. I think he could sense i’d hunted hard in this area for the previous 5 days. He also had a feeling that even though i thought i had slipped in on this herd undetected, those deer knew i was there. Some how, some way, those deer knew something wasn’t right. A reason they kept moving in the opposite direction. Even though they weren’t running off, they just knew something wasn’t right 95% of the time. Was it a movement they might have caught? Did they see me blink? Did they see my chest rise and fall as i’m breathing? Who knows but in Harold’s mind, i needed to move.

So he tells me and i quote, “Clyde the phone guide is going to tell you where to hunt tomorrow. Usually i charge $9.95 a minute but todays promotion gets you a free call. Tell JP he gets 9.95 a minute and no promotion cuz i don’t know him” lol. So he tells me to turn in at mile marker 42 (the mile marker has been changed to protect the innocent and our hunting spot because some of you may know the area i hunt ;) ), go thru the draw, go thru the gate, and hunt back there. I chuckled and wasn’t sure that’s what i wanted to do because i had scouted this area before the hunt and didn’t even see a bird.

Ok back to Day 6. Have you ever woke up in the morning and just didn’t feel like getting up? That’s how i felt when the alarm went off at 5am. My knees hurt, my lats and chest muscles were sore from crawling and lifting myself over cactus with either arm for 5 days, my back hurt (damn herniated discs) and all i wanted to do was sleep in and take off walking out of camp which i hadn’t done yet. I was after all camped in another one of my favorite areas to hunt and had seen a nice buck not far from camp while scouting. Easy walking, lots of cover, easy ground to crawl on. What’s not to like? Instead of oatmeal, i had bacon an eggs in the fridge that were unopened. OJ, milk, biscuits n gravy, red raspberry jam. Omg that sounded so good as i lay there. It also sounded defeatist. With JP and Allen sleeping in the backs of their pickups and eating Mountain House meals, i sprung out of my nice warm bed, made coffee, and my last packet of oatmeal and was out the door by 6 with it getting light at 6:30. The theme of the day? “Never give up....ever”

Instead of turning off the highway at mile marker 42, i turned in at mile marker 38 taking a 2 track that still got me back to the same gate Harold was talking about the night before. (Mile markers were changed to protect the innocent and my other secret spot) And it gave me time to drink my Yeti full off delicious coffee, which i’d only partially finished the previous 5 days and left me craving each of those 5 days. I love my coffee! I get to the 2 track and maybe a thousand yards from the highway and stop the truck waiting for the sun to come up. I remember thinking for some stupid reason, “are all these deep mesquite scratches up one side and down the other of my beautiful truck worth all this?” I’d recently had my truck buffed out and most of the scratches from previous years erased. And i love my truck. Then reality snapped back and the thoughts turned to, “it’s a hunting truck stupid, don’t worry about it. Your’e hear to kill something”. As the sun crept to the horizon and my coffee still 3/4 full, it was time to glass. As in my drive through here scouting prior to the hunt, i didn’t even see a rabbit move. Not to worry though. Clyde the phone guide instructed me to get past that gate. It was still 30 minutes away on this mesquite choked 2 track that was giving my truck new character marks as i crept forward and stopping to glass frequently. Good thing Harold agreed to buff out my truck when this hunt is over. After all he is a body man on the side and does great work.

So i get thru the mesquite choked draw and to the gate on the other side. Upon arrival i see a lone doe on a ridge a mile or so away. After getting thru the gate i glassed hard for about 10 minutes and didn’t see anything else. This is very open country over here. Is the rut over? I think we are in post rut now. The 2 track follows a fence line for quite a ways and i know i will see this doe again and can look on the other side of the ridge it’s feeding on eventually by staying on the 2 track.

Now back to Clyde the phone guide for a second. I don’t know how he does it, but this would not be the first time he’s done this. In 2010 i had a CO elk tag and a NM unit 53 tag in my pocket. After 9 days of hard hunting in the rugged Sangre DeChristo’s in northern NM, i called Clyde and told him i wasn’t seeing any elk and was going to pack up and head to CO as i sipped on a fresh cup of coffee about an hour before it got dark. To which he replies, “ didn’t you tell me there was a water hole behind your camp?” I replied “yes”, he replied “i suggest you get your happy azz down to that water hole and hunt til dark. Stop being a poosy”. 30 minutes later i killed a cow elk.

Back to the story. I drove over the first little ridge and down thru a hackleberry choked draw and came up to the top of the next little ridge. Booyah! 8 or 10 does and a nice “little” buck feeding and pretending to rut around. The reason i say pretending? Those does wanted nothing to do with this buck but he sure was trying. These deer looked like they were heading to the fence and going to jump to the other side. That doe i’d seen was on the ridge on the other side of the fence. The deer in the draw obviously saw my truck. But they didn’t seem too alarmed and started rutting/feeding back in the other direction. After watching them of a few minutes, when the last deer was out of site, i started my truck and backed over the ridge and down the other side. It was go time again!

I quickly exited my truck, threw my pack on and grabbed my bow. This was a short east/west running ridge. I knew the draw i started down tied in with the draw the deer were in. The wind was coming out of the west. It was at my back as i started down the draw and would be perfect once i got to the intersection. “Never give up....ever!” I hustled to the intersection a half mile down wind where i had a choice to make. Do i sit here and wait knowing i saw the deer heading in this direction? Or do i start up the hackleberry choked draw towards the deer and take a chance on being seen at some point? I thought about that for about 3 seconds. I had cover, wind in my face, and hopefully the element of surprise. I was on my way.

I had about a 10 mile an hour breeze in my face. Perfect for a couple reasons. Obviously scent control. Just as important sound. Those ears are like antennas as you all know. My sound was covered. I literally inched my way back toward the 2 track being very careful to keep those hackleberry’s in front of me and glassing with nearly every step. It was getting tense as i moved closer to the 2 track in front of me. Suddenly i could see the fence and no deer in front of me. Had the deer went over the ridge behind me heading to water about a half mile away on the hill over there? More glassing was necessary. Boom. There they were. About 15 does on the other side of the fence. Once my truck was out of site, they hopped the fricken fence. Now what am i going to do?

I spotted a thick wide hackleberry next to the fence figuring i could “maybe” hope the fence right there and slip in on them although my chances aren’t good at this point. I still could not see the buck, but figured he’s with them somewhere. The barbwire fence was about 200 yards in front of me. As i am inching toward the fence, the unthinkable happened. I thought the herd i had been hunting those previous days was a “super herd”. It had nothing on this herd. About 20-25 does exploded around me and started jumping the fence and joining those other 15 does as they ran away. Now i’m thinking “they gone” lol. But.....were they? I look to my right and the buck i saw trying to get him some when i drove up was standing there broadside.

Now i have a thousand thoughts going thru my mind in a split second. I have to range this deer or it’s a missed shot. If i can even nock an arrow without him bolting. So i calmly reach and raise my rangefinder up all along thinking when the buck sees the movement “he gone”. As i put the rangefinder back in my pocket, he didn’t flinch. I’m thinking “ok, i know when i grab an arrow out of my quiver and nock it, he gone”. He still did not flinch. Now i’ve got 2 thoughts running through my head and i don’t know why the next thought entered my mind as i’m drawing my bow back thinking “surely he gone as i turn sideways drawing my bow back” but simultaneously thinking “holy crap, that deer doesn’t see me, he’s looking past me! That navy guy working for Sitka is right!” As i released my arrow.

In a split second, i had released the arrow and heard the sound of the “smack down”. But did not see the impact. Damn this D350 is still as fast as they come. But that sound was oh so familiar. Either i missed and the arrow hit a rock? Or the arrow found the mark. There were no cuts or folds in the terrain this time. I knew if i missed or made a non lethal shot, i’d see the deer run off the horizon when suddenly the deer disappeared! I didn’t see him fall? But deep down i knew he had!

I didn’t go text book like all these guys on tv do and back out to come back tomorrow. I walked over to where he was standing and saw blood! And he was leaving a good trail. I followed it for about 15 yards and what i saw next let me know this deer was a dead deer in short order. I wish i would have took pictures of the follow up blood trail. It looked like someone took a 2’ wide roller and painted the grass for about 40 yards. The rest is history. I had just killed an open country Muley! My 3rd and best yet in 10 years! Though he is not the biggest deer out there, he is mine! And today while i sit here writing this, i can’t tell you all what this means to me although i’m sure you have a pretty good idea. As i watched the deer take it’s last breath, i was using technology again and on the phone with “Clyde the phone guide” lol. You see? Clyde the phone guide is one of the few who i have hunted with who when hunting with can just look at each other and don’t have to say a word. We know. And when we know, it turns into a death sentence for whatever we are hunting.

I tried to clean the deer up and was going to take some hero shots but could not get the deer to cooperate. He kept falling over and it was already getting warm. More important to me than the hero shot, is getting the hide off and saving the meat which i did successfully. It is my hope that there is at least 1 thing in this story that helps someone out there achieve the success that i’ve tasted this year.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and always remember no matter what happens or how long your hunt drags out.

Never give up.....Ever!
 

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D350
390 gr total weight
100 gr Grim Reaper Carni-Four
 

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If you look hard enough, you'll see the big broke off buck I was trying to kill
 

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Thanks guys!
 

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I see the big guy in the pic! Great hunt story and desert MD buck David. Thanks for taking the time to share it. Sat and read it all during my lunch break today; made my day.
 
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