The 7 Year Wait - Big Utah Mule Deer - by Austin Cowan
The morning of October 22 brought with it the kind of mixed emotions that you can only get on opening morning of a big game hunt. It was a sleepless night before it, like the kind a kid has on Christmas Eve.
We woke up to the sound of Frank Foster setting the mood and decided to try and have the patience to finish up one cup of coffee before that sun crested the horizon and we could see well enough to step quietly.
It's always funny to me how my husband and I talk to each other on opening morning. We try be nonchalant about what the next 12 hours could bring and instead go over a checklist like clockwork. Tags? Check. Field kit? Check. Food/water? Check. Again, tags? Check!
Finally the pitch black changes to a dim light and shadows form giving you a line to follow and we're off. Having scouted the area before, Chris had seen enough to warrant a semi-confident walk from camp up the ridge. As we're walking and communicating our paths through silent nudges and nods, I can't stop thinking about this year feeling different. I've had my blue card for 10+ years now, but with some "no-draw" years in there, I've carried a tag for seven of them and had to watch it go un-notched every time. I've had misses and shots I should have taken but didn't. I've had that buck whose broadside haunts you for months after you passed him up for one reason or another and I've had those that let you chase them just close enough to let you know that they were in charge the whole time.
But this year definitely felt different. I couldn't explain why and I kept the fact to myself just in case I'd have to eat my words later, but the gut instinct was there...This was my year.
We knew where we were trying to get to, and that it wasn't a far hike if the situation hadn't changed, so within an hour of dawn we found ourselves in a great vantage point under a pinion and started to glass. This is always the time a hunt feels real. "Rock bucks" and "stump bucks" tease your eyes and the sounds of your surroundings grow as everything adapts to your being there. There is no feeling like it.
As we glassed and spotted nothing, hope dropped for a minute that what we were looking for was even there anymore. We hadn't heard any shots but we knew other hunters were in the area and our minds started to wonder. Are we pushing him to someone else? Did we plan wrong and should have taken the North ridge instead of the South? Every hunter has their second guesses so it helps to talk it out to figure out a plan. We knew we had seen this buck close by before, but maybe he went higher. Should we head over the ridge through the steepest part or take a chance from the bottom that we can jump him from there? Looking up at that climb, we both look at each other and chose to latter.
It's anyone's guess from here really, but all we can do is try. Plus, it's early enough to for a plan C if necessary and that's a good place to find ourselves. So with an agreement made, Chris pulled me in close enough to tell me, "Keep a good eye and listen. If you see him I don't want you to make it a point to get my attention on him, just shoot!" I've never had words from him hit me like that. To me it meant, you've got this. You know what to do so just do it. We're both hunters here.
We started our short decent on our way to the grassy bottom once again maneuvering the seemingly endless supply of dry needles and loose rock ready to make a ruckus and show our position. It's not long before just that exact thing happens too. A deep step of a short ledge perks our ears up and leads our eyes to the one we were searching for bounding off from a ledge below us! He was close to us all morning and wise enough to know that if he stayed down and we went up instead of down, we'd pass him by altogether! But we did go down and now that adrenaline ignites an instinct in me that I've never experienced! Just shoot he said, and just shoot I did. My first shot at a big muley with a real chance to get him and it lands! He slows his bound but doesn't stop. So with my hands shaking and my eyes trying desperately to make that crosshair hold still, I take yet another before he's further away and still another before he falls.
It takes every bit of muscle control I have to sit down and just breathe after that. Chris and I just watch and wait. Wanting to see nothing and everything at the same time. I want to see nothing move and the picture stay still for a minute now. It does. The walk to view that buck was the longest short walk of my life. The anticipation and emotion is almost overwhelming. Once we can see him and realize how truly amazing he is, it's an incredible feeling! Count those point and count them again. Feel the weight of that rack and the girth of the base in my palms. Everything is perfect down to a beautiful double patch on his swollen neck.
Ten years of hikes, pushes and drives and I finally see the work accomplish what I've been wanting it to for so long. There is a respect for the land and the life that had lived there that only this moment can bring with it. I just looked and looked at him for what seemed like forever and started giving my many thanks for the blessings at hand. The pictures don't even show how honestly incredible this buck is or what sharing that morning with my husband felt like. It's something that I will never forget to say the least.
For now, I can browse through the dozens of pictures from the entire morning to pass the time until that mount hangs on the wall front and center to admire for years to come. Yes, with all of the facts that up until this October, I was 0-7 on the rifle hunt. I've never had a limited entry tag or hunted on a special unit and also, that I got this buck on public ground, I don't know if anything will ever top the 2016 General Deer Season for me. However, I do know one thing, come next spring I'll be putting in again hoping for a chance to try. ~Austin Cowan