I felt a sense of relief as I peeked over the edge of the rim rock cliff and saw the lone buck was still lying comfortably in his bed. The buck was perched on a long, narrow bench at 12,000’ where he was very contently overlooking the large alpine basin below him. His velvet covered antlers protruded well above the stunted willows as he laid there next to a lone rock on this cold and wet September day. Thankfully, the rain and snow mix that had been falling all morning, had kept the buck bedded during our entire 3 hour stalk.
The sense of relief was short lived however, as the rangefinder read 86 yards to the buck; which meant one thing - our stalk was not yet complete. I took a couple of steps back from the edge and whispered to Nate, who was along to film my hunt, that we needed to close the gap a few more yards. I ranged a small ledge directly below at 30 yards and figured if we could make it down to that point, it would give me a 56 yard shot which I felt very confident I could make.
To this point, we had executed the perfect stalk. We had crossed the huge, mile-wide basin, climbed halfway up the opposite side, side-hilled across several rockslides, avoided total disaster when we jumped a lone doe near the bedded buck and then dropped down onto the ledge overlooking the buck’s bed – but that was the easy part! I was now starting to feel a little bit nervous. I knew that closing the last 30 yards was not going to be an easy task considering the steep grade and all of the loose rock under foot. Did I mention that I was also starting to feel a bit of pressure? The pressure was stemming from the fact that this was the fifth day of a seven day hunt, and I knew that the number of remaining opportunities we would have to get a kill on film would be limited. Although it wasn’t necessarily a now or never situation, it certainly felt as if it was and we were going to treat it as such.
Slowly backtracking a few yards, we managed to put the ledge between the buck and us. Once out of sight, we began our descent to the lower ledge. The wind was steadily drifting uphill, so our entire focus was solely on being quiet. Every step was planned and placed accordingly, because at this close distance, one slight mistake and it would all be over.
Although in real time it only took minutes, it seemed more like an hour to complete our descent. Once we found ourselves on the ledge directly above the buck, I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had been listening very intently as we dropped down to the ledge and to this point, we hadn’t heard the buck bust out of there; we believed he was still unaware of our presence. Nate stayed back a few steps while I eased up to the edge to take a look. As I slowly eased out over the cliff, the tips of the buck’s antlers started to appear, followed by his head and then his entire body. He was still in his bed and a quick click of the rangefinder had him at 56 yards. I slowly turned and gave Nate the thumbs up. I stepped back and asked Nate to set the camera up approximately 10 yards to my left. From this point forward, there would be no communication between the two of us. We had previously agreed that Nate would have the camera rolling when the buck stood up in his bed, and I would take the shot at the first good opportunity. I dialed my adjustable pin to 56 yards and then settled in and got comfortable. It was just a matter of time before I got a shot – or was it?
I had already found myself in this exact situation on two previous occasions this hunting season. Both times, I had been sitting within bow range of bedded bucks thinking it would be just a matter of time before I let an arrow fly, but neither time did I get the opportunity. It always seemed as if something would go wrong. It was just like riding an emotional roller coaster and it had been one hell of a wild ride so far.
My first ride on this roller coaster was earlier in the season while doing a solo hunt. After a two and a half hour stalk, I sat on a cliff overlooking a small bachelor group of three bucks 30 yards below. In the group, there was a small forked horn, a large, heavy 4x3 and a beautiful 180 class four point. My stalk had been perfect on that day as well, but the only problem was the 180 class buck was directly below me under a large rock overhang, not allowing me a shot. Therefore, I had to sit and wait. Being that close to the deer and the constantly swirling winds in the high country proved to be a bad combination that day. After 20 minutes of patiently waiting, the wind swirled and all three bucks busted out of there before I could get a shot. All I could do is sit and watch as the bucks put the entire basin between them and me.
The second ride on this emotional roller coaster occurred just two days earlier, when Nate and I had spotted several bucks directly below us making their way from their feeding area to their bedding area. The bucks were a little over 500 yards away and were heading towards a small bench that had several small patches of scrub pines. Once the bucks reached the bench, their pace slowed and they began to meander very slowly and it became evident that they would be bedding shortly. The bench had several different elevated levels and luckily, the bucks chose to bed on the lowest level, giving us a great opportunity for a stalk from above. I ranged several landmarks in the vicinity of the bedded bucks with my rangefinder and determined if we could make it to the small bench directly above the bucks, we would be within bow range.
Just as planned, we arrived at the bench directly above the bucks and after confirming they were within range, it turned into a waiting game. I was on cloud nine, we executed a great stalk and once again I just knew I was going to get a shot. Nate was located about five yards directly behind me and we noticed the bucks getting up at the same time. He started the camera rolling and waited for me to draw. I couldn’t. I explained to Nate through hand signals that a small buck was only ten yards to our right looking directly at me. While I was having a standoff with the small buck, the other bucks were now all up on their feet. My window of opportunity was going to shut very soon. As the small buck lost interest in me and lowered his head, I felt it was now or never. As I slowly began to draw my bow, the small buck caught the movement and ran directly towards the large bucks. The last look I got was of several racks disappearing over the skyline in a cloud of dust. How depressing!
I had to put both of those emotional roller coaster rides out of my mind as Nate and I sat and watched the lone buck bedded below. I sensed that this day would be different, however. We had two things going for us on this particular occasion that we didn’t have on the previous occasions; the wind was steady and not swirling as usual, and the buck was all alone. Only having to deal with one set of eyes and ears was a definite plus.
As the rain and snow mix started to let up, I checked over my equipment one last time. While doing so, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. My heart went from 0 to 60 in a fraction of a second as I watched the buck come to his feet and begin to stretch. This was the moment we had worked so hard for and I couldn’t believe it, I was finally going to get a shot. I had to tell myself to calm down. This adrenalin rush and excitement is the exact reason I am now addicted to bowhunting. It is a feeling that I have never experienced while rifle hunting. I can’t even begin to describe it.
After I was fairly calm, I leaned behind the rock ledge out of the buck’s sight and slowly started drawing my DXT. I didn’t even look in Nate’s direction, I just assumed he had the camera rolling as we had discussed earlier. Once at full draw, I leaned back to my right to where I could see the buck. He was still totally unaware of our presence. As I settled my adjustable pin on the buck, the buck shook to get rid of all of the moisture that had accumulated on him the past few hours. I only had one thought in my mind at that point; just concentrate on making a nice smooth release.
I didn’t even feel the release it was so smooth. I was totally surprised when the arrow left my string, which is exactly what I had been working on in all of my practice sessions. I knew it was perfect. The last I saw of my arrow was the bright green Bohning Blazers disappearing into the buck right behind the front shoulder exactly where I had been aiming. As the arrow sent shockwaves through the buck, he lunged and immediately began running across the bench. After traveling only twenty yards, he began to stumble and began to fall backwards. Because of the steep grade, the buck seemed to just keep rolling once he hit the ground. He finally came to rest in a small rock pile after rolling approximately 50 yards.
I couldn’t believe it, I had just taken my second record book buck in as many years; back to back record book bucks at 12,000’ and Nate captured it all on film. I now had a beautiful 180 P&Y typical buck to go along side my 200 P&Y non-typical buck from the previous year. Wow, what a ride! I have never experienced so many emotional highs and lows in my life as I have while archery hunting high altitude bucks. It is, without a doubt, the wildest ride I have ever been on. Therefore, the next time you are hankering for one hell of a roller coaster ride, don’t head down to the local amusement park, simply grab your bow and head to the high country.
High Altitude Bow Setup:
Pursuing mulies at elevations ranging from 11,000 – 13,000 feet is a challenge to say the least, but it can be done successfully. One thing that can definitely increase your odds is to make sure you use top of the line equipment. Over the course of the past two years, I have spent countless hours researching the best possible equipment for high altitude hunting. Here is my high altitude bow setup that I currently use:
Mathews DXT Bow – At the core of my high country bow setup you will find the DXT by Mathews. In my opinion, the DXT is the ultimate lightweight high country bow. The bow weighs 3.75 lbs, has a 7” brace height and is only 29.75” axle-to-axle. Because the bow is so short and compact, it easily attaches to just about any pack without any hangover, which virtually eliminates the possibility of the bow hanging up on tree limbs, etc while you are hiking. In addition, the short ATA drastically reduces the odds of banging your bow on rocks or catching it on branches, while crawling across the ground during stalks in the high country. And last, but certainly not least, this bow is a flat-out shooter. It shoots as well, if not better, than the longer ATA bow’s I have owned. My increased scores during archery league are proof of that.
Mathews Arrow Web T Series 3-Arrow Quiver – Although I pack a total of nine arrows into the backcountry, there is no need to pack more than three arrows on your bow. There is no high country buck in the world that is going to stand there long enough for you to need four or more arrows. This little quiver is extremely compact and lightweight and with the Spider Claw attachment system it can be detached and re-attached by simply twisting.
Winner’s Choice String – Simply put, the best string going nowadays. They are all pre-stretched which totally eliminates residual creep that occurs in lesser quality strings. With proper care and waxing, Winner’s Choice strings will last for many years.
G5 Optix XR Sight – This sight is as close to perfect for high altitude hunting as it gets. It has three fixed pins and one adjustable floating pin. With the floating pin, you simply dial it in to the exact yardage and let ‘er fly. This totally eliminates all guesswork. The pin guard has a rubber arrow bumper on the bottom of the pin guard, as well as a noise damper on the mount bracket. You can also purchase a separate light kit for the fiber optic pins that has several different brightness modes for low light situations.
Schaffer MAT 1 Rest – This baby fits as if it is part of the bow. The MAT 1 is made specifically for Mathews bows and is extremely quiet. Great adjustability allows you to totally eliminate fletching contact. With its rubber launch pad, it is also extremely quiet. One other added bonus is that the rest has an adjustment on the rest itself to adjust the fall-away rope for easy adjustment of timing.
Fuse Axium Stabilizer – I don’t like the idea of a large stabilizer on my bow while hunting the backcountry, but I do like a stabilizer. This compact stabilizer is only 2” long and weighs 3.5 oz and does a pretty good job of reducing noise and vibration.
Neet Archery Products Wrist sling – I feel that a wrist sling is absolutely necessary for a smooth, relaxed follow through. This particular sling is constructed of braided camouflage rope.
RAD Super Deuce Peep – I am a huge advocate of peep sights. It allows me to have a more consistent anchor point, which results in better accuracy. This particular one is a horizontal mounted aluminum sight with a 5/32” aperture.
½” String Loop – I think a string loop is essential on the shorter ATA bows nowadays to eliminate the string pinch caused by the acute string angles. They also eliminate serving wear and allow you to adjust your anchor point to the exact spot needed. Just about any string loop material would work, but I highly recommend the Winner’s Choice Ultimate String Loop material.
Limbsavers – I use the Solid Limb Ultra Quads to help reduce noise and vibration. Anything that may possibly help in noise and vibration reduction is always welcome on my bow.
Cir-Cut Archery Whisker Silencers – There are lots of string silencers on the market, but if you ask me, the simple whisker type seems to be the most effective. The thing I really like is they can be installed out in the field without a bow press.
Total Bow Setup Weight (without arrows): 5 lbs 3 oz
After many, many hours at the shooting range over the past couple of years and experimenting with different shaft, vane and broadhead combinations, I have finally settled on the following combination. I feel that this particular arrow setup gives me a good compromise between speed and kinetic energy.
Carbon Express Aramids – When I am out in the field I want the absolute toughest equipment I can buy, which is why I use the Araminds. They are made with a layer of Kevlar and are probably the toughest arrow on the market today. At 9.8 gpi, they give me the much needed kinetic energy that I need at longer ranges.
2” Bohning Blazers – I use two neon green and one white for my cock vane set at 2 degrees offset. The Blazers do an exceptional job of guiding my arrows without reducing the speed associated with longer vanes. Weighing in at only 6 grains, they also help increase my FOC of my arrow as well.
100 gr. G5 Tekan Expandable Broadheads – There are a lot of companies that claim their broadheads fly exactly like field points, but a lot of them don’t. The reason I shoot the Tekans is because they do just that, they fly identical to my filed points. The rearward deploying blades perform exceptionally well and when fully deployed, the Tekans have a 1 ½” cutting diameter.
Total Arrow Length: 28”
Total Arrow Weight: 420 grains
Other Critical Equipment:
Scott Sabertooth Release – The Sabertooth is a dual caliper with the RCS system which allows me to adjust the length for a precise fit. It also has a trigger-forward design so that I can maximize my draw length. I think of a release just as I do a great pair of hunting boots, it needs to fit you exactly or it isn’t worth having. The Sabertooth does just that – it fits perfectly and is super smooth.
Blacks Creek Bone Collector 2.5 Pack – Bo (Jackson) might know football, but Jay Robert knows packs! When it comes to adjustability and fit, you won’t find a better pack than the Blacks Creek Bone Collector 2.5 designed by Jay. Not only does it offer custom waist adjustment, it also has an adjustment track for different torso lengths. The pack’s bow carrier fits the DXT like a glove and the pack also offers superior organization.
Kenetrek Mountain Extreme Boots – The thing that sets these boots apart is the fact that they were designed by a hunter - for hunters. Simply put, the Kenetrek Mountain Extremes designed by Jim Winjum are the best backpacking boot I found; and I have tried a lot. They offer great support which is a necessity when doing a lot of side-hilling on extremely steep slopes in the backcountry. They are 10” high and utilize a Windtex waterproof membrane. I have used these boots for two years now and have no plans to change.
Sitka Clothing – The Sitka layering system is the best clothing on the market for early season archery hunting in the high country. I use everything from their base layer, all the way to their rain gear. They are definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to manufacturing cutting-edge technology clothing for the serious backcountry hunter.
Swarovski 10x32 EL Binoculars – These compact lightweight binoculars are the perfect size for backpack hunting. I switched from the 10x42’s to the 10x32’s a couple of years ago and have no regrets. The EL’s are the best binocular on the market.
Swarovski ST65 HD Spotting Scope – This scope is the best compromise for weight, size and light gathering capabilities for hunting the backcountry. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite pieces of equipment I own. I don’t go anywhere without it.
H.S. Scents/Carlton’s Calls Cow Elk Urine Wafers – Since there are a lot of rutting elk in my area, I prefer the cow in heat scented wafers. I hook these to the zippers on my clothing before closing the last 200 yards of my stalk.
Dead Down Wind Scent Prevent Wash Cloths – During all of my stalks I wipe my body down with these odor-eliminating wipes before closing the last 200 yards.
(This article first appeared in Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal Issue 53)