I couldn’t help but reflect back on my successful archery hunt from a month earlier as I made my way through the predawn darkness. I still had to headlamp for another hour and a half before sunup, so I had plenty of time to keep playing the events of the hunt through my mind. Even though over a month had passed, I still couldn’t believe I was fortunate enough to have taken the archery buck of a lifetime with my bow. The buck gross scored 200 5/8 and was extremely massive.
It was now October 10, which marked the last day of the 2007 Wyoming general mule deer season. I had already spent many days and countless hours scouring the mountains of the famous Greys River area without turning up a single good buck. I was now down to the last day, but since I had seen several good deer in this particular area during past seasons, I felt that my chances of turning up a respectable buck were pretty good.
As it started getting light, I left the main trail and hiked a couple of hundred yards up the north side of the trail which offered me a great look at a couple of small basins on the south side of the drainage. I picked the mountainside apart for about an hour with my Swarovski’s, but could only turn up one small group of does and a cow moose.
I continued up the trail at a fairly slow pace glassing every opening as it came into view. I was seeing a large number of does along with a few small bucks. At 9:00 am I came to a spot that allowed me to glass a fair amount of hillside and began glassing the small patches of Krummolz that were about 2000 feet above me. I noticed one lone deer that appeared to have a large body and immediately dropped my pack and set up my spotting scope. As I zoomed in on the deer, I could see that it was a pretty good buck and that he had a couple of extra points. After watching him for a couple minutes, I decided he had enough bone on top of his head to hike up the extremely steep mountain to get a better look.
Thirty minutes into my climb I realized that I had taken probably the hardest, steepest route up the mountain. It was tough going and I was sweating bad and I was having to use my rifle stock as a walking stick to help keep my balance as I made my way through several small rim cliffs that covered the steep face. I got to a place where I couldn’t go up because of a rock ledge directly above me, so I figured I had better parallel the rock ledge until I got out of the rocks. I followed them for several hundred yards to the east before coming out on an open ridge which I could follow the rest of the way up the mountain. I looked down below me and realized that if I had hiked down the main trail another 1000 yards before starting to climb, I could have avoided all of the rim cliffs. Leave it to me to find the most difficult route up the mountain.
I had left the trail at 9:00 and it was now 11:00 as I approached a small group of trees about ¾ of the way up the mountain. I ranged the opening where I had last seen the buck and it was still 600 yards away. I noticed another small group of trees a couple of hundred yards up the mountain so I dropped off the opposite side of the ridge and started climbing towards the trees. Once there, I immediately ranged the opening once again and it was 360 yards. The wind was starting to swirl, so I decided to stay put for a while and pick the trees apart with my binoculars.
I glassed a doe and a fawn about 100 yards below where I saw the big buck and as I watched them, I could see that they were getting nervous because they were getting wind of me. After about five minutes of trying to figure out where my scent was coming from, they decided to leave and started out across a huge sagebrush opening. I kept an eye on where I figured the buck was, but saw nothing. I looked back at the doe and fawn and couldn’t believe it when I saw antlers on a third deer busting out across the opening with them. I immediately raised my rifle and found the buck in my scope. Something wasn’t right though. The buck didn’t look as big as he did earlier in the spotting scope. As I looked closer, this buck had a cheater that stuck straight out on his right antler. The buck I had seen earlier had all inline points. As I watched the buck go over the top and out of sight, I began to question whether that was indeed the buck I was after, or if indeed, there were two different bucks.
A short while later, three more does came running out from below where the others came out. They ran for a short distance and then came to a sudden stop. Confused, they did a 180 and returned back to the exact trees they had just left from. It was very apparent the wind was playing head games with them. With all of this activity occurring on the mountainside, I still hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the buck I was looking for.
By now, it was nearing 2:00 pm and I figured I had better make a move towards the timber I had last seen the buck. The wind was blowing hard from the southeast, so I approached from that angle, hoping the buck would get wind of me and try to escape to the west, which offered me the best chance at a shot. If he ran to the east, the way the trees and ridge laid, I would most likely get a shot.
At 200 yards, the wind was doing exactly what I wanted it to do and I felt that my plan was possibly going to work. I kept looking at every small opening, expecting to see the buck bolt out at any given moment. Then it happened. The buck exited from a small patch of pines and just as planned, he headed west. The combination of breathing hard and having to shoot offhand proved to be a very bad combination. After a clean miss, all I could do was watch the buck disappear over the top of the ridge. I was bummed, but I am not one to give up. I still had a few hours of daylight left and I knew if I played my cards right, I would possibly have another opportunity to redeem myself.
I hiked up to where the buck was when I shot, but just as I thought, there was no blood. I followed the tracks to the top of the ridge to where the buck had disappeared. Once on top, he paralleled a ridge that ran to the north for several hundred yards. Luckily, there were small patches of snow, which made following his tracks fairly easy. He continued north until he came to a large basin. His tracks headed into the basin, but I knew if I followed his tracks into the basin, I would probably just spook him and would never see him again. I decided to stay on top and put my binoculars to work.
I slowly picked apart everything within sight, but couldn’t turn him up. I moved to my right about fifty yards and started glassing again. I noticed two does below me bedded under a couple of large pines and figured if the buck had ran that direction, he would have had to have spooked the does. That meant he headed west once he was in the bottom of the basin.
I hiked back to the east past where I originally started glassing the basin and started glassing once again. This time I wasn’t glassing for the buck, but I was glassing for tracks instead. Since the upper part of the basin had nearly a foot of snow, I figured that glassing for tracks would be my best bet. As I glassed the snow below me, I noticed that there was one single set of tracks that were running to the west. I followed the tracks with my binoculars and they entered a small patch of scrub pines where I lost them. I glassed the far side of the pines, but there were no tracks exiting. After thoroughly glassing all edges of the pines and not seeing any other tracks, I was convinced the buck had to be bedded in the patch of trees.
I threw on my pack and dropped out of sight and hiked a couple of hundred yards along the ridge top to a point that would put me directly above where I felt the buck was bedded. Once there, I took my pack off and crept over to the edge to take a look. I didn’t want to get too close because I was on top of an extremely steep cliff and it was a long ways to the bottom. I started glassing and found where the tracks entered the trees. Once again, I followed the tracks with my binoculars and low and behold, they led me right to the buck in his bed. The buck was bedded watching his back trail and if I had decided to follow the tracks into the basin, I wouldn’t have had a chance.
I ranged the buck at a distance of 167 yards, but because of the near vertical angle, the rangefinder said that the true ballistic range was 125 yards. I held directly behind his front shoulder and fired. The buck was mine.
Now the problem of getting down to the buck. I had to hike back to the east where the buck had made his descent in order to bypass the cliff. The north-facing slope was covered with snow and was very slippery. Approximately twenty five minutes later I arrived at the buck. It was now 4:00 pm and I only had three hours of daylight left and I was ten miles from the trailhead. By the time I had the deer cleaned and quartered, it was 5:30 pm. I strapped the head to my pack and hit the trail finally arriving at my truck at 10:15 pm. Tired and sore, I arrived home at 12:30 am; just your typical 21 ½ hour day.
The next day I logged an additional seventeen hours from the time I left home to the time I had him in the freezer. I was tired, but I now had the entire winter to rest up.