I couldn’t believe my eyes as I looked through my binoculars at the monster muley that was feeding on the opposite side of the basin. I couldn’t have scripted the opening morning glassing session any better had I tried. My hunting partner, Scott Mansor, and I both judged the huge buck’s typical frame right at the 190 B&C mark and with his long cheaters extending out from his G2’s on both sides, we figured his outside spread was pushing 35 inches wide. He also had a couple of other really small points and he was in full velvet. The buck was about two miles away on the opposite side of the extremely large basin we had been glassing and would require a very lengthy stalk.
We watched the buck for close to an hour before he bedded behind a pickup sized boulder. With tired and sore feet from the hike in the day before, we began are stalk by dropping all the way down into the bottom and then began our ascent of the opposite side. Once we arrived at our predetermined location we had picked, the buck was no longer in his bed. Luckily, we spotted him in one of the few small patches of pines, but unfortunately, he had already spotted us. From the time we had initially spotted the buck to the time we arrived back to camp was a total of ten hours. We were tired and sleep would come good that night.
The next morning, we located the buck on one of the most rugged and steep hillsides I have ever seen a buck inhabit. Scott said, “We need to name your buck Billy.” The name Billy fit him well considering he was hanging out at an elevation of 12,700’, which was just as high as the numerous mountain goats we had been watching. Since his location was so steep and rugged, I chose just to watch Billy that day and wait for him to position himself in a better, more stalkable position. This was only the second day and I was already starting to notice several differences between rifle hunting and archery hunting. First off, it was amazing how familiar you get with a buck that you watch for several hours a day. You get to know his routine and begin to become familiar with his movements and habits. You become so familiar with them that you start naming them. Funny, but true. The second thing was patience. After watching Billy literally from sunup to sundown with no possible way to do a stalk, I knew I would need more patience.
[caption id="attachment_313" align="alignnone" width="620"] Here is one of the few pics we got of Billy. You can't see all of his extra points....but trust me..he was a TOAD!
We didn’t lay eyes on Billy again until the fourth day, which was our last full day of our hunting trip. Billy wasn’t frequenting his normal hangout near the rim cliffs, but instead, he dropped down into the pines. An hour and a half later found me within 200 yards of Billy. Unfortunately, he had befriended a doe and her fawn, which meant I would have to deal with three sets of eyes, ears and noses. Two hours later I had closed the gap to 100 yards, only moving when all three sets of eyes were looking in the opposite direction. Now it was getting really exciting. Being that close to a buck of that caliber is unbelievable. As I started to remove my boots to complete my stalk, the doe spotted my movement and busted out of the trees with Billy close behind. I was bummed! I knew that was pretty much my last chance at Billy because we would be packing out the next morning.
We glassed the next morning, but no Billy. Frustrated that our hunt was already over, we broke camp and started our hike towards the trailhead. On the way out, I had lots of thoughts going through my mind. I knew that Scott and I had a Wyoming archery hunt planned for the following week, but deep down, all I could think about was returning to Colorado. Finally, I told Scott that I was going to forgo our Wyoming hunt and I was going to head back to Colorado. Scott didn’t want to return, so I planned to go back and do a solo hunt for Billy.
After studying several maps at home, I decided to use a different trailhead on my return trip, which would provide me with better access to Billy’s hideout. Four and a half hours later found me perched up on a small rimrock at 12000’, which had just enough room to set up my small one man tent. After getting camp somewhat organized, I made my way to the top of the ridge and began glassing for Billy. I glassed until dark, but never laid eyes on him.
At first light the next morning, I was glassing again. But still no Billy. I had glassed for about a half hour when the fog rolled in. I continued glassing through the small openings of the fog, but still nothing. Finally, at 9:00 am the fog lifted and I spotted a doe about half a mile away. There was another deer standing behind the doe and it appeared to have a large body. I set up the spotting scope and sure enough, it was Billy. I waited until they fed out of sight before I began my descent into the basin. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the small ravine Billy was previously in, he was gone. I remained in the area all day, but never laid eyes on Billy again.
About an hour before dark I decided to head back to the top of the ridge and glass the basin where I was camped. Immediately, I spotted several bucks out feeding approximately one mile to the south. There were four bucks and two does. I watched them through the spotting scope and decided that two of them were definitely good bucks. I watched them until dark and then made the short hike back to camp. That night I was pretty excited because I knew that even if I couldn’t find Billy again, I would still have a couple of other good bucks to put the stalk on.
As I stood outside of my tent brushing my teeth, I noticed a large black, ominous thunder and lightning storm heading my way. The fact that I was camped at 12000’ and had no trees to take shelter in, I knew I was not going to be having any fun once this storm hit. When I felt it was no longer safe to be standing outside, I ducked into my tent and prayed that I would not be struck by lightning. Over the course of the next hour, the flashes of light outside my tent were unreal. It was flat scary. I have been through a lot of lightning storms, but never at this elevation before. I felt helpless. Just before every clash of thunder, I could feel the intense wind sweep over my tent and try to rip it off the small rim rock cliff. The storm was now directly over me. Even with my sleeping bag over my eyes, the intense light from the lightning bolts could still be seen.
[caption id="attachment_316" align="alignnone" width="620"] The "Lightning" camp.....weathering out the lightning storm in my Hilleberg was extremely intense!
Once the storm had passed, I waited another fifteen minutes before I dared to exit my tent to finish brushing my teeth. It was now raining, but at least the danger of the lightning was gone. I told myself right then that I didn’t particularly care to spend another night on top of the ridge and that I might have to consider moving camp sometime the next day. I know several people that have been struck by lightning and after hearing them tell their stories, I have always had great respect for lightning. But even as much as I respect it, I am constantly putting my camps in dangerous positions while mule deer hunting. It is amazing how the power of the mule deer pursuit will make you do stupid things.
After failing to locate Billy the next morning, I figured I had better make my way over and look for the other bucks I had spotted the previous evening before everything had bedded down. The bucks were still up feeding in the same location they were in the night before. The bad news was that the bucks were in a spot that I felt would be impossible to do a stalk. That thought had no sooner crossed my mind when I glassed two other bowhunters down in the bottom of the valley start their way up toward the bucks.
I watched the two hunters make their way up the first part of the mountain and I figured it was going to take them at least four hours to get into position on the bucks. That is when I realized; I could make this work to my advantage. Odds are, I figured these two guys were going to blow this stalk and if I could position myself in the right spot, I could benefit from it. I sat and studied the hillside and tried to figure what escape routes the bucks would utilize when the two hunters spooked them. There were several small rimrock cliffs that ran from south to north on the extremely hillside that I figured the bucks might follow. It was just a matter of which one. I decided the one that started just below and to the north of where the bucks were now bedded was the most logical escape route. As I continued to glass the hillside, I picked out a small cluster of trees that were 30 yards below the rimrock that looked like it would provide me with just enough cover to help me with my ambush, yet it was far enough away that I wouldn’t interfere with the other hunters’ stalk.
It was now 10:00 am and the two bowhunters were now two hours into their stalk. I decided to begin my hike towards my predetermined spot. I already had all of my elevation, now I would just need to sidehill my way across the very steep hillside. Two hours later, I arrived at the small patch of trees. Once there, I immediately glassed the location of the deer and could see two of the bucks bedded. I was still a quarter of a mile away and they had no idea I was there. I began assessing the situation and my surroundings. I began range finding several landmarks and made sure I had a shooting lane both above and below me. If any of the bucks decided to come my way, I would either have a 30-yard shot angling uphill, or a 60-yard shot straight downhill.
At 1:00 pm, the two bowhunters finally appeared on the skyline and began moving towards the bucks. They were moving very slowly and were continually glassing new country as it came into view. They had one thing going against them though, they came in a little low and the wind was traveling up the hill. The bucks had them pegged before the hunters ever had a chance. I watched as all of the bucks were getting very nervous and I knew that something was about to happen any second.
Once the first buck decided to take off, they were all gone. I watched the two bowhunters hit the deck, but it was too late. The deer were scattering in different directions with one buck and a doe heading in my direction. Once I noticed the two deer heading in my direction under the rim cliff, I forgot all about the other deer. I honestly couldn’t tell you which direction they went. I became so focused on the buck, that I didn’t even notice when the doe peeled off and went a different direction. All I knew was that there was a hell of a buck coming my way and I only had very little time to make sure I was totally prepared.
Every now and then the buck would stop and look back at the other two hunters. Every time he would stop, I worried that he was going to change directions, but he just kept coming. When the buck was about 80 yards out, he needed to decide whether he was going to go below the trees I was hiding behind, or above them. He chose the high route. Which meant I was going to have a 30-yard shot.
At 50 yards, the buck had to go through a deep ravine and at that point I drew my bow. The buck came out of the ravine and was 35 yards out when it happened. He winded me! In one motion, the buck managed to put on the brakes and did a complete 180. I released my arrow, but unfortunately, I hit the buck low in the right front leg. I was sick as I watched the buck head straight downhill and disappeared out of sight.
I knew it wasn’t a fatal shot, but I gave the buck a half hour to settle down before pursuing him. The buck left a pretty good blood trail and was fairly easy to follow. I kept following the buck’s tracks as he headed lower on the mountain and to the south, which was in the opposite direction of my camp. I continued to track him until just before dark without getting another opportunity for another shot. I was now near the bottom of the large basin and had a long ways back up to my camp. Once back at my tent, I began breaking camp and loading it in my pack. I figured I would move my camp down into the head of the basin so that I would be a lot closer to where I left the buck’s trail. Also, I didn’t want to risk spending another night on the small rim rock cliff and the possibility of having to weather out another lightning storm.
At first light, I was sitting on the opposite side of the basin where I had last seen the buck, hoping to locate him with my binoculars, but I had no such luck. After an hour of glassing, I decided to hike over to where I left the buck’s trail the night before. Once there, I began following the buck’s tracks as they zigzagged back and forth among the small rock ledges. At times, there wasn’t very much blood and I found myself crawling on my hands and knees just trying to find a drop of blood to confirm I was still on the right set of tracks.
While making my way across one of the rock ledges, I caught a glimpse of the buck going through one of the last small patches of timber on the ridge. He was now entering the large sea of willows, which covered the entire bottom of the huge basin. It looked like the Alaskan tundra there were so many willows. Once in the willows, he totally disappeared. Frustrated, I now had to figure out how in the world I was going to locate the buck. I was bummed because now I had an almost impossible task in front of me. I had to go into the willows after him.
As I began inching my way through the sea of chest high mountain willows, I was not only tired and sore, but I was extremely frustrated as well. This was day number nine of what turned out to be the most physically grueling hunt of my life. The day before, I had wounded a massive buck and after a day and a half of tracking him, the last glimpse I got of the buck was of him entering the bottom of the huge alpine basin that was covered by nothing but willows. To be honest with you, at this point, I didn’t know if I was ever going to see the buck again, but I couldn’t give up.
I circled around to the other side of the basin and dropped into the willows above where I saw the buck enter. I began to slowly zigzag back and forth in hopes of somehow finding the buck. After twenty minutes of wading through the chest high willows, I caught a glimpse of the buck’s antlers heading down towards the creek in the bottom. I figured he would probably bed near the creek, so I began my stalk. The wind was in my favor and there was no way he was going to see me until I was well within bow range. I just needed to make sure he didn’t hear me.
I continued moving towards the buck as quietly as I possibly could. As I neared the bottom of the creek, I began to wonder if the buck had slipped out on me because I only had about twenty more yards before I reached the bottom of the creek bed. There was a small knoll between the creek and me and as I slowly peeked over the crest of the hill, I was relieved to see several antler tips sticking up out above the waist-high willows that the buck was bedded in. There was really no need to range the buck, but I had my rangefinder in my right hand so I decided to range the antlers anyway. The rangefinder said 7 yards. Unbelievable! Looking back on it, I am amazed the buck didn’t hear me push the button on the rangefinder I was so close. I slowly drew the bow and once at full draw, all I could see was antlers. I intentionally made a small noise with my right foot that I figured would get the buck to stand up. It worked! He immediately jumped to his feet and as soon as he did, I let the arrow fly. It not only hit home – it hit hard and went all of the way through him. The buck leaped across the creek and came to rest in the small willows on the opposite side. It was over. I can’t even begin to describe the emotions I was feeling. Nine days, 64 miles hiked and 26,000’ in total elevation climbed and I had my first high country buck with a bow. As I approached the buck, his antlers seemed to get larger. There was no ground shrinkage on this one. His antlers have an outside spread of 28 inches and 6-inch bases. The typical frame scores 190 4/8 and he has 10 1/8 inches of extras for a total score of 200 5/8 P&Y.