"How big is that buck?" I asked as I squinted my eyes and leaned forward towards the TV. John had been out chasing bucks on the general archery hunt in Utah the past week and came back with some video footage from his hunt and the days following -- after the season had closed. A group of 4 bucks were on the screen, one particularly alert and centered in the frame was a solid four point with decent width and strong forks. He would eat a bite, then raise his head, perk his ears forward and scan the forest to the left and right of the camera. Two smaller bucks moved in and out of the frame behind him, intent on filling their bellies. One was an oversized 2 point and the other a middle sized 3. They looked to be 2 - 3 year old deer. The fourth buck's rack was much taller than any of the other deer in the group, he kept his head down, for the most part, but was only visible in the frame for a short time. Then he raised his head and looked up the canyon towards John, and then back the opposite way. He seemed narrow, but I liked his look and dark velvet. He suddenly bounded forward, then disappeared from view -- the other bucks following closely. It was the middle of September and the tall buck was still in full velvet. All of his buddies were rubbed smooth and their hard horns glistened from the morning dew.
John was excited about the buck in the forefront. He was a very nice deer, especially for a general unit. But I couldn't get tall velvet buck out of my mind. I thought he'd be the highest scoring and was the most mature of the group. The muzzle loader season was opening soon, and I'd decided to run up into this same area to see if John's recon info would lead me to run into any good bucks.
Ben had also been in the area during the last week of the archery hunt. He had stalked to within 50 yards of a BIG 190+ buck, but the wind swirled and so did Ben's fortune as he watched the bucks quickly make their way out of the high basin. He wanted to return with me and try to find the big boy on the opener of the muzzleloader season.
Like many season opener eves, I had a difficult time sleeping. So I rolled out of the tent at around 4 am and we decided to make our way up the mountain, to beat the crowds and try to be first in line to shoot Ben's big buck. We split up as the sun came up and Ben watched the basin where he'd stalked the buck just a few days earlier. I made my way to a neighboring basin and watched a deer sneak through the trees as light barely crept over the distant peaks. I could tell this was a buck, but he was far out of range of my musket and moved quietly into the pines. A small 6 point bull elk fed in the meadow in the bottom of the basin, and was shortly followed by several yearling mule deer and one fork horned buck. While we weren't finding our big bucks, we were certainly finding other hunters. I had 3 hunters cross within 50 yards of me. After talking with one of them, he told me that at least 4 more were on the high point watching the same basin I was.
The sun got higher in the sky and we hadn't seen any more deer to speak of. So Ben made his way to where I was glassing and we decided to move down through the bottom of the basin I had been watching. Just in case the hunters on the top end bumped something. Besides, I knew there was at least one buck in there from early that morning. I wasn't sure he was a shooter, but it was better than sitting with the rest of Utah waiting for some poor buck to make a wrong move.
As we reached the bottom of the basin and started still hunting our way towards the opposite ridge, a single shot rang out from the top of the basin. Knowing this could cause some movement, we stopped walking, and scanned the trees ahead for flashes of fleeting deer...Nothing...we started walking again. I was about 20 steps ahead of Ben when I heard a crash, looked up, and saw a buck running straight at me. At about that time, he saw me too. He hit the brakes as I raised my rifle. He turned broadside and took off again, but was a little bit too close for my poor shooting to overcome. The shot hit him perfectly and he expired quickly.
2 more bucks soon came bounding by, one of which was a distinctively larger than normal 2 point. We had seen him on John's video. As I walked up to my downed buck, I noticed his rack was still half covered in velvet, and soon realized that I had found the tall velvet covered buck from John's video.
We sat for a few minutes over a quick bite of granola bar and got to work breaking down the buck. Thanks to Ben's willingness to share the load we deboned the buck, split the load in half, and hiked out. We continued to hunt the basin for several more days, searching for Ben's big buck. We later found out that it had been taken by another hunter on opening morning, not far from where we were glassing. It goes to show that there's not replacement for time in the field, scouting, and preparation -- yet luck and fortune always prevail. I'll be on that same mountain range again soon, waiting and hoping I can manipulate the stars into alignment -- but really just hoping lady luck smiles my way one more time.