I cut my teeth hunting Wyoming mule deer and elk as a teenager -- hunting with my father, and brother; Ben. Ben had been building points for a few years, and decided to return to the mountains of our youth to hunt muleys again. After results were posted, we spent hours scouring google earth for new areas, and planned our first scouting trip for August 1st.
SCOUTING SEASON - WYOMING MULE DEEROur first real scouting trip was August 1. I'd been scouring Google Earth to find a few new hunting areas to check out in addition to some of my old reliable spots that I'd hunted more than a decade prior. I knew that those areas would still hold mature deer, but I also knew that scouting would be the best way to find a really special buck. We left the house at 4 am that morning and made our way for the trailhead, with packs filled we anticipated seeing a bunch of bucks, and hopefully at least one shooter! Just as it was getting light, I glassed up the hill from the trail and found just that. He was very tall, with heavy mass and good forks. I set up my phoneskope and captured a few images, and a few seconds of video before we scampered up the trail. We had a lot of country to cover and hoped to find more big deer. The first buck of the trip was a shooter, I was already satisfied with our trip. That morning yielded 36 bucks seen. As the sun got higher and we pushed through a high saddle, we saw a skylined buck that made us stop in our tracks. He soon moved out of view and we continued to glass, I spotted the rump end of a deer under a large pine tree and set up the spotter for a closer look. I'll admit that I misjudged this buck at first, but thanks to my phoneskope footage, I was able to take a closer look. When we returned home, I watched the video and instantly I knew that "triple cheaters" was a special buck. I thought he'd go around 203" B&C and was a buck that we should hunt. I returned 3 more times before the archery season started to keep tabs on him. But, as most big bucks are, he was difficult to find and had changed his patterns before the archery season opened on September 1st.
One of the most difficult things about scouting season is anticipating hunting pressure once the hunting season finally arrives. I knew that this area received some pressure, but this year was much more than I had imagined. A tent was pitched in the saddle where we'd seen the big buck, another just 200 yards south of our tents, and a couple of hunters from neighboring states thought our camp was a great glassing location and would hike to within ear-shot of our camp and glass for the first 2.5 days of the hunt. We did see some great bucks, and had a few stalks that were almost successful -- including a multiple mile spot and stalk on a big typical that took across several drainages. It was a good hunt despite the hunting pressure, but we didn't see the big bucks we'd found in August.
The forecast called for a big storm front to move in when I'd started hiking that morning, the stars filled the early morning sky, but when I reached the edge of the basin, the clouds did too. I peaked over the edge and instantly picked up a few bucks moving in the basin directly below me, beneath a cliff rim. The clouds gave me about 2 minutes to look them over. They were all young bucks. Then it socked in and didn't leave. Knowing the storm front was on its way, I had elected to not camp and day hunt the opener, before deciding what to do for the rest of the week. The storm stuck, the ceiling was low, and visibility was very poor. I decided to go back and work for a few days, and hopefully be back in position when the storm broke. Sometimes the hardest thing about hunting is all of the non-hunting chores we have to do during hunting season. Due to some scheduling issues, I was home that Friday morning when the storm broke and didn't make it in until noon. On the way in, my brother and good friend Randy had both tagged out and were packing meat. I met them about a mile in and helped them pack their load back to the truck. While they made a second load, I went upcountry, hoping to find one of the big bucks, but as it goes, I didn't find them. However, "Triple Cheaters" was taken that afternoon by a friend of mine and ended up scoring 209" gross. I returned to the area 6 or 7 more days looking for the other big buck that had sky lined in a saddle in early August, but couldn't turn him up. It had felt like a long season, I had seen a lot of bucks and passed on a few mature age class bucks that didn't quite meet my criteria. With only a few days left in the season, I was scheduled to head down to Utah to hunt a tag that I'd drawn there, but after consulting with Ben, he talked me into staying out for a few more days and meeting him later in the week. I had 3 days until the season closed, so I decided to switch things up.
I made a plan to hunt an area that I had hunted a lot as a teenager. Back then, we would access this area through private land. I didn't have that access anymore, so it required that I climbed to the divide in another drainage, then traversed to the basins I wanted to hunt. This was a new trail, so I packed my things and decided to start hiking a half-hour before sunrise, hunt my way in and set up camp that afternoon. I'll admit that the new country was refreshing. After spending every available minute since August in one area, It had been mentally taxing to try and figure out where the bucks we had scouted had gone. They beat me, and I was feeling good starting a new game somewhere else. As I hiked up the canyon, I stopped to glass. My footsteps pressed on top of a few week's worth of horse tracks. The trail was fairly well used, but it seemed like no one had been up the drainage in at least a few days. After a couple of miles, I spotted the first deer of the hike -- a doe. I watched her for a minute, expecting to see more does with her, but she seemed to be alone, so I continued up the trail. If I hadn't seen that doe, I would have never seen the buck! After another 3/4 of a mile, the trail crossed the bottom of the drainage and passed through a stand of pines, straight downhill from the doe. As I moved through the pines, I looked up the hill several times, just to see if I could still see her. I picked her out and now I could see another deer with her. I threw up my binos and saw a heavy, dark rack. I pulled out my spotter to get a close look, but by the time I had it set, the buck had moved a few yards into some sage and was feeding with his nose to the ground. I could see his oversized body and deep back forks moving as he ate. This was the class of buck I was looking for! Then he raised his head revealing no g4s, but long eye guards. I've always liked the looks of big 3 points and decided I would take him. I found a rest, shot and he disappeared. I hiked up the hill and there was no sign of him. I couldn't find blood, tracks, or a deer. I held tight for a minute and then could hear movement in the rocks above me. It was too timbered to see much, but I looked through my binos and could pick out the legs of 2 deer. The doe finally showed herself, but the buck didn't. I snuck into the trees and onto a small ridge - there on the other side - about 120 yards, he was standing. I dropped to the ground, set my bipod, and shot him. It was steep, and he rolled. I expected his antlers to be broken but was surprised to find him fully intact. He had a huge body, great mass, and a big 3 point frame. He fit the bill of what I was looking for - an old, mature Wyoming mule deer!
I took some photos with my self-timer, deboned the buck, and put the meat into my pack. I carried the cape and head and walked back down to the main trail. Because I had camp, hunting gear, and a huge bodied buck to take out. I left my camp, some of my gear, and the cape in a cache and took the meat out 3.5 miles back to the truck, took a snickers break, and hurried back up the mountain to retrieve the rest. I ended up weighing the old buck's boned out meat at 95 lbs and was grateful for a great pack, and sturdy trekking poles. I refer to that year as the long season. I know many hunters can relate. A last-minute change of scenery and a little luck led me to have a cool Wyoming homecoming!
Do you want to watch this whole hunt unfold? Watch the video here: