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 4×3 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.