Lessons the Mule Deer taught me: Part 2 — By Scott Reekers
Sleep wasn’t going to come easy knowing the buck of a lifetime wasn’t coming home with me. The buck I placed all my bets and scouting efforts that season was taken by a friend. All of my hunting plans changed for the rest of the month, what would I do with the rest of my deer season?
I made a decision that night to come back as soon as possible and look for a buck that had been running with the big guy(who happened to score 190) in August. I wasn’t sure if he was the quality of deer I wanted, but because I had scouted him I knew his habits.
We had also found two other bucks off the beaten path during the hunt. We looked hard enough at them on the opener to know they weren’t the buck we were after and never really gave them a closer look.
If the big deer’s buddy and the “closer look bucks” were no-where to be found, October 1st was opening day for a unit to the South. In years past I have found good numbers, and good deer in the area. The challenge was going in blind. No scouting at all, just looking for “bucky” hills where a mature buck called home.
The next hunt turned up several deer, but none of them were the caliber I was looking for. One got the “maybe next year” and others got a “he’s just a dink” tag. The “maybe next year” buck was the one I was looking for. I found him late in the morning as he followed the shadows toward the timber. He had replaced the bigger buck with two smaller companions. It didn’t take him long to find the timber and bed down for the day with his buddies.
Because he was the best buck I found that trip, the temptation to get a better look got the best of me. I packed camp and headed to a spot that would offer the best view to pick apart his antlers where he laid. Then, plan an ambush if he was big enough. As luck would have it I never found him in his afternoon bed.
Another long hike back to the trailhead gave me plenty of thinking time. I realized that I didn’t need to pick him apart. Next to a 190 inch deer it’s hard to even think about shooting a middle sized buck like him, but by himself temptations come and self-discipline must be high. The 190 buck had matured enough to reach that size and I reminded myself that deer are habitual animals. The 165 inches of antler he had that year could be much more the next season. Can’t shoot the big ones if you are always shooting the small ones!
The other two “closer look bucks” never showed themselves. Their hillside had turned into a haunt for rutting bull elk and their harems. The big deer tend to move away from the bugling elk and into spots where they won’t be
bothered by the noisy wapiti.
I also reached the conclusion that I might have had a better trip if I had gone to another area. An early July scouting trip to a spot further North had produced several big deer, 2 that would have been shooters. The downhill hike was physically easy, but mentally tough. By the time I got to the trail-head I was positive that I had spent my weekend in vain, hoping that bucks I knew didn’t meet my standards would suddenly be big enough.
1. No matter how good a hunter is, not a single one of us can make a buck grow more antler overnight. I should have trusted my instincts to know the smaller buck wasn’t what I was looking for. In one morning of scouting I had watched the 190″ buck with the smaller buck feed through a patch of trees. The smaller buck didn’t get much attention and he never impressed me. If he didn’t impress me then, what made me think that I would be impressed this time around?
2. The area I scouted in early July held plenty of bucks, in fact it would have probably been less of a challenge to find more than one in the 160 class. However, In July there were 2 on their way to 180 inch plus. I didn’t know these deer as well the one I went after, but most deer live in a 1.5-2 mile radius, even after the opening weekend shooting spree. The deer don’t leave the areas they summer in, they simply know the good hiding places. This doesn’t mean they stay in the same basin but find places where they aren’t as easily noticed. Sometimes this is a lower elevation with more cover. My desire as a trophy mule deer hunter is to find the hiding places of the big deer, not to spend my hunting season looking for the small ones in hope they miraculously got bigger.
3. The reason I didn’t pursue the bigger deer I scouted was because the area is one of Wyoming’s more famous high country hot-spots. I don’t like to hunt pressured animals if I don’t have to. Hunting deer that were of the caliber I want, even if more pressured is always a better decision. They would have been a known quantity rather than speculation on size. A trophy mule deer hunter has to outsmart not only the bucks, but the other hunters as well. I should have dealt with the pressured deer and hunted the big bucks I knew were there.
4. Closer look bucks are better watched during the summer when scouting is the sole purpose of the trip. However, a BIG buck is a BIG buck and they rarely need second looks. When an buck doesn’t make you say wow on the first look, he probably won’t do it later.