Unexpected Encounters; My 2012 High Country Archery Mulie by Rebecca Francis
It was just a few moments away from darkness and I had been stalking a high country mulie for almost two hours. I couldn’t let this opportunity get away. I knew I had to act quickly or my chance would be gone forever. I was so lost in the moment that I didn’t even take the time to absorb how beautiful this old buck was. I knew he was a four point. I knew he had great brow tines. I knew he was in velvet. But what I didn’t know, was the caliber of deer I was standing 40 yards from.
Four days earlier, my husband and I had made a five hour horse ride into the high Wyoming mountains. Archery season was about to begin and we both had over the counter tags for deer and elk. We knew we would see both deer and elk, but I was focusing mainly on elk because I really wanted to take a mature bull with my bow.
We found a herd of elk almost immediately. The herd bull was incredible and he had about four satellite bulls and 15 cows in his harem. He was not bugling that much, but enough that we could easily locate him. We tried to call back to him but he would not respond. I decided I better move in. I was able to get within about 100 yards of them, but not any closer before it got too dark. We put them to bed and decided to try again in the morning.
- Bull Elk we hunted
The next day we spent all day working these elk. We watched them feed all morning, then bed down for the day. We knew the trail they would return for water on, so we set up just below the trail and watched them all day. The magnificent bull bugled periodically and chased around his cows every little bit. That evening they finally began working toward us on the trail where we were sitting. My heart was pounding and I just kept picturing this bull walking right in front of me. As the first cows neared us, they knew something was wrong. The lead cow started licking the air with her tongue and looking all around. She cocked each ear in a different direction then carefully lifted one foot and gently placed it down. She wanted to keep going but it didn’t take long for her to let out her tattling bleat and they all took off.
On the third day we searched everywhere for more elk and any deer, but it looked like our luck had turned. We decided to move camp and try a different canyon. After glassing all day, we finally spotted a herd of elk further up our canyon. We put them to bed and made a plan for the following morning. As darkness fell the bulls were bugling louder and louder as they neared our camp. We couldn’t get to sleep because there were bulls screaming all around us. We were totally pumped right up until sometime in the early hours of the morning, the bugles abruptly stopped. We figured they had scented our camp and took off. We were wrong.
The eery howl of a wolf close by told us exactly what happened to the elk. Then there was another howl on the other side of us. Then another. The pack of wolves had surrounded our camp and they carried on howling for quite some time. We knew our elk hunt was over.
The next morning we decided to hike up the ridge with the hope that there was still a chance the elk hadn’t left. We had been hiking for almost an hour when we heard something running below us, right up the same trail where we had just come. We stopped to listen. It sounded like it could be a deer or elk coming our way so I nocked an arrow just in case. But the sound wasn’t quite right. I could hear what sounded like panting. My head turned as I spotted movement about 10 yards to the side of me. It was a big grey wolf. I couldn’t believe how much he resembled my malamute dog, only the wolf was much much bigger.
It was such a weird experience for me, because I had seen many wolves in the mountains and never felt uneasy. Yet this time, he was right in front of us, and the only weapon we had was my bow. As he trotted off, I looked around wondering where the rest of the pack was. It was the first time I had ever perceived wolves as a danger.
We hiked further up to an opening where we were hoping to spot the pack. We couldn’t see anything. No elk. No deer. No wolves. It was so quiet. We sat there for awhile glassing and feeling defeated because the wolves had ruined our hunt. Just then it sounded like all hell was about to break loose. Not far from us, the pack of wolves started howling all together and began chasing something. They were headed our way so we set up the camera hoping to get National Geographic footage of a wolf pack chasing an elk. The fury of commotion was coming closer and closer, but just before they hit the ridge where they would come into view, they turned downhill. We listened to the pack chasing it’s prey up and down and across the canyons. The pack finally closed in and caught their victim. We thought the show was over, but it was not. We sat there for another hour listening to the captured animal squeal and bawl and carry on. I was literally shocked at how long it took those wolves to put that animal out of it’s misery. I knew that wolves will eat an animal while it’s still alive, but I never dreamed it would last that long.
We were pretty somber after that graphic display of mother nature in action. Yet it was a pretty incredible morning considering all we did was sit back and watch the scene play out. It was getting late in the day and if we wanted to hunt that evening we had to get going.
We packed up camp again and moved several canyons over. After quickly setting up our tent we headed down the hill to begin glassing. We weren’t seeing anything, but could hear elk bugling over the next ridge. We decided we better check it out. As we were about to cross a large sage brush opening I caught movement just below me. All I saw was velvet covered antlers and I immediately dropped to the ground. I turned carefully and motioned to Lee that I was going after him. I wasn’t sure how I could make this stalk, because there was absolutely no cover between me and the buck. The wind was blowing at a very steady uphill direction so I slowly started moving down. Each time the buck lowered it’s head to feed, I inched my way closer.
All that was going through my head at this point was that this would never ever work because both the buck and me were right out in the open. He was well over a hundred yards away from me and I knew I had to close some major distance in order to arrow him. As he jerked his head up and stared me down, I froze in position. My awkward stance quickly became painful as I waited for him to relax and go back to feeding.
Lee was in a perfect position to watch all of this unfold and capture everything on video. Unfortunately the battery to our camera was dead. I wasn’t to worried however, because I had a go pro mounted to my bow that I could turn on just before the shot. I had plenty of time to think through every scenario as I took a step then froze in place, took another step then froze again. The buck was feeding away from me, but I continued to work my way toward him unwilling to give up until he spooked. He was a beautiful bronze color that glistened in the sun as it slowly began setting.
I was getting chilled each time I had to stop and wait for the buck to relax and go back to eating. I had an arrow nocked and I reached down and flipped the go pro on so all I had to do was press record when the time was right. I completely forgot that Lee was on the hill above watching me. I didn’t care that dark was nearing. I purposely avoided looking too closely at the antlers so I could stave off buck fever. I was totally lost in the moment.
As I approached forty yards I decided it was time. I hit record on the go pro and slowly drew back right out in the open. My fear of getting caught was quickly realized when the buck jerked his head up and pinned me. I tried to take aim behind his shoulder but all I could see was his face staring right at me. I didn’t move. I knew I couldn’t make the shot, and I figured the game was over, but I held in place full of wishful thinking. Still at full draw, my arms began to shake and I knew I couldn’t hold much longer. I held my breath and silently pleaded with the deer to lower his head. After what seemed like an eternity, but was really only a couple of minutes I was shocked to see the buck go back to feeding. I let down my bow totally relieved, my muscles cramped, and my heart still pounding. But time was up.
With only a few moments of legal light left, I quickly took two big steps forward so I could see his body, and without hesitation drew back, held my breath, and released my arrow. He bolted straight downhill at a full run. I marked the area where I last saw the deer and started looking for blood. By the time Lee reached me it was completely dark with no blood to be found. We decided to head back to the tent and come back at first light. Lee was so excited. He kept saying what a great buck it was because he got to watch it the entire time. I disagreed. I knew it was a decent buck but didn’t allow myself to really study his frame for fear I would get too excited. All night long we tossed and turned waiting for light to come so we could find my buck.
The next morning we retraced our steps back to the place I shot. We quickly found blood and began to follow it. It wasn’t long before I spotted a black bear on a dead run straight away from us. I was never so excited to see a bear becauseI knew that the deer must be close. Sure enough we spotted the buck just below us with his entire abdominal cavity eaten away.
- Eaten by a bear during the night
As we approached the buck I could see what a dandy he really was. I jumped into Lee’s arms so excited knowing it was my biggest archery deer kill to date! It ended up grossing 191 and was 28 inches wide. We had beautiful weather, ran into elk, came face to face with a wolf, spooked a black bear, and killed a great deer, what more could you ask for!
- 191 gross 189 1/8 net
*I couldn’t wait to get home and watch the go pro video of the shot on my buck. I was so disappointed when I realized that in all the excitement I had some how hit the picture mode instead of the video mode on the go pro. All I had were two pictures of the ground.
- Hauling out