Being Drawn in Arizona's famous "Kaibab", arguably the most coveted Mule Deer tag in the world, my motto was "Book Buck or Bust". With the potential to bag a world-class deer, I vowed not to pull the trigger unless the Buck would make the Boone & Crocket Record Book.
On November 18th I signed up for the "Big Buck Contest" in Fredonia. I was warned to be careful pulling our 26' trailer into the Kaibab, because it had received 3' of snow in only 2 days back in October.
On opening morning, we went to an area that was way too crowded for recluse type hunters like us. I suggested that we try a more remote area that afternoon, even though it would require a grueling hike up and over the mountains. Everyone agreed.
The afternoon of opening day found my brother Steve, son Brandon & daughter's boyfriend, Jason, spread out, each of us dissecting a different spot. It wasn't long before I spotted a herd of deer feeding about 1 mile away. I saw a lot of does, but only a couple of smaller bucks in the herd. Being convinced that there had to be a dominant buck nearby to tend that many does, I scoured the area. I began picking apart the forest edge using my tripod-mounted binoculars. I was intently studying some deadfall certain that I was seeing what looked like a big buck through the branches. (It is amazing what can look like a deer if I stare long and hard enough!)
I detected a slight movement, so I continued my vigilance until I could make out the image of an antler, then a very large rack, then the very large buck those antlers were attached to. It was then that he gave himself away. He turned his head sideways and I clearly saw that he was the deer that I had come after.
Immediately, I told my son that I found "the deer" and was leaving to stalk him. He told me that he and his uncle were onto some big deer themselves. (I guess he figured "a bird in the hand"…) I explained that this was a very large deer and I thought he was a "Book Buck". I invited Jason to join me on the stalk hoping his inexperience wouldn't cause any trouble, since this was his first big game hunt.
I planned my route along a ravine, the curve of a hillside and finally the tree line to conceal my movements as I began my journey toward the deer.
Deer were all around me when I came out of the tree line for my final approach. There were deer feeding in front of us, some to our left and also to our right where I last saw the deer that I was stalking. We made the final approach crawling on our hands and knees. Jason stayed back knowing even with his limited experience that one person stood a better chance than two did to sneak up on the bedded buck. I crawled to some deadfall and decided that was as far as I could go undetected.
At one point 2 decent 3x3 bucks were feeding only about 100 yards away. Sitting there watching and waiting, doubt began to take over. What if the big buck had detected us coming and left for the next county? What if he is going to remain bedded down until after the sun sets? What if? What if?
With doubt of the big bucks whereabouts creeping into my mind, I offered Jason the option of trying his hand at one of the bucks. I believe that after seeing the deer that I was after, these "good looking" bucks didn't look so good anymore. I was glad he decided to pass up the opportunity. I didn't want anything to decrease my chances.
At 5:05pm, my waiting ended as the big buck stood up and walked out from behind the deadfall, giving me my first good opportunity to look at him. Not only did he have the size of rack I was after, he dwarfed the does around him. He had does on his mind and moved with purpose. I rested the rifle barrel on my knee as I sat there on the ground and pulled the trigger.
I hit him too far forward and broke his right front shoulder. He immediately went down. The other deer began to run in all directions. It didn't take long for the buck to get on 3 legs and try to join the rest of the herd. I responded by firing another round over the top of him. I had rushed the shot and hadn't taken careful aim. Taking a deep breath, I decided not to make the same mistake again. Squeezing off another round, the 160gr. 7mm Magnum found its mark and down he went. I never saw him move again, however Jason kept telling me "shoot, shoot, he's moving his head" Even though I couldn't see that, I didn't want to take any chances and shot him once more for "insurance".
Upon approaching my buck, I was overcome with a sense of awe feeling, you know, those feelings that only hunters know in appreciation for the deer, the hunt, the great outdoors and the personal satisfaction of a life long dream come true.
Soon, we were joined by my Son, Brandon and Brother, Steve. Brandon saw the drama unfold as he was watching through his binoculars. We didn't have a camera in the field and I wanted some pictures, so I didn't want to quarter him up. The task of carrying him out whole loomed before us. According to my GPS, we had to trek up and down the mountains for 1.6 miles as the crow flies to get him back to my truck. This is where you really gain an appreciation of your hunting buddies. We all knew what had to be done and with daylight fading, we began our journey. It took us 4 full hours to finally make it back to the truck.
Later we learned that my buck's rack did measure the largest in the "Big Buck Contest.
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