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"I don't think I'm going to make it Scott, You're going to have to carry me out of here!," I whispered to my guide. We had stalked to within about 40 yards of a beautiful 4x4 muley and my nerves were shot. I tried to range several objects in the shooting lane the buck was sure to move through but my hands shook so badly the rangefinder wouldn't measure any object other than a quakey aspen right in front of me. I tried to breathe deep and slow and wait for the buck to come...
My three year streak of good luck started when Eric Pawlak of Cabela's T.A.G.S. called me with the results of the '06 Arizona draw. "You finally drew Vince." Like so many hunters I'd dreamed of bow hunting monster bull elk in that state and after several years of being declined I was finally going. My work schedule and family life really limit the time I can hunt and scout so Eric booked me with the outfitter he thought best for the tag I'd drawn.
I had almost no sleep my first night in camp which is typical when I'm pumped to hunt the next day. My first day didn't disappoint me. My guide Matt and I stalked, and called in several bulls, but no shooters. I did see several bulls fighting and about 20 bulls in the 280 to 310 class the first morning alone. We hunted hard and stayed out all day. Heading back to camp that night, I had a great feeling this was going to be a special trip.
The rut was going full bore and my second night's sleep was no better than the first, thanks to a bull that bugled all night long just outside my tent as he walked a nearby fenceline. As I tossed and turned I wondered if I should shoot him first thing in the morning as punishment. Fortunately for him, he had cleared out by then.
The second day Matt and I got in the middle of a couple of herd bulls with big harems and several satellite bulls. There was no way to approach the herd bulls, but one satellite bull was responding every time we bugled or cow called. He just wouldn't come in so we kept cow calling and closing the distance. Setting up first at about 150 yards, then at 80, and finally when we set up about 50 yards from the bull and called we heard him crashing through the brush toward us.
When he rounded the last spruce, I knew he was the biggest bull I'd seen alive. My adrenaline was sky high as the bruiser 6x6 came into 5 yards facing right at me and let out a blood-curdling bugle. Boy they are loud that close. A straight on shot wouldn't work for me, but the bull soon turned and started to angle away from me as I drew. With my frazzled nerves I didn't even try to stop the bull and released the arrow without compensating for his speed. The shot was high and back, but it slid across his spine and severed enough arteries to get the job done. To be safe, we gave him four hours before we picked up the trail. We found him about 200 yards from the shot. What a thrill!! A beautiful 6x6 with 52" main beams, huge 17" brow tines and a curving whale fin on his right beam. He grossed 360" and netted 327" Pope and Young. My first animal to make the book! What still amazes me is that he was a satellite bull grossing 360. That's a huge herd bull almost anywhere else - proof that Arizona elk hunting is everything I dreamed it would be. I thought he was the bull of a lifetime and that it was unlikely a bigger bull would ever be in my future. Fortunately I was wrong.
The elk-draw mojo continued the next year when I got a similar call from Cabela's T.A.G.S. This time I had drawn a coveted Wyoming tag, and booked again with their best outfitter. I couldn't wait to chase my favorite big game animal.
Arriving for my hunt in Wyoming, I thought I'd be camping in a tent. As it turned out, I felt totally unworthy because "camp" was a beautiful comfortable cabin with all the amenities. In fact, it was the least "roughing it" I'd ever done on a hunt. I saw several elk, mule deer and whitetail on the drive in and couldn't wait to get started the next day.
My guide AJ woke me early the next morning and said we would be taking horses to get to a ridge he thought we should check out. It was my first time hunting on horseback and that was a real treat. I saw more elk that first day than I had ever seen in one place. We looked over a lot of bulls, but none were quite what we were looking for. Back at the lodge we had a great meal and I hit the sack confident that we'd see bigger bulls the next day. The next day we went to a ridge right at the edge of the foothills to glass it at the first hint of light. Another guide had seen a good bull in the general area the day before and we wanted to get a look.
When the horizon was turning from black to purple I spotted a set of huge horns cresting the ridge. The bull was right on top feeding and getting ready to bed down. AJ immediately said he was a definite shooter and we began our stalk. The bull had positioned himself at the top of the ridge right where it dropped off and turned into rolling foothills. It looked like a spot where a big muley would bed. He could see forever and was unapproachable from the bottom. He wisely had the wind moving straight up his back, so he could smell anything approaching from behind. Thankfully, the rocks, scrub and contours in the ground allowed us to flank him. We made sure we could not see his eyes and confirmed his position several times, which was easy to do with those "flag poles" on top of his head. When the stalk started, I thought there was no way it could be that easy. As we closed the distance my adrenaline was climbing sky high as it looked like it really might work.
At 50 yards, we peeked over a rock and could see his horns. I set up the 300 Win Mag and AJ started cow calling to get him to stand. He was reluctant to believe there was a hot cow out there in late October, and we called 12 or 15 times before he stood. When he did the only part of his vitals exposed was the spine, where I placed the shot. He dropped right there and we started celebrating.
What a blessing! Two great elk tags drawn and two trophy bulls down. I thought my Arizona bull couldn't be topped, but it was. My bull was a beautiful 7x8 with a kicker on his left beam mostly broken off. His main beams were both over 53 inches and his G4's were just over 24 inches. He had greater mass than my Arizona bull and his left main beam flattened to a blade behind his G7. He was just shy of the Boone & Crocket minimum. But he scored 377 SCI. That was my second once-in-alifetime bull and I was feeling pretty lucky.
I had been building preference points in Colorado to gun hunt mule deer for five years but the game unit I was trying to draw required 13. After hunting elk for 14 years, both guided and DIY, I had seen a lot of mule deer but had never hunted them. I really didn't want to wait another 8 years to hunt in Colorado, so I changed it to archery and drew right away. As he has for several years Eric Pawlak helped me locate a great place to hunt with a great guide. I would be hunting a big private ranch in the best mule deer unit of Colorado. One of the ranch owners, Scott, would be my guide. He knew every inch of the area, which was a huge help.
The first three days of the hunt were amazing. I've never seen so many Muley bucks. The does seemed to be at lower elevations leaving the higher country to the boys. We glassed at least 40 bucks and tried to stalk two of them before closing the deal on the third. The first was a beautiful 4x4 with 3 smaller bucks but they bedded in an area that was unapproachable so we backed out. The second buck was a heavy, wide 4x4 with some palmation on his back left fork. This buck was bedded on a knob with a few smaller bucks and a couple of does. The wind wasn't ideal, shifting every few seconds and driving at least 30 mph, but this buck was worth a try. We guessed he started at 185 inches and went up from there.
We circled around the down wind side of the knob but bumped a doe close to where we thought the buck was. She slowly moved off, not badly spooked, and we continued closing the distance. A few steps later, the driving wind shifted 180 degrees, moving straight from us to the bucks direction. He jumped up and into a small clearing ahead of us. He was about 60 yards out and on full alert. I couldn't risk a shot with the distance and high wind. It was a moot point anyway as the buck trotted off in a few seconds intolerant of our odor.
On the afternoon of day three, things really came together, as we spotted a great deer. I only needed to glass him for a second to decide he looked good to me. Scott and I started our stalk but didn't have the exact location of the buck as he was moving slowly and feeding. We spotted the buck through cover at about 100 yards facing away and feeding. We closed the distance and the wind stayed perfect. We positioned ourselves slightly ahead of the buck and had a fairly tight uphill shooting lane. My nerves were getting worse and worse. This takes us back to the start of the story.
My nerves were so bad I was really turning to mush. I kept breathing deep, trying to calm down. I could just catch glimpses of the buck as he fed just to the left of the shooting lane. Suddenly a buck stepped thru the shooting lane. For a second my heart sank, but I realized it was a smaller buck we hadn't seen. He was a 3x3 that needed a little more time. Another buck came thru right after him that we hadn't seen either.
My buck started feeding down hill right toward us. Because I couldn't range anything past the quakey. I'd have to guess, and mountain terrain plays havoc with my distance judgment. The buck stepped into the lane at what I guessed was 30 yards. My nerves calmed right as I drew and aimed. The arrow hit a few inches high, and the buck ran off. Darkness was setting in and we couldn't find a blood trail, so we backed out and came back the next morning. It took some time to find him but my guide spotted him in a surprisingly open area not far from a pond. It was my first muley and my first buck in velvet. He had beautiful, long tines with exceptional G4's over 14 inches. He grossed over 163 inches Pope & Young. What a thrill to spot and stalk such a majestic animal in God's Country. I'm so pumped for next year. Hopefully I can draw a tag.
I want to thank God for my patient and understanding wife , Eimile, who supports my passion for hunting. I want to thank my children, Gillian, Liam, Aidan and Sean for letting me re-live the wide-eyed wonder of the outdoors as I take them with me afield. Finally, thanks to my Dad for taking my brother and I hunting and igniting a love for the outdoors I still carry today.
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