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My obsession for hunting mule deer began three years ago when Eric Pawlak of Cabela's T.A.G.S. applied me in Arizona. I was fortunate enough to draw the tag even though it was the first year I had applied. Eric then referred me to an outfitter and assured me he was one of the best outfitters in Arizona. After one conversation, I knew Eric had it right. After five days of passing up respectable deer, we harvested one scoring 194 B&C nontypical.
Jump ahead three years. This year, I was lucky enough to obtain a Governor's mule deer tag for Arizona. Because of the great experience I had with my last mule deer hunt, I booked with the same outfitter and called to request Matt and Bryon to be my guides.
On June 21, about six weeks before my hunt, Matt and Bryon headed out to start scouting for my deer. On the evening of July 21, a month after they began their search, Matt and Bryon climbed to the top of a mountain to glass. The sun had gone down and it was almost dark when they found my buck. The next morning, they called to describe the deer to me. All they could talk about was the mass and the width of this animal. They told me this buck was probably 40 inches wide and that his mass was bigger then anything they had ever seen. I immediately made plans to go for the buck. I joined Matt and Bryon on Aug. 1. I could tell they were worn out from lack of sleep and from the long hikes up the mountain every morning to glass for our deer. Yet they were still eager to wake up at 2:30 the next morning to go look for the big buck. They told me they had not been able to locate the deer for several days. On Aug. 4, another guide, Blake, showed up to help out.
The chances of finding him seemed slim. Then on Aug. 6, Bryon spotted the deer at daybreak! He kept his binoculars on him for several hours until the enormous buck bedded down in a thick bunch of juniper trees and sagebrush. Bryon said it looked like the biggest rack he had ever seen on a live deer. Matt and I immediately began our stalk, while Bryon and Blake sat glued to their binoculars on a high mountain so they could alert us if the big buck moved. Matt carefully guided us to within 200 yards of where the deer had bedded down. We crouched behind a dead log to wait.
Bryon signaled down to confirm that the deer was still bedded. The hot sun beat down relentlessly on our heads. Neither of us moved a muscle. We breathed quietly. We knew the slightest misstep on a buck of this caliber would mean never seeing it again.
In the excessive heat with no cover, time crawled. Our muscles ached from the cramped positions we were holding, but we were determined not to move. The temperature had to be close to 100 degrees. As the sun finally began to sink behind the mountain, Bryon signaled again to assure us that the buck was still bedded. Bryon and Blake had now been staring through the binoculars for 12 straight hours. I thought it would be only minutes until the buck left his bed to look for feed. The minutes continued to slip away into the dusty, dry evening, yet the buck still didn't move.
It was almost fully dark when I realized that this buck was much smarter than I had ever believed possible. This animal of the wild had learned over the years when it was safe to move. As we sat there and waited, darkness settled in and our hopes lessened with every passing moment. Finally, when shooting light was over, Matt and I looked at each other and accepted the painful fact that the buck had won the battle. We were learning firsthand just why he had grown to the incredible size we thought he was. We quietly slipped out of our hiding places and crept away.
That evening Bryon's son Clancy arrived at camp to help us hunt this deer. That night I lay in bed, restless. We were all hoping we could locate the deer again, but it was possible that this wily old buck might just be too smart for us.
We arose at 2:30, and early dawn found us all in position again. As the sun rose over the mountain and cast its golden light across the area where we had last seen our buck, we saw nothing. We spent hours looking for that buck, but he had vanished. We retreated to our camp for the afternoon and returned that evening. Again, we glassed the entire area but we saw nothing of our monster buck.
Thoughts of returning home empty-handed flooded my brain. Everybody tried to keep my hopes up, but I was sinking low. That night, as we lay in camp making battle plans for the next morning, I saw the biggest shooting star I have ever seen. This meteorite was so huge and bright that it lit up the entire night sky as it streaked across the valley. As it passed overhead, we were all astounded by its brilliance and size. Then it suddenly exploded into four other shooting stars right in front of our eyes! We looked at each other, thinking, "This is a sign! Tomorrow we're going to find that buck again!"
Again, at 2:30 the next morning, we were in the area where we had last seen our buck. Within an hour, an excited Bryon said he had sighted him. I thought, "The shooting star!" We kept our eyes glued to the binoculars. After an hour or so, we saw him bed down about 60 yards from the top of a small hill about a mile away.
Matt and I cautiously began to move toward the hill. When we were within 1,000 yards of the deer, it became evident that the buck had cannily chosen a very thick bunch of brush and juniper trees in which to bed down. The buck had perfectly positioned himself so that the wind was blowing from the bottom of the hill up to him. This meant that the only way to get to him would be to come over the back of the hill, leaving us only about 60 yards from the bedded buck.
It was now 8 o'clock. We left our packs in the shade under a tree. We knew how close we had to get to this deer and we didn't want our packs getting in the way. We drank as much water as our stomachs would hold and we each took one small water bottle for the hike.
Every time I took a step, I could hear the sound of crackling dirt and twigs beneath my boots. It seemed almost impossible to make a silent footstep. The closer we got to the top of the hill, the more slowly we moved. After a couple of hours of inching our way across the rocky ground, we stopped. Matt took a stick and carved the number 200 in the ground, indicating that we were approximately 200 yards from the deer.
Quiet as shadows, we inched our way up the hill. Sweat ran in my eyes and my tongue was parched from the heat as we painstakingly crawled up the hill, picking up twigs and leaves and moving them quietly out of our way. Each movement was calculated and precise. When we were almost at the top, Matt carved the number 100 in the ground. Only 40 yards to go and we would be at the top of the hill, hopefully looking down on the buck.
It took us an hour to cover the next 20 yards as we cautiously chose each movement. Matt carved the number 80 in the ground. We continued up the hill with small, precise movements, making absolutely sure not to make a sound.
At 1 o'clock, we reached the top of the hill. We very slowly peered over the top, but there was no sign of the buck. He had positioned himself behind a juniper tree, which was blocking our view of him. To the left and right, thick brush grew with hardly a shooting lane anywhere.
Matt and I found a spot to set up for a shot. In the entire area, there was just one narrow lane, about 4 feet wide and just to the left of the juniper tree that shielded our buck. The lane extended several hundred yards down the hill and would provide the shot I needed - if he moved in that direction. If the buck moved in any direction other than toward the narrow lane, I would lose him again. There was no shade for Matt and I anywhere, and we were forced to sit in the broiling sun.
Twenty minutes later, Bryon signaled down indicating the buck was up! Matt and I looked frantically, but we couldn't see him. Then, suddenly, the buck's antlers appeared above the brush, bobbing up and down as he walked away through the thick cover.
I was shocked at the size of his rack. I had never seen anything like it before. Adrenaline and excitement surged through my whole body. I thought, "That rack must be over 250 inches!" I prayed he would move into the small shooting lane so I could get a shot, but he didn't. Instead, he bedded down again about 75 yards farther away. Matt and I quietly sat down again. Images of that giant rack floated in my mind's eye. I tried to collect my thoughts and calm myself. We sat there with the sun pounding on us.
Over the course of the next three hours, Bryon signaled as the deer got up and bedded several times without ever stepping into our shooting lane. Each time, the big buck went a little farther away until he was about 175 yards from where we were hiding. Then, at 5 o'clock, Bryon signaled that the buck had just gotten up and was headed right for us.
Matt told me to get ready. I held my gun on my shooting sticks as steady as I could and aimed into the shooting lane. A second later, the buck stepped into the narrow lane. The huge buck, as if he had sensed the danger, moved almost too fast to get off a kill shot, but Matt quickly made a doe call. The monster buck stopped for a half a heartbeat. He looked right at us, and in that instant I knew I would either bring him down or I would never see him again. I could see his muscles tense as he prepared to make his leap to freedom and in that split second, I squeezed the trigger. The impact from my 7mm Ultra Mag. was visible. I had shot him just in back of his shoulder, but even so the great buck made a 50-yard run before crashing into a juniper tree. As we walked toward him, his antlers loomed large and then larger. Bryon, Blake and Clancy came down from the mountain and together we enjoyed this moment of success as the sun set behind the mountains. A master measurer from Safari Club International measured the buck's rack at 41.5 inches wide with just over 50 inches of mass. His 4x3 frame scored an impressive 200 inches. The gross score was measured at 268 inches. After the two-month dry-out period and a mandatory 2% reduction for the velvet, this buck should be 262 inches. That score should put this buck in the SCI top 10 for nontypical mule deer.
Hunting with Matt, Bryon, Blake and Clancy is what made the experience so great. I would like to thank them for helping me get the buck of my dreams.
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