My greatest passion in life is to hunt and bring home a trophy. My second-greatest passion in life is to hunt and not bring home a trophy. Bottom line - I love to hunt. Because I run my own business, I can't keep up with all the newest and hottest hunting areas. However, I have an ace up my sleeve. I call them my secret agents. They devote their lives to making things easy for busy guys like me to get to the hottest spots with the hottest guides. They're the good people of Cabela's T.A.G.S.
I had seen pictures of big, high mountain mule deer, and I wanted one. What big-game hunter doesn't - right? Cabela's T.A.G.S. suggested that I apply in Arizona, home to some of the biggest mule deer in the country. I was fortunate enough to draw the first time out. Just unreal. Cabela's T.A.G.S. immediately hooked me up with the best guide, in the awesome area I had drawn, and got me set up on a five-day, 1X1 hunt. I brought along my buddy Aaron, an ardent hunter who would help us glass.
The first day of my hunt, Aaron, my guide Matt Schimberg and I glassed some of the finest country I had ever laid eyes on. We were situated before dawn and watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. It was absolutely beautiful. Shortly after sunrise we were glassing deer in the 150 to 160 B&C class, but I was holding out for something better. We glassed up more than 30 deer that morning. Matt assured me there were bigger deer in the area, and he told me to be patient. When evening came, we were back on the glass, seeing just as many deer as we did that morning, yet still not the trophy for which I had come all the way to Arizona.
Day two was even more beautiful. Steam was coming off the junipers and evaporating into the golden sun. Deer were popping up everywhere, and it was all I could do to restrain myself from shooting a 160-class deer. I wanted something closer to 200 inches, but something comes over me when I'm on the hunt, and it's hard for me to exercise restraint when I'm looking at a good deer. If it weren't for the constant reassurance from Matt that we could find a bigger deer, I probably would have ended it much earlier.
On the morning of day three I was getting anxious. I felt my time slipping away, and I was worried that I would be feasting on TAG soup instead of tasty venison. We were still glassing up lots of deer, but no monsters. That evening Matt glassed up a nice 170-inch buck. He was beautiful, and because I was becoming inpatient, I suggested to Matt that I take him. Matt said, "Just be patient Pax. There are bigger deer out here."
On the evening of day four, Matt glassed up another 170. I told him that I thought we should consider taking this animal, as time was running out, but once again Matt suggested we wait. I thought to myself, "This guy must have nerves of steel. Here we are on the second to last day and he is telling me to pass on a respectable deer."
Day five, my last and final day! I was beginning to really regret not taking yesterday's big deer, when in the morning, Matt managed to find a 180-inch deer that was close to 30 inches wide! My heart started to race the way it always does when a true trophy crosses my path. I wanted to harvest that animal, but believe it or not, both Matt and Aaron reminded me that I was not just there to hunt, but to hunt a trophy. I again thought to myself, "These guys must really have nerves of steel. Don't they realize this is the last day?" It was insane, but I elected to pass.
That evening we all got into final position, but hope was fading on pace with the remaining daylight. I was wishing I had taken the beautiful 180-inch deer earlier that morning. If nothing else, this area was the most beautiful of any hunt I had ever been on. The beauty was raw and rugged. I could see why it held big deer. I sat on the glass with Aaron and Matt for about an hour. Time was running out on my hunt, and with every minute I regretted more and more not taking that big buck of yesterday. We saw lots of does and small bucks, but still no monster. I panned the binoculars on my tripod over a beautiful meadow about three quarters of a mile away where there were 15 does and a bigger deer behind a juniper with his head down. I knew he was too big to be a doe. As he raised his head, I could only see the tip of one of his antlers, but I knew he was a great animal! My heart started to race, and I whispered to Matt and Aaron that I might have found what we were looking for. We all trained our glasses on him, but he refused to come out. After watching him for about two more minutes, he finally raised his head just enough, and I felt the wind leave my lungs as my heart gave a lurch. He was magnificent. I was looking at a deer that was close to 200 inches! He had a 180-inch frame with close to 20 inches of trash sticking out. Matt whispered, "Okay, Pax, this is what you came for."
The sun was starting to set, and there were three quarters of a mile yet to be negotiated without spooking the deer. Fortunately, the wind was in our faces. We hiked quickly down a ridge and into a basin where we could stalk toward the animal without being seen. When we estimated we were about 300 yards from the deer, we started to make our way out of the basin and up onto higher ground where I could get a shot, but when we finally got to the top, we found that the setting sun was right in our eyes making it impossible to see the deer! We weren't even sure if he was still there. We crawled back down into the small basin and decided that we would wait until the sun had sunk below the horizon.
To leave that deer and just sit and wait was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It felt like an eternity, and of course, I was fearful that when we went back up he would be gone. Besides that, there was only 15 minutes of legal shooting light left. It was like a ticking time bomb. Then during the horrifying wait, I noticed that I had forgotten my shooting sticks - unbelievable! There was nothing to rest my gun on for what promised to be a long shot - if there was even any shot at all, that is. I realized I had to focus and be positive; I just had to believe. We quickly decided, that to help steady the gun, I would shoot off of Matt's backpack. When the sun finally set, we inched our way back up and, yes, there he was, still grazing! He was just outside 300 yards. Matt eased his pack into position in front of me and I gently rested the gun across it. I steadied myself for the shot. I took a deep breath, slowly let it out, saw my sights waver over the spot just in back of his shoulder, steadied and then slowly squeezed the trigger. The shot was true to its mark, and the deer dropped, hard.
The deer grossed 194 B&C. My dream had come true. Matt and Aaron's nerves of steel had paid off. Thanks guys.
Also, many thanks to Cabela's T.A.G.S. Without their expertise, this memory of a lifetime would not exist. Their finger was on the pulse of the hot area and the hot guide, and that is why I harvested that beautiful trophy that is, as I write this, on its way back to me from the taxidermist. The reason I will continue to rely on Cabela's T.A.G.S. for all my limited-entry hunting tags is that they are as passionate about what they do as I am about what I do.