X Marks the Spot
This was a hunt I will never remember. It all started 4 years ago when I found a monster 260" lion-killed buck while I was shed hunting in Southern Utah. He had 8 points on one side, 10 on the other, double drop tines, 38" outside spread, over 50" of mass. I mean he had it all. This was my dream buck and I just knew I had to have him.
I joined the dedicated hunter program, which lets me hunt during the archery, muzzleloader and rifle seasons, and spent the rest of that summer and fall looking for him. But I never found a single track. I scoured the hills the next spring hoping to find his sheds, but, again, I was disappointed and never found them. However, I am not one to give up easily and visions of this monster buck haunted my dreams and most of my waking moments, especially when I looked at his rack mounted on the wall in my bedroom every day. I was becoming obsessed with this buck and dedicated almost every free minute for the next two years trying to outwit him one more time. No other buck would do.
After spending three complete hunting seasons searching unsuccessfully for this wily old buck, and passing up several other monstrous bucks during that time that would have easily scored over 200" (including one that I am pretty sure would be the new typical world record), my hopes began to fade and I had to come to grips with the reality that I would probably never find him.
And then one crisp morning with traces of snow still on the ground from a recent storm, my luck changed.
I had decided to try an area I hadn't visited in quite some time. As I got out of my 2007 Chevy Silverado Heavy Duty Truck with the Duramax 6600 V-8 Diesel delivering 360 Horsepower of driving pleasure, I felt a tingle run down my back and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. There was something in the air, and I had a feeling that today might be the day. I slipped my Swarovski EL 10x42 Binoculars with their patented Swarobright coatings over my neck, strapped on my Badlands 2200 Backpack with Molded Foam Suspension, Full Hydration Capabilities and an Unconditional Lifetime Warranty, picked up my Bogen 3050 Tripod with Individual Leg Release Levers topped with a Grip Action Ballhead carrying my Zeiss Diascope 65 T* FL 2.6"/65mm Waterproof & Fogproof Spotting Scope with 45-Degree Angled 15-45x Wide Angle Zoom Eyepiece and headed up the well-worn trail.
After hiking for what seemed liked an eternity and not finding anything, I finally came to a nice place to take a break and set up my optics for some serious glassing. A quick scan of the available terrain with my binoculars didn't yield anything, so I created a mental grid and made a more thorough pass. When that still didn't produce anything, I switched to my high-powered spotting scope and repeated the process. My piercing gaze studied every bush and rock and nook and cranny in the rugged canyon for anything that seemed even slightly out of place until my eyes began to water. Finally, I had to take a break to give my eyes a rest and answer mother nature's call.
As I was pondering nature and life and the eternities during that moment of unbroken solitude surrounded by unmatched beauty, I felt a tingling sensation on the back of my neck again. But, instead of going straight down my spine, it veered off a little bit and started to work its way around the side of my neck. I raised my hand up to my neck and felt the unmistakable legs of a creepy spider. Yeeeeeeyuuuck! With one quick stroke of my hand, I immediately crushed the devilish arachnid and smeared what was left of him across my neck as I drew my hand forward and wiped it disgustedly on my pant legs. Dang, I hate spiders! Gross. I shivered involuntarily a few times, quickly put myself back together and returned to the task at hand.
I sat down again with a renewed determination and almost immediately something caught my eye as I looked through the eyepiece of my scope. Could it be? Yes! It was the tip of an antler protruding from a sagebrush on the edge of a shady patch below a Juniper tree. My refusal to give up long after most others would have quit was starting to pay off. As I focused on the bush, I was slowly able to make out the end of two long tines with a healthy cheater point coming off of one of them. My best guess was that it was the right, front fork a giant buck, but I couldn't be for sure based on the partial view I had. I had to get a better look.
I continued to watch closely for several minutes, trying to formulate a plan of attack. I was hesitant to take my eyes off of the fragment of the antler I could see for fear I wouldn't be able to find it again. I knew I had to do something fairly quickly because the sun was starting to begin its descent towards the western horizon and the shifting shadows would soon swallow up what little of the protruding antler was currently visible. I estimated the distance to be just over 300 yards away, but I would have to get much closer before I would be able to see much more of the antler and determine what I was really dealing with. Finally, I decided the best thing to do was make a direct stalk on it. I took off my hiking boots and slipped on an extra pair of wool socks. I looked through the scope one last time to make sure he was still there and then looked all around me to make sure there weren't any other animals or people around that might spoil things. Satisfied that the conditions were as good as they were going to get, I began my approach.
I slowly worked my way down the hill and through the sagebrush field, stopping occasionally to glass and confirm that the old monarch was still there. Everything was going perfectly and, before I knew it, I had closed the distance to a mere 40 yards. By shifting slightly off to the side I was able to see around the bush just enough to confirm that I had indeed been looking at the huge front forks of a giant rack…and the backs were just as impressive! Holy cow! His back fork had an inline cheater on each side of the fork, plus another cheater off to the side and what looked like a drop tine to boot. This was absolutely incredible. With six inline tines, plus the two stickers and drop tine, he had nine points and I couldn't even see if he had eyeguards or not. And talk about length! Oh my gosh!
My heart was racing so fast now, I have to admit I probably wasn't thinking very clearly at this point. It seemed like everything was falling into place and nothing would stop me from obtaining my prize.
And then the squirrel appeared.
Apparently, the squirrel had been in the Juniper tree behind the sagebrush watching my approach all this time. Right about this point, he decided to get territorial and scampered down the tree and started to chatter like the world was ending. He knew I was there. He didn't like that fact. And, he was letting the entire world know about it as loudly as he could. Dang those squirrels! I hate them, too! Squirrels and spiders! The bane of my existence.
Fearing that he would ruin everything, I froze. And waited. And waited. After what seemed like an eternity, he gave one final, angry shout, turned around, flipped his tail at me and scampered off. I continued to wait for a few minutes, amazed that the giant antlers hadn't moved an inch during this entire episode. When I figured the coast was clear I continued my stealthy stalk until I was close enough to reach out and touch the massive rack. And so I did. I carefully reached down and picked up my prize. The biggest shed I had ever seen. Wow! What a beauty! I felt the adrenaline rushing through my veins and felt my knees start to shake. This was by far the best find of my entire life. After basking in the glory of this find, I decided to push my luck by trying to find the match to this incredible antler. It really must have been my lucky day, because after several hours of intense searching, I did indeed find the match not five yards from where I found the first one. At this point I was about ready to pass out. Both sides were almost mirrors of each other and they were both in perfect condition. I estimated a 40"+ outside spread and a score of close to 300". He made the buck I had hanging in my bedroom look like a mere giant. My passion for finding the lion kill was instantly replaced. I had a new fixation to focus on.
So that brings us to this year. Still feeling as lucky as a lottery winner after my incredible shed find, I put in for as many premium, limited entry hunting units as I could this spring. As the draw dates began to approach, I would anxiously check my mailbox each day for what I had been hoping for. It was mostly the usual stuff…Muley Crazy magazine, Eastman's Hunting Journal, letter from Doyle Moss, another offer to produce a hunting show, stuff like that. But one day I hit the jackpot. The envelope said Utah Wildlife Administrative Services. When I opened it, I found the beautiful letters SUCCESSFUL next to the best mule deer unit in the state. They only give out 5 tags for this unit each year, so the quality of bucks is incredible there. I couldn't believe my luck at drawing this tag with only 1 bonus point. Sorry to all of you guys that have been putting in forever and still can't draw a tag. Since I don't want to ruin the odds for the rest of you that are trying to draw a tag in this unit, I won't mention the name here. (But, if you're good with a map, I'll give you a hint where I was. Just find the place known as the "square" at the foot of the Red mountains, take the nearest exit and go right for about 10 miles. You can't miss it.)
This hunting unit was just above where I found my gigantic sheds, and I had a pretty good idea he might be spending his summers and falls there. I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be squandered, but things got really busy at work and home and I wasn't able to get out and scout until the day before my hunt started. Luckily, I got some good tips from some guys on a message board and I was feeling pretty confident as I set up my camp. I was planning to stay for the entire 9-day hunt, if necessary, and I was willing to eat my tag if I didn't find a buck that lived up to my standards.
Opening morning of the hunt found me perched on top of a ridge looking over a saddle that would naturally funnel deer from below as they were pushed by other hunters. I like to get away from the roads, so I had hiked back in as far as I could on my 4-wheeler. Confident that I was in the perfect location, I settled in to wait for the action.
It was a long morning. I guess 4 other tag holders don't create that much pressure to push the deer around. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I silently tiptoed through the dry, crunchy leaves, careful not to make any noise. Putting myself in the shoes of the quarry I was chasing, I slowly fed up the hill, keeping a constant lookout for any slight movement or twitch. It wasn't long before I detected a slight movement-or was it a twitch?-out of the corner of my eye.
In one fluid motion, I turned my head and brought my Remington 700 ADL .270 caliber rifle topped with a Leupold Golden Ring VX-III scope and loaded with 140 grain Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullets to my shoulder. I looked through the scope, but, instead of the big buck I was looking for, I saw another hunter across the canyon from me. As I was watching him through my scope to see if he would scare any bucks towards me, I saw him raise his rifle and point it right at me. That freaked me out, so I fired a warning shot over his head and then dove for cover.
I decided to find another place to hunt that wasn't so dangerous that afternoon. I started hiking in the pines straight up the steepest, nastiest hill I could find. 2 hours and 15 miles later I found myself looking over a low, sagebrush valley surrounded by beautiful, snow-capped peaks and alpine basins. I worked my way across the valley and up through the oak brush on the other side until I had a good view looking back down into the valley. I knew if I was patient, something good would happen.
I glassed until it was almost dark and saw 10-12 really nice bucks. There was one buck that was pushing 200", but the rest were all bigger so I focused on them. Although most hunters would have been happy with any one of these bucks, I've killed my share of monsters and I knew this area held some really big ones, so I was being really picky and passed on all of them.
Finally, just as the legal shooting time was almost over, I saw something that required a closer look. As I focused my Swarovski ATS 65 mm High Definition spotting scope on the sagebrush valley below, the massive buck of my dreams materialized out of nowhere. One look and I knew he was the one. There were too many points to count, but I quickly field-judged him at 302 3/8" non-typical with a 42 1/2" outside spread. I estimated he was almost 2,000 yards away and I knew I would have to hustle to get within range in the precious few minutes I had left. I quickly worked my way down a shale rockslide, across a ledge and around a brushy knob.
My Leica Rangemaster 1200 7x Roof Prism Laser Rangefinder showed the buck was now 592 yards away. There was a group of trees between me and the buck that would conceal me until I could get within 100 yards, but a quick glance at my watched revealed I only had 30 seconds of legal shooting time left. I firmly believe it's unethical to take any shot unless you're absolutely sure you will make a quick, clean kill (you owe it to the animal) and I wouldn't recommend this shot for most hunters, but I practice on the range every day for at least 4 hours at distances well beyond this, so I knew what my abilities were and I knew I could make this shot. With time running out, I found a good, solid rest and found the buck in my scope. He had a small red X just behind his shoulder. I centered my crosshairs on the X and squeezed off a shot just before my watch alarm went off, indicating the end of legal shooting hours.
The bullet raced along its trajectory and dropped the buck in his tracks. He was dead before the bullet even hit him. I walked up to this majestic buck and admired him, knowing he would be a buck I would never remember.
Finally, I just want to thank my wife and children for allowing me to pursue my passion. I know I'm never there for them, but they're the most important things in my life and I think about them all the time while I'm away from home enjoying time with my hunting buddies. Without their support, I know I wouldn't have been able to make this dream come true.