A Mule Deer Crazy Year
Oregon and Montana hunting, with a finish in Mexico with a monster deer.
Muleycrazy? Well, if like me, you catch yourself thinking about hunting monster bucks at some point of every day, then we both qualify as Muleycrazy! However, I think anyone who hunts hard and covers a lot of country with appreciate my 2007 hunting season.
It all started in August when long-time hunting partner, Scott Coe, called. He was excited to email me pictures of two bucks that he had located near his ranch in northeastern Oregon. After reviewing the emails that night, I knew the bucks were shooters and I could not wait to see them for myself. The next weekend we located the bucks and watched every move they made for several hours. During the next two months, many nights were spent visualizing the bucks through the scope.
As opening morning rolled around, we had not seen either of the bucks in over three weeks. There was an intense feeling in the air as Scott and I knew that relocating the bucks was no easy task. As the sun peaked over the hill, we headed out. However, we didn't make it 100 yards before getting a flat tire. Things were definitely not starting out in our favor. Fifteen minutes later, we were on the move again, arriving to our favorite glassing point shortly thereafter.
Our focus was on two specific bucks. In fact, at one point, we spotted a pair of 180 class bucks feeding 1,000 yards behind us and once we realized they were not our bucks, we did not glass them again. All we could focus on was finding our bucks. After an hour of intense glassing we were getting frustrated as all we could come up with were other deer and elk. There were three different herds of elk in the canyon and the bulls were on fire. It's funny because three weeks prior, the sound of bulls ripping would have had us excited - but not this day.
Finally, three hours into the hunt, Scott said the magical words that any hunter loves to hear, "There he is. I've got him." In an instant I was filled with relief and excitement all at once; a feeling that every hardcore hunter knows about. Now that the hard part was over, we made our plan and headed down the ridge to get into position for a shot. There was only one problem; there were so many elk in the canyon we could not get into position to kill our buck without sending elk in every direction. In fact, from our vantage point we could see bulls bugling and fighting, cows and calves feeding, and our buck. What an emotional situation! The wind finally swirled, the elk busted, and we just knew our bucks were going to vanish. However, in a unique twist of irony, the elk were suddenly in our favor as they headed up the canyon and invaded the space of our bucks. This changed their feeding pattern and they were now working our way. In no time at all, they were within range and it was now or never. Scott ranged the buck at 276 yards and I squeezed one off. No mistaking the sound of a solid hit and after the dust settled he laid motionless. After several high fives, we taped the unique Oregon buck with an outside spread of 28 inches and a gross B&C score of 187 inches.
As Christmas rolled around, I found myself thinking about monster bucks on a daily basis. Even though I had already chased muleys in Oregon, Colorado, and Montana, my passion to hunt big bucks was in full swing. All I could think about was my trip to Old Mexico to hunt with my friend, Thomas Baker, owner of Sonora Buro Crazy Outfitters.
On December 26th, Thomas picked me up in Tucson and we headed for the border. As we drove through the desert, Thomas and I shared stories and all of the seasons' misses, kills, and preseason bucks yet to be located. At this point I could not wait for morning as all I could think about was getting an opportunity at a giant buck.
The first day of hunting was good and I quickly bonded with Thomas's head guide, Alan Mendez. We did not see many deer but I remained confident because I knew Thomas's passion and reputation for producing giant mule deer. Thomas goes the extra mile to preserve and develop his ranches. That evening Thomas and long-time client, Rick Lamb, stopped by the ranch to show us the giant, 214 gross typical they had killed earlier that day. Not only was I envious of Rick's buck, I really enjoyed visiting with him. Through the years of hunting with Thomas, Rick has killed seven bucks over the magical 200-inch mark. As a veteran of this magical desert, Rick said the most important thing about hunting Old Mexico is, "Always be ready! Ninety percent of the time you have to make split-second decisions followed by quick, tough shots."
The second morning did not come fast enough. The temperature was brisk and required an extra layer of clothing. Within minutes of entering our ranch, Alan quickly spotted six does feeding on the edge of an arroyo, no more than 150 yards away. For several minutes we scanned the area for any sign of a nearby buck. As we glassed, I whispered to Alan, "Man, there has to be at least one buck with all of these does." But before Alan could even respond, I suddenly picked up horns moving through the brush. I could tell the buck had a good frame but everything happened so fast that I could not see any detail. We moved back and forth, trying to get a better look, but the buck would never really show himself. He was definitely chasing does and eventually, they got nervous and started moving out. With that, the buck curled his lips, stuck his nose straight up in the air, and took off in hot pursuit. It was only then that we decided he was a potential shooter and that we must find him again.
At this point I knew the buck had a good main frame and I thought I saw a cheater on his left side but I was not positive. We continued moving through the desert trying to get our opportunity for a second look. I had the buck in my crosshairs multiple times but I could not get a good shot as he kept using the desert terrain to his advantage. Two separate times I had the safety off, but could not make it happen. I kept telling myself to make the first shot count because most likely if would be the only shot. But I could never get a shot through the brush. Finally we had enough of this cat and mouse game and took a change by moving in more aggressively. When we got within 100 yards, the does had us pegged and started moving out fast. Another challenge developed as the herd picked up several smaller bucks through the course of this hunt and I had to make sure I shot the correct buck. The herd was moving from right to left and grabbing gears. It was now of never. All I had was a ten foot gap in the trees, 150 yards out. I held my crosshairs on the opening and out of the thick brush, a mature buck crossed. Instinctively, I pulled the trigger, but everything had happened so quickly that I was not confident in my shot. I did not hear the hit, I did not see the buck change his stride, and he had vanished into the mesquite trees quickly. I had mixed emotions as my mind started racing. Did I hit the buck or did I miss a giant buck? Alan, on the other hand, was excited and positive that I had hit the buck.
As we approached the gap in the trees where the buck had passed through, we instantly found good blood. A hundred yards later we saw antlers sticking out of the thick trees - what a huge relief! I could see a big front fork and the buck was getting bigger with every step. Personally, my favorite characteristic in mule deer is mass and, boy was I excited with this guy! Admiring this magnificent mule deer and rehashing the hunt, I instantly thought of Rick's advice the day before, "In Mexico always be ready because 90% of the time you have to make quick decisions and tough shots."
Little did I know that this hunt was nowhere near the end. We headed to the ranch and Alan and Thomas caped out my trophy. Here is where the bonus hunt started. Ryan Hatch and a couple of Thomas's contacts were due to show up in three hours. Thomas asked if I would like to move ranches and spend the next three days helping the group hunt for a big buck that he had spotted earlier in the season. What an opportunity for any hardcore mule deer hunter.
As you can imagine, the days to follow were truly awesome. In fact, we remembered that we had not scored my buck yet and when Ryan showed up, he was nice enough to put a tape to him for me. Ryan scored my 32 1/2-inch wide seven by seven at 215 1/2 inches. Even though we did not kill the bonus buck, we successfully located and hunted the 33-inch wide, 210-class giant for two days and a life-long memory was created.
We were all disappointed about the missed opportunity, but deep down I felt fortunate to spend three bonus days hunting with Thomas, who has guided more 200-inch bucks than anyone in the business, and Ryan Hatch, who has participated in more monster buck kills than anyone in the world of giant mule deer. It just does not get any better than hunting big bucks with good friends.
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