Is hunting just about the search for the trophy buck? What hunter wouldn’t want to set their sights on such a creature? But with only so many beastly bucks out there, there has to be more to it than just that. Sure, there are those heart pounding moments right before drawing the bow or squeezing the trigger, but to me hunting is just as much about all those times I don’t get a shot. It’s about the days I get to experience the outdoors, challenge myself, learn something new or get to share the experience with someone special. Those become the trophy moments that live on in memory. My hunt for a mule deer buck this fall is just one of them.
After two successful seasons using my buck tag on whitetail and having the chance to watch my husband hunt mule deer, last year I decided to go after one. The hubby and I headed north, just miles from the Canadian border and almost immediately after we arrived on BLM land, we stumbled on a pair of bedded bucks. I still can’t believe we were so lucky. We had spooked them, but after a game of cat and mouse and a few hundred yards of low crawling through tall grass and prickly pear, I had shot my first mulie. He was a nice deer and bigger than I ever imagined especially for my first mule deer. In fact, I kinda felt spoiled by the whole experience.
The thrill of the spot and stalk on my buck had me hooked on hunting mulies. Whereas previous seasons I had no qualms about heading out on my own to hunt, this year was a different story. No cell reception to call for help and hauling 70+ pounds of meat with (hopefully) a head with horns was not something I felt comfortable doing on my own as an expecting mom. As much as I love to hunt and wanted to go after another mulie buck, I wasn’t going to take any unnecessary risks. That left me with just a handful of designated mule deer days with my husband after we found a babysitter for our daughter (the munchkin), of course.
One of the greatest challenges with hunting mulies is seeing them. Mule deer country in northeastern Montana is vast and practically treeless. The landscape features everything from rolling hills to steep slopes and all sorts of nooks and crannies in between. You can stare at a piece of real estate for hours with your binos and never see a thing. But more often than not, the deer are in there.
So when my new Leupold Golden Ring Spotting Scope arrived at our doorstep, I let out a big squeeeeeeeel of excitement.
- I just love new toys.
- I felt like I had the upper hand.
After all, I had already had a healthy dose of luck last year. Considering this year’s limitations, the hope factor of seeing a buck went up exponentially.
My husband and I broke in the new glass re-checking zeroes. It makes me sigh with happiness just thinking about how convenient it was to shoot a group, look through the scope, see the impact and make adjustments. Without eating up time going back and forth to the target, we had double checked both primary and back up rifle zeroes and were ready to go in record time.
Thanks to wonderful friends and their kids, we made arrangements for an early morning drop off for the munchkin and headed out to an area where my husband had been coyote hunting before the season and had seen a monster mule deer. It was rather chilly and oddly humid with temperatures in the twenties. Early morning fog trumped our visibility in many ways. The misty conditions made it the kind of wet, chill-you-to-your-bones cold I remember from upstate New York. Thankfully I was ready for it, bundled up nice and cozy in my Prois gear and wool long undies.
Despite the weather, we spotted groups of does almost immediately and one really large, lone deer more than a mile away. It was likely a buck, but the new scope also allowed us to see a pair of hunters heading in that direction. We moved on. With so many stretches of land to choose from we found another good spot to sit and scan. I was ready with my rifle and took to my binos searching the nearby hills and valleys while my husband used the Golden Ring to reach long distance. After a bit he said the words I love to hear, “I got one.”
There he lay, over 1500 yards away and nestled at the base of a hill – it was a buck! It took me several minutes to even make out what I thought was his outline in my 10x binos, but through the spotting scope we could see antlers. There were four nice points on his left side, but his right side was obscured by both the shadows and the dark soil background. We watched him for a good bit and mulled over what to do. It was still early. We could go find another area or we could go after this deer. I just wasn’t sure.
On the one hand, I wasn’t thrilled with going after a deer that might only have one antler. On the other side of the coin, I knew my limitations. It would take some time getting to him but it was a manageable stalk for me. Though I am not in full pregnant lady waddle mode just yet, I am in no condition to pull off a Last of Mohicans stalk at full speed either. We decided to make a small investment and head to a hill about 300 yards away for a better look.
We made our way down the steep slope and used the terrain to mask our movement until we reached the new vantage point. Peaking over a mini ridge, we zeroed in on the buck with the spotting scope. From this angle we could see that he had a set of four points on his right side. YES! He wasn’t a monster for the record books, but he was a good looking, healthy buck. He was also still bedded down and had no clue we were there. That’s what sealed the deal for me.
With potentially just one day left to hunt mulies, I decided to go after him. He was still a good ways away as the crow flies and even further as we made use of the terrain for a non-strenuous walk to another hill that was between 200 and 300 yards from where the deer was bedded. My husband was my sweetheart sherpa and had everything we needed in his pack so that I only had to carry my rifle, binos and our Leupold range finder, a gift I bought for my husband a couple of years ago. Now that we were on the move, the chill of the day was lost on us and excitement had kicked in. Would he still be there when we reached that hill?
The last bit of the stalk was up a steep bank. We went slowly to make sure I didn’t topple down the slope. The last few yards were at a low crawl on our bellies. In case you are wondering, yes, this was indeed possible for me, but probably quite funny to watch. I am not sad that there is no evidence of the pregnant lady low crawl.
And there he was. Staring up at us and facing to the left, we ranged him at 210 yards with the range finder. I wiggled my way slowly and silently into position. I centered the crosshairs behind his shoulder, controlled my breathing and thought “soft trigger” as I broke the shot. The deer launched into motion as I racked the bolt on my rifle, an anniversary present from my man a few years ago. The buck stopped moving after just 15 yards. His next couple of steps showcased the effectiveness of the ASYM .308 Winchester 168 gr. Barnes TTSX. I shot once more behind the shoulder this time on his right side to end it quickly and he went down immediately.
Walking up to a large mule deer is always a humbling thing. They are such magnificent animals, a combination of power, strength and grace. The hunt does not end with the shot. To honor the animal, I take a lot of pride in getting all the meat I can off all our deer and then following it up by doing my best to make delicious meals. Being so early in the day, we had plenty of time to fill up our meat bags with healthy protein. And my man hauled basically all of it and our gear in one trip. Yeah… he’s my stud.
Nearly every hunter dreams of that record book deer, but it’s hunts like this one I cherish the most. So many couples I know, my husband and me included, struggle with teamwork and communication at times. It makes all those times he, ahem… never remembers to scrape the dishes before tossing them in the sink or darn it, I forgot to turn the light off in the garage again, seem like nothing. Sometimes things aren’t perfect, but thanks to memories like this hunt, I am reminded just how wonderful it can be and how this buck is our trophy to that. Thank you, honey.