A Great Hunt
By Timothy Ashley
UT, Mule Deer
As we were walking up the trail towards our lookout point, it was evident that we had bumped a herd of elk. Thoughts started running through my head, like, “I hope they don’t spook our target deer that my buddy, David, and I scouted the past six days,” and “Maybe someone else beats us up to our lookout.” We were still an hour before sunrise, but maybe our buck had migrated down to the wintering range. We followed the elk tracks in the dark right up to the spot where we planned to be on opening day to look for our buck. The elk dove off the cliff right where we set up our spotting scope and binos on our tripods. The cliff face reminded me more of where a mountain goat would travel, not an elk. We were a little worried they would blow everything out of the valley. We had to wait another half hour to find out. More thoughts were rolling, “Did I burn my 23 points for nothing since everyone I talked to said turn your tag back because of the drought?” I thought about sending it back, but I had been looking forward to this hunt for too long. I had finished a successful antelope hunt in Wyoming early and headed south towards the Paunsaugunt. The whole time, I was thinking about this hunt.
When I got to Kanab, I made my usual stop to visit my buddy, Ryan. The visit lasted an hour, and he said I better shoot the first 190-200" deer I saw because the drought was bad. A few years back, I drew a 12B early tag and hunted five days on my own with only a few small bucks that I passed on and the urge for a greasy cheeseburger. I headed to town, and my first stop was Ryan’s. He had told at least 15 people where to go. He didn’t want to send me where he had sent someone else, so he told me a spot and off I went. Half an hour later, I was standing over a 197" buck. It just doesn’t work out like that all the time. He did mention me and lucky in the same sentence with a few more unmentionable words.
As we were set up on the top of the canyon waiting for sunrise, it was evident by the seven trucks on the two-track road a mile below us that our target buck had also been scouted by others. We felt really good about our setup and that we would have the advantage if the others spooked our buck. Finally, it was light enough to see. Soon, the deer materialized and we were looking at over 50 of them. After a few minutes, David spotted our buck with the 5x5 he was usually with. We were set up at 614 yards.
David asked, “Do you think you can shoot from here?”
My reply was, “You bet.”
The buck was feeding but was aware of the activity below him. We were waiting to see what would unfold in front of us. I really didn’t want a running shot, so I sat down and used one of the tripods. I tried to steady my heartbeat and breathing. I was ready. David had his phone recording, and now I had to do my part. At the crack of the rifle, David replied, “You hit him. Shoot again!” It didn’t take long to chamber another round and send it. This time, his reply was that the buck was hit again. He ran closer to us. Now he was at 555 yards with no shot possible. He was down but still moving his head. We picked up our stuff and headed down towards him. He was lying down in some scrub oak trees, so it took us awhile to find him. Once we located him, a finishing shot was required. Then the yelling started.
David called a couple of friends and fellow guides since it looked like we were going to have to quarter and cape the buck there for the mile hike out to where we could get a truck close enough. The three of them were a tremendous help. It was a great feeling packing the head, cape, and loins out just having the 7x7 bounce from side to side. I had a smile that I am still wearing today. We were stopped by a few other hunters who were hunting the same deer. They snapped a few photos, congratulated us, and we went our separate ways. David had photos of him last year and figured he lost 20 inches of antler. Regardless, he was a great deer shot in a great state with great friends. His final score of 197 1/8" was just a bonus. Next time I draw this great tag I will be in my 80s. You can’t draw if you don’t apply!