It was the opening morning of the Wyoming deer season. We had done some pre-season scouting and knew there were good bucks in the area. I didn’t know how the morning was going to pan out, but hopes were high to see some nice deer. I could never have expected that today was going to bring.
The area has a history of holding good bucks, mostly due to the early season archery hunters pushing them out of the timber and into the high open country, secluded from most hunters’ eyes. Opening morning started with us getting up at 0500 and eating a small breakfast, filling a water jug and re-checking our packs to make sure nothing was forgotten. After a short drive from camp, we were at the base of the ridge I intended to hunt. The long hike began and I was pleasantly surprised to find fresh deer sign covering the hillside. Looked like the early season hunters had done what I had hoped. I also knew that there was really only one escape route used by bucks if they detected a hunter. This I learned from seeing several great deer using this route over the years.
My goal was to start at the escape knoll. It was an easy hike to get there, but to avoid spooking any deer; I had to go in from the backside of the mountain. This would not only conceal me, but would keep the wind in my favor and hopefully I would approach well above any deer that might be out feeding. By the time I got to the knoll, the morning sun was high in the sky and it was starting to warm up. I pulled out my scent blocker clothing from my pack, suited up and began my hunt. Working my way to the crest of the ridge, I found a small group of trees near the peak. I crawled through, careful not to skyline myself, and began working the Swarovski binoculars across the hillside ahead. After several minutes of glassing, I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice 5×5 buck feeding near the bottom of the ridge. Through the binoculars, he looked like he would score in the low 170’s. The buck also had a couple of small 3 points with him. I thought to myself “this is good”. I carefully began closing the distance. I knew I had to work my way down the mountain several hundred yards to get to a vantage point where I could get a better look at the buck. This would also show me the entire ridge that the bucks were feeding on. The wind was in my favor and I worked my way to a ridge just above the buck, if this buck looked like a shooter, I would be 125 yards from him. Once in place, I broke out the Swarovskis and began to pick apart the buck. He was about 26″ wide, heavy 4×4 frame with an extra point coming off of both back tines. I am gonna stick to my earlier estimate-mid to low 170’s. I knew this was a dandy buck by any hunters’ standards.
The buck had his head down feeding. Knowing he was going to be there awhile, I decided to start glassing the other ridge directly across from me to see if anything else was there. The ridge I was now looking at couldn’t be seen from my initial vantage point, due to rock outcroppings and a small cluster of trees. I found a small buck working his way up the ridge. This is the part where I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I initially thought I saw 2 raghorn bull elk feeding just over the ridge. All I could see was the back of their antlers. They had their heads down feeding and all I could see was the back tines, slightly resembling raghorn bull antlers. I thought to myself “Elk, they shouldn’t be in here right now”. Then one of the tremendous bucks raised his head and then the other. I about fell over and I am surprised they didn’t hear my jaw bounce off of the rocks below me. It was 2 fantastic mule deer bucks. I only had my binos on them and was already getting buck fever. Looking at them I could easily see they were both great deer. I knew right where these bucks were and how to cover ground quickly to come in above them. I was afraid they would slip away into the trees, so I was off on a quick run to get to the open ridge above them. I made it to where I thought I would have a chance at one of these deer, then crawling to the peak of the hill to see if they were still there. I used my backpack as a shield, hoping it would breakup my appearance as a hunter. Slowly, I got to where I could see one of the bucks only 200 yards away. But, I couldn’t find the other buck and assumed he had worked into the trees. The deer I was looking at presented no shot; he had his head down feeding and was facing straight away from me. Once he lifted his head, I knew I was looking at a very special deer. As I was waiting for something to present itself on this buck, I caught movement in the trees about 10 yards to the south of him and out walked his twin brother. The second buck was a giant as well. Either buck would be the buck of a lifetime for any hunter. I was just going to harvest a 170 inch deer and now I am staring at 2 Boone and Crocket class bucks trying to figure out how I am gonna get one to turn broadside.
The next few minutes just about did my heart in; I could feel it pounding against my binoculars. Slowly and steadily the slightly smaller of the 2 bucks started feeding himself broadside. One of my favorite hunting rifles, a Ruger #1 in 338 caliber, was resting on its bipod in front of me. I settled in for a 200 yard shot. As I was looking thru the scope, I found myself looking at antlers. I had to continually tell myself “don’t look at ‘em or you will miss”. Once the rifle sang out the buck dropped instantly and as I was sitting up, I could see the other buck high-tailing it to cover. I was proud to have made such a quick and clean kill having to go thru the agony of watching these bucks for several minutes and having no shot.
I worked my way to my buck and once reaching him taking a minute to show respect to such a great animal. Now if was time for everything to set in, I could hardly believe it. He was a 4×4 typical stretching the medal tape to 30″ exactly. Excellent mass and deep forks, he was everything a person could ever hope for. What a buck! The body size was amazing and his huge rack resting on the rocks beside him. I am used to picking a deer up whole and packing it out over my shoulders, not this one. I could barely move him.
With all great things there has to be a low. This low was life-changing for me. My best friend, hunting partner and fellow officer, Chad Vitley, was killed in March and this was the first time I had ever hunted without him beside me. Although, I believe he was there in spirit watching over this hunt and WE got an awesome buck. My Rocky Mountain typical mule deer officially scored 190-0/8. On a side-note, 3 days later we harvested that first buck I originally found. He was about 200 yards below where I saw him on opening day. He scored 165-4/8.
Although short, this well planned out DIY hunt on Public land still stands as one of my hunting highlights.