Sacrifice The Tendons: Wyoming Mule Deer
Wyoming Mule Deer Hunt 2003
One of my favorite places in the world to hunt deer is South Western Wyoming. I’ve spent a ton of time in the area hunting deer and moose over the years. Any opportunity I get to be in the mountains hunting is truly a gift. This one was extra special because it was my first year back from serving a 2-year mission in Brazil. Hunting was on the brain and I couldn’t wait to get into the mountains.
This trip we camped at the trailhead and hiked in each day. We had horses and many wild experiences with horses in the past. Personally, I hate hunting with horses. They are more of a pain than they are worth. I would rather hike and pack the animal out myself. When I was younger, we were in the same region. It was my dad, brother Wade, and Uncle Kyle. My dad and I went in before the hunt on horses and setup camp. Wade and Kyle met us later. After hunting a few days, we decided to relocate to another area. When my dad would tight the strap under the horse, she would push her gut out so it wasn’t tight. We came down off a steep trail with the gear on the horse. She bent over to get a drink, and everything slid over on her neck. She freaked out and flipped over into the river. We couldn’t get her legs free to stand up and her head was below water. She was quickly drowning. My dad pulled out his knife and cut the saddle straps to get her free. She kicked to jump up as soon as the rope was cut and kicked my dead in the front right side of his head. He literally went flying about 15-15 yards in the river. We ended up having to pull him out of the river and get him to the bank where he passed out for a moment. We didn’t have satellite phones or any means to get urgent help. We were still a good hour and half back in on horses. We stopped the bleeding with my dad’s head and demanded he get on the horse to ride out instead of walking out. We knew we were in race against time to get him help. We were all super concerned and by the time we got to the truck we quickly loaded the horse and were on our way out of there. My dad felt fine and didn’t want to go to the Wyoming hospital for fear his insurance wouldn’t cover everything out of state. We thought he was crazy, so we drove home 4 hours home. As soon as we got home, he went to the hospital. The doctor said he was super lucky. If the horse would have kicked him another inch to the side of his head, it probably would have killed him. So, I was OK not to have the horses with us this trip.
Dad, his friend Dan, and I started our hike early in the morning. While hiking up the trail I thought about all the memories in the area and the monster bucks we had seen. As a boy I remember a deer specific deer up this canyon where I was with my dad and Wade was a couple canyons over. The snow was deep and my dad said “Son, if you weren’t with me I would go kick that big buck out of those jack pines and shoot him”, I laughed. He pointed out tracks in the snow going into the jack pines. We went over the top of the snowy ridge and it was too deep and too many cliffs, so we turned back into the canyon we came out of. That big ol’ buck was going down through the bottom and his head was just a rocking back and forth with his big rack. I would say he was easily a monster 30” buck. My dad dropped down the ridge quickly to try and get a better angle. By the time he did that the deer was up across the canyon. My dad shot and the deer left quickly. The old man usually doesn’t miss so I was a little shocked the buck got away. It was a long shot and we both were disappointed but grateful for the memory. That same day Wade lived a nightmare. He had two of the biggest deer he has ever seen walk out in front of him at about 100 yards. He was shooting the 25-06 and he pulled up to shoot the monster 4 point and click… he ejected the shell and the deer heard it and started to walk off. He had another shot and click… It happened twice. The gun had a misfire and didn’t go off. The bullet had the firing pin stamped which was beyond frustrating. We had some local friends that helped us try to find the bucks with no luck to see them again. The deer that was so lucky was the famous Popeye and the other buck he ran with that had all the cheaters. There is something about those big bucks that protects them. From this point on in my brother’s deer hunting career has been haunted. He still hasn’t joined the 4-pointer club.
We arrived in the big bowl at light and glassed quite a few deer. We could see all the way across up high there were some deer and a nice buck. After talking I decided I was going to pursue them, and Dad and Dan were going to take off another direction. I spent most of the day hiking non-stop to get over to where they were. It took about 7 hours and hiking up steep terrain and crossing multiple ridges. I got to the area I thought they were and jumped them. They weren’t spooked and I could see a nice buck go into a patch of pines and bed. He was with a smaller buck I could see bedded. I got myself setup in the trees and began to play the waiting game. After about an hour I was temped to creep on over there, jump him, and shoot him. I was getting impatient. I decided against that and played the safer bet. After waiting about 3 hours the smaller buck got up. I was scanning all over for the bigger buck and located him below the trees. It was about a 250-yard poke. I put it right behind his front shoulder and boom!! He jumped forward about 3 steps and was down. I quickly went over to him saw he was a nice 26” 4 point. I was happy with the shot and the whole setup. I quickly became nervous knowing I was a long way from the tent, by myself, not sure where the trail picked up at the bottom, and a deer to take care of. I quickly caped it out for a mount and debone the meat. My dad heard the shot and we hit me up on the radio. We had radios to keep in contact with each other for safety. He was really close to me and said he would come over to help me. I had the deer meat in the pack and was carrying the head and cape in hand. I started down the steep mountain a little bit and quickly found dad. He was excited for me we gave each other high fives. I was planning on going back the same way I came up. Knowing it wasn’t going to be easy scaling the ridges and trees in the dark. Dad said let’s just shoot straight down and we will end up hitting the trail. I was OK with that idea.
We started down the steep mountain and there began to be a little trickle of water. Before we knew it, we were committed to going down the mountain with steep cliffs on both sides of us. The stream was now a good-sized river with steep drop offs. It was either that or try and backtrack what we just came down and hope we could get back up the cliffs and river. There was literally no other way down the mountain at this point it had been dark now for some time, and we just had our flashlights to help guide us down. I twisted my ankle about 4 times and then walking in the river my foot completely folded under me. It honestly seemed like an eternity that we were stuck in walking down the river in the steep gulch. I’ve been in a lot of crazy situations and always seem to remain positive. This time I was done! I sat in the river and with my pack on and I didn’t even care. It hurt so bad to walk let alone navigate the terrible rocky riverbed in the dark. Dad was ahead of me and he came back wondering what happened. He helped me up and told me to get it together. We were going to make it out soon. Honestly, he wasn’t sure either. After a long struggle I heard my dad yell ahead of me that he had cut the trail and we were out of the river. It was amazing to finally reach the flat trail that I could slowly take my time down. We ended up arriving back at camp around 1:30 which was 8 hours after dark. I earned that buck and was grateful for my dad’s help. Dan was worried something had happened to us and was relieved to finally see us.
The next morning, we planned on taking it easy. My grandpa Ashton also had a tag and planned on hunting in the lower country later in the season. He heard we were up there, so he loaded the 4wheeler up and came to see what trouble we were up to. Dan and my dad took off to go hunt the high country. There was no way I was going too far with my ankle. It was swollen and out of commission. He found me a walking stick to help take the pressure off my ankle and wanted to walk the trail up to the basin. It was fun knowing my hunt was over and spending some time with grandpa. We got to the basin and he had me show him where I shot the deer. I pointed way back up the canyon to the top and he laughed. “Well you can have all those deer; I’m not hiking up there anymore. There was a time when I was crazy like you, but now I’m older it’s just not worth it and I can’t do it. Enjoy it and do it while you are young because there will come a time when you will be in my shoes.” We made our way back to camp and jumped in the truck to do some driving and glassing. I got to spend a ton of time with grandpa where I worked construction for his company doing acoustical ceilings. He always found time to break away to take me fishing or hunting. He was one of the most influential people on my in my developing years. I’m grateful for the time we got to spend together. I’m sure if I hadn’t twisted my ankle, I would have been on top of the mountain looking for a bruiser for my dad.
I ended up going home and making an appointment to see the doctor about my ankle. When I went in they needed to bend it a direction to get x-rays. I wasn’t having it! There is no way I could bend my ankle. I had become so protective of moving it from side to side I couldn’t bend it. The doctor was frustrated then laughed. He said we should book the surgery, open it up, and get to work on fixing it. I went forward with it and he said it was one of the worst he had seen. He had to repair the ligaments and he said he realized why I wouldn’t bend it for the x-rays. It healed nicely. I still am a bit protective and have pains from time to time, but overall it healed nicely.
That was 17 years ago and that was the last deer I took out of that region. I’ve hunted the area a couple times, but never found the type of deer that still haunts Wade in his dreams. The memories of the monster buck crossing the bottom with his rack tipping from side to side is what keeps me going and hoping for that next opportunity.