Wasatch Mountains Mule Deer 2000
Utah Deer Hunt 2000
Wasatch Mountains General Season Muley
It had been quite the year for me by mid-October in 2000. I graduated High School, hunted Wyoming Antelope in September and I just returned home from a successful Wyoming Moose, and now it was general season Mule deer in Utah. I had my eyes on a big typical 4-point. I would guess him right around 32” wide with deep forks. Over the past Summer I spent a ton of time in this area scouting mountain goats and stumbled across this big buck. Whenever I had free time I was in the mountains. I spent a lot of time patterning this buck and knowing his movement. He ran with a couple of nice bucks, but he stood out as the Chief. I was excited for the opportunity to hunt him.
My sister, Candise, wanted to come with me on opening day. We had our gear and the 4-wheeler loaded. The alarm went off at 2:45 AM. We quickly got ready and set off on our destination. It was about a 30-minute drive to drop off the wheeler, then about 40 minutes on the wheeler. After that is was 3-hour hike to the “honey hole”. As I type this story 20 years later, I can remember that morning very clearly. The forecast called for snow in the mountains, which was just what the doctor ordered for opening morning of the rifle deer hunt. It was a cloudy morning with no stars out to help light the path. The flashlights were a necessity as we hiked up the mountain. I was quite the machine and in shape back then. I could really fly up those ridges and mountains. I’d look back from time to time and Candise was always right behind me. She was 14 at the time and liked to come along for the adventure. Our trip was planned for same day hunt. I didn’t like packing all the camping gear and having the extra weight. I didn’t mind making the trip. This trip was probably my 50-60th trip to this spot. I knew every little rock to climb over, how to approach the hole without getting ledged up in the cliffs, and how long it would take me to the minute. Hiking it in the dark would be a bit risky and dangerous for the everyday hiker. There were lots of massive cliffs and ledges along the way that someone could really get into trouble navigating. We were on top of the ridge, getting close to the spot we needed to drop down come first light. There was about an hour left until light, which would give us about 15 minutes to get settled before glassing light. On top of the ridge things seemed lighter around us, but still black off in the far distance. There was a little snow on top, but not much. You could feel the storm brewing in the clouds and air. My pack was on and my 300 Weatherby over my right shoulder. I could hear Candise saying something behind me. She said “Dude, your barrel”. I looked over my shoulder and it was glowing due to all the electricity in the air. It was quite scary. I quickly pulled it down and pointed the barrel at the ground.
Over the years I had experienced several unreal storms on these ridges. It could be a great day and in a matter of minutes a massive storm would roll in on top of you. There were two times I honestly was surprised I didn’t get hit by lightning. When traveling to my spot you’re committed to being on top of the ridge because there is nowhere else to go. Cliffs make it tough to get off and find safety. The storm rolled in and lightning smacked the surrounding peaks and cliffs. The hair on my head was standing up and the mountain would remember each time the lightning smacked a peak. One of the times I remember thinking I need to get off here fast! I literally started running across the top until I made it to the point the ridge descended off the peak. The mountain was so steep. My dad and brother Wade always said, for every minute down plan on 10 times that coming back up.
With the barrel pointed to the ground we made it to the spot I like to drop down off the ridge. The wind was typically rough on that ridge and it was extra strong that morning. The snow started to come down. We quickly dropped down and into our waiting spot for light to come. We had about 20 to 25 minutes to wait. Every minute that went by the storm got worse. I really wanted to see if those deer were bedded in their typical spots, so we stayed strong in our spot. As the storm picked up, I could quickly tell we weren’t going to have the visibility needed to spot those deer, but the stubborn me stayed in our spot hoping. After about 30 minutes into light the storm was not going to let up. We were starting to really get covered in the snow. I told Candise to follow me and that we were going to drop down and off the backside. We dropped elevation quickly and battled the morning storm. I knew there was some good-sized Jack Pines with a few larger trees on the back side we could seek shelter. My first deer hunt in the area, two years ago, I shot 4-point in the backside canyon. We got to the spot, took off our packs, and hunkered down under the trees. There isn’t a ton of wood in this area up high, but we were able to grab enough to build us a little fire. It was really one of the most calming a peaceful snow on a hunt I can remember. In our spot we were out of the wind and dry under the tree. However, the snow was dumping big heavy flakes outside the tree line. We stayed warm by the fire could literally see the snow depth getting higher and higher. We sat and talked and had a fun morning. About 2 hours passed and it was still coming down hard. I told Candise if this snow would stop for 10 minutes, I know I will see that big buck. I was confident and had no doubt if that snow stopped that buck was mine. I knew his morning schedule and this snowstorm made me that much more confident. He hadn’t been up feeding with the storm and he was anxious to get up and move. The snow started to lighten up and as soon as it stopped and the clouds lifted, I was on my way. I told Candise with all the snow to just hang tight in a spot she could glass down the steep canyon. I should have told her to come along, but a part of me didn’t want her getting in a dangerous spot. I also didn’t want to mess this perfect opportunity up. I left her with the pack and just took the 4 bullets in my gun. I chambered in a round. There were 5 steep draws that I wanted to cross along the top. In order to do it I would basically scale the steep mountain and utilize the Jack Pines for safety. The snow was pushing a foot and half to two feet deep. The amount of new snow, the steep mountain, and draws to cross, I needed to take it slow.
I came to the first draw and glassed below me. I could see some tracks, but nothing happening. I kept making my way across. I wanted to cover ground quickly knowing the big buck was up. I also feared the snow would start coming down again any minute. I came to my 4th draw and thought I would have seen him below me by now. I dropped into the drawn and glassed the area. There were more tracks, but no deer. I started to crest over and into the next draw with my gun sling over my shoulder. There he was starring right at me on the other side of the draw in all his glory. I knew I was DEAD and caught with my pants down. That deer was maybe 100 yards away. I can see that image in my head and will never forget it. His rack was a massive basket. I had seen a lot of big bucks over the years and He was in my top 3 list. He was standing with a smaller 4-point. It honestly seemed like an eternity where we both starred at each other waiting for the other to move. I didn’t want to move a muscle until he turned his head. He wasn’t willing to move an inch until I did. It was probably a total of 3 seconds. I started to ease my gun off my shoulder as smoothly as I could with my head locked on him. As soon as I got the gun about 3 inches from my hand. He turned and bolted like lighting down the bottom of the draw and out of my sight. I ran up the rest of the hill in hopes I could still catch him in the draw and get a shot. Unfortunately, he was already out of sight down the steep mountain. I quickly positioned myself where if I was able to see them going through the bottom, I could get a shot. I moved the snow and laid down in the prone position waiting for them to pop out the bottom. My 300 Weatherby Mark V was ready to rock and roll. The bottom was about 500 yards and I knew it was long, but I could make the shot. There they were in the open bottom going through the deep snow. That buck was in such deep snow. He was bouncing high and pushing snow with his belly. Him and his buddy were struggling big time in the snow. I waited for the perfect shot and Boom!! I missed and he started to power harder and harder through the snow. I shot again and it didn’t faze him. I had one more shot before they hit the pines and I needed to make it count. Boom!! The both ran right into the pines and I couldn’t see them clearly again. With one bullet left I turned back to go get Candise and more bullets. I planned on getting Candise and quickly dropping off to the bottom in the hopes I could pick their tracks up. I got to the last draw and way across I could see a nice buck going over the ridge. I pulled up looking at him through my scope and thought he was a really nice buck. Without even thinking, free handed with the rifle I pulled the trigger and Boom! I could see blood spray through my scope and the deer lunged down the mountain a few steps and tumble. I shot that deer free handed at about 400 yards. I was able to make that shot and not on the big buck. Happy I just shot a big buck, but still super frustrated I messed up on the Monster. My biggest mistake was knowing I would see that big buck soon and having the gun sling over my shoulder. I should have had it in the two-handed carry ready to pull up and shoot. I will never make that same mistake again, especially in uber prime time.
I quickly made it over to the deer and hollered at Candise. She made her way over to me and was excited to see I got a deer. I told her the whole story of what happened, then I proceeded to tell her my crazy plans. I wanted to quickly cape and debone this deer and then go make sure I didn’t hit that big buck. It was such a steep canyon and a long way to the bottom. This was about a 4-hour commitment once I started off the mountain. We skinned the deer, caped him out for a mount, and deboned the meat. I quickly had a drink of water and told Candise we should leave everything here and pick it up on the way up and out. She decided to hang out with the pack and deer while I went to the bottom and back.
I bolted down the mountain and quickly got on their tracks where I saw them enter the trees. I looked around for blood in the snow. The last thing I want is wound an animal and not recover him. Wade and dad had tags and they could come up and finish him off. There wasn’t any blood and I concluded it was a miss. That was the first buck I had ever missed. It was a humbling experience. To this day that is the only buck I’ve missed, and I’ve shot a couple 4-points since. The tracks become difficult to follow where they met up with a bunch of other tracks. I decided I had spent enough time and needed to get back to Candise so we could get out with the deer. I busted butt up the mountain as fast as I could. I seemed to always get the song by Kenny Chesney “One Step forward, Two Steps Back” stuck in my head all the time on that mountain. By the time I made it back to Candise it was getting dark fast and the snowstorm started rolling back in on us.
Candise wanted to help carry what she could up and out of the steep hole we were in. I told her that if she carried my gun, I would get the rest. Having her take the gun would be a life saver. I strapped on the heavy pack and started up the mountain. I told Candise to make sure she put her feet in the exacts same spot mine went in the snow. There were times going up the steep mountain I would feel like someone had a chain on the back of my pack and was pulling me over. It was now dark, and we hadn’t made it out of the whole and to the ridge. The snow was coming down so hard now it was difficult to see my hand in front of my face. At one point I laid my head face into the snow and just laid there. Poor Candise was like are you OK? I was exhausted and nervous about the storm. We made it to the ridge where it was not so bad. However, the snow was still dumping with little to no visibility. At top, with flashlight in hand, I told Candise “make sure she was right behind me every step. As soon as my foot goes out of the snow yours goes in”. The ridge had ledges and drop off on both sides of us. It was a bit of a windy ridgeline to follow. I knew this area like the back of my hand and was confident I could get us out alive. Yet at the same time I was nervous I had to do this blindly. If you fell off one of these cliffs that would be the end. There were some that were 200+ feet drop. Not only was I responsible for me, I was responsible for my sister. We took our time with the heavy load. Once we made it past the sketchy part, I felt a major sense of relieve. When we started our decent down the final stretch to the 4-wheeler, Candise could tell I was excited to be out of the scary area. The 4-wheeler was buried in the snow and we knocked it off, loaded our packs, gun, and deer. We were both excited, happy, and a little nervous about the ride on the wheeler home. There were some steep parts and it had snowed a ton. We had both of us and our heavy packs. Good thing it was a Polaris Sportsman 500. It did awesome and we made it to the truck just fine. It was 10:30 at night and I knew Mom and Dad were doing to be stressing. We should have been home about 4 hours ago. This was before cell phones were a common thing. I didn’t have a phone to call and let them know we got a deer.
We pulled in, Mom and dad were really getting worried. Dad told Mom not to stress that I probably shot a deer and it was taking time. With the crazy storm it caused extra worry. Dad admitted the last hour it was getting to him as well. We made it home safely with stories to tell. It snowed so much that weekend that Dad and Wade were unable to back in the hole again that year. Since then, I’ve been back a couple times to take good friends Bobby and Rob. They’ve both shot excellent bucks and we had amazing experiences. I’m hoping there is at least one more time I’m able to get back into my “honey hole” with the 300 in my hand, not over my shoulder.