I could clearly see the edge of the storm etched against the northern skyline, and its ominous gray presence told me it was going to be a doozy. Fall, to this point, had been unseasonably mild, but this storm was going to bring snow, wind and plummeting temperatures. Although snow accumulation would only amount to 6 inches – a dusting by Western standards – it was the 30 to 40 mph northwest winds and dropping temperatures I was concerned with.
When I’d left my truck at the trailhead I knew the Canadian squall was barreling in my direction. It had already blanketed much of the northern Rockies, and it was just easing into Wyoming and Utah when I woke that morning. However, with October temperatures hovering at an unseasonable 50 degrees, not a breath of wind to be found and the storm’s predicted arrival not until nightfall at the earliest, I figured my window of opportunity would be large enough for my planned day trip. Once again the talking heads on the Weather Channel missed their mark, and I really wasn’t surprised when the battering winds and pelting snow arrived.
This DIY hunt had been an adventure from the get-go, with logistics being the first hurdle. I wasn’t planning to start hunting until the weekend before Thanksgiving, which was still several weeks away, but with seven trail miles between me and my predetermined destination, I needed to stow some gear prior to my arrival. The public pinion-juniper canyon country I was planning to hunt held both mule deer and whitetails, and although a rut-crazed, heavy-boned mule deer was my main target, I wasn’t opposed to wrapping my tag on a Western whitetail. It had been several years since I held a Western whitetail’s rack in my callused hands, and a handsome whitetail always brings a smile. With that in mind, I loaded my bike trailer with 125 pounds of gear and began the seven-mile journey.
I had no sooner scouted the area I was planning to hunt and situated a couple of treestands when the wind switched to the north and temperatures dropped with a vengeance. Temperatures went from a peaceful 55 degrees to 25 in what seemed like a few minutes, and the stiff 30-plus mph headwind made for tough going when I began the trek back. I had barely gotten started when heavy snow started to fly, adding to the already blowing dust to make visibility even more difficult, and although the trailer was empty, it felt like I was pulling more going than I was coming.
With a long ride ahead of me I was beginning to worry, and the situation at hand was just a little too familiar, reminding me of a previous experience. The alpine slopes had yielded very few deer sightings for three days, so I’d decided to go over the next ridge to see what the adjacent basin offered. I hunted much of the day and only bumped into a pair of fork horns and a young 3×3 when I decided to head back to camp, but like the Angel of Death descended on Egypt in the Book of Exodus, so did a thick fog as I began to make my way over the ridge.
With an unseen hand guiding my every step, I somehow managed to stumble upon an old trapper’s cabin. This gift was more than I could have asked for at the time, and when I woke to blue skies and nearly a foot of snow the following morning, I knew that I was not alone.
With cold images of that initial journey still seared in my mind, I loaded up my bike trailer and dropped back into the scenic pinion-juniper canyon when late November arrived. With the whitetail rut winding down and the mule deer rut amping up, I was eager for an opportunity to send an arrow through fur and bone.
My plan was twofold: use the elevated perch of my treestands to glass the surrounding country and locate a quality mule deer buck, but also be ready in the event a mature whitetail tried to slip past unnoticed. As the evening shadows lengthened on my first evening, I thought it was going to pay off. With nearly two miles of canyon country at my disposal, I glassed intensely, looking for the slightest hint of movement. Three does were the first to appear less than a mile away, and they were soon followed by a flamboyant young buck.
As I watched the antics of this cat and mouse game from my distant perch, another buck arrived on the scene, immediately putting the young buck in line. Even from a significant distance I could tell with my naked eye that it was a buck worthy of my attention, and the 10×42 binos strapped around my neck only confirmed it. His body dwarfed the others around him, and although his heavy 3×3 typical frame wouldn’t reach the P&Y 145-inch minimum, he was impressive enough for this mule deer junkie.
With evening light fading, I climbed down and started in his direction. Easing along the canyon edge and using the heavy juniper brush as cover, I quickly closed the distance. I’ve never been one to have opening night success, but with the light breeze moving from left to right and ample stalking cover to sneak in, I knew it could happen. Sadly, I stalked past their location and got busted.
The following morning I climbed into the same treestand under a sliver of eastern light, and it wasn’t long before I caught movement at the opposite end of the canyon. He was a good mile away, and by the looks of his 3×3 frame, it appeared to be the same buck from the previous night. Three does were all that were holding his attention, and when two of them started to move in the opposite direction to bed a short time later, I decided to make a move.
Looping around them I eased meticulously above each draw, hoping to catch them bedded. Just like the evening before, however, they disappeared before I even had a chance.
I was almost back to my perch when a strange shape caught my attention below a high ridge. It was another mule deer buck, a 4×3, and he was alone. His horse-sized body screamed mature, and the tall, heavy headgear he carried more than met my standards.
As he fed directly below a knife-like ridge, I looped around and above him. There was no way he could see my approach, and if I kept church-mouse quiet, a shot would be a sure thing. Oozing forward, I nocked an arrow, peeking over the ridge every few steps.
He couldn’t have heard me because each movement I took was painstakingly slow, but a mature buck’s sixth sense is like none other. As I poked my eyes above the ridge one final time, our eyes locked and he bounded away.
For two days I thought about what had gone wrong – wondering if I should have done something different – but in the end it was just bad luck. With one day left to hunt and Thanksgiving bearing down, I once again hit the trail.
Deciding to glass from the same high ridge that had almost produced good fortune two days earlier, I moved into position. By chance, I happened to look behind me as I climbed into my glassing location, and the instant I did, he appeared on the western horizon. It was clearly the same buck – his 4×3 frame was very distinct – and as suddenly as he appeared, he disappeared. The good news: he was bounding in my direction.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened. If I had looked back a few seconds sooner – or later, for that matter – I would have completely missed him, and maybe left the ridge not knowing how close he was. I knew he would appear on one of the two benches I was positioned between, and when I saw him moving around a rocky outcropping right toward me, I was in disbelief.
As he rounded a juniper I pressed my bow into service and sent out a stopping grunt. The moment he stopped I released the arrow, and it didn’t take long for my Rage-tipped stick to cut the 33 yards. The arrow hit with a hollow crack, and he fell just 80 yards from the impact point. Needless to say, I could not have been more pleased with the outcome.