Work harder, push yourself, go the extra mile, pay attention to detail, success is not easy. These words have been instilled in me my whole life by my parents, teachers, coaches and mentors. Any success I’ve enjoyed in life has been the result of tremendous effort because I learned my lessons well. I take that mentality into the field with me when hunting big game. I will only hunt trophy animals and usually that requires getting out of bed earlier than the next guy. Sometimes it means riding long hours in the saddle to reach prime hunting grounds. It will likely involve climbing higher up the mountain than my legs really want to carry me. When all that effort results in the harvest of a mature buck, bull or ram you know you’ve earned it.
Together with my oldest son, Wes, and long time friend Stan we started Battle Born Outfitters. The idea was to hunt every fall whether we drew any tags ourselves or not. Providing guide services to others was just the ticket to accomplish that goal.
We looked forward to three Mule Deer hunts this season. The first was my favorite kind of hunt, a back country excursion requiring the use of our mules. We usually pack in a camp and plenty of feed for the stock the weekend before the hunt, that way when we arrive with the client, camp is all set up and waiting. Unfortunately the day we planned to pack in, the weather turned into a torrential down pour of rain. Wes, Stan and I donned our rain slickers and toughed it out for several hours only to find the trail had been completely destroyed by hurricane Hillary a few weeks before and was now impassable.
Plan “B” was to use another trail-head the day before the clients showed up. That day went like this. Out of bed at 3:00 AM, saddle the stock then on the road by 4:00. Drive several hours to the Trail-head, load the mules and ride the four hours to camp. Set up camp, cut firewood, string high lines for the animals, and rebuild the fire ring etc. All before dark. The next morning were up at 4:00, saddle the stock, gulp a cup of coffee then ride the four hours back to the trail-head where our clients are waiting. Stan loads the extra mules and heads for home. Wes and I and the hunters mount up and ride back to camp and now, after all that work, we’re finally ready to have fun.
After getting the guest situated in the tent, Wes took the guys on a short hike out from camp for a late afternoon hunt while I tended to the stock and started preparing dinner. They returned shortly after dark smiling and excited. Our hunter had jumped a large 4x4 out of the tall brush at 60 yards and claimed he would have downed the beast if he could have got him in his sights. My thoughts were that we worked too hard to end the hunt an hour after we arrived but it’s his hunt, shoot the one you want, when you want.
Our routine the next few days went like this. Out of the tent by 4:00 AM, saddle the stock while the coffee perks, eat a bowl of oatmeal and down the coffee, Ride out of camp and up a chosen ridge top in the dark. Now the foot work begins, creeping along checking all our established “Honey Holes”. Some days, after lunch, I would string the stock together and return to camp while the guys waited until late afternoon then hunt their way down the mountain on foot in the fading light. We did this for several days. We noted that the quantity of the deer seemed to be less this year but the quality of the bucks appeared to be better, probably due to the abundance of good feed. But still, we couldn’t locate that special buck.
We were all getting tired so we returned to camp early one day for a much needed nap and a leisurely lunch. By late afternoon we were refreshed and hiked out of camp for the evening hunt. I didn’t go far, maybe fifty yards and parked my butt in a chair behind my spotting scope while Wes led the guys up the bottom of the canyon to the north. Right away I spotted a young buck on a ridge to my west. Then six Doe appeared out of the tall brush. Wes’s voice came over the radio,” We see a buck up the ridge by the Mahogany trees but can’t tell if he’s a good one or not”. I turned my scope up the ridge. “Whoa” I said to myself, and then keyed the radio. “That’s a pretty nice buck, I don’t think I would pass on that”. The buck was in tall brush which helped the guys put a good stalk on him. With an excellent, 300 yard shot the hunt was over. The three of them scrambled up the steep hill, four steps up, then slide two steps down. With the day coming to a close they quickly gutted the brute then left it for retrieval in the morning. Trying to carry the carcass down that steep slope in the dark was just too dangerous. They left plenty of human scent around to keep any coyotes at bay for the time being.
The next morning the four of us scrambled up to the buck, quartered and bagged the meat then slid back down to the awaiting mules that would carry the load back to camp. Once unloaded the meat was cleaned and de-boned then hung in the shade. The rest of the day was spent preparing for the pack out the following morning. We did our best to finish off the rest of the supplies but still with all the camping gear and the venison we needed four pack mules. That meant that two guys would have to walk. We took turns so nobody had to hike the entire twelve miles out. A hell of an effort by all those involved and the magnificent buck made it well worth it.
We returned home for a couple of short weeks which were spent preparing for our next hunt. The mules and wall tents would stay home this time as our client required a little bit more comfortable accommodations. I outfitted our old motor home and Stan brought his toy hauler camper. Our mode of transportation this time would be my Wrangler Jeep and Stan’s Polaris.
I hadn’t hunted this particular unit for a couple of years so we thought it was a good idea to spend a day or two scouting before the hunt started. Stan and I covered many a mile and by the time Wes and our hunter showed up we had a pretty good game plan put together. Well we thought it was a good plan but the big bucks failed to participate in the plan. We were fortunate enough to get a good dusting of snow which always makes for better hunting and we did see quite a lot of deer but no large racks. Each day we chose another canyon to explore but all we found was young forked horns and three points. We hunted high and low. We split up to cover more country. We spent hours starring through the optics until all of our eyes were bloodshot. With three experienced guides and a hunter who was also excellent at spotting game we located about forty deer each day but not one single mature buck. Our client owned a meat market so he wasn’t interested in a young tender deer, he was after big antlers so we kept at it trying to stay optimistic. Finally our hunter announced that he was pulling the plug on our hunt. He reasoned that we had covered every square inch of the unit and if there was a trophy animal out there we would have seen him by now. I couldn’t argue with him, I just hate to give up, but it is his hunt. So the next morning we packed our gear and headed for home with our tail between our legs feeling fairly defeated. So much effort. So much money spent. So much wear and tear on our equipment. Disappointment is all we have to show for it.
We weren’t finished chasing Mulies yet. My youngest son, Travis, drew an excellent late season tag that just happened to be right out our front door. As the opener approached, Travis informed us that he would only be able to hunt one day as his mother in law had booked a family vacation and he was expected to attend. I get irritated at people who plan other activities during hunting season. There’s plenty of time in the rest of the year for weddings, funerals, child birth and vacations. Fortunately, this hunt has a long season so if we can’t find anything the first day, Travis will still be able to hunt when he returns.
The day before the hunt Travis still needed to finish some work obligations so Wes, grandson Gavin and I decided to do some scouting for him. Like I said this unit is right out our front door so there was no need to get up early. After chores we drove out to a good look out point which gave us a vast view of the whole east side of the mountains. From there we could glass for miles. Unfortunately all we saw were a half dozen other hunters glassing the same location.
This will be a circus the next morning when the season opens. We opted to let them have it and try our luck elsewhere.
I remembered a small canyon my wife and I explored many years ago. It had a good spring in it and plenty of deer sign. I made a mental note that this canyon could produce a nice buck. We decided to take a look. One could only drive to the mouth of the canyon and thankfully no jerk has developed an ATV trail into it, at least not yet. The three of us hiked about half way up the canyon when Wes spotted a huge four point buck watching us. He was about three hundred yards above us and all by himself. This seemed odd to me as he should be in the rut by now and chasing does. I estimated him to be about twenty eight inches wide and had super heavy horns. He allowed us to admire him for about five minutes before he got nervous then trotted over the ridge. Just then Travis text me. “Are you seeing anything yet?”He asked. I replied, “Would a twenty eight inch, heavy horned four point work for you? “ He answered back, “I think I’d have to shoot one like that “.
We spent the next hour figuring out the best way to hunt him. We hiked back to the jeep and drove clear around to the west side of the ridge that he called home. Here we found a jeep trail that wound through a Pinion Pine forest then came to a dead end in a burn area overlooking the ridge about a half mile away. From here I could glass the whole west side of the ridge. The plan will be for Travis and Wes to ascend the ridge then hunt its entire length from the top. I would stay on the spotting scope here at the end of the jeep trail. There was no need to do anymore scouting, we had stumbled on the king of the mountain, a buck of a lifetime and this was the only one that Travis should hunt. Our scouting trip only lasted a half a day. We were home for lunch and waited for Travis to get back so we could fill him in on the plan.
In the morning we loaded the jeep with plenty of food and water as this might turn into a long day. Also, with that in mind we left little Gavin at home. It just might be too much hiking or too much sitting for an eight year old and we sure didn’t want to sour him on his first big game experience.
There was no need to hurry the this morning; we sure didn’t want to use the headlights then hike toward the ridge in the dark. The buck might see us before we could see him and he would be gone. Instead we had a leisurely drive then found our jeep trail. As we wound through the Pinion Pines a couple of doe crossed our path, a good sign? Maybe. Then we emerged from the thick forest with the end of the jeep trail in sight. Travis calmly said “There’s deer right there” pointing at the spot we had planned to park the jeep. Wes added from the back seat “There’s a buck with them”. I blinked twice, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Standing eighty yards in front of us was the monster we had watched the day before and now he had seven girlfriends with him. I turned to Travis and said “That’s your buck, get out and shoot him”. The deer didn’t seem concerned at all as Travis slid out of the jeep and jacked a round into the chamber of his rifle. The weeds were tall here. We could see their heads and the tops of their backs but that was all. Travis was standing on his toes trying to see the vitals but to no avail. Still not alarmed, the whole bunch went back to grazing. With their heads down in the weeds Travis inched closer while Wes and I sat in the idling jeep afraid to make a move. When their heads came up again the buck was surrounded by his harem so Travis still had no clear shot. They kept feeding, slowly moving off over a slight rise. Wes and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I turn the jeep off and we eased out then quietly followed at a distance. Perhaps turning the motor off triggered just a little concern because the small herd doubled back moving across in front of us, some slowly trotting and others still walking. They were gaining elevation which allowed Travis to take a knee and get the buck’s whole body in his sights. By the time they reached one hundred fifty yards they were in a single file formation all standing broadside to us. Travis touched the trigger, the rifle roared. At this short distance I could see the bullet impact and knew he wouldn’t go far. He trotted a few yards up the hill and expired. A good clean kill that Royalty like him deserves. The hunt started when we arrived and in less than sixty seconds the king was dead and the hunt was over.
As he approached his trophy, Travis quietly said “He’s everything I wanted”. That was the last words any of us said for quite awhile. We just stood there in admiration. The moment was almost spiritual. I silently gave thanks for this special morning with my sons and wished we had brought little Gavin who could have shared this time with us. We started taking photos as the sun peeked over the ridge. The sunshine highlighted his beautiful coat with a golden glow. No one was eager to pull out a knife and disturb it. For the longest time we continued our silent visual. Finally, when the conversation started again we all agreed that we must have done something wrong. We must have broken a law or something because this was just too easy. We didn’t ride horseback for miles or hike for hours or carry heavy loads of venison until our muscles quivered and quit on us. Did we even earn this? I recall a hunt when, rather than hike back to camp in the dark, I laid in the rocks all night surrounded by Elk and just hoping to get a shot the next morning. No, we’ve paid our dues, we deserve an easy hunt once in awhile.
Battle Born Outfitters LLC