Don’t get me wrong. I’m not much different from the average hunter. I, too, occasionally love to take a buck or a bull that would demand the envy of everyone, to know that I have matched wits with the smartest animal on the mountain and won. However, for the most part I just love the opportunity to be out there, a chance to see animals, to be with family on the ultimate stress free stage, and maybe earn a chance to release an arrow and cleanly take an animal from the area we call home.
Mid-winter in Utah found me again putting in for my tags, trying to imagine myself finally drawing that tag of a lifetime for my favorite species to hunt with my bow, the mule deer. Each year I apply, I always have to weigh the decision whether to apply for opportunity and stand a great chance of drawing or to hold out for a tag that potentially could take several more years to draw.
Once, we had to wait for the mail with the anticipation of a child hoping for a BB gun under the Christmas tree, hoping for the letter that says, “Dear Clinton, you were successful.” Nowadays it is simply an early e-mail that surprises you with the word we see more often than not: “Unsuccessful.”
When I finally drew my southern Utah deer tag, my mind immediately went into overdrive, as I imagined myself in a belly crawl, velvet antlers on the skyline, the deer unaware of my presence. I had work to do. Shortly after the last snow melted that spring, My son, Matthew, I took all of the information we had received from the amazing brotherhood of bowhunters, collected our maps, and were on our way. My son and I found ourselves searching countless canyons for the unmistakable form of the mule deer. I had never spent that much time in an area prior to a hunt, but we wanted to get this right. We had a lot of fun climbing up and down some of the steepest terrain known to man, drove over 5000 miles by the time we were done scouting, and had seen everything from bear to bison and several decent deer.
I had been reminded by a good friend to stop worrying about finding a deer that others would consider a trophy, just enjoy the hunt, and work my butt off finding a deer that would be special for me. He understands that most often the trophy should be measured by the effort and the method used for the hunt, rather than the size of the antlers.
Opening morning found Matthew and me in a blind we had placed in what we hoped was in the way of a beautiful buck we had seen often during the summer. He wasn’t the largest buck we saw, but was full of character—heavy racked, stickers out both sides, and an autumn cape even in July. But the buck of my dreams had other plans and simply decided he would head for a less used area for a few days. In the last moments of our morning we spotted a giant black bear boar wandering down the mountainside without a care in the world, reminding us we were not the only predators around.
I had given up finding my deer again by the time my little brother, Shane, arrived to help us do some spotting. The summer had been quite wet even though our trip was dry. We made several unsuccessful stalks interrupted by noise from dry grass and leaves. I sometimes second guessed my choice of equipment as I watched bucks standing fifty yards away while I grasped my recurve and reminded myself why I was there.
By now my son had learned a great deal about how to guide someone making a stalk to a deer. Numerous times he put me right on top of a buck. My best chance came at a great deer, a very wide 3×4. From 300 yards my son guided me within ten yards of him. In some thick brush, I decided to step around a large rock to the left when the buck appeared on my right. Busted, I watched the deer bound off and take my heart with him.
On the third day we saw a bachelor herd of bucks coming up through the bottom of the canyon. We decided to bail off the edge and hope for the best. All I knew for sure was that one of the bucks was heavy and appeared to be a great example of the kind of deer I was after. All we had to do now was be patient.
Suddenly three small bucks came past me on my left as I tightened the pressure on my bowstring. Where was the bigger buck? I squinted through the early morning light to try to spot him. All of a sudden, I realized he had stopped short of me and was standing facing downhill ready to bolt. He was behind some oak brush, and I tried to look for a shooting lane. I finally tried to stand up as tall as I could so I could shoot over the brush. We play this scenario out in our brains a million times, trying to stay calm and not come apart. I remember little about my bow coming back to full draw and my broadhead stopping short of my left hand, but I do remember seeing the arrow in flight, seemingly in slow motion as it dropped in toward the buck’s body. The deer jumped and kicked as the arrow reached him. I saw that the hit might be a little far back, but he appeared to give the classic death kick as I sank back into the brush hoping for the best.
When my brother arrived he tried congratulating me, but he could see the concern in my eyes indicating that I was not convinced the buck was down. Shortly after hitting the deer I had heard what sounded like something wrestling in the buck brush below me, but I couldn’t be sure. The brush was so thick it would be nearly impossible for us to find an arrow or early blood. The agonizing but obvious decision not to follow him for at least an hour was going to be rough.
My heart was on pause as we searched for blood in the thick cover. It was easier to follow his obvious path through the brush, the way my Chessie pup runs on his way to a fallen mallard—hard and straight. We found some blood here and there as we continued to drop off the mountain. I had decided to look down toward the brush where I had heard the noise when I noticed an antler sticking up, and there he was. We ran down the mountain to him, and I was right. He was heavy, he was down, and he was mine. I didn’t think this moment could get any better until my brother said, “I think that is your deer.” Well of course it was my deer. “No,” he continued. “It is your deer, the same deer we saw several times during the summer.”
My son, my brother, and I exchanged hugs and tears. I had done it—we had done it. I could not have been any happier. We made short work of the skinning and quartering, and my son got to feel the weight of a deer on his back.
This would normally be a great ending to a great hunt, but I sensed that it was not over yet. We decided to stay up in camp an extra day after taking the meat down to town to keep it cool. My son had a spike elk tag and I wanted to see if we could get him into one. I was worried about my antlers and cape remaining behind on the mountain where we had seen the bear. I wanted to get the deer home right away.
I woke right at first light. I had parked my truck right against the trailer we were in and had the antlers under a tarp strapped to each corner of the truck. Then I heard the morning squirrel outside the trailer, and then another, and then what sounded like three. I stood up quickly to peek out the small window on the side and looked into the eyes of a beautiful bear.
I woke my son, scrambled to grab my pistol, and told him we needed to save the deer. I ran out the door and tried to get several feet of separation from the trailer just in case the bear was close. Suddenly I realized the bear was over by my brother’s truck, staring at me from all fours. He was not scared at all. When I ran toward him kicking dust and fired into the air, he finally decided he did not need the deer that badly and left. Further investigation showed that the bear had the antlers in his mouth a few times and tore up the velvet, but he was unable to pull it from the truck. If I hadn’t secured the antlers, they would have been gone.
I owe my success to my family, friends, and my dad, who I think guided me from above. I had enjoyed a great trip, a great summer of scouting, the perfect deer taken with just a stick and string, and a clean, humane kill to give the ultimate respect to that mountain giant.
Equipment Notes: On this hunt, Clint carried a 53# Black Widow recurve, Easton carbon shafts, and Wensel Woodsman broadheads.