High Country Velvet Dreams
My brother called me a few weeks after we had notched our tags on our first ever archery mule deer in Utah; he was “little kid on Christmas morning excited” to tell me he just got off the phone with the guys over at Outdoors International. They invited us both on an exploratory hunt to a new property they had secured for the following bow season. He was looking to get pictures and a positive review of the area in order to sell the hunt. It sounded like a dream. I needed to commit in the next few days or the spots would be filled. I can still remember where I was when the text from my new boss came through saying I could take ten days off in the heart of the guide season in Alaska. I think I may have had some happy tears in my eyes as I dialed my brother’s number to tell him I’m in! Needless to say I was stoked at the opportunity to once again hunt mule deer in Utah with my favorite hunting partner.
Before I knew it July had passed and it was early August, I had been shooting religiously but my shape was lacking. My legs were skinnier than normal. I had done nothing more than sit in the rower’s seat of a 20’ drift boat guiding trout fishing on the Kenai River the entire summer. I was going to have to count on my mental toughness to carry me on the mountain. A few pack runs, no more after trip beers with clients and I felt good to go. My brother picked me up from the Salt Lake City Airport; we shot our bows and were on the mountain the following night.
Opening day had us split up looking at different basins; I glassed a few does and small bucks but nothing to get my heart going. That afternoon Spencer my guide and I spotted the buck he had been telling me about “One Eye” a big symmetrical framed 4×4 with one eye guard. I went in for a stalk but quickly backed out when some does fed between the buck and me. I got back up to Spencer as the sun dropped and just in time to hear part of the conversation he was having with his cousin Quinn – my brothers guide. He was telling the story of how my brother snuck in and arrowed a 170s buck. It was a clear night on the mountain and as we were packing my brothers deer out I looked up and spotted a shooting star, like always I wished for a big buck. I didn’t realize my wish would actually come true the following night.
At first light we found my buck feeding where we left him the night before. He fed across the basin and up into a rocky ridge covered in buck brush and jack pines. We lost him as the sun poked over the mountain and into our spotting scopes but figured he was bedded somewhere in there. I decided to make a bold move, figuring he was going to come back across to feed that night. I hiked up the steep rocky ridge and into position about 200 yards from where we figured he was bedded. I sat in the shade under a cluster of jack pines sheltering me from the hot August sun. My boots were off and I had an arrow knocked ready to make a move. I saw some does and small bucks passing through. Hours later I jumped as my radio exploded with static. Spencer was trying to tell me he had One Eye spotted above me. He was with the same small buck from the night before; they were feeding across the ridge and down to the basin just like we had hoped. My thermals were all over but I felt too close to try and back out. I crept up the mountain toward the next opening they said he was feeding toward.
From what Spencer was telling me I was within 60 yards. I inched closer, every time the breeze picked up I moved. The small buck fed out into the bottom of the opening, and the last words I remember hearing from Spencer was “he’s going to come out, he’s right behind that buck!” All I could see was the antler tips of the small buck, if One Eye stepped out now I was going to miss my opportunity. I quickly got a few steps closer to find a small opening. I looked down at my feet, ensuring I wasn’t going to make any rocks roll as I set up for a shot. I looked back up and could see his velvet antler tips moving toward the opening.
Shaking now I grabbed my range finder, his perfect velvet frame looked too big for his body. Holy shit! Ok, just looks at his vitals, focus man. I had to talk myself through it as I ranged him multiple times. I dialed my sight pin to 31 yards and drew as he started to walk. At full draw I stopped him before he could disappear, he looked straight down at me, I felt my bow release the arrow. From there it was a blur, I lost my arrow in flight but heard a loud crack and then brush breaking as he crashed through the jack pines down the mountain at me. I tried to nock another arrow but quickly realized he had already expired.
I threw my bow down and jumped on him to stop the velvet from getting torn up as he rolled down the mountain. I freaked and lost all control of my emotions holding him in my hands, I shouted and yelled. I was ecstatic. I could hear the guys yelling from across the canyon 1,400 yards away as they watched it all unfold through their spotting scopes. He had only slightly blemished his velvet on the fall but that’s just part of the story.
I went to call my brother to tell him I did it but my phone was already ringing. I answered to his voice energized with excitement “Holy shit! How big is he?!”. He had gone to town to drop off his deer at the taxidermist and freeze the quarters to take back home, so I thought he was still gone. Somehow he made it back to the top of the mountain just in time to see me stalk into position and watch as my arrow arched in tight behind the bucks shoulder. That night I walked off the mountain with an unexplainable feeling of satisfaction only a hunter could understand. The stars aligned and I knew for that instance I was the happiest man in the world.
We took my deer to the taxidermist the next day and he scored it at 192”. Hunting with my brother means everything to me. Being able to share the experience with a like minded individual as passionate about bow hunting as he is enhances the entire experience. We have a lot of hunting to do together but I know this one will always be a top hunt for us! I cannot thank Outdoors International enough for the invite to go on this hunt and Spencer for being my spotter.