Tag Archive for: mule

12:23AM – The glow of my computer screen reveals a map littered with steep faces, jagged peaks, avalanche chutes, and small alpine lakes.  Since this time last year I’d been waiting to return these mountains.  As we bounced up the rocky back road the anticipation built as steep faces grew from the thick creek bottom.  For the past two years I’d wanted to wrap my deer tag around the thick antlers of a mature mule deer.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains

Early last October I began to search the mountainous country of Western Montana with that purpose in mind.  Many days were spent without ever laying eyes on a big deer.  The only glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel was a day in late November when we arrived at a new trailhead only to see a bruiser of a buck down just above us on the mountainside.  A couple of hunters vibrantly glowed off the snow covered hillside.  I knew we were getting closer, but I would have to wait till 2013 to continue searching.

My 2013 deer season began on October 12th.  My Metcalf was full of backcountry gear and food and we headed off up the mountain.  The goal was simply to become more familiar with the area.  Our first day started with a moose sighting.  This bull stood patiently observing the area and quickly had me dreaming about one day having a moose tag in my hand.

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We set up camp that night and laid eyes on a few deer through the spotter.  Day 2 was spent looping high onto a rocky ridge and inspecting an adjacent basin.  No deer were spotted, but we gained valuable knowledge of the area.  As we descended back to the truck we spotted 2 bears feeding on berries in the thick brush on the adjacent hillside.  The brush was far to thick for a bow stalk and we simply watched them disappear into the tall bushes.  No bucks had been spotted but we felt confident that we could change that when we came back with a rifle in hand.

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Montana’s general season found us back at the same trailhead with packs loaded down for 7 days.  We slowly worked our way up the uneven trail keeping our eyes peeled for the tan hide of a mountain buck.  That morning the spotter revealed two bucks nosing does high on the mountain.  Neither buck was the “one” and we pushed onward up the mountain.

Day 2 broke with a storefront rolling in.  Cold temps and snow were being called for.  We were ready for the nasty weather, but unfortunately I had forgotten to tape the drop chart to the side of my stock and only remembered the data for 0-300 and 600 yards.  To top it off Travis had come down with a head cold.  We decided to back out for a few days and then come back for a fresh start.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains

Three days later we were again headed back up the mountain.  Our goal would be to hunt a loop taking us over 3 mountain passes and through some great country to try to find a big buck.  The gameplan was to get camp up to the first pass and spend two days there glassing the adjacent hillsides.  Without knowing where these bucks liked to spend their time meant we would be putting in a full days work behind the glass.  As we settled in for our first night, the sound of snow bouncing off of our tent was something we weren’t sure if we should be happy or mad about.  When our alarms went off the next morning, snow and fog surrounded our camp.  Low visibility, wind, and more snow meant we would be hunkered in the tent for some time, and we intended to wait it out.  To worsen a poor start to our hunt, I’d started the morning with a sore throat.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains, camping, snow

The following afternoon the fog lifted just enough for us to sneak out for the last few hours  of daylight.  We slowly worked down and around a ridge working our way through the rocks.  Nothing.  It appeared that the the game would be found high on the exposed, wind blown slopes or far down the drainage below us.  We made it back to camp where a fire was built, and we dried out before taking refuge in the tent once again.

6:20AM  I’ve already been awake for a few hours.  My sore throat has developed into a full head cold.  Being stuck in a tent at over 7000′ with a cold is no fun, but the weather was clear and it was time to move.  We shook our snowy tent off and loaded up our packs once again.  We slowly began breaking trail through a foot of snow as we moved towards our second camp location.

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After two days of living in the tent we were low on water and took a detour down to a lake to pump water before continuing on.  As we did the unmistakable tracks of a buck crossed the trail and went up the hill.

With our water refilled we pushed on with high hopes of getting an opportunity in the next three days.  Just as we reached the flat bench we would be calling home another storm began rolling in.  We quickly got our tent up and immediately got out of the weather to avoid getting wet.  A few hours later the visibility had decreased to about 200′.  The decision was made to still stalk that evening and see if we could cut a track.  With no tracks found we headed back to camp.

As I unzipped the tent the following morning I was very displeased at what lay before me.  Another foot of snow and zero visibility.  Enough was enough and I made the decision that sometimes the mountains win.  This time, just as many times before they won.  We quickly packed up camp once again.  With two feet of snow it now complicated our descent back to the truck.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains, snow

The plan had been to traverse some avalanche chutes where the deer liked to live and then work down to the trail and finally make our way to the truck.  With the snow it made the idea of traversing avalanche chutes one that didn’t sit well with me.  I didn’t feel like dying, and we decided to slowly slip and slide our way down through the trees and brush.  Multiple small cliffs had to be navigated around and three hours later we finally set foot back on the trail.  Five days essentially wasted in a tent and hiking through snow.  Again I had failed to even lay eyes on a big mountain mule deer.  No one said it would be easy and when you must teach yourself everything and find your own locations to hunt it makes it even more difficult.  With no time this summer to scout I decided that our annual trip east must once again be done.  This time we’d be exploring on our own in hopes we could fill not one but two deer tags.

Read Part 2 HERE.

-Zack

We drove into the sunset after enjoying a day of elk hunting with our friend Ryan.  Our roadtrip east had begun.  Images of big muley bucks clouded my thoughts, navigating through small towns, until finally reaching our destination at nightfall.  We had seen small groups of mule deer off the road on the way in, giving us a small glimpse of what was to come.  I was excited for my first chance to shoulder a rifle of the fall season.

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That night I could hear the large snow flakes beating the  outside of the truck. The temperatures dropped as I  hunkered in my 15F sleeping bag. I jolted awake to the sound of my alarm, setting my eyes on a blanket of fresh snow.  Zack and I gathered our gear and ate breakfast in our truck, attempting to gain any warmth we could before heading into the frozen landscape.  As I sank my teeth into a muffin, I pulled up my binos and glassed through the foggy windshield.  Instantly I located the outline of a deer which resembled the characteristics of a muley buck.   Zack and I quickly finished our breakfast and began to close the distance on the deer.

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The buck was a nice 4×4 with a 3in kicker off his left beam.  The deer was still young and we decided to pass and look for a mature buck. That day we found plenty of deer and passed multiple bucks, ending the day with a close encounter with a decent 3×3.  This 3×3 wanted to do nothing else, but chase does.  It looked as if the rut was in full swing.

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At last light we decided to bust out the predator call.   After 15 minutes of calling Zack spotted a coyote 600 yards away along the fence line.  I dialed in my scope to 20x and got setup to take a shot if the coyote presented myself with an opportunity.  I lost sight of the coyote and continued to scan the long grass for the small furry figure.  Quickly I looked left and saw a coyote at 150yds staring at me!  I motioned Zack to get the camera on him, and instantly the yote took off running, with another coyote close by.  I guessed my yardage as Zack stopped the coyote with a bark.  Missed high.  Coyote ran another 300yards before stopping again.  Another miss high and the coyote was gone.  It was an awesome coyote stand, and a spark was ignited inside me.  Calling in coyotes is truly an adrenaline rush and anyone who hasn’t tried calling coyotes needs to buy a distress call and do their best Les Johnson impression!

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The next day was spent weeding through more mule deer, once again running into the kicker buck 4×4.  Plans were made and we headed north, looking for new country.  Our afternoon we found an endless amount of smaller bucks and a young 4×4 with great potential in the coming years.  All of the bucks were tied up with does, oblivious most of the time to our presence.  We camped for the night, grilling elk steaks to cap off the day.

 

The next morning we continued further into the breaks.  Finally we found a pocket of land that the landowner had blocked access to trucks or ATVs.  We headed in and instantly saw a couple small bucks chasing does.  We kept our eyes glued to the glass before spotting a large mule deer body in the distance.  It was a buck, and needed a better look.  We closed the distance from 1 mile to 1000yds.  The deer was a tall framed, crazy 3×3, with forks in the back.  The deer’s headgear resembled a small elk rack and  I decided this deer was definitely deserved of a closer look.

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Our only option was to sneak through the coulees in front of us, which put us to within 350yds of the herd.  I finally located the buck bedded in some sage.  He stood, chased some smaller bucks away from his does and then bedded back down, directly behind another sage bush.  I knew this was a deer I wanted to take if given the opportunity.  If the deer stood, he would have to clear the brush in order for me to have a shot.  Zack and I setup, waiting for the deer to make a move.

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I dialed in my Vortex turret to just over 300yds and settled into a sturdy rest on my MR pack.  After 45min of waiting, the buck stood, chasing his does with his nose in the air.  It was awesome watching it all take place through my rifle scope.  This buck was doe crazy and his interaction with the other deer was very entertaining.  The deer finally stopped broadside, I squeezed off, hitting the deer slightly high.  I racked in another HSM round as the deer stopped after a couple steps.  I put one more round into the deer’s vitals, dropping the deer within seconds.  The Snowy Mountain Rifle had done its job, buck down!

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I walked up on the downed deer, checking out his unique looking rack, complete with thick cactus looking bases.  The buck was a cool looking deer, with a ton of character.  Zack said it best at the beginning of our trip, “I don’t hold out looking to shoot a deer that meets someone’s scoring standards, when I see a buck, I just know whether its a deer I want to take or not”.

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We deboned the deer and loaded the fresh meat into our Longbows.  We made the hike back through the numerous coulees and breaks back to the truck.

mystery, ranch, montana, wild, longbow, packout, mule, deer, muley, sitka, gearZack and I cracked open some beers and situated the fresh meat into the cooler, watching the light fade fast in the distance.

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The Yeti 160 was starting to fill up, and ready for one more deer.  The road trip was off to a great start!  It was now Zack’s chance to search for a mule deer.

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-Travis