As I sit and look over the pictures of my recent Mule Deer hunt, I still admire my deer as if I was looking at someone elses trophy. After 24 days of hard grinding, numerous stalks being blown by my own mistakes, and lots of disappointing days of not seeing a single animal move, I look back at my trophy and marvel that it actually happened to me. Yes, I train daily, shoot daily, and dream both day and night of adventures exactly like the one I just had. But honestly, how often in a hunters life does it all actually line up for a memorable finish? Usually NEVER!!! As this hunt again reminded me, it takes tenacity, dedication, persistence, and heart to make your luck happen. Even with that said, there have not been too many hunting adventures in my long hunting career that were worthy of all the training, family sacrifices, and time afield. This journey was not one of beginners luck, but one that shows what a testament hard work, preparation, and never getting down can give you when the opportunity shows itself to you, not once but twice! And it goes like this Friday, January 24, 2014 came like any other Friday, I was super excited to get off work and get ready for the weekend hunt.
The past Wednesday and Thursday I had taken off hunting after about 20 days straight of chasing mule deer. The rut had looked like it was over and the full moon had come and gone. The moon phase seemed to screw the peak of the season like always, but I was still wishing for a late bloomer. At this stage of the game I was lacking in confidence in my spots, and had not seen a deer in almost a week. I went to work with a simple plan to just get through the day. I would simply concentrate on Saturday early am, when I would find myself awaking with the sunrise on a distant ridge ready to glass every bush, ditch, and draw. As I broke for my lunch break, I took a stroll outside to break up the routine of a 9-5. It was then that I had noticed it was completely overcast and the temp was easily 10 degrees cooler. This may not seem like a mid-west cold front, but hunting in Arizona and currently experiencing constant 80-degree weather, I knew in my heart this was a huge break. I quickly called the wife, who graciously granted another hall pass for an evening hunt. I try to go back to work, but at this point I was mentally somewhere else. I was already mentally at the spotting location glassing in my mind where I thought the big boy might show himself tonight. My shift ends and off to the house I go. I always have everything laid out for situations like this, so I was in and out of the house in less than 10 minutes. Off I go, moch 1 towards the proving grounds.
The drive seems like it took a day to get there, but I arrive and up to my glassing spot I hike. Tripod out, glasses locked let the search begin. Within the first 15 minutes I pick up a doe and two yearlings bedded down about 200 yards from me. Great pick up, but no real confidence because she was with young. So I continue to glass the ridges, valleys, depressions, bushes, and shadows. Occasionally glassing back over to those deer just to settle my ever wondering confidence. About 45 minutes go by of seeing nothing and return my attention to the bedded deer. This time there was a forth deer, but yet another doe. This skipped my heart because she was not there the last hour or so. Now I lock my glasses down and search every branch in every bush within eye distance. And in he walked! Dark chocolate head, impressive rack, and great looking body. I FROZE in excitement. I had prayed to God on my drive in for a chance at a good deer tonight, or just to let me attempt a stalk this evening. God heard me, and granted me what I desired most. NOW WHAT? Anyone that has blown a stalk or 40, knows that the moment you find that buck worth your time, your heart goes overboard and your brain doesnt work any more. Here I was at a place I had glassed for 100s of hours, but now that there was a great looking buck there it all looked foreign! I couldnt find a place to go, a ridge to hide behind, and it even took me 2-3 minutes to find wind direction. Here is where I had my Come to Jesus moment.
I stopped all mental activity and reset my moment. I knew I could do this and I knew now was the time. I got back on my glasses to happily find the big buck had bedded down in a perfect stalk location. He had his back to a huge sage bush with the wind in my favor, I was off. I ran, fell, and covered enough ground to get me within about 100 yards down wind of this guy. I started my final approach. Boots off, extra socks on, and arrow nocked. I was going to kill this deer, this day, this stalk!! As I took each individual step towards him I imagined how it would go, over and over again. I would crest the hill, he would stand up to see what I was, I would settle my pin, release my arrow and give a Michael Jackson leg kick in victory!! But as I see the reference cactus I marked mentally of where he should be, I hear a very familiar bouncing sound to my left. I turn to see the buck and all the does bounding up a ridge. They werent too scared and stopped to see what I was. I dropped instantly to the desert floor and behind the cover of all the buck brush. I retreat with a stealthy way only a ninja could achieve, and decided to try to get ahead of their escape route. I had hunted this area and blown enough stalks to have a good idea where they might go, so off I went. By this I mean, I RAN. I ran like Forrest Gump after Jenny, or like Ray Lewis was chasing me! I ran till I couldnt breath or lift my legs. This effort had landed me what I thought should be way ahead and around of where these deer should hit. So I stop to catch my breath, wipe my sweat, and refocus my energy. I started to climb the ridge and anticipate their arrival. I get to the top and resume my search. Nothing! Another 10 minutes of glassing and nothing! What had happened? Where could they have gone? I stayed there for a moment to recount the events and decided my hunt must be over.
I was head to toe dripping in sweat and my confidence had taken another hit. This was supposed to be my moment, my success, but again I had screwed something up. As I retreated to pick up my boots, I again looked to the sky for answers. It came in a form of self awareness. I took in the surrounding desert, the silence, the opportunity I had lost, and out of no where it recharged me. I heard my mind say worse things have happened, and with a smile I decided to hike an unknown rise and look back towards the land I had called my hunting ground. This produced a new look at an old book. I had never seen the landscape from this vantage point and at once everything was a new. I threw up the glasses and almost instantly picked up 7 does not ¼ mile from me, I was back! If they were still there, I hadnt screwed up the area as I once thought. My concentration heightened, I looked back towards my familiar lowlands and picked up yet another doe. I honestly couldnt believe it. I continued to glass North and again I would pick up a doe here and a pair there. And then it happened! I saw my buck! He was hot on a does tail meandering directly away from me, in the complete opposite direction that I thought they would go. IT WAS ON!!
I took a good 5 minutes to piece out the landscape and the layout of where I needed to go and how I would get there. I WAS OFF. This was way farther than the first run, but much more drastic. I was running out of light and the opportunity was getting away from me. It was here that I mentally saw every Face Book post, Tweet, or Instagram I had shared about having heart, every motivational picture, or training to hunt. It flicked my switch and I found the 22 year old Matthew that hides inside me. I high stepped through that desert, up and down, around here and over there like I was at the NFL combine with all eyes on me. I needed to get in front of this buck and his parade before he left the countryside and the sun ended my dream. I found my second wind, my runners high, and I felt myself flying through the desert. At the end of my run I found myself settled in a drainage in front of these deer with shooting light still available. I had done it, but now was unsure of my ability to seal the deal. I was overcome with exhaustion and adrenaline. I felt every heartbeat in my ear drums, I thought the deer would hear my gasping for air on every breath, and I wasnt sure I could muster the strength to pull back that much wanted 80 pound Mathews MR6 I had in my hands. It was then that I saw the does. They were perched above me and had me pinned already. I ranged them and they were in my effective shooting distance, so I nocked an arrow. I looked further down the wash and I saw a lone deer, at least for a second. Then he showed himself. Still on her tail, he hadnt seen me and neither had his lady. They continued towards the group of does that I hadnt seen until it was too late. They both kept looking around, but would only looked over their left shoulder and I was nestled on their right side. As they started up the ridge and out of my life, I drew back and settle my bottom pin on the hot doe. I knew it was now or never and hoped the buck would follow step for step with his prize. He read the script and was coming. She left my sight window and he started towards it. I kept the pin in place on empty air and at this point awaited his arrival. He took every step she did and stopped where she stopped. The arrow RELEASED! I never felt it go off, but could instantly see my green Nockturnal lighted nock track through the air. I was in slow motion as it traced across that January sky and hit with a body dropping force. The arrow made its mark and that beautiful buck never took another step. He fell in his tracks and I fell to my knees. I could not comprehend what had happened. I never saw him get up and run after his entourage, so he was dead? I did it? I FINALLY DID IT!!!
At that moment in time I felt every single bad hunting day, every failure, every drop of sweat and disappointment welt up in my throat as the emotions came uncontrolled. I found myself in the middle of the desert screaming at the top of my lungs, while crying uncontrollably and shaking like a baby. I tried to get to my feet but failed twice. My body had given me all it had to this point, and now it couldnt respond to my wishes. It took a minute to let the echoes of my chants settle and my uncontrolled emotion to recover. Now it was time to place my hands on my prize. As I walked over to this desert beauty, I again felt the emotions come, but these werent for me. They had been saved for the honor on my quarry. I had come face to face with the animal I had spent almost an entire month dreaming of and chasing. I always respect my harvests, but this one seemed different. It seemed like the padiwon had defeating the Jedi. No tremendous victory, but a mutual respect for what it took to out wit this animal in his home for so long. I could even sense a smirk in his eyes like he was proud of me. Crazy? I know, but hey its my take on it. The rest of the night was complied of me getting this beautiful animal off the mountain and sharing the story with all that had helped me, supported me, and loved me. I think I cried every time I told it, and yelled louder each time I relived it. For me there is no greater accomplishment or feeling of achievement than making a situation successful through your hard work, dedication, and persistence. Either be it in hunting, working, parenting, or just life in general. When you completely dedicate yourself to a task and sacrifice tons for its achievement, the moment you achieve victory that goal becomes a life moment. The moments that traverse generations during campfire stories, and passed on long after your gone. This hunting adventure will honorably sit atop my storybook for now, and I am again proud to say I am a bow hunter, and I live for this!
Equipment -Mathews MR6 with 80# limbs -Gold Tip Kinetic XT Big Game Arrows -Bad Medicine Custom No Regrets Outdoors arrow wraps -GraveDigger 100g Broad heads from No Limit Archery -Nockturnal Green X Nocks -Sure-loc Lethal Weapon Max 5 pin adjustable sight
Specs 540g arrow at 327 fps
Gear -Kryptek Cadog Jacket and Pants in Highlander -Tenzing TZ4000 Pack -Kenetrek Hardscrabble boots -Kenetrek Alaskan Super Heavy Weight socks
Optics -Swarovski 10x42 EL Bino's -Range finder Vortex Ranger 1000