just got back from the Trans-Pecos on a Mule Deer hunt. I've been Mule Deer hunting in Texas twice but it was extremely marginal mule deer country and imo it was doubtful the places even had a muley on them. I've been around them a bit in Colorado and New Mexico but never saw anything much bigger than a forkhorn. Anyway, thanks to a good buddy here on the THF I was able to get access to a property that held some legitimate deer. I went all out preparing for this trip...almost an entire new hunting wardrobe, new binos, gear, etc. I even used this trip to justify the purchase of a dream rifle I always wanted...a Mark V in .257 wby mag topped with a 4x16 vortex Diamondback. two boxes of ammo, a quick trip to the range and I was ready to go (so I thought!)
I get to the ranch Friday at noon, meet everyone and unload my gear. we sit around and talk for a bit and at 3pm everyone decides to head out. Ranch is pretty good sized even by west texas standards and most guys tend to hunt in pairs, I climbed into the ranger and off we went. Being a total novice to mule deer, especially these deer, there was a bit of a learning curve, but I did my best to absorb all the knowledge being told to me. Eventually I started to get my muley goggles on and was able to spot deer when they would feed. right at sundown a larger buck was spotted and we went after him but he ended giving us the slip, when we got down there the deer was nowhere to be seen as darkness closed in on us.
the next morning we make our way to glass more or less the same area, being set up on an opposite ridge to accommodate the direction of the sun. we start seeing a few deer as the sun starts to creep up, as we watch a few does feed, we see two bucks come into view below the does along a thick bottom. One of the bucks seems to look pretty good although its hard to tell at 800-1000 yards, even thru a spotting scope. they will hardly step away from the edge of the bottom and soon disappear after feeding for a short while. Parts of the ranch received some good rains and its in very good shape, meaning the deer are not grazing for very long before bedding down making them harder to hunt. Combine the fact that these deer will flat out move when feeding makes it twice a difficult....a grazing mule deer will cover a hundred yards in a matter of minutes. my new hunting partner spots a deer that has to be close to a mile or more behind us and is able to identify it as a buck. we get in the buggy and make our way over to the other ridge and this deer has disappeared. we spend probably close to 20 min looking for this deer only to almost run over him on our way back up the ridge. He got up and ran about 40 yards and stopped and started looking at us. mature deer that would go in the mid 140's...missing one back fork and has weak front forks...a shooter but not what we are looking for. was cool to sit and watch him for a bit at close range.
after that we hunt our way back to camp and go eat lunch. after some down time we get back in the buggy and head to the spot we were to previous afternoon. its pretty warm although we were able to get in the shade of a Yucca and it made it bearable. Watching the same ridge we were watching that evening, what we presume was the larger of the two bucks we saw that morning appeared and we made a plan to get closer. its impossible to cover the distance on foot where we were at so we went mobile and took a long loop road around to get closer to the buck. we were approaching the area he was at we turned and saw him staring us down 500 yards away. we tried to get a good look at him, however the low light conditions made it rough, after a min or so he got nervous and started to high tail it out of there. we backed off and let him be, returning to camp for the night.
the next morning we are back on our morning high spot and we start glassing. after 30 min or so the buck appears (we presume the buck is the same one as the night before and one of the two bucks we had seen the previous morning and we take off after it. he had been feeding in the area of two does and a fawn and we made kind of a loop to avoid bumping the does that had gone off into the bottom. we get down to where he was at and no buck to be found. We assume he had bedded down and we walk all over the area looking to jump him but its like he vanished into thin air. we go back and get the ranger and then drive back over to the area, we locate the two does but this deer is nowhere to be seen.
we are flabbergasted, after about 30 min we give up and head back to camp, taking a long route and glassing some other areas. Again, like magic, my new hunting partner has located some deer on a ridge almost a 1/2 mile away feeding on a greasewood covered ridge. we put on the stalk and more or less walk right up to these two feeding bucks. one is a younger 2 year old and the other is an old deer, probably in the neighborhood of 8 years old. A heavy horned deer, he is a 4x4 with a real narrow spread, probably only 17 or so inches wide. if he was wider I would have considered shooting him but being that narrow with no back forks we decided he wasn't for either of us so we moved out of the area to continue our hunt.
after a lunch and a short nap we get back in the field around 3 pm...this time we go back to our morning spot despite having the sun going to set more or less in our face. around 3:45 we see the two does and the fawn start to feed on a little gravel ridge. we start glassing the area and about 15-20 min later as I was glassing a deer stood up behind a greasewood bush. its obvious that this is a bigger buck and after a check with the spotting scope my guide confirms its the deer from that morning. we look at him for 5-10 min in fear of him going into the bottom, instead he starts feeding up the ridge into the wind. we make a game plan, throw our rifles on and then take off. being where we were at (800-900 yards from the buck give or take) and the time of day (sundown fast approaching) I was given instruction to go after the buck alone, as finding our way back to the buggy and then back to the deer in the dark would be a monumental task. I take my rifle and shooting sticks and head down into the bottom.
this is where the story gets interesting....
I'm making haste to get down to the buck before he either moves off the ridge or gets into the bottom, where he would be impossible to find. moving at a brisk pace, I stop only occasionally to glass the buck and he is steadily feeding off to the north. as I get within 500 yards, 400 yards, 300 yards,etc. its becoming apparent that this may actually come together and I start to get a tad nervous. I glass the buck one last time, confirm that he has both back forks and not broken anywhere. I had set my harvest goal to get a good representative buck for my first mule deer and I knew this one wasn't a monster, but I figured I had come this far already and I should make an effort to get this deer out of principle.
I cannot go straight at this deer so I make a plan to flank him and come up from behind him putting him slightly uphill. this is where I would like to tell you that stalked up with the stealth of a panther, raised my rifle and fired a the kill shot, with the buck never knowing what hit him....well that isn't the case here. I'm so glad that no one was around to see me set up on this deer because what took place in the next 5 min had all the grace of a toddler walking thru an antique shop. I fumbled around, kicked rocks, broke branches, etc. the deer saw me and he turned and after a 10 min staredown he finally put his head down long enough for me to take a few steps before he raised it again. he was looking right at me, he was about 10 yards from the top of the hill where it leveled off and the greasewood got tall. I figured it was now or never so with him continuing to look at me I very clumsily set up the sticks and fumbled with those for half a decade before getting my gun up and on him. his body was more or less shielded by dead bush, I need to have him take a few steps as he offered me no real shot at this angle. I thought about shooting him in the neck but I was not rock steady and did not feel comfortable with that shot. after a few more min staredown he turned and started to walk into the tall greasewood and into safety when I yelled "hey!" and he stopped and looked back at me. I put the crosshairs on his shoulders and squeeze the trigger. the .257 roared and after a second I heard that "THUMP" that comes with a solid hit. when I got the scope back on him he started to walk off really slowly and stopped in an opening when I put the crosshairs on him again and let one fly with the crosshairs on the crease in his shoulder. again I hear the "THUMP" of a solid hit and when I get the scope aligned again and see him go down to his knees, then get back up and take two steps. Being on my last cartridge, I decided to end the shenanigans and when the crosshairs settled on his lower neck I squeezed off one more time and he was down.
a rush of emotions that I haven't felt in years over came me as I called the PH and let him know that the deer was down. Walking over to him he was one of those rare bucks that looked better the closer I got to him. I'll never forget the way he looked staring at me, a silver body and the whitest face I think I've ever seen offset by a black nose and forehead. Truly a remarkable animal.
Upon inspection of the buck, it seems my first shot had hit a limb and deflected, hitting him between the last rib and the hip bone 2/3rds up his body. this shot caught his liver and would have killed the buck. the next bullet hit right where I was aiming and destroyed his heart & lungs, lodging in the hide on the far side.
we took a few photo's, gutted him and made our way back to camp.
To say this was a fantastic hunting trip would be an understatement. it went exactly how I pictured it in my mind and I would not change one thing about the hunt. I'm forever hooked on hunting these gray ghosts