After 25 years of applying, most of you know I got a Pauns muzzleloader tag this year. I'm old and sentimental, and since a lot of the success of this hunt was going to be just getting to set foot there, gun and camera in hand, and hope for the deer of a lifetime - it would be worth it, no matter what. Several scouting trips revealed beautiful country, a road and trail system that is unmatched anywhere in the West, and lots of friendly people. To everyone who called, texted, posted, shared map locations, or just said good luck - Thank You very much. It was an amazing experience.
The first scouting trip revealed a few deer, and included the lower, middle, and upper Tropic areas. Learning roads was made tough by torrential rains. Little did I know they would occur frequently over the next two months. Had a couple flash-flood "learning experiences", and now have a new found respect for those gulley washers!!
The next trip down in mid-Sept showed the tremendous green-up from the rains, but it also revealed the presence of cows everywhere. Little did I know they were to be a major part of my decision to shoot the buck I did. Darn them anyway.
After many conversations, checking the weather reports, and a gut feeling I decided to stay up top in the Tropic Reservoir area. I would do this until proven wrong. I still think it was the right decision, given the sheer number of deer, and no apparent need to migrate. Went down 4 days early, and began scouting in earnest. My God, there's a lot of deer there!!!
My very dear friend and hunting partner (PREDATOR here on MM) showed up and we discussed what I was seeing, the shear numbers of deer, and the fact that the weather was beautiful and they had no reason to leave. Several other people were hunting elk in the area and could feed me info, and others were choosing to hunt the lower country below the Pink Cliffs. For all of you who have tried to hunt thick cedars, you know how difficult that can be.
I was hearing horror stories of no big deer because of drought, big ones not down yet, guides all over and tons of traffic. I was actually nice up top, very few people, new friends made and got to see 4 other quality deer taken by hunters. There are so many 3-points, I don't how a management tag hunter could strike out here.
Now for the unbelievable parts of the story. Usually these begin with "You won't believe this", or "This is a no [censored]!" Over twelve days, we averaged between 20-40 bucks a day (the highest was 50), and at least a 100 does and fawns, and almost all were within muzzleloader range. I identified at least 6 definite shooters, and others with potential. As usual in an area so well traveled by ATV, UTV, or truck traffic, a lot of the deer were seen right from the road. They could care less about you, they were feeding their faces on this great grass!!!
When it comes to deer, I really have no luck, unless it's BAD. We were always 15-20 minutes early, or just minutes too late to see the big one standing in the middle of the road!! We saw several nice deer killed, but no big ones to speak of. All of our shooters were seen by others, so we know they didn't leave - we just couldn't find them.
Over the 8 days of the 9 day season, I passed many very nice deer, that would be instant shooters in many areas of the state or other states. Always looking for Brutus, or Mr. Big. Come to Day 8 of the 9 day hunt, and we were still trying as hard as ever. It was also my 71st birthday, and in 54 years of hunting, I have never taken a single game animal on my birthday. Fending off a little snow, some major 22 degree frost, and 2 1/2 days of torrential rain and fog was trying our patience, but we kept on trying. We were seeing new bucks every day, but never the OMG buck.
On this day however, when 2 dozen Alton cowboys pushed 300 cows thru my deer hunting area, it was almost too much. We were already discussing the next days plans then, and when we looked up we saw 3 very nice mature 4 pt deer feed out of a timbered pocket in a valley. By running up the back side of a ridge, we might make it to the top before they were gone. Lo and behold, we got there and they had crossed the valley, but were still feeding up the other side. I got proned out on the CVA Accura, and had a good rest and sight picture. We discussed mass, forks, brow tines, looked for character points and stickers, and I made up my mind. Lisa quickly ranged the three and were at approx. 190 yards. The 290 Barnes TEZ BT drops 8" at that range, so a top of the back hold center-punched him thru the lungs. A quick death run, and a tumble back down the hill and we were happy campers!!
While not the biggest buck we saw, or widest, or tallest - I think he's the prettiest. A perfect end to a perfect tag, and a first for my birthday!!! Thank you God, for letting be a hunter!