I had a little help from above out in Wyoming this year. My dad, my best hunting partner and best friend, died out of the blue on June 4th this past summer. It really knocked me on my knees for awhile. We'd been going out to Wyoming the last four years chasing deer and antelope and this fall was to be our fifth year in a row. In fact, the last time I saw him we were talking about this year’s trip and when we’d be getting our tags in the mail. I knew it would be different without him there, but that place was special to us and I looked forward to revisiting our “old stomping grounds”.
The forecast predicted hot, dry weather for the entire week we’d be out there. That definitely held true with high’s in the 80’s most days and finally some relief with it down to the 50’s on the last day. I really wanted to spend some time by myself this trip just reflecting on the many areas my dad and I had hiked in years past and conjure up some memories to relive. I passed the first couple days doing just that, which was therapeutic in and of itself. The third morning of the trip found me hiking to an area I always said I wanted to go, but never had. The hike started around a quarter after six that morning and found myself four miles from the truck by around noon. I had finally spotted a really big bodied deer, but he moved off into the timber line before getting glass on his antlers. As I wandered closer, trying to relocate him, I came over a knoll and noticed a group of pronghorn bedded in a valley about 400 yards away. I backed around to the other side of outcropping that was covered in pine and was able to close the distance to 185 yards. The big boy stood up to check out a doe that started grazing and as soon as he did, I shot. He only made it about 20 more yards and fell over. I was ecstatic and happy for the clean kill. The next four hours were spent quartering him up and making the long mostly uphill trek to the truck.
Over the days, the other guys were all able to fill their antelope tags and one took a nice mulie as well. By day seven, the last day in the hunt, a couple of the old boys were beat and called it a hunt. Two of them left for home and the third relaxed around town. That left just two of us to tough it out on the last day. Don had mentioned the night before that he wanted to try walking some river bottoms that we hadn’t yet hunted that week. However, when we were loading up the truck that last morning, I told Don that I wanted to try the place we went to last night. I just had a feeling about that area. He agreed and we planned on hunting it in the morning and hitting up the river bottoms in the evening.
We drove the truck back up a two-track five miles until it ended and then had a 45 minute walk to get to a bluff where we could glass a huge valley littered with draws, dips, nooks and crannies and we spent the first hour or so behind our bino’s. about 100 yards out we spotted a couple bucks working their way up a draw and decided we wanted to try and put a stalk on them. Another hour and a half later and we were stumped as to where those two mulie’s headed off to. Since we had already come so far, we decided to keep walking the ridgeline and see what we could find for the rest of the day. We were back in the country that I’d harvested my antelope in earlier in the week, but fortunately, it had cooled off considerably which made for a much more pleasant day of hunting.
Looking back, we guessed we hiked 12 or 13 miles that day and it took hours of hiking and glassing to even see anything else with horns. When we finally did, we were accidentally busting them before we even knew they were there. Around noon, we took a break and watched a bedded doe for awhile while we ate some snacks and let the feet have a rest.
The last six hours of this hunt turned this into the best day in the field that I’ve ever experienced. No sooner did we get up from our power break and hike over the next ridge, when we see a huge 5x5 elk wandering across a big valley all by himself. We didn't have elk tags, but just seeing that big bull and watching him for a solid half hour made our days. He was an awesome sight to see and was the first big mature bull elk I had ever seen in the wild. We spent a good hour watching him, taking pictures and video, and trying to sneak in for a closer look. Eventually he wandered off and we made our way over the next ridge top to continue on our quest for antlers. We just clear the top of this ridgeline and Don picks up on a twitch of antler. Moments later, Don seals the deal on a very respectable 8-point Wyoming whitetail. We couldn’t believe how the day was ending up and were just smiles from ear to ear. It took about two hours to get the deer quartered, caped, and ready to pack out and we had a little over two hours left of daylight and about a four mile hike to the truck with a couple quarters on each of our backs. I told Don, the only thing that could make this day better is taking a big ol' mulie buck on the final hours of the hunt on the hike back.
We must have been hiking about 45 minutes or so when I see a small mulie doe staring at me down in a draw filled with a few pines. I was so sick of seeing mulie doe at 50 yards and less all week long that I just kept walking without even stopping. But then, after a couple more steps, I noticed another doe next to a nearby tree. I looked back at Don and said "now things are getting interesting." We were walking a fire break along the top of a ridge line and the bulldozer had pushed a pile of dirt about 18" high along the side of the path. So, I decided to get down (with the backpack full of hindquarters on my back and get ready for a shot just in case something pops out with horns on it. While I'm getting down into position and not even looking at the deer, Don is shouting "Take him, take him!". I look up and see a beautiful mulie 4x4 standing there broadside at a distance that all I knew was less than 200 yards. I have about 3 seconds to finish getting the gun into position, flip the scope caps, make sure the crosshairs are on him and squeeze the trigger. BAM! Down he drops. I was whooping and hollering like crazy. It had been a long, emotional week for me and this was just the epitome of why I hunt.
Shortly after, Don told me that before we'd come around that bend on the ridgeline that he said a quick prayer to let something special happen. Well I have no doubt that the Lord and my dad were sitting up there watching that day unfold with big smiles on their faces. I hadn't seen another mature buck that week, the hunter pressure was intense this year, and the weather had been unseasonably warm. All the odds were against it, but it ended up being a day I'll never forget topped off with my biggest buck ever. Thank you Lord and thank you Don. I couldn't have asked for a better guy to be hunting with that day.