Depending on how you look at it, my first Wyoming mule deer hunt could have “started” at a number of different times during my life. It could have started when I was about 7-8 years old and my old man came home from his first mule deer hunt in Montana, with his one of his best friends (and mine), a ton of good stories and a nice frame 4x4. The picture of him with that 300+ lb deer dead in the snow with his 300 Win Mag laid across the rack has been next to my bed at his house ever since. He has since been on two other deer hunts out west that didn’t result in any great scoring deer but hopefully with his preference point situation in Colorado, Wyoming, and Arizona that will change in the near future. It could have started when I met my hunting buddy at Frostburg State in the fall of 2003 in a college algebra class as a pair of freshmen and started a lifelong friendship that essentially revolves around a love and desire of hunting and the outdoors. Technically speaking, the hunt could have started when I left my driveway on the Eastern Shore of MD on the morning of September 26, 2011 to begin our drive out west. But for all intents and purposes the hunt probably “started” with an open ended email that came from a desk at the soil conservation office in the mountains of Cumberland, MD down to a desk at a small engineering office outside of Charlotte, NC.
Adam had known that since graduating college my passing interest in going out west on a big game hunt was becoming more and more of a good possibility now that we both had full time jobs. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the actual email anymore but it was simply a “Hey, how you doin’ “ type email that ended with a simple statement of “If you ever start looking into a western hunt let me know, I’d love to go with you.” We went back and forth for a while after that debating between elk and deer, bow or rifle, private land or draw tag, and so on. I eventually started reading and researching what we thought would be the best situation to give us an opportunity at some good quality deer where we wouldn’t have to wait until we were 38-40 yrs old to draw. All this research eventually led us to deciding on Region G in Northwest Wyoming. Once the decision was made we started building points and planning out the hunt. We essentially had a 100% chance of drawing by putting in for the Special License with 2 bonus points in that region. On June 24, 2011 we called into the Wyoming Game & Fish office and got the good news…Successful!
Like I had mentioned earlier, we knew that unless something crazy were to happen we would be drawing in 2011. Knowing that, I had already researched and contacted many outfitters in the Grey’s River area about hunting with them. We decided to go with Gary Amerine; owner and guide at Grey’s River Outfitters. I really enjoyed talking with Gary and appreciated his honesty. He runs his deer hunts for 5 days with no more than 6 hunters in camp on a 2-on-1 basis. At the time we reserved our spot in November of 2010 he had a wide open camp for the 4th week of the season. Gary had told me that he really liked this week of hunting due to the likelihood of lower number of hunters and the strong possibility of cooler weather and better deer movement. So as the days drew closer and closer to the hunt we became more and more prepared to go. We had our tags, we had our outfitter, we had our custom rifles built and dialed in, our Sitka gear, our bino’s, our Eberlestock packs, Leica rangefinders, and so on and so forth. When it came time to pull out of Adam’s driveway on Monday morning September 26, 2011 I feel that we were as prepared as we could be.
In the winter prior to the hunt Adam and I had decided that we would be driving out to camp instead of flying. This was due to many factors including getting gear out to camp, airlines losing guns and other equipment, getting the meat back home, getting the horns back home, and ultimately it was cheaper. Depending on how hard we wanted to drive we would essentially only lose 2 extra days (1 on the way out and 1 on the way back) compared to flying and that to us seemed much better than losing any of the previously mentioned items. So as I said earlier, on the morning of September 26, 2011 I left my house and started the drive out to Adam’s in western MD. I got there around lunch time and loaded everything into his truck. Adam and I were college roommates just west of his hometown at Frostburg State University so we thought that it would be nice to swing by one of our old hang outs at Sandspring Saloon and get lunch. So the trip was starting out great. Before we knew it we had knocked out Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio by dark. I think that we were so excited about just getting out there that it pushed us through the night. It seemed like we blinked and we were through Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. Then the trip started to slow down a little; Nebraska seemed to take forever and then finally we were in Wyoming by mid-morning or so on Tuesday. The plan was to make it to Casper and visit with a few old friends that I had made over the years of working in the area, shoot the guns at some prairie dogs or coyotes, hit some hunting stores to get any odds and ends that we may have forgotten, and sleep there for the night.
On Wednesday morning we got up and starting making our way toward Yellowstone. The scenery that we got to see on our way up through central and northwest Wyoming was amazing. Pictures can never do it justice. All the mountains, antelope, cottonwood trees in the creek bottoms, deer, elk, buffalo, hay fields, and small western towns really got us amped up about getting into camp and starting our hunt. We spent Wednesday night in Jackson. We got to ride around the outskirts of Yellowstone, see the famous town square with the elk horn archways, and had dinner and a few beers at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. At this point I think that the realization we were going on a hunt finally sank in on us. It’s funny, my wife and family probably asked me a couple dozen times during the months, weeks, and days leading up to the hunt “Are you excited?” I always answered yes, but the truth was I never really “felt” like I was going to be going on a hunt until we pulled out of Jackson on Thursday morning. In talking to Adam he said that he was exactly the same way. It’s the weirdest feeling to explain, but it’s the honest to God truth.
So we snaked our way down around the mountains out of Jackson along the Snake River and into the town of Alpine. Not too long after that we saw the signs that we had been anticipating seeing the whole ride…. “Bridger National Forest – Grey’s River Road”. This was it, what we’d been waiting for. We made one last stop at the local grocery store/gas station in Alpine and got some breakfast. After fueling up we started making our way down the Grey’s River toward camp. For the next hour and a half we were winding down the road through some of the prettiest country there is on this earth in my opinion. All the aspens were in full fall foliage and had a brilliant glow with the fall sun shining through them. We passed many other outfitter camps and DIY guys along the way. The only bad part about the ride in was that it was about 65-70 degrees and was supposed to stay that way for the entire time in camp. But at that point nothing could have dampened our spirits.
We pulled into camp just after lunch and were greeted by the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls and our camp cook Carol. She was very nice in introducing herself but quickly looked over Adam’s Dodge and asked what became a popular question over the next few days “Maryland huh…You guys drove from there?” To which we always answered “Yeah”. Because we were the first group in camp we got first choice of the tents. We chose the tent that was on the end which was a little bit of an advantage because we had less distance to carry all of our junk. For the last couple of years Adam and I have jumped full bore into the long range shooting deal and because of this we’ve become hyper sensitive about the care and condition of our guns. So needless to say the first items unloaded were the guns and all the stuff needed to shoot them and make sure they were still on after the trip. We started out off the bench at about 200 yards. Everything was still good. We then turned around 180 degrees and got lined up on a rock at about 550 yards off the bipods. One shot each from the 30 Hart and 7 STW into the center of the rock and we were confident that the scopes were where they were supposed to be. About the time that we were finishing up with the guns the second group of hunters pulled in shortly followed by the third. Camp was full and everyone was ready to go hunting.
It seemed like the night before the hunt start just wouldn’t end. I can’t speak for Adam, but I know that I watched the fire on the roof of our tent dance around for at least a couple hours that night. But finally at around 4:00 am the generator came on outside and the lights were on, it was time to go hunting. We made our way over to the breakfast table where Carol had all of our lunch supplies out waiting to be packed and was taking breakfast orders. After a few eggs and some bacon Adam and I made our way out to the horse corral and met our guide Lou. Lou quickly got our saddles sized up for us and loaded the horses into the trailer while we loaded up our gear and guns before heading down to the basin we’d be hunting for the day.
We took the truck as far up the trail as we could before the road got too rough. We jumped out, threw on our packs, jammed the guns down in the scabbard’s, and started up the trail. Adam was on an older white horse named ‘Steel’; I had a great horse that was a few years younger, all black with a mowhawk named ‘Strike’. Both horses were great. I had a little experience with horses when I was younger but I’m not an expert by any means. Luckily with these horses you didn’t have to be. We worked our way up the trail through several meadows constantly glassing the rocky tops of the mountains around us when we spotted our first couple of deer. There were 3-4 does moving up the hill with a 22-23” buck running with them. Not what we were looking for especially on the first morning of the first day. We looked them over for a little while and then kept on moving. We hadn’t gone too much further and had another nice young deer spotted that was in the same class. We continued our way on up the draw when we spotted a good group of deer on the skyline. Just as we got glass on them we saw one good 4x4 and a couple fork horns going over the top of the ridge out of sight. As we sat there on the ridge debating on what to do a few of the bucks out of the group worked their way back over to our side of the ridge. They edged their way down and licked on the snow for a minute or two before heading our way slightly; seemingly looking to bed down in some brush on the side of the mountain for the day.
Just as we were glassing them from about 1100-1200 yards away anticipating them to bed down for the day the four bucks we were watching bolted back up over the hill and out of sight again. For a while we couldn’t figure it out. We knew the deer could see us but didn’t think that they would bolt like that from so far away. The wind was swirling but 98% predominate in blowing almost directly from them to us. About 5 minutes later we found out what had spooked the deer. Some other hunters had come in on us from the other fork of the basin and were in hot pursuit of the bucks we were glassing. Feeling that we hadn’t got a good enough look at the entire group of bucks that we were glassing we decided to set up to be able to see any escape routes the group might take if bumped by the other hunters. The plan worked to perfection. Just about the time the hunters got over to the area the bucks were bedded they came busting out over the top to the escape route that I was guarding.
I actually heard the rocks rolling down the mountain before I saw the group of deer moving over the top of the mountain down toward me. I had anticipated the situation unfolding quickly and had all my stuff unloaded out on the hillside. I quickly pulled up the Leupold 10x42 HD’s and looked over the group of bucks. There were 2 small fork horns, a 24-25” 3x3, a 22-24” 4x4, and a really really nice 4x4 with an eye guard. So here I am on my first western hunt, looking over the 3rd group of mule deer I’ve ever seen hunting, and I’ve got a potential shooter in range 2 hours into the hunt. I instantly started questioning whether or not to shoot him. He was a beautiful deer; and you know how it is…they always look bigger alive. Initially I was going to pass him because of my Dad’s old game judging rule of thumb, “If you don’t instantly say ‘Oh my God, I’m going to shoot him’, then you’re just trying to grow horns”. Usually that rule holds up pretty good, but then the buck turned and looked straight at me for a good 20-30 seconds. At this point I could really get a good look at his mass and get a look at his width (which was just past his ears). I decided that I would never ever pass this buck on the last day so I wasn’t going to pass him now. I set the 10x42’s down and picked up the LRF 1200’s.
At this point he and the other bucks were standing still trying to decide which way to continue on out of the basin. I started ranging them repeatedly. The rangefinder came back with 425…427…422…etc. I figured I had a good reading. The deer were above me at least a 12-15 degrees uphill so I decided to take off a click of whatever my drop ended up being when I shot. Now like I said he had turned to look at me so he was standing chest on and the other two rack bucks were hovering all around him the whole time. I didn’t take the shot here at 425 due to the slight (3-6mph) crosswind worrying that I might not make a good shot or wound one of the other deer. They then began slowly working down to me before stopping again. I quickly got another range 375…375…377. I referenced the drop chart on my gun for 350 to account for the angle and higher altitude than what the chart was made for and dialed my 2.5 moa. I got the buck in my scope, adjusted the parallax, and wound the Mark 4 up from 6.5x to about 12x, worked the bolt, chambered a round, and settled in. About 10 seconds later the other 2 younger bucks that had been guarding my buck broke off from the older deer. I eased the safety ahead and settled the crosshairs just behind the crease of the shoulder to account for the slight right to left wind. The Jewell trigger broke cleanly at 2 lbs and sent the 180gr Berger VLD on its way down the 28in Kreiger barrel exiting the muzzle at approximately 3140fps. When I refocused after the flinch and jump from the gun all I could see was the buck bracing from hard impact before beginning to tumble down the hill.
He rolled and tumbled a total of about 120-140yds downhill off the steep boulder field before coming to a stop. I chambered another round just in case the first one didn’t do its job. When I got the buck back in my scope where he stopped I could see his right leg actually wrapped up on the inside of his rack. I knew he was done and wouldn’t be going anywhere else. I had broken both shoulders just like I wanted to and put the deer down right. Adam and Lou were about 1000 yards off watching the other side of the basin so I only had mother-nature to share the experience with. I rose to my knees and looked up at the mountains above and the basin below and asked the same question I had asked myself since arriving in camp the first day…”What could I have ever done right in my life to deserve being here today?”
I walked over to Adam and Lou as fast as I could to tell them everything that had just happened. It took me about 5 minutes to tell a 2 minutes story because I was so out of breath. Eventually we got the horses rounded up and rode back over to the bottom below my buck. It took us forever, but we eventually scaled the steep boulder field up to where my buck laid. After a bunch of pats on the back and a few pictures we began the hard work of getting him taken care of and packed out. Steel and Strike did their job extremely well hauling the meat and packs as we lead them the 4-5 miles out to the truck. All the guys back at camp were extremely nice and congratulated me many times over. Carol had us a great dinner and put a great end to an amazing day. Now half the pressure was off; I had a buck that I would be proud of no matter the conditions and now I just had to get one for my best friend.
The second day started much the same as the first. Adam and I were the first ones into the breakfast area and ready to go. We trailered four horses up to the trail head and took off up into some of the most rugged and tough country I’ve ever seen. Lou said that from the look of the trail there hadn’t been any other hunters (elk, deer, or sheep) in that basin all year. We stopped just before daylight to glass a ridge that we just knew would have a nice buck. Unfortunately we had no luck. While sitting in the meadow glassing that hillside we did get to hear the first and only bull elk bugle of the trip. What sounded like an older bull bugled several times right at daylight while we were glassing the surrounding hillsides. It was a beautiful morning and a beautiful setting but it turned up no deer. We eventually worked our way back through to another basin, jumped and glassed about 12 does, and that was essentially all for the day. Unfortunately all the high hopes about the “virgin” spot were for not.
We had a little bit of a scare on the way out. In the middle of the trail was a small spring. In the morning the horses had crossed the wet, muddy area with no problem but on the way out it wasn’t the same story. Adam’s horse, Magnum, took a spill; the horse fell on the scabbard side (his right) directly on the gun. Luckily he wasn’t hurt at all other than a bloody nose and neither was the gun. Before heading into town, Adam sent a 190 VLD from the 30 Hart about an inch to the right of a dime sized spec on a rock at 550 yards. That put both of our fears to rest and kept the STW in the case for the rest of the week. While we were near cell phone reception we made a few calls back home to tell everyone about how great the trip had been to that point and sent a few quick pictures of my buck before heading back to camp.
The next morning we set out on the trail just as we had the previous two mornings. We were again glassing some beautiful ridges at daylight but with no success. We weren’t discouraged at all. We got back on the horses and started working our way up through the timber to another basin. We hadn’t gone too far when we came across a couple of DIY guys that had a camp set up with horses not too far from the next basin we were wanting to glass. I have to admit, my hopes for Adam scoring a nice buck dwindled a little when I saw that camp. But we pressed on. Lou got us up the hillside that he had in mind and told us to glass it up while he went and found a tree that he liked. We got down and glassed hard for about 30-40 minutes before Lou came back. Just about that time we saw 5 small bucks on the skyline probably 2000 yards away or so; nothing worth chasing on the 3rd day or the last. I was looking over the 5 small bucks in the spotting scope, Lou was telling us about what the DIY hunters that he had run into were saying about what they’d seen, and Adam was laid down on the slope looking over the basin one last time through my Leupold 10x42’s. Just when we were about to leave he got an intense look in his eyes and said “I think that’s a deer, I think that’s a buck.”
He all but threw me out of the way of the spotter so that he could get a look at 40x. I instantly grabbed my bino’s up and got on him and from what I could see he looked like he had a good frame. But by the way he was laying in the shade I really couldn’t get a good look at what he had for forks or anything else. Adam sized him up for about 30-40 seconds and said “Lou, I think that’s a buck that I’d be happy with.” Lou then jumped behind the spotter for at least 2-3 minutes before saying “He’s a goofy looking buck. I don’t think he’s got a rack that will score real good but I think he’s a buck that will look neat on your wall.” I then got my first look at him at high magnification and I could see what Lou was talking about. From our view point and the way the shade was on the buck you could see a small cheater on the buck’s right top fork and a nice in-liner on his bottom left fork. But what was funny was that it looked like he had no fork on his top left or bottom right, so a main frame 3x3 with extras is what we were thinking from that point.
It’s hard to explain where he was bedded and how the terrain laid out but there was no way to get any eyes on this buck other than exactly where we had glassed him up which was more than 1200 yards away. We are both confident long range shooters but this just wasn’t a shot that we wanted to take at a bedded animal, in a tricky wind, and with no range indication. So we decided to move in on him. We were thinking initially that we’d maybe be able to get to a bench that we thought might be in that 600-700 yard range but it just wasn’t possible. This buck had his spot picked out really well. We eventually realized that our best way to get a shot was going to be through a deer drive. We quickly determined that I would be the one driving so I started out around the buck. My plan was to leave plenty of space between me and him until I got around him and then I would walk so the buck would cut my wind and ease out toward the bottom instead of running out over the top. Well the plan worked perfectly, Adam was set up in a boulder field and the old boy came slipping out the bottom just as planned. He stopped behind a small spruce evergreen at 80 yards when Adam released a 190 VLD at 3284fps into the ball and socket of the buck’s shoulder. He bounded about another 50 yards or so before another shot in the upper shoulder anchored him for good.
I heard the shots and immediately and barreled down the hill as fast as I could. When I got down there Adam was smiling and extremely excited. Everything happened so fast that he couldn’t really tell me what the buck was. To backtrack a little, I had the opportunity to run up to my buck alone but I didn’t because I didn’t want to miss out on sharing the experience with the other guys and Adam returned the favor when he killed his buck. To our surprise the buck was a lot better than we thought he was. He ended up having the cheater and the in-liner just as we’d thought along with the forks that we thought he was missing. He was a main frame 4x4 with the cheater, in-liner, and both eye guards. We did the normal ritual of retelling the story to ourselves a hundred times, snapping pictures and beginning to take care of the animal.
It was definitely a bittersweet feeling packing Adam’s buck out for obvious reasons. On the one hand our first ever mule deer hunt could not have been any better. We had both killed great deer and were tagged out by lunch on the 3rd day of our hunt. But with that it meant that we were going to be heading out of camp soon and the adventure would be over. When we got back to camp the other hunters that were there gave us many congratulations and promptly pulled out some official score sheets and a tape. When I first saw my deer alive I thought that he’d go 160-170. He taped out at 166 4/8 gross. When I saw Adam’s dead for the first time I knew he was bigger than mine and I thought that he’d go mid 170’s. He taped out at an amazing 184 7/8. We were tickled to death to say the least. As the rest of the hunters and guides trickled back in to camp we re-told the stories many more times at dinner over some wonderful rib-eye steaks. Unfortunately we had to head back to the tent a little early to finish packing so that we could leave in the morning.
We again got out of our cots at 4:00am with the rest of the guys for breakfast. After a couple more handshakes and well wishes we headed out for home. After 32 hours of straight driving we made it back to Adam’s house on Wednesday evening and had a crowd of Adam’s family and our friends there to greet us. We re-told our stories many more times and showed all of our pictures to everyone on the big screen TV. But then the dreaded day finally came; the official end of our trip when we had to shake hands and part ways to go back to “real life”. I headed on back down the road and finished out the last 3.5 hours of “the trip” alone. Ever since pulling out of the driveway, even now writing this piece 3-4 days later, I still feel a little depressed for the first time in my life. I guess you have to be crazy to miss getting up early every day, riding a horse into some of the most rugged country in the west, and walk out with most of your body being as sore as it’s ever been, and then admit to everyone that you’re a little depressed that its over….but I’ve been called worse.
Last edited by eshorebwhntr; 11-01-2011 at 06:42 PM.