240 inch Wyoming Giant
By Adam Johnson
It all began as a dream over 25 years ago. Ever since I can remember, the thing I looked forward to most throughout the year was hunting season. You see, I was born in Wyoming, which means that the chances are better than not that you grew up hunting, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors that we are blessed with here in our state. I just could not wait to go hang out with my dad, and whoever else might be going with us, and walk the hills in search of the plentiful game.
I always remember nagging my dad to shoot the first animal that we saw, and many times out of sheer frustration he would do so for me, even though I knew he probably wanted something bigger. It was these early hunts where my passion for hunting grew into somewhat of an obsession for me. At times it was all I could think about. I was constantly browsing the Cabela's catalogs and hunting magazines or books that I could get my hands on. I knew at this time my Dad and I would be hunting partners for life.
As my appetite for big game hunting grew, I knew that I wanted to start taking more mature trophy animals because of the challenge that it presented. I began doing a lot more scouting and spending a lot more time in the outdoors as time went on, but still, I was having a hard time finding animals that I wanted. It is for this reason that I started to look at doing some guided hunts. Unfortunately, life had eventually taken over and work soon became my priority, leaving little time to put in the effort needed to harvest trophy big game. I was just getting to a point in life where I was going to be able to physically and financially do what I needed to make some of my hunting dreams a reality, when the unthinkable happened.
In the summer of 2004, I was working on a rig outside of Baggs, WY just like any other day. I went to work not really thinking one way or the other if life would be any different when I finished my day – but this day it was. That evening I had a piece of casing fall on me. It ended up breaking my neck and back, crushing my hand and causing various internal problems and severe head trauma. I was life-flighted by helicopter back to Casper, where they began putting me back together.
I remember little from my time in Casper, other than the doctors coming into my room and squeezing my feet and legs to see if I had regained any feeling in my lower extremities. They were telling us that I might not walk again. I remember thinking to myself, "This can't possibly be happening…" I couldn't stomach the thought of not being able to do the things that I love. The only thoughts that really kept me going were my family and my desire to someday get back to the mountains.
God willing, I began to regain feeling as my nerves healed and the surgeries took hold. I was then flown to Denver to Presbyterian St. Luke's to spend the next couple of months getting more surgery and recovering from the accident.
240 inch Wyoming Giant - 2
Many back surgeries, an amputation of my thumb, and some fancy plastic surgery later, I was back on my feet, fighting to gain some sort of normalcy in my life. I remember reading stacks and stacks of hunting magazines for hours, wondering to myself if I would ever have the chance to do some of the hunts I dreamt about. I am a stubborn person and I don't give up easily, so I pushed myself as hard as possible to get out of the hospital and get back to life.
After getting released from the hospital, I began to put my life back together. First thing on the list was to go hunting and get out into the mountains. Some of my good friends and family slowly started getting me out doing things, although I did over-do it on a regular basis and paid for it later. As my strength began to increase, I began to think about what was next. My dad and I had always talked about doing a high country horseback mule deer hunt, and had so much fun on a similar elk hunt, that we decided to make it happen.
I began researching hunts in Wyoming and came across Non-Typical Outfitters. Several calls to Robb Wiley and I knew it was the place for my dad and me. There was nothing open for us that year, but we reserved a spot for the next year. The next year and a half was absolute torture, as I read stories of others who had killed the bucks of their dreams and I constantly looked on Robb's website. Robb also supplied me with amazing scouting photos of bucks he had been finding. Eventually, the time had finally arrived and it was our turn!
My dad and I drove up and spent the first night in Pinedale. Over dinner and some beers we discussed the hunt and our expectations. We had both decided that we were going for broke and wouldn't shoot anything that we wouldn't be absolutely proud of. More importantly, I had been experiencing a shift of priorities and outlook on hunting, cherishing opportunities to spend time with the ones we love. It had finally become more about the whole experience of the hunt than it was to kill a giant buck (although nobody will complain about that either).
A LRH Group (including me and Andy) is hunting these big deer with
Non-Typical Outfitters in 2015 and 2016. Read about it HERE.
Len Backus, Publisher of LRH
We talked at length on the drive into camp the next day about our plan to have fun and enjoy our hunt together, no matter what the outcome. As we were driving in between Pinedale and Jackson, taking in the beauty of the landscape, we recalled numerous memories of hunts from the past in this area and had some good laughs. As we pulled into camp, it was like many other camps we have seen throughout the years, with wall tents, corrals, horses and a nice fire pit.
We arrived early, so we spent some time meeting the others that were still around and were able to catch a last day hunter coming in with a stud-of-a-buck from the first hunt. I remember saying to my dad, if I see one even close to that, it's a done deal and he agreed. Later that evening we met our guide, Troy, the other guides in camp and also Robb and Brenda Wiley. They really seemed to enjoy what they do and could see the passion in their eyes and in Robb's words. We shot our rifles, had a meeting about how the hunt would move forward, ate a great meal and then turned in for the night. Needless to say, I did not sleep much that night, as I thought about the days to come.
240 inch Wyoming Giant - 3For the next four days, we would rise early and turn in late. Our days were filled with beautiful country, good food, good horses, good friends, and a lot of riding and glassing as we fought the full moon phase. It was slow, but we were still glassing up numerous bucks throughout the area, we just hadn't found that special buck yet. As we got out of bed on the last day, Robb told us that a couple of the other guides would be coming along to provide some extra eyes and give it everything they had on the last day. We were pleasantly surprised and took to the trail.
Riding on the horse in the dark with headlamps and dodging limbs had become second nature. The last morning was much cooler and a majority of mountains were fogged in, but we kept pushing ahead ridge after ridge bowl after bowl. We got to the top of one ridge in particular and my dad and I split up with the guides to cover more country. It wasn't but an hour and James and I heard shots that were close to us. I knew that my dad had got a shot at a buck. After getting back with the others, we soon found out that they had been unsuccessful but did have a chance at a nice buck.
Now it was my turn. Ron spotted what looked like a big deer off in the distance, and James and I decided we had to make a quick move. We got on the horses and covered ground, as fast as we could. We got to the top of the ridge just across from the deer, but he was still way out of range. Then we had to run about a half-mile down the other side in hopes the buck was still on the hillside when we got there. He was, and James told me he was a shooter.
I took off my backpack and got settled in on a good rest in the rocks. I then ranged the buck and dialed my scope. It was then that I got the first real look at the buck. I knew he was big; there was no question if I was going to shoot him. After calming my nerves, I squeezed the trigger. "Shoot him again," James said. I was already on him, and as he stopped briefly at the crest of the ridge, as I squeezed off another shot. Silence. I felt completely confident about the shot, but the other member of the crew were able to watch the whole thing unfold from a ridge-top and thought that I had missed. James went back and got the horses and we went for the longest ride of my life.
We got to the spot where the buck had been and there was nothing: not a drop of blood. Then, as we began walking to the top of the ridge where we last saw him, there he was. For the first time in my hunting career, I did not experience any type of ground shrinkage. James and I began to scream and yell, which the others quickly understood to mean that the buck was dead and to bring the packhorse. At this point, I sat down by the buck and was overcome with emotions. I began to thinking back to the days in the hospital, wondering if I would ever have the chance to do this again. Words cannot describe what I was feeling. The buck was absolutely breathtaking. The others finally got over to the deer and we took a long while admiring him, replaying the scenario over and over, laughing in disbelief.
Later, after a long walk down the mountain, we took a short horse ride back to camp. Everyone in camp was in shock when they saw the buck. There were many handshakes, stories and lot of laughter. The buck ended up scoring 240 5/8. Talking with Robb after the hunt about the area where we shot the buck, he thought that another hunter had shot at this buck a couple of years earlier. The "007" buck has a perfect bullet hole though his left ear, leading one to believe he is right!
I would like to thank my dad for always being by my side and my wife for putting up with my many days gone hunting every year. I would also like to thank my family for their never-ending support throughout my life, and my friends for being there for me through my accident and to this day. Lastly, Robb and Brenda Wiley for running Non-Typical Outfitters, a top notch operation, and Troy, James, and Ron for helping me achieve my dream and make the most of my second chance.