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360 Mule Deer

By Brian Barney

Fifty five yards and closing, the buck was walking right at me. I leaned out of sight, and eased my bow back. I waited for my opportunity to loose an arrow; he walked straight at me until spotting my dark figure hiding behind a piece of sage. He bolted, but he was too late. I had placed a perfect arrow through both lungs. I was only 4 hours into my 2008 Montana antelope season, and it was over a little quicker than expected. It was a nice respectable antelope and I was proud of this trophy. The perfect execution of a spot and stalk antelope helps build my confidence, and extra time to prepare for my most anticipated hunt of the season.

I was fortunate enough this year to draw a Wyoming mule deer tag. I will be hunting mule deer in some of the most breathtaking country with my bow. It will be the first time I have hunted Wyoming so I tried to learn and condense as much information on this new country as I could. I know there will be hardships and challenges I will face on this alpine Wyoming mule deer hunt. I believe the ever evolving preparations, day in and day out, all the hard running miles, many arrows, and sacrifices I have made will pay off.

I arrive a couple days before season. My plan is to make two separate 5 day backpacking hunts into areas I have scouted earlier. After loading up I quickly start putting miles between me and hunting pressure. The country is some of the prettiest high country I have ever hunted. Big, steep rugged country with isolated lush green basins sitting amongst the rocks and timber patches. This is absolutely perfect mule deer country. I have anticipated and prepared all year to be back deep in the mountains challenging myself against one of my favorite adversaries the high county mule deer. Early in the afternoon I make my way up to the ridge, and traverse a couple of basins. I am not quite to the place I wanted to get to, but the country starts looking pretty bucky, soon my pack is off and I am picking apart these high country basins.

After seeing a few smaller bucks I pick out a huge bedded mule deer, heavy velvet horns with huge backs, an obvious shooter. It’s the day before season so I decide to slip over to the adjoining basin and peer inside. Immediately I see two bucks both in velvet one with a good frame with some trash, and one super tall deep forked buck, heavy with a nice inline. Both bucks have huge bodies and are already in their gray winter coats. Three shooters in two basins, to say I am exited is the understatement of the year. My mind starts kicking into overdrive as I plot and plan how I will sneak within a stones throw of these high country monarchs. I decide to make camp over the ridge a ways. I find a marginal spot on the edge of some shale slides at over 10,000 feet. I kick out a spot and get my bivy tent set up just in time as a huge storm rolls in. It starts to rain, and then proceeds to dump snow for two days. I made several attempts to spot one of the shooters, but the fog always prevailed. It was cold tough living, but knowing I have three shooters over the ridge made staying in my alpine perch easy.

Late in the afternoon on the third day of the hunt, it finally starts to clear. Snow covered peaks and basins start to reveal bucks. I spot one of the shooters I had seen days prior. He is super tall with deep forks and a 6 inch inline. A gorgeous buck that would exceed my expectations. The buck is bedded with 5 or maybe more of his buddies. With 2 hours of day light and a good wind I quickly drop the thousand vertical feet to the ridge within 150 yards of the bucks. The wind gets a little fickle. My first instinct is to go look and see if I can get a shot, but I decide not to risk it. I make the long climb back up to the ridge to arrive just before dark. I see the tall inline buck still bedded in the same spot. I tell myself I made the right decision, patience will kill the buck.

I am up early, before light on the forth day at my new favorite high glassing position. I am fogged in for the first hour but as it begins to clear multiple bucks emerge. The tall inline buck from the night before is with a hard horned 3 point. They bed with both of the bucks with a good vantage, no play here. Down below there are eight bucks one is the big framed buck with stickers I saw earlier. After a couple of hours of watching and waiting, its mid morning and the bucks are up feeding with rising thermals. The sticker buck feeds in range of a steep chute. The thought of falling off long drop offs keeps my full attention as I skirted cliff bans, and steep clay avalanche chutes, slick from the recent moisture. Soaking wet and covered in mud, my adrenalin starts to race as I close the gap. I play cat and mouse for a few minutes trying to crawl into position, but the big sticker buck feeds just out of range. I watch him and all his buddies bed down. After a couple of hours watching the bucks swapping beds, the sticker buck beds in a vulnerable spot. I slip into range of the buck with an arrow knocked. I feel like I have him, I am in range with good wind. I sit motionless for over an hour waiting for him to stand. Suddenly it happens, a buck either notices me or smells me and blows out. When the big buck broke he never gave me a shot.

No time to reflect on what went wrong, as I make it back to my pack I see the tall inline buck with the 3 point hard horn in a crease over a rise, they obviously never saw the eight spooked bucks below them in the basin. They are in a great spot with the wind right, so I quickly put a plan into action. I shed my shoes and slip across the steep gravel slope, as I get to the ridge I peek over the rise, the bucks are feeding unaware of my presence. I range a tree branch overtop of the deer, right at 50 yards. I draw back and rise up, I settle my pin, and ease the trigger. The arrow slips in tight behind the shoulder. Success! I knelt down in absolute excitement; I knew I placed a good arrow. What a feeling to know all the blood, sweat, and tears I put in returns 360 degrees to come together to accomplished my lofty goal of arrowing a trophy mule deer. After a short tracking job I find my buck, this buck is a true giant, heavy and high. I am thrilled to harvest such a magnificent buck. It doesn’t get any better than trying to match wits with high country mule deer in remote alpine basins. Thanks to the guys at Big Sky Archery for always keeping me shooting straight.

Brian Barneys equipment:
  • Bow: Hoyt Katera
  • String: Winners choice
  • Arrows: Easton camo fmj
  • Broadheads: Magnum slick tricks
  • Optics: Swarovski
  • Camo: Sika hunting clothing