Sometimes it ends too soon.
All that anticipation for about 3 hours of hunting. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it is funny how things work out. This year’s general muzzleloader hunt in Utah was short, but very cool.
Hunting rarely turns out as expected…
After planning this hunt with my brother and long time hunting partner, Ben, I expected to spend opening day hunting alone, that evening he would come down after work and hunt with me the rest of the week. I enjoy hunting with Ben because he hunts hard, and his hunting style is very similar to mine. So I was glad when he said he got the opener off and would meet me at camp the night before the season opened after dark.
Ben had been watching a great buck early in the season in a particular area, and I hoped to locate this deer (along with a few of his big buddies) the night before the season started so we could position ourselves accordingly before light the following morning. We knew, that along with the light, there would be other hunters – as can be expected on a general OTC hunt, especially in Utah.
This area isn’t a long hike from the road, it is rather steep however, and I barely made the top before dark. I spend about 15 minutes as the light was fading searching for any sign of the big buck. Nothing. I returned to camp, set up the tent in the dark (which was more difficult than it should have been with this particular tent), and waited to Ben’s arrival. He showed up as I was hammering the final tent stakes in with a big rock, trying not to injure a finger or toe. We talked about what I had seen that evening, which didn’t take very long, had some dinner, and hit the hay–in anticipation of what we might find the next morning.
4:30 came pretty early that morning. We wanted to be in position before anyone else so we made our way up the mountain plenty early. We set up on a ridge between two basins, each glassing one. As it was just getting light enough to see, I spotted a buck in the bottom the basin I was watching. I watched him for several minutes, waiting for the light to get a little brighter so I could judge him a little better. He looked like a heavy buck, but I couldn’t put him past his ears. I would expect that he was a 18-22 inch buck, I never did get points counted, as it was too dark and he fed into the timber. I continued to glass, checking in every now and then with Ben. He was not seeing any deer, just the lights from flashlights and headlamps of hunters moving around and across the basin he was watching.
I had a hunter move in from below, check the wind and move on. I’m pretty sure he never saw me, as he was quite intent on sneaking, even though I was only about 20 yards away. I watched a group of does and a small velvet covered spike feed out into the bottom of the basin. I set up the spotter to try and put some big antlers on one of those deer. They suddenly spooked, I turned around to see another hunter just above and behind me. I waved and walked up to talk to him. He told me there were at least 4 hunters on the top of the basin, I had seen one below and Ben had seen a lot of guys moving in from the other basin.
Ben and I decided to move. With all the surrounding pressure, we figured some deer would eventually get bumped. So we elected to move down the ridge, and work through the bottom of the basin I had been watching, up through the timber where I had seen the buck go at first light, and hopefully we could jump some bucks, have some pushed to us, or find some up and feeding in one of the secluded meadows, hidden from the view of hunters on the high ridges.
Let me go backwards just a little bit now. At least 2 of the hunters on the ridge, we had expected to be there. A good friend of mine had told me about this area several years ago, and his sister was planning on hunting the top of the basin. This played into our original plan, as I didn’t want to disrupt her hunt and was hoping she might knock a buck down first thing that morning.
Now back to the story…as we reached the bottom of the basin, we heard several shots above us near the top of the basin. We stalled, watching and listening for spooked deer to flash through the trees ahead of us…Nothing. We moved silently, listening, through a few open meadows in the bottom of the basin. We heard another shot above us (this totals 3 shots). But still no animals were spooked our way.
We continued moving forward, when suddenly I heard something ahead, and saw the flash of antlers come from around a tree about 30 yards ahead of me. The big buck was startled and hit the brakes when he saw us, turning and crossing to my left as he dodged a large deadfall. I was fumbling with the hammer on my muzzleloader as I raised the gun to my shoulder. The deer was picking up speed, I remembered thinking, “don’t hit him too far back.” My iron sights caught up with him and I swung to the front of his shoulder and let one fly. It rocked him hard, he turned towards me and stumbled back. He was dead within 10 steps. I had hit him perfectly through the front shoulder.
Ben had been a few steps behind me watching the excitement. “More bucks!” he yelled, and took off on a “Lance Merrell Run” towards them. They were moving to our right about 80 yards from me. After his heroic sprint, the deer passed Ben at fewer than 20 yards, all broadside and moving past in single file…3 point, 3 point, 2 point. He let them run and the forest quieted down again.
I walked up to the downed deer.
I would not have thought that I would have killed my biggest buck to date with a Muzzleloader on Utah’s General hunt. The buck is 27.5 inches wide and gross scores just shy of 184 inches.