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After 35 years of hunting and enjoying the great outdoors, you would think that at some point I would have just about seen it all, so to speak. How many things could happen on a hunt that were not some variation of a situation I had seen before? I am not talking about small differences, I am talking about extreme occurrences that make you step back and say to yourself, “there is no way that just happened”. Well, my 2012 New Mexico Mule Deer hunt gave me the second one of those extreme experiences in a row!
My 2011 New Mexico Bear hunt had cemented an absolute change in my hunting style, afforded through the use of Sitka clothing and the HECS StealthScreen. New tools in an old game that forever changed the way I will hunt. The Sitka clothing taking away any advantage that a game animal had from their sense of vision, the HECS taking away that other incredible sense of detection game animals have that has cost me so many animals over the years. The only sense left to deal with being their sense of smell. But what happens when we add one more tool into our “bag of tricks” that will offset that final sense, something that will eliminate our human scent too?
I well knew after that bear hunt that the addition of the best scent elimination product available would make me utterly “invisible” out there. After some research and a talking to my good friend Drake Shurley who thrives in open range whitetail country in Texas, I decided that it was time to permanently add Dead Down Wind to my Dynamic Duo. It did not take long on this deer hunt to turn the Dynamic Duo into the Tremendous Trio!
January 1st here in New Mexico is opening day of part two of the archery deer season. The first twenty days of September are part one, allowing those that hunt with a bow the chance to get after the bucks prior to the muzzleloader and rifle hunts. The January hunt, beginning about a month after the rifle hunts ends, gives us the chance to get them while they are in the rut. All in all, the January hunt is normally the best chance that an archer will have at a mature buck.
December brought a couple of major snow storms to the southwest part of the state, and the approaching full moon right after the first of January sure pointed to the bucks being in full rut for opening day. All of us headed into the field on opening day with a child-like enthusiasm, and visions of monster bucks dancing in our heads.
I had purchased a left-over public land mule deer tag in Unit 23 after the Good Lord had blessed me in drawing a unit 23 elk tag last spring. The previous year during my elk hunt I had seen a couple of tremendous bucks during my elk hunt and thought I might be that lucky again in 2011.
The horrific drought we experienced in 2011 brought the deer horn growth on late and even though I saw some big bucks during my elk hunt, they still had a long way to go to finish growing those horns. I passed on buck after buck thinking about how big each would be come January.
The area where I hunt elk is a long two and a half hour drive from my home. However, the tip of unit 23 actually comes right to the town I live in (it is a very big unit). I really did not see the need to drive that far for a deer hunt when there are plenty of quality bucks a lot closer to home. So, upon my return from elk camp I started working on securing a location to hunt deer a little closer to the house. With a little work I received permission to hunt a ranch I had hunted as a kid that always held a few good bucks.
Opening day found my wife Yolanda and I within 47 yards of a great 10 point deer less than an hour after we started hunting. He appeared to be keeping a younger buck away from some does when we glassed him at 300 yards. As we got into range, he was actually already headed out, having prevailed over the younger buck and pushing his does over the hill and into some cover that was impossible to stalk. We let him go without pushing him, hoping to maybe find him again the following day. Later we found another big buck, but there was not enough time left in the day to put a stalk on him. I would be back the next day to see if I could find him.
Day two and three had me within a few yards of a lot of bucks, each of them either too small or too young to harvest. A 160 inch buck at 21 yards really tested my patience but the thin body and color filled face screamed that he was far too young to shoot. As the third day wore on it seemed that this spot I had was starting to get kind of crowded. I stopped seeing many deer and found numerous locations where people had snuck over the fence or even drove through gates to gain access to private lands they did not have permission to hunt. Extremely irritated, I headed home after the third day knowing that I needed to change something.
On the way home I called another ranching friend of mine and asked about getting access to a ranch of his south of where I had been hunting. He agreed and suggested I meet his son Ryan early the next morning so that he could point me the right direction. I started day four with a new sense of excitement and renewed hope of finding that big buck.
Ryan took me to a ridge top and pointed out a lot of country including mountains where he historically had see a lot of good bucks and juniper lined draws that he knew held a lot of deer. Miles and miles of country, the only thing I had to do was pick a direction to go. After Ryan pointed out the location where he had harvested a very heavy 170 inch deer the year before, I decided to head that way.
It took about an hour via 4-wheeler to get into that country but within 10 minutes of arrival I was already on a wide and tall 9 point that had 13 does. They had come to a water hole and were headed back to their bedding area. I spent about an hour trying to get in front of them but each time they crossed over the top of a ridge they seemed to take a left or right turn and get farther ahead of me. Finally I decided I would be better served to just start working and spotting rather than chasing.
I spent the rest of the day walking and glassing. Wow, did I ever cover a lot of country. I found a few bucks, got within 10 yards of a really tall and heavy buck that ended up being way too young to harvest and learned a lot about the ranch. At the end of the day my tag was still in my pocket but at least now I knew how the country was laid out and I knew the next day was going to be a different story.
Day five had me back on that same ridge I started the day before. I spent about an hour glassing one mountain that Ryan had pointed out the day before. That mountain just screamed “big bucks everywhere” but I was not able to locate a single deer on the mountain. I jumped on the 4-wheeler and headed back to the canyon I had worked the day before. I knew that the deer would still be up feeding and I knew there would be more deer around that water hole this morning. I rushed up into that country and as I drove over the ridge above the water hole I could see a couple of does watching me from the brush below it. No big deal, just keep moving until you are out of sight and sound distance then stalk back in. I went over into the next canyon, parked the quad, and prepared to fill a tag!
The Dynamic Duo of my HECS Stealth Screen and my Sitka clothing were already on so I grabbed my bottle of Dead Down Wind Evolve3 Field Spray, sprayed my clothing and gear really well and headed back that direction. Another storm was starting to blow through and in New Mexico that means swirling winds. It was time to put the Tremendous Trio to work!
I crawled over the top of the ridge and once below the skyline found a place to stop and glass. It took only a couple of minutes to find a group of 23 does headed to the water. I started looking quickly through the bunch and knew a group of does this size had to have a good buck with them. It only took a couple of minutes to find the mature buck near the end of the herd, pushing his does along. He was by no means the biggest deer I had seen on the hunt but he was sure big enough to put a stalk on. I grabbed my bow and headed off of the hill. If I worked along the edge of the draw I was in I might just be able to get to the water hole before they did.
I got within 100 yards of the water hole and started working from oak bush to oak bush. As quick and quietly as possible I worked my way to the top of the water tank ridge into an area where I could see a pathway leading to the water. Shortly, the does started passing through one by one, not a single one of them ever looking my way. A breeze swirled around the top of the ridge, yet not a nose went up into the air. I watched some 15 does head into water and then all of a sudden I saw another buck come in from the east, a different buck, a bigger buck.
He stopped about 100 yards away, pinned his ears back and then promptly proceeded to get thrashed by this scrapper with the does. The buck with the does was smaller and had smaller horns but the size of his heart and attitude made him the king of the hill. As I watched the bigger buck run off with his tail tucked between his legs the scrapper headed my way.
It was not much of a decision. He was definitely a mature buck and from a management standpoint, a 140ish buck that beats off 160+ bucks needs to be harvested. He came into the opening, I drew my Alpine F1 Fireball and in a split second let the Gold Tip arrow with a 125 VPA three-bladed broadhead fly.
The arrow ripped right through him, hitting the oak bush behind him and falling in plain sight. He whirled around and headed off the ridge toward the bottom of the canyon. The does, not knowing what had happened but knowing he was running off, followed. I knew the shot was good and he would not go far. I decided to grab my arrow and get to the other edge of the ridge. I thought I might be able to see him go down and make recovery easier. Remember that extreme situation I mentioned at the start of this article? Well, things were about to get really crazy!
Next: Ole Scrapper Part 2
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