By Matt Bateman
Just thinking about hunting big deer in high mountain basins gets me excited. I have hunted in locations around the world and the United States, and nothing gets me excited like big mule deer.
When it comes to hunting big mule deer in the high country, I have always been a loner. I have my secret spots and, when I spot a big buck, the secret is mine alone. I have gone to extremes to cover my tracks and not let anyone find out where I was. Friends and family have called me names like: crazy, obsessed, addicted, passionate, and even stupid. Heck, there have been times when I sat on a mountain and called myself stupid.
Maybe I’ve been selfish, or maybe I’m just cautious from being burned too many times by those who couldn’t keep something quiet. I have been pickier about my hunting partners than I have been about the girls I have dated. A recent archery season was different though. I hooked up with a good group of guys who share the same love and passion for hunting big bucks in the high country, like I do.
Teamwork was the approach. We worked with each other and fed off of each other to make this season one to remember. The results that came from hard work and teamwork were nothing short of incredible. There are a lot of things that go into successfully taking a good mule deer with archery equipment in the high country on public land; but, this year, teamwork was the key to our success.
We scouted incredibly hard as a team. We each spent what time we could scouting in different areas at different times and we shared what we saw and found. No secrets! With five of us scouting, we literally scouted five times as much area. We all had the same goal in mind – Find as many good bucks as possible and have different options to hunt come opening day. We all have jobs and responsibilities; but, by working as a team, one or more of use was on the mountain scouting a couple of times every week.
Hunting with good bowhunters who share your same passion makes you a better hunter and motivates you. No matter how hardcore you are about hunting, there are times when you are tired, frustrated or even burned out – especially when it comes to archery hunting the steep, rugged terrain that big mule deer call home. Hunting with other sportsmen that share this same passion will push you during these times and take you to a whole new level of hunting hard.
One of the most effective things about hunting as a team is that you can create opportunities for each other that one person cannot create on his own. Not only can you work together and combine your knowledge and experience when making a game plan to go after a big buck, but you can set each other up to cover escape routes, push for each other, spot for each other and signal each other into the best positions to get an opportunity. If there is a recipe for success in the high county, this is it. This method of teamwork proved to be deadly time and time again.
This brings me to hunting camp this season. Despite the fact that I was worn out from the long grueling hike, it didn’t take long after arriving in camp and meeting up with the “team” to get me pumped up and rejuvenated. Our hunting group consisted of my good friends and hunting buddies, Kip fowler, Trent Thornton, Duane Keech, and Cody Cook. We had all gone different directions for the opener, so it was nice to finally join up with the crew that had all worked hard during the pre-season to make this year a success.
As Cody and Kip talked about a huge typical they had spotted just before dark, I knew this was the buck I had seen one month earlier on a scouting trip. I had only seen him once, but the image of its wide typical frame was still engraved in my memory. This was the kind of typical mule deer I had dreamed of.
At 5:00 a.m. the next morning we left camp. The plan was to split up in different areas where we could cover the most county and locate some bucks (another benefit of team hunting). Cody and I headed to a vantage point to try and glass up the big typical while Trent and Duane headed in another direction. Kip stayed in a central location to spot both ways. I have to give huge props to Kip. He worked as hard or harder than any of us, despite the fact that he didn’t even have a Utah deer tag.
With thoughts of a monster typical on our minds, it didn’t take Cody and I long to cover the mile of rugged terrain to a good vantage point. Shortly after 6:00 a.m., we had the big typical spotted. Cody and I both drooled as we looked at him through our spotting scopes. What an awesome buck!
Before the sun was up, he left the other bucks and headed straight for heavy timber. Cody made an attempt to get down the mountain and get ahead of the buck while I stayed high to keep an eye on him, but he was too late. The big buck was in the deep, dark pines, and that is where he would stay for the day. Despite my best efforts over the next six hours, I was unable to find the big buck through my spotting scope. We decided that since we didn’t have an exact location we would wait him out rather than go in blind and blow him out of the country. The wait was on!
I radioed Kip and told him we were going to sit the big buck out and wait to make a move. Kip, Duane, and Trent all decided that they would grab some lunch from camp and head our way to give us more eyes to spot the big buck and make a move on him.
I was thrilled to hear this as I was starving and wanted them to bring me some grub! Kip, Duane and Trent could have easily stayed in camp for the afternoon, but their willingness to come over and help out ended up paying off huge.
Trent headed to meet Cody in the bottom of the canyon while Duane and Kip headed high to meet me. While heading my direction, Duane and Kip caught a couple of bucks on the move. They quickly set up Duane and he made a great shot on the bigger buck of the two. I was shocked when I heard Kip and Duane hoot and holler a half-mile from my location.
Duane had just tagged out at 2:00 in the afternoon in the middle of August. I can’t help but think that if Duane hadn’t had the attitude of working as a team and being willing to come help us, he would have never been presented with that opportunity. I couldn’t have been more excited for Duane. Not being able to resist checking out Duane’s buck, I headed their way to share in the excitement. After high fives, pictures and a quick quartering job, we packed Duane’s buck back to camp.
Duane’s success was shared by all of us and the fire was lit under us again to head back and make a move on the big typical we had put to bed. During the hike back, I excitedly described the big typical to the other guys.
Trent mentioned that he just hoped he could get a chance to see the big buck. I jokingly told him, “Don’t worry, I’ll let you see him close up and even hold him.” We all shared a good laugh!
When we put together a game plan to go after the big typical, there was no selfishness or fighting over who went where. We had just one goal in mind. The three of us with tags were put in the best possible positions with the hope that one of us might get a shot at this awesome buck.
Trent worked in from below, Cody headed high and I opted to set up in the draw that we had seen the buck cross earlier. I had also seen the buck across in the same spot one month earlier on a scouting trip.
Our plan worked perfectly; which, believe me, is not the norm when it comes to hunting big bucks. The big buck had been bedded in the heavy timber and knew something was up. His attempt to sneak out of there brought him right to me.
I caught a glimpse of antlers headed my way through the trees and I knew that this was it. I was going to get a chance at this bruiser.
I am normally a cool customer, but my heart was pounding out of my chest. This was what I had worked so hard for – Just a chance at a buck like this. As the buck got close, I tried to calm myself but my nerves were getting the best of me. Just before the big buck cleared the brush below me, I drew. He came out perfectly broadside right where I had previously ranged a rock at forty yards, but he was still on the move.
My heart nearly stopped. I thought he was not going to stop and give me a shot. Finally, the buck froze when he sensed that something wasn’t right. As I settled my fifty-yard pin on his shoulder, my nerves calmed and
instinct took over. Hours of practice paid off. My arrows flew true!
As I watched the big buck run off, I knew it was done. The Grim Reaper Razortip did it’s job as I watched the big buck drop.
Excited doesn’t even begin to describe my emotions. I’m sure we sounded like a war party as my war cry was answered back from all directions from a group of passionate hunters that had played such a huge part in me being successful.
This brings me to the best part of hunting together as a team. As Kip, Duane, Trent, and Cody got to my location, it was hugs and high fives all around.
Five hard-core hunters and tough guys dancing around hugging each other! We all felt like we had accomplished something special. It didn’t matter that I was the one putting my tag on the great buck, We did it as a team.