Mule Deer Buck Found on the Skyline

My GPS had just rolled over eight miles for the day and with a heavy pack filled with camping gear I stopped to take a break and glass. It was 4th of July weekend and I was just three days into my high country backpack scouting trip for mule deer when I saw an animal like figure crest a distant ridge top at last light. After pulling the spotting scope out, a quick glance at about a mile quickly determined I had found the buck I would be hunting come September.

The author finds "the one" as it hits the ever telling skyline. PC: Jordan Budd

The author finds “the one” as it hits the ever telling backcountry skyline. PC: Jordan Budd

Ever since I was a senior in high school I’ve wanted to pursue high country mule deer with my bow. After drawing this same tag as a non-resident two times prior and having some tough luck, I was now a resident of Wyoming and could not only purchase a general deer tag but I could scout almost every weekend throughout the summer. With this advantage, my goal for the year was to locate and kill a high country buck with a couple of stipulations for myself. The deer had to be mature and I had to do it start to finish solo.

my goal for the year was to locate and kill a high country buck…

This buck had a big 4×3 main frame and appeared to be about 25” wide with some kickers. A big pop belly, sway back and short stocky face told me he was an old deer and definitely one to pursue. For the next five weeks I would backpack in and find him every weekend. At over 10,500 feet I would watch him for hours and had his routines down fairly exact, until the first week in August when I lost him. He’d always been fairly easy to locate, even always by himself. Over the next month I packed in six more times looking for him and tried adjacent basins, drainages and even dropped to lower country but could never turn him up again.

Knowing water sources in the high country is a must for the hunter. PC: Jordan Budd

Knowing water sources in backcountry mule deer habitat is a must for any backcountry hunt. PC: Jordan Budd

Backcountry 15x’s

The season was set to open September first for general archery in that area, but given the nature of my job being a field producer for Best of the West TV, I was filming a Bighorn Sheep hunt the first couple weeks of the season and was unable to hunt the buck. September 13th I packed out of sheep camp, grabbed my backpack already packed and headed up the mountain. With a wedding I had to attend on the 15th and a large snowstorm predicted to hit the mountain, I had only one full day to find a buck. At this point, I had lost most hope in finding that specific deer. The season had been open for nearly two weeks and I was certain after he stripped his velvet he would head for the dark timber and be nearly impossible to glass up and hunt.

I got up early that morning, threw my pack on and headed to a ridge I’d glassed off of a hundred times. As the sun came up I scanned the mountainside but couldn’t turn up a single deer. After the first half hour I decided to run down the ridge and glass some slightly lower country. As I dug my 15’s out of my pack I saw a big grey body with my naked eye in an opening about 800 yards out. As soon as I put glass on him I saw his strong right side and big frame. My heart skipped a beat when I realized who I had just found again.

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A solo backcountry mule deer hunt hunt can take a lot of fortitude. What better backdrop than a glassing vista than this?! PC: Jordan Budd

I quickly chucked all of my stuff in my pack and took off for a stalk, hoping to catch him feeding before he went back to the timber. After getting over there I crept into the opening where he had been, but he was gone. That afternoon I sat through a snowstorm that thankfully passed through before the evening. I walked into the area I had lost the buck in that morning and sat up to glass on a big rock outcropping. About an hour before dark I looked over to my left and saw the familiar big grey body standing about 300 yards from me on the same ridge I was on. I quickly grabbed my bow, checked the wind and made my approach. He was in a very small patch of trees on a big open hillside, and as I made it to the trees I again lost his position. Thinking he may have worked around the hillside I slowly made my way along the ridge, still glassing into the trees where I’d first seen him. The stars aligned when I glassed a pile of branches in a small opening and saw the left side of an antler turn. One step forward he could have seen me, but one step back I couldn’t have seen him.

I quickly grabbed my bow, checked the wind and made my approach.

He was bedded facing away from me and with a range at 130 yards, I quickly got a small tree in between him and I, took my boots off and made the final descent into range. Once at the small tree, I could only see part of his antlers and a pile of sticks to the left of him ranged at 65 yards.

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Finding a backcountry mule deer can be a game of inches. Then executing a stalk solo is an incredible accomplishement. PC: Jordan Budd

There was about 20 minutes of light left and a wall of clouds on the way so I decided I wasn’t going to wait for him to stand up, I was going to have to make a move to see his vitals and take the shot. The hillside was fairly steep, so I sat down with my right leg under me and my left leg straight out in the best position I could for a shot and started scooting out to my left. When he would look away from me, I would move over a little bit more exposing more of his body. At one point my release swung as I moved, hitting my quiver and the deer snapped his head around and stared right at me for probably two minutes. I just sat as still as I possibly could and practically held my breath when he eventually couldn’t pick me out and turned the other direction.

Solo Buck Down

I finally moved myself over enough to see all of his vitals and felt it was the right time for a shot. I waited until his head was completely turned away from me and his ears were out before I drew. I remember feeling extremely in control of that shot and thought process, smooth draw, anchor corner of the mouth, nose on the string, good level, settle my pin and squeeze. As soon as the shot broke I saw that arrow arcing right into his shoulder, then it sounded like a branch breaking as he jumped up and took off. Not believing what had just taken place, I sprinted up the hill to my boots where I could get a better look as to where he had gone. I scanned around with my binoculars and found him laying about 150 yards from where I had shot him, expired. My arrow had broken through both shoulder blades on a clean pass through, and it was all over in 20 seconds.

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Big smile for a goal set, goal accomplished. Solo mule deer buck down in the backcountry. Not only goal accomplished but what a buck! PC: Jordan Budd

Being able to finally put my hands on a deer of that caliber, on a public land hunt with archery equipment and in a place that means so much to me was a feeling that can’t be explained. I took as many photos as I could before the predicted storm hit. With sideways rain I got the buck quartered and packed out in the dark, just as it started to snow. You can bet that I will be back year after year putting boots on the ground in the high country, looking for my next adventure.

Getting your deer out solo isn't easy but looking back at this set of antlers might help motivate. PC: Jordan Budd

Getting your deer out solo isn’t easy but looking back at this set of antlers might help motivate. PC: Jordan Budd

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