Big mule deer are easy: many bowhunters say big muleys are the toughest game of all. It took me only 20 years to prove them wrong.
And then, like a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky; it happened. In only a few hours one morning in late August, I discovered my error. Big mule deer are in fact easy.
Now before I tell you the story that changed my stance on the relative difficulty of bagging a big muley, let me give you some background. Prior to my enlightenment, I suffered a multitude of experiences that led me to the erroneous assumption that hunting these deer was difficult. Here are some of those experiences:
One of my earliest defeats at the hands of a big muley came on a mountaintop in the Rockies in early September. I had backpacked in alone and set up a Spartan camp. Just before dark several days into the hunt I spotted what I had come for: a bachelor group of bucks, one of which was exceptional. The only problem was my comfort--my safety really. Rain and snow had fallen the night before, and my bivouac sack leaked. All of my clothes were wet, and they would never dry in the continuing storm.
Now I faced a tough decision: spend another cold, miserable--and potentially dangerous--night on the mountain, or do the only intelligent thing and head down. I stayed.
No one has ever accused me of being smart when it comes to hunting mule deer. Persistent maybe, but not smart. With only a wet sleeping bag for protection, I stalked above the bucks under the cover of darkness and in my soggy bag wedged myself between two scrubby fir trees to keep from sliding down the mountain. To keep warm, I did more pushups that night than a boot camp recruit does in a month.
The next morning, stiff, cold, and very tired, I crept out of my soggy bag and onto a point to have a look. The herd, including a giant 30-inch 4x4, was very near where at had been. I planned my stalk, complete with an intermediate point where I could take a peek to make sure the deer hadn't moved. When I reached this point and peeked carefully over a rock, one of the bucks was staring straight at me -- still well out of range. I almost cried as they bounced away.
* Bad mule deer moment number two also took place in the mid-'80s, again in September. This time the mountain was in Idaho, in country so rough along the Salmon River that it gave the adventure the distinct flavor of sheep hunting. Packing in along a ridge top, I finally had to stop because of darkness. At that point, the ridge was a knife-edge, forcing me to sleep with my head over one side of the crest and my legs over the other. From sheer exhaustion I quickly fell asleep.
The slope on both sides comprised loose talus on a hard pack, and 30 feet below my "bed" was a cliff. I was sleeping so soundly that I didn't notice when my bag slipped off the crest and began slowly edging down the talus toward my certain death. When I awoke at 4 a.m. I could tell that my feet were hanging in thin air and that I was no longer bent like a bobby pin over the spine of the ridge. My heart immediately pounded violently as the reality of my position struck home. In a panic, I slowly clawed my way out of the bag and up the slope: There was no more sleep for me that night. And no deer on that trip.
* The next notable failure occurred in the high desert mountains a few years after the near death experience. It was late August, and I was after a big, heavy-antlered 4x4. I spotted him from a plateau, and my excitement grew by the moment as the buck began milling in the aspen and sage basin below -- obviously looking for a place to bed -- and I couldn't believe my good fortune when he finally settled in. I had him. I was finally going to break my big mule deer jinx!
I took the necessary time to do it right, and an hour and a half later I was hunched behind a bush 20 yards from the buck, catching my breath and getting focused. That's when I made a discovery -- my release aid was gone! My heart sank.
"I can kill him with fingers," I thought, nocking an arrow and curling three fingers around the string.
I rose and drew a careful bead on his vitals. What happened next wasn't pretty. The arrow glanced off the buck's skull between his antlers and made a pathetic little arc into the air. The buck collapsed.
Thinking I had somehow killed the deer, I jumped up with a celebratory yelp and ran to claim my prize. But as I approached, his eye rolled back and focused on me. With dawning recognition he leapt up and bolted, kicking both hind feet into the air like a frisky mule, and raced across the sage out of sight.
When I got back to the plateau, I found the release aid lying next to my spotting scope. If nothing else, the event taught me a valuable (and painful) lesson. Now I always attach the release to my bow when it's not around my wrist.
Lest you think I had paid my dues at that point, read on. One August my brother, Rusty, and I were hunting the high desert. We needed water if we were going to keep hunting, and our map revealed a remote spring. With fully loaded packs, we hiked over a dusty plateau to reach the spring. The farther we went the rougher the terrain became, and we were exhausted and out of water by the time we reached the "spring"--which was now a dry patch of dirt. This was not good. We should have headed back to the vehicle right then, but we had come to hunt big muleys and we reckoned ourselves to be a couple of tough hombres.
We found another spring on the map only a few hours' hike to the west. Unfortunately, the truck and the tiny creek next to it were due east. We went west and found the second "spring"--now a greasy, green mud slick with no water.
We spent the following 10 hours dragging our dehydrated carcasses back across that plateau on will power alone. My tongue was like a desiccated lizard, crusty in my mouth. By the time we reached water, Rusty had the dry heaves, and I was hallucinating. Nothing has ever tasted better before, nor since, than that first lukewarm drink of alkaline creek water as we lay in the shade of a couple of scrub aspen trees.
I'm not sure how close we were to dying on that trip, but I know it was closer than I ever told my wife. All for the hope of a couple more days chasing mule deer.
My next misadventure took place in Nevada. I got so close to a giant 34-inch-wide 3x6 that I knew there was simply no way I could miss. I had stalked to a boulder that was exactly 7 yards from the bedded beast. Finally, I couldn't stand it a minute longer and drew my bow and made a noise. Rather than graciously standing and taking the arrow like a man, the buck bolted from his bed as if he'd been shot from a catapult. I was left standing with a very dumb expression on my face and a fully drawn bow with no target in sight.
Now that you have a taste of my mule deer hunting history you can see why my lightning-strike success was the height of irony. How could it be so easy after it had always been so hard? Or, why had it always been so hard when it could be so easy?
I had been putting in for a tag in Utah for over 10 years. When I finally received word that my name had come up, I was ecstatic and would not leave anything to chance. My friend Ken Labrum lives in the area and knows the terrain and the deer of this public area like the back of his hand. I called him immediately, and when he offered his help I grabbed it. I wouldn't have a chance to get up there early to scout, but Ken assured me he had some good bucks located.
My friend Jim Ruth had drawn the same tag and would be hunting with me. We arrived two evenings before the hunt, and early the next morning we were out glassing--actually we were driving along a gravel road between glassing points when a group of bucks ran across the road in front of us. The last was a gorgeous nontypical, one of the finest bucks I'd ever seen.
I suggested we draw straws to see who would hunt the buck come morning, but Jim insisted that I take first crack and would not be convinced otherwise. Unfortunately, the next day dawned foggy; and we could only sit at our intended vantage point and wait. When the soup finally burned off 2 1/2 hours into the season, we shortly spotted the buck. The words, "There he is," had never sounded sweeter.
He was feeding on buck brush 400 yards away on the shoulder of a broad sloping ridge. Thick oak brush lined the canyon floors, and patches of oak grew thickly on the plateau itself. Junipers, firs, and aspens grew thick on the north slopes of the canyons, with grass and sagebrush on the south slopes. The rugged breaks of Utah's badlands rolled off to the south. It was an impressive setting for a bowhunt.
Ken stayed in position to give me hand signals as I started after the feeding buck. I took off my shoes and slipped across the soft soil and through the wet oak brush without a whisper of a sound. I started fast but then slowed after covering nearly 200 yards. The head-high oak brush made a fast stalk risky. I could easily come up on the buck unexpectedly and blow the whole thing, adding another chapter to my already lengthy book on how to botch a mule deer hunt.
At two points I almost had the shot but in both instances the angles weren't right. Then the buck drifted into a thick patch of oak brush and disappeared. Ken lost sight of him, too. I didn't want to push too hard so I backed off and circled a short distance, glassing into the brush. Seeing nothing, I decided to pull back and glass from the other side of the valley.
After 30 minutes of searching turned up nothing with antlers, we decided to cover a little ground, Ken going one way, I the other. Ken was gone only a few minutes when he returned with good news. He'd found the buck! The giant deer, along with his buddies, was bedded at the head of a small canyon. Only two of the other bucks were visible, so I would have to move very carefully to avoid bumping one of the other four bucks.
Knowing other hunters were in the area, I began the stalk without delay as Ken, Jim, and Ken's two sons watched and videoed the action from a nearby ridge. It was the first time I had hunted in front of an audience. I half expected to see cheerleaders.
For 2 hours I crawled toward the buck, carefully studying the sage and juniper for other bucks. Finally I spotted the big buck's antlers and was almost within bow range when I caught a bedded forkhorn out of the corner of my eye. He wasn't extremely alert, so I pressed forward.
After only a few more steps I was as far as I was going to go. The small buck was getting more suspicious by the second and seemed ready to blow. I ranged the giant antlers of the target buck and put an arrow on the string. As if on cue the smaller buck stood and began to pace nervously. Three or four minutes later I saw the big buck's rump begin to rise and immediately drew and was aiming by the time his head cleared the sage that had covered it only moments before. There was no way I was going to look at the antlers now--I already knew what they looked like--and focused on the buck's chest and squeezed off the shot.
I knew it was a good hit as the buck ran straight toward my buddies for 250 yards before dropping. When the buck went down, a whoop erupted from the top of the nearby ridge. I had cheerleaders after all.
I was overwhelmed with a sense of disbelief. Had this really happened? This had been easy...too easy.
You might argue that this success was merely a stroke of luck, the exception that proves the rule. Or you might say killing this buck was the culmination of 20 years of difficult hunting. But I was there, I know it took only a few hours of easy hunting to kill this buck. I have become convinced that the rest of those mule deer misadventures were only an incredible string of bad luck.
Now that I've got this mule deer thing figured out, I'm sure I'll be very successful. As a matter of fact I have to go now. I have to clear a spot on the wall for the big typical I'm going to kill this fall.
RELATED ARTICLE: THE HEAT IS ON
AS I HUNTED mule deer and antelope in the North Dakota badlands, temperatures soared into the upper 90s, and waterholes dried up under the hot winds. During the blazing midday, I turned my attention to decoying several good ante-lope bucks located in a large basin.
As I followed a small herd, my relentless pursuit to close the distance, combined with the excessive heat, limited water intake, and profuse sweating quickly took their toll on me. The sudden onset of dizziness arid slight nausea were warning signs I should head back to camp. This heat exhaustion quickly made me unable to function, and I had to stay in camp the rest of the afternoon.
Fortunately, after a night's rest, plenty of fluids, and a balanced meal, I was able to start hunting again the next day. Although I did not bagan animal, I did learn valuable lessons. on that trip--lessons that could save lives. To learn more about heat illnesses, I consulted with Craig Lambrecht, M.D. Here are the facts every hot-weather hunter should know and practice.
This illness is caused by the body's exposure and response to high air temperatures and exertion. It usually results from depletion of fluids and dehydration. Heat exhaustion does not necessarily cause permanent damage, but if left untreated it can lead to heatstroke--an increase in core body temperature and altered mental state--from which you stand a 10 to 20 percent chance of dying.
The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion vary. Early complaints include fatigue, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, and headache. Subsequently, more severe symptoms include rapid, weak pulse, hyperventilation, and low blood pressure. The body temperature may or may not be elevated during this time, and the person may not be sweating.
My symptoms started as light-headedness, then mild fatigue. Upon returning to my vehicle, I shed my clothes and got out of the sun, trying to cool myself. After a small lunch, I was able to drive to camp, where I drank, frequent, small amounts of fluids. However, my symptoms worsened to nausea, vomiting, and severe fatigue. Unable to hunt, I slept from early evening into the next morning, waking only to drink.
TREATING HEAT ILLNESS
Most importantly, get the victim out of the heat and reduce body temperature as quickly as possible. The body may lose its ability to control its own temperature at 106 degrees F. The skin will usually be warm or hot to touch when a victim suffers heat exhaustion or heatstroke, but this is not always true. A thermometer is vital in helping regulate the body's temperature and should be part of your supplies if you're hunting in the heat.
If you or a hunting partner shows signs of a heat illness, you must begin treatment quickly. Muscle cramps can occur suddenly, and if you are hunting alone, they may leave you stranded in the field.The following are treatments that can be performed in the field for, conditions of heat illness.
1) Shield the victim from direct sunlight and remove clothing.
2) If the victim is alert, have him or her drink water or balanced salt solutions such as Gatorade or Powerade to eliminate, dehydration.
3) Wet the victim down and fan him vigorously. Evaporation is an efficient cooling method.
4) If ice is available, place ice packs in the armpits, behind the neck, and on the groin.
5) If a thermometer is available, check the victim's temperature every 5 to 10 minutes to avoid cooling much below 98.6 degrees F.
6) Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
AVOIDING HEAT ILLNESS
Although it seemed I was drinking plenty of water in North Dakota, I obviously was not drinking enough to keep hydrated. The combination of lack of sleep, light meals, extreme heat, lack of water, and heavy exertion was more than my body could endure. With a little more insight I probably would, have avoided heat exhaustion. Here are the steps we all should take in hot weather.
1) Avoid Dehydration. Drink at least I pint to I quart of liquid every hour during heavy exercise in a hot environment. Don't rely on thirst to prompt you. Just keep drinking.
3) Prepare for heat. Lack of acclimatization can contribute to heat illness. If you are planning a hot-weather hunt, gradually expose yourself to heat for 5 to 10 days to allow your body to adapt.
2) Stay in shape. Poor physical condition, obesity, insufficient rest, ingestion of alcohol, and illicit drugs can increase the risk of heat illness.
4) Wear cool clothing. Dress in layers so you can easily shed clothing as necessary. Wear clothes made of light, porous materials to ensure good ventilation and cooling of your skin.
Archery seasons in late summer offer excellent big game hunting, but they also offer health' risks. Never ignore either of those facts. Hunt early for success, but go prepared for safety. In planning any hunt, make your health the number one priority.
Wayne Muth lives in North Dakota. When not bowhunting, lie writes for www.fishingbuddy.com.
The following clothes, boots, and hydration systems will keep you cool, comfortable, and healthy when the mercury rises:
Bass Pro Shops Look for RedHead Stalker Lite shirts and pants, RedHead Air Mesh shirts and pants, RedHead H20 Fanny Packs and H20 Daypacks, and the RedHead 6-inch Turkey Trekker boot. Contact: Bass Pro Shops, 1-800-227-7776; www.basspro.com * Browning You'll like the Contego Long and Short sleeve shirts, six-pocket pants, Strapped Turkey Hydro Vest, and uninsulated Stalker Series Boots. Contact: Browning, (801) 876-2711; www. browning.com * Cabela's Watch for lightweight Silent Weave shirts and pants, Hunter's Long and Short sleeve T-shirts, Scent-Lok Silent Stalk Sneaker, Gore-Tex Supprescent Silent Stalk Sneaker, and Elite Scout Pack with 68-ounce hydration system. Contact: Cabela's, 1-800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com * CamelBak Hydration Systems Consider their hands-free hydration systems, such as the Woodland, Upland, Trophy, and UnBottle. Contact: CamelBak Products, Inc., 1-800-767-8725; www.camelbak.com * Contain The new, odor-controlling Maximum line features CoolMax fabric to keep you cool in hot weather . The Maximum line includes Long Sleeve T-Shirts, Gloves, Boxer Shorts, and Long John Bottoms. Contact: Contain/V.S.I., 1-800-804-8588; www.containclothing.com * Danner Check out their lightweight, uninsulated hunting boots like the Radical Camohide Tracker 4 1/2", Pronghorn Camohide GTX 8", and Frontier 8". Contact: Danner, Inc., 1-800-345-0430; www.danner.com * ElkGear The Stealth Stalker Series features shirts, pants, headgear, mask, and gaiters, all in Superflauge camo by Trebark. Contact: ElkGear, 1-866-355-4868; www.elkgear.com * Fieldilne Fieldline offers backpacks with built-in hydration systems and water bottle holders: Tracker II, Quadrant II, and H20 Field Packer, and others, some with lightweight frames, others without Contact: Fieldline, (323) 226-0830; www.fieldline.com * LaCrosse Look for lightweight, uninsulated boots like the Brawny, Gamemaster II, and the Spur 15". Contact: LaCrosse Footwear, Inc., 1-800-323-2668; www.lacrossefootwear.com * Mossy Oak Apparel See the Traditional Woodsman Series, Treklite Woodsman Series, and Vapor-Tec moisture management gear. Contact: Mossy Oak Apparel, 1-800- 331-5624; www.mossyoakapparel.com * Robinson Outdoors Several ScentBlocker Plus garments for spring and early fall include the SLT (Single Layer Technology) Safari, SLT Shirt and Pants, UltraLite suit, BugLite suit, and FeatherLite suit. Contact: Robinson Outdoors, Inc., (507) 263-2885; www.robinsonlabs.com * Rocky Rocky makes lightweight, uninsulated models such as the Silencer and the Extreme Light Hunting Boot Contact: Rocky Shoes & Boots, (740) 753-1951; www.rockyboots.com * ScentLok The Savanna Series and Dakota Series garments are lightweight, adsorb human scent, and are available in a number of styles. Contact: Scent-Lok/ALS Enterprises, 1-800-315-5799; www.scentlok.com * Whitewater Outdoors You'll find an extensive warm-weather product line, including Super-Lite Hunting Shirt, Super-Lite Zip-off Pants, X-Hale Mock Turtleneck, and Long Sleeve T-shirts. Contact: Whitewater Outdoors, Inc., (920) 564-2674; www.whitewateroutdoors.com * Wolverine Wolverine offers several lightweight, uninsulated boots desig ned to keep your feet cool. See the Antelope (with Gore-Tex Supprescent), Huntmaster, and Stealth Max. Contact: Wolverine Boots and Shoes, 1-800-270-6079; www.wolverinebootsandshoes.com
IT WAS MID-AUGUST in-northern Nevada, and we didn't need a thermometer to know it was hot! Although it was just 10:30 a.m., the sun arcing higher over the treeless desert was our nemesis.
My hunting partner, Jim Sundquist, and I were on a sidehill at 8,500 feet, tenaciously glassing to locate mule deer bucks.
The shimmering heat waves, the sweat trickling off our foreheads into our eyes, and the relentless heat didn't help matters. With temperatures rising and water supplies dwindling, we'd finally had enough and hiked back to our truck and drove the 10 miles back to camp to regroup.
We may have lost that battle, but we weren't about to lose the war. While hunting in conditions like that might initially seem pointless, we have many times spotted nice bucks hidden in the shade, and then stalked and shot them! So that we could continue doing just that, in the off-season we developed a strategy and the tools that have helped us thrive in hot weather. They will help you, too.
1) Make Your Own Shade. We developed small, lightweight, portable, camouflaged shade umbrellas that fold into small bags and are carried in our hunting packs. They double as hunting blinds and rain umbrellas. The camo umbrella can be made from a standard telescoping umbrella by adding camo netting and guy lines.
We also now raise large tarps over our camp area to provide much needed shade and a cool area to regroup or take a nap.
2) Take More Water. Multiple water containers added to our hunting packs, though heavy are well worth the weight. I now generally carry 3 quarts of water. it's important to drink throughout the day, rather than waiting until you feel thirsty.
We use a filtering water bottle as one of our water containers. In a pinch, we can use it to filter available environmental water. The filtering water bottle we use is the Bottoms Up, by Seychelle.
We also keep an ice chest full of water and sports drinks in our vehicle to replenish lost fluids after a long day in the heat.
3) Wear Light Clothes. We replaced regular cotton clothes with light mesh camo shirts and lighter pants. Cabela's and Bass Pro -Shops carry a good selection of ultralight camo clothes.
We wear bandanas around our necks and moisten them with water to increase cooling. And we punch holes in our hunting hats to speed evaporation, which helps tremendously.
We've also traded heavy boots for lightweight, breathable boots and camo sneakers to keep our feet cool.
4) Regroup At Midday. At peak heat times we make some shade or return to camp to relax or nap for a couple hours. The rest and cool-down allow us to return to hunting fresh and eager to find bucks.
We often cook our big meal at midday under the cover of shade and return to hunting around 4 p.m. when it begins to cool down. Then we have a light meal back at camp before turning in for the night.
5) Eat For Heat. We avoid sugary foods in favor for complex carbohydrates, a little more protein, salty nuts, and some sports drinks.
I want to thank my hunting partner Jim Sundquist of Reno, Nevada, for his help in refining our hot weather hunting style. Now we survive and thrive in hot hunting situations by planning ahead. Follow our lead to beat the heat and enjoy great western hunting!
Mike Poulin lives in Reno, Nevada, with his wife and children. He has been bowhunting in Nevada since 1994.
RANDY ULMER'S MULE DEER TACKLE
XHoyt UltraTec, 70 pounds XToxonics Solo Trak five-pin sight XGolden Key-Futura Mirage XRocky Mountain Titanium 125 broadhead XBCY string and harness XSims silencing products XRobinson Labs clothing XEaston A/C/C 3-71
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2003|
|Previous Article:||Elk forecast 2003: drought may pose some problems, but overall we predict great elk hunting.|
|Next Article:||Velvet quest: for this writer, September proved to be the best month for hunting trophy whitetails.|