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An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010
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10:07 PM (MST)
"An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

LAST EDITED ON Aug-06-10 AT 02:28 PM (MST) by Founder (admin)

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It is Thursday, August 05, 2010 and I have decided to enter the MM Hunt Adventure Challenge! I’m not a professional writer or videographer or hunter for that matter. I consider myself an average guy with an above average passion for hunting.

So why am I doing this? Well, first I think that most MM readers are average people like me and so maybe they can relate to some of the things I write or photos I show. Secondly, I think the hunts that are on my plate for 2010 will allow me to communicate a wide range of experiences – archery to rifle, DIY to guided, solo to multiple hunters and personal tag to just helping out family members. And finally, I’ve never kept a journal or even a very organized record of past hunting adventures. Participating in the Hunt Adventure Challenge will force me to take notes and photos and record experiences in a logical manner.

So my goal is not necessarily to win a prize at the end of this, but rather to document my experiences of the coming year and share them with all the MM devotees. I will attempt to show how an average guy approaches the hunting seasons and communicate the trials, tribulations, successes and failures along the way. My intent is to record at least one experience each day from now until the conclusion of my last hunt of the year. It may not always be possible to post every day, but I will indicate the date of the event in each post.

So to wrap it up for my first post, let me give you a little background on the characters that will be involved in my Chronicle and a sneak peek at the hunts that will be covered. Let’s start with myself: my name is Bill and I’m pressing hard against the dreaded age of 50! I’m in better shape than I have been in quite a while mostly due to going cold turkey from alcohol just over a year ago. I have a professional job that gives me a decent income (I am not wealthy), but also limits my time off. I have lived in a suburb of Phoenix, AZ for about 20 years and am originally from rural MN. In addition to the tags mentioned below, I have an archery deer tag for unit 13B in AZ – the famous strip country! This is the first hunt of the year and begins August 20. Not much time to get ready!

I have been married 25+ years to my wife, Kelly, who also hunts when drawn in AZ, but doesn’t apply at all for out-of-state hunts. She is a trooper and has received more than one marriage proposal from fellow hunters who have witnessed her skinning an elk or deer. Kelly has an antlerless elk tag for AZ unit 3C West in mid-October and a mule deer tag for AZ unit 3A/3C at the end of October. This unit is about a 2.5 hour drive from our home, but we own a cabin in the area, so we won’t exactly be roughing it. I will just be a helper on these adventures.

We have two sons, Cody (18) and Jordan (17) who have both been applying for AZ tags since they were of legal age. Cody has also applied with me on a few out-of-state hunts and we were drawn for the first time this year. We will be hunting antelope in NM in mid-October (doesn’t directly conflict with Kelly’s elk hunt)! We were very fortunate to draw these tags, but we were assigned to separate ranches and early research shows they are not the very best ranches for numbers of antelope. We will see on the quality.

These are the four core hunts I will be writing about in my Chronicle. There’s a chance we’ll try to pick up leftover deer tags for the boys and a chance that I’ll go back to MN for whitetails, but time off work and school is pretty constrained. We should be able to get out and chase some dove and maybe quail when those seasons roll around.

With that intro, I’ll call it good for this first post. I will try to add some pictures tonight so you can put some faces to the names and we can show off a few of the trophies (in our minds anyway) from years past. After the photos, my next post will address the mad rush of preparation for my quest for a Monster Muley!

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 Subject   Author   Message Date   ID 
 RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-06-10   1 
  RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-06-10   2 
   RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-09-10   3 
    RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-10-10   4 
     RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-10-10   5 
      RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-18-10   6 
       RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-23-10   7 
        RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-23-10   8 
         RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-23-10   9 
          RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-24-10   10 
           RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-24-10   11 
            RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-24-10   12 
             RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-25-10   13 
              RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-25-10   14 
               RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-26-10   15 
                RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-26-10   16 
                 RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-30-10   17 
                  RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-30-10   18 
                   RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-31-10   19 
                    RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Aug-31-10   20 
                     RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Sep-01-10   21 
                      RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Sep-24-10   22 
                       RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Sep-29-10   23 
                        RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-07-10   24 
                         RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-07-10   25 
                          RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-11-10   26 
                           RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-13-10   27 
                            RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-15-10   28 
                             RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-19-10   29 
                              RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-20-10   30 
                               RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-20-10   31 
                                RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-25-10   32 
                                 RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-27-10   33 
                                  RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-27-10   34 
                                   RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Oct-28-10   35 
                                    RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-09-10   36 
                                     RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-10-10   37 
                                      RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-10-10   38 
                                       RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-11-10   39 
                                        RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-11-10   40 
                                         RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-16-10   41 
                                          RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-30-10   42 
                                           RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Nov-30-10   43 
                                            RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-02-10   44 
                                             RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-02-10   45 
                                              RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-03-10   46 
                                               RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-05-10   47 
                                                RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-06-10   48 
                                                 RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-06-10   49 
                                                  RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-06-10   50 
                                                   RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-07-10   51 
                                                    RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-11-10   52 
                                                     RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-20-10   53 
                                                      RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-22-10   54 
                                                       RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-22-10   55 
                                                        RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-23-10   56 
                                                         RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-26-10   57 
                                                          RE: An Average...  vanderb79      Dec-27-10   58 

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10:39 AM (MST)
1. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Ok, it took some time for my original post to go through the monitoring process so I was unable to upload the photos as planned last night. So here we go - after a bit of trial and error, I think I have the photo upload figured out.

First pic is of me, your average hunter author. I'm shown with my 2004 Desert Bighorn ram. Not likely the largest ram you've ever seen, but believe me it was one of the largest living in the entire unit at that time. Yes, that's an AZ G&F collar on the sheep, but that's a whole other story!

This is Cody with his stud antelope from 2008 in AZ. Not real long, but I've never seen one carry so much mass all the to the tips!

Here's Jordan posing with his mature cow elk from last year in AZ. Was a great hunt and the cow made for good eating.

On short notice, I couldn't find a digital pic of Kelly with one of her trophies so I included one of her posing with Cody and his 2007 Kaibab mulie.

Lastly, here are a couple general shots - our camp in Kaibab in 2007 and my girl - Cheyenne with her litter of pups born on Memorial day. We kept one female, Casper, who I'm sure will make her individual photo debut in a future post.

Enjoy the photos and look for my next post later today - AZ 13B archery deer background and initial prep work.

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01:36 PM (MST)
2. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Now that I’ve introduced you to the characters in my odyssey and given you a peak at the hunts on the horizon, it’s time to get down to details on the first hunt of the year. I’m going to AZ unit 13B to chase monster mulies with a bow! 13B is part of the famous AZ strip country in the far north central part of the state.

As with any premium hunt nowadays, this one started with a lottery application. I had only 3 accumulated bonus points for deer going into the 2010 draw. Not wanting to hunt a marginal unit, I decided to put in for the strip expecting to see “unsuccessful” when the results came out. Much to my surprise, I was one of only 30 people to draw the 13B archery tag! According to this site, I had a less than 5% chance of drawing this tag.

So on July 15 I learned I was drawn for a hunt that starts August 20. Talk about a mad rush to get prepared. Where even to start? Well, a few things came to mind immediately:
1) I hadn’t archery hunted at all in the past few years and hadn’t even shot very regularly over that time.
2) 13B is a 7 or 8 hour drive from my home and I have never set foot in the unit.
3) Even though the season length is fairly generous, I have limited vacation time.
4) Primary hunting method would be sitting in a blind at water holes.

With these things in mind, I made a few decisions right up front:
1) I needed to use precious vacation time hunting. The distance made it unfeasible to scout without using vacation time and I was unfamiliar with the unit. So this would be the single hunt in 2010 for which I would try to hire a guide.
2) My archery equipment was suspect and my shooting proficiency iffy, therefore I needed to visit a pro shop pronto and then start shooting as soon as I had the proper set up in place.
3) Physical conditioning was optional since this wouldn’t be a strenuous hunt.

I had a problem with all issues equipment related – all my archery gear was at our cabin in Overgaard, AZ which is about 2.5 hours away from home in Gilbert, AZ. My wife and some friends were planning a trip up the following weekend, so I concentrated on the other issues until she could bring everything home.

Though I had pretty much decided to go guided, there was no way I could justify the cost of a fully blown, full priced, outfitted hunt with one of the premier strip country providers. But, I had a “marker” on the books with Don Martin from Arizona Wildlife Outfitters. We were able to put together a deal to use the marker together with a modest cash payment in exchange for a 9-day hunt. This should work out to be a win / win deal though only time will tell. Don had one main concern – I wasn’t a die hard archer and would I be able to put it all together if he provided the opportunity? That also remains to be seen, but I intend to do my best to be ready.

That brings me back to my equipment dilemma. Kelly dutifully brought all my gear back with her Sunday night, July 25. At this point I’m less than a month away from the opener and don’t know if I’ve got a viable set up! Within the next few days, I pay multiple visits to a local archery shop as well as the archery department inside Sportsman’s Warehouse. The net results of these visits were:
1) Bow paper-shoots just fine – no tuning required
2) Arrows had straight fletched Blazer vanes and I was recommended to go to helical. Ended up buying all new shafts instead of re-fletching existing arrows. Also bought new (100 grain) field tips to go along with the new shafts.
3) Received opinions on the existing broad heads I had as well as what models to consider if I decided to switch. Also purchased a broad head only target to gage broad head vs. field point accuracy and precision.

So with an in-tune bow and new arrows, I could now commence shooting. First, I needed to make sure my groups were good with field tips at 20 yards. If all was well, the next step would be to dial in the 20-yard pin to hit where I wanted and then to progress back to 30 and 40 yards. I doubt I will go beyond that, but we’ll see how it goes. I also need to work the broad heads into the mix and determine if groups are adequate and then if aim point is the same as field tips. Additionally, I need to do a lot of my shooting from a seated position since that’s the way it will be from the ground blinds. I borrowed a stool from Don to facilitate this type of practice.

You could say that my serious practice started about August 1, less than 3 weeks away from opener. But, it’s not like I was just learning how to shoot a bow. More like I was brushing off the rust and then trying to extend my historical broad head range. With this background established, my next post will cover some detail on my setup and show how my early practice sessions have been going.

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09:48 PM (MST)
3. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Sorry, I took the weekend off from posting. When last I wrote, I said I would give some detail on my archery set up and share how my practice sessions were going. So I will cover those items in this post starting with my set up.

Here is an overall picture of my bow. I bought the whole set up slightly used about 3 years ago. The bow is a Hoyt Vectrix set at 70 lbs and with my 26" (short I know) draw length.

This is a close up showing a better view of the G-5 sight and Quality Archery Designs fall-a-way rest. The photos also show the dual Fuse stabilizers and Fuse quiver as well as the peep and wrist sling.

Finally, here is my Fletchunter release that I'm sure is over 20 years old and still ticking as well as my new Easton Flatline shafts with Blazer helical vanes. The broadheads are NAP Nitrons in 100 grain.

I only have room in my back yard for shooting 20 yards. It didn't take long to get what I call acceptable groups at that range. Below is a pic of a typical 20-yard group shot in the backyard. I tweaked the sights somewhat and my groups are now more centered, but are about 4" high at 20 yards. More on that later.

It was also imperative that I find out if the NAP broadheads were going to fly well and where point of impact was going to be relative to the fieldpoints. So somewhere along the tweaking process, I shot 3 broadheads into the new broadhead only target I had purchased. You can see in the above photo that all 3 NAP's found their mark! So far so good, but 20 yards is not the ultimate goal.

A final equipment related note - all the recent photos from posts up to now plus future posts are taken with a new Olympus SP-800UZ camera I purchased from Camera Land. I do not currently own a camcorder and need to decide quickly whether to purchase one to further capture the hunting experiences this year.

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03:03 PM (MST)
4. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

I’m going to deviate slightly from the main theme of my chronicle for one special post. Today marks 26 years since Kelly and I were married back in St. Cloud, MN. I mention this mostly because if she wasn’t on board with the hunting lifestyle, I wouldn’t be participating in this challenge at all.

Through all these years, she has always supported my decisions on time away on hunting trips, expenditures for gear and travel, and even helping out by packing for the adventures and game care after the fact. Through my earlier posts, you also know that at some point along the way she started to directly participate as well.

We didn’t go on a honeymoon right after being married and really have never taken a family vacation that wasn’t either tied to a hunting trip or just back to MN to visit relatives. So Kelly has sacrificed along the way so that I have been able to pursue my interests – thanks Sunshine and Happy Anniversary!

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07:42 AM (MST)
5. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

When I started writing these posts, I indicated that there would be trials and tribulations that would come up along the way and that I’d share those with the readers. Throughout the initial prep work for the 1st hunt of the year (AZ Unit13B Archery Deer), I’ve run up against a few of those expected snags. Thankfully, no serious issues have surfaced yet, but here are a few of the annoying items thus far.

The single most important part of the prep process is shooting practice. I need to get confident and consistent with broad heads out to at least 40 yards. There have been a few roadblocks that have slowed my progress toward that goal.
1. A place to shoot: in general, my backyard is fine, but I’m limited to 20 yards. Still, because of convenience and other factors, this is where I’ve been doing most of my shooting. There is a fairly convenient pro shop to my office at work so I could shoot there at lunch. There are a few problems associated with that option. Their range is 30 yards max so I still wouldn’t be getting the full distance I want. They charge $6 an hour or any part thereof and I typically don’t practice for more than about 20 minutes at a session so not real cost effective. Lastly, I would need to lug my equipment to work and back everyday. Besides the inconvenience, see number 2 below.
2. “It’s a dry heat”! Many of you have probably heard that about AZ temps in the summer. That may be true, but it’s still freaking hot! At 4-6pm, when I usually practice, it’s been about 110° +/- 5° lately. This is just damned uncomfortable weather to practice in. Inside a vehicle it’s at least 30° hotter so lugging equipment to work each day may not be the best idea either.
3. Ouch! I pulled or strained something in my right shoulder (right handed) that makes shooting somewhat painful. Not much time before the hunt, so can’t take a break. Just need to shoot through the pain I guess.
4. Also facing some challenges with either getting replacement blades for my NAP broad heads (at a decent price) or finding a way to sharpen the existing ones.

Not really facing much in the way of non-shooting related struggles for this hunt. Since it’s guided, I’m not faced with scouting trips or having to locate or set up blinds, etc. I just have to get myself to camp the day before season and be ready to make good when the shot opportunity arises. That said, there is one hurdle that kind of hit me in the face yesterday. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but was when I saw the price tag for Cody’s 1st semester at Arizona State University. He is going to master in Mechanical Engineering and was accepted into the Honors College at ASU. With room and board in the honors dorm, Cody’s 1st semester bill is over $11,000 as a resident! Luckily, he got a good academic scholarship, but that will only cover about a third of the total cost once books and parking are added into the equation. So I may have to try to keep the hunting budget in line from here on out.

As I said, overall nothing real critical to worry about, just some bumps in the road. Just over a week left of preparation before I need to hit the road for the long drive up to the strip.

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02:57 PM (MST)
6. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Sorry for the long gap between posts. As an average guy, life’s every day issues and obligations sometimes get in the way of extracurricular activities like this blog. I have had a couple fairly significant things come up that kept me scarce on MM and absent all together from the Challenge.

One issue was of a technical nature and not a big deal in the overall scheme of things. My laptop suddenly would not recognize my home wireless signal. It took a few days, several calls to the help desk and a lot of frustration before I was able to get that situation resolved. I’m back up and running now which is a relief.

The more demanding and emotional issue involved one of the puppies featured in a photo of one of my earlier posts. Of the 9 pups in the litter, there was one that was noticeably smaller than the rest. We “named” him Peanut in reference to his small stature and also the shade of his coat. Peanut was sold along with all his litter mates except the one puppy that the sire’s owner and I each kept. Most all the pups, including Peanut, were sold to friends of the family which was great since it guaranteed us good homes for all of them. From the first day at his new home, Peanut began having health issues.

At first, he couldn’t keep food down and would consistently throw up shortly after eating. Over the course of 2-3 weeks, Peanut’s condition worsened. He developed a fever, was lethargic, had a glazed over look to his eyes and would pace around with his head low. The new owners took him to a vet a couple times. Bottom line from the vet was that there was clearly something wrong, but a $250 blood test would need to be performed just to diagnose the issue. Of course treatment, if possible, would be much more money.

The new owners were reluctant to invest more money into the pup they had renamed “Reggie”. After some discussions, we agreed to refund their purchase price and take Reggie / Peanut back. That happened this past Saturday. We were also hesitant on spending a lot of money on a second pup (and 3rd lab in the house) that we hadn’t really planned on. But we were hoping that getting back with mom and a sister and some TLC from us might snap him out of his troubles.

To make a long story and 5 days a little shorter, there have been some really bad times when I thought he was going to die, but there have been times when I thought he was on the way to full recovery. Most of yesterday and so far today have been average to better so that is hopeful. I still have no idea what he’s really going through – the day he went to the new owner, all the puppies were at our cabin in Heber, AZ. They were doing a lot of playing and digging outside. Maybe he got bit by something or ate something toxic or maybe he just has an illness? Anyway, we’re getting more attached to the little guy so I hope things continue to improve.

I need to wrap this up for now, but will write more later today as that may be my last chance before heading out for my 13B hunt!

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12:04 PM (MST)
7. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Wednesday, 8-18-10

I’m writing this and the next several posts after the fact and will include the date and time of the events in the title to each.

Ok, I thought I would get in one more post before leaving for the AZ strip, but that didn’t work out. My plan was to head up to the cabin in Heber right after work, spend the night there, pick up my rangefinder and quad and then depart from there Thursday morning. This meant I’d need to skip my pool (billiard) league play Wednesday night which is a bigger deal than you might think since that’s another passion of mine.

The first part of the plan went as scheduled and I made it up to the cabin while there was still a little daylight left. I wanted to shoot, especially with broad heads, at some longer distances as I hadn’t gotten to do much of that at home. Well, no problem, I would just grab the rangefinder and set the target distance and shoot. That’s when the problems started. No rangefinder in the kitchen cabinet I thought it was…not in the bedroom closet either and ultimately, I figured it must have been at home after all even though I had looked several times.

Well, I needed to shoot and there wasn’t much time before dark so I used a tape to measure 20, 30 and 40 yard distances. Shot a couple arrows at 20 which I new would be fine – a few inches high actually. Then I repeated at 30 yards using the same pin and was pretty good except a couple inches low. My strategy was to use a single sight pin from 0-30 yards and I was confident in that approach. I then moved back to 40 yards and was shooting high so I adjusted the 2nd pin and continued until that one was ok as well. The net result of this practice session on top of all the previous was that I felt very confident out to 30 yards and moderately confident to 40. I wouldn’t shoot beyond 40 yards unless there were extreme factors – a wounded deer or the like.

Darkness was closing in and I felt good about my shooting so I turned my attention to loading the quad into the back of my Tacoma (I hate the loading and unloading). That task accomplished, I decided to check in with the wife at home. I told her about the rangefinder not being at the cabin even though we were both sure it was after I had looked and looked in the hunting closet at home. We chit-chatted a bit and then I decided to head down to the local Eagle’s club for a couple Bloody Mary’s (minus the vodka of course). I figured there was an outside chance someone there may have or know someone who had a rangefinder I could borrow. Somewhere in there, Kelly called back and said she found them in the same closet I had searched several times. Of course they were inside one of the kid’s packs where I didn’t look. Anyway, no one at the Eagle’s was able to help me out so after a couple cocktails, I headed back to the cabin. I figured I’d just buy a cheap pair somewhere along the way on Thursday.

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01:02 PM (MST)
8. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Thursday, 8-19-10

I crawled out of bed at 6:00am and jumped into the shower where I used Ivory soap and then scent free deodorant. I wanted to at least have a good start since I didn’t know what the frequencies of showers was going to be once I got to camp. Then it was off to a local diner for some hot breakfast before hitting the road for the long drive to 13B. At a little before 8:00 I was ready to go and faced my first decision. Should I backtrack a few miles to visit the local gun shop in search of a rangefinder or start on my way and plan to stop somewhere in Flagstaff, AZ? Being a little anxious, I decided to head out and stop later. An hour or so into the trip I called Kelly and started what would turn out to be a sequence of activities that would have her searching for a likely business and reading off the phone number, me trying to remember it long enough to call and then being told they didn’t carry rangefinders or didn’t have any in stock.

Ultimately, I was referred to John at Bull Basin Archery in Flagstaff. I got hold of him on the phone and explained my situation – I was really looking for a cheap model since I already had a pretty decent one at home. He let me know that he had 2 models in stock, but the cheapest was a Nikon model that seemed a lot better than what I had at home. But John also referred me to a couple other businesses in town that he thought may carry some of the lower end models. I was immediately impressed – this guy is potentially passing up a sale in this tough economy just so I get what I’m looking for. John even went so far as to call me back and explain that he had talked to one of the other business owners and confirmed they could help me. He then gave me directions to his competitors business!

As I neared Flagstaff, I was mulling this over in my mind. How much cheaper would these Bushnell’s be and would I be happy with them? Then I thought ahead a little to the NM antelope hunt that will be coming in October. Though my son, Cody, and I were drawn from the same application, we were assigned different ranches to hunt. The ranches do border each other, but there’s still a fair chance we won’t always be hunting together. Additionally, I hadn’t replaced the dull blades on my broadheads yet and figured maybe I could get John to do that at a reasonable price. This was important because with my horrible near vision, it was going to be a challenge for me to work with the tiny screws that held the blades.

So I rationalized my way to going straight to Bull Basin where I asked for John. He was extremely pleasant and helpful and ended up swapping out my blades and solving another issue for no extra charge other than the purchase price of the rangefinder! I would encourage any archers to give John a chance to display his excellent customer service as he did to me – thanks John.

After gassing up in Flagstaff, it was back on the road. I travelled North and West through Jacob Lake and Fredonia, AZ and then on to St. George, UT. Another gas stop and purchase of a couple blocks of ice and then I headed back South into Arizona’s famous strip country. I followed the directions Don had given me and within an hour found his camp trailer. Since Don wasn’t in camp, I broke out the bow and the new rangefinder and set up to shoot a few rounds. The first group from 30 yards was pretty good and as I went to retrieve the arrows, Don and a friend, Scott, arrived on Don’s UTV.

As Don had indicated in a phone call earlier that day, he wanted to move camp from this location up the mountain several miles where the temperatures would be a little cooler. I didn’t realize at the time how important that would become. So I gathered my target and bow back up and helped Don and Scott pack up their stuff. Then it wars up the mountain in a UTV, Tacoma and F350 with toy hauler caravan. It was slow going and about 10 miles and 45 minutes later, we were at our new camp location. Already at this camp were Kenny and his father Tom. Kenny is a guide for Don and also had his own tag for this hunt. They both seemed like great guys and it was shaping up to be a good camp.

We discussed plans for the next day’s opening morning. Don had a blind set up for me at a waterhole about 5 rough miles from camp. Kenny would be sitting another water that was down the same road I would be taking, but off on a branching road from there. Specifically, Don would drive his Cat and I would take my Sportsman in and we would drop my quad a quarter mile or so before the blind. Don would then take me the rest of the way in since I didn’t know the set up. It was getting on toward 10pm so we all called it a night knowing that the 3:30am alarm would come quickly.

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09:59 PM (MST)
9. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Friday, 8-20-10 Morning

Wake up call came not so bright, but early at 3:30am. After a quick breakfast of cold cereal with a sliced up banana, it was out to the quads. Don drove his Arctic Cat UTV since he was just going to show me to the blind and then do some glassing and check trail cams. I followed on my Polaris Sportsman.

It wasn’t far down the trail that my pee jug came loose and fell from the quad. I reversed to pick it up and then caught back up with Don. In short order, my bow case was also coming loose and I had to stop a couple more times to get that under control. It was a rough and frustrating 5-mile trek to the waterhole and the blind. We had dropped my quad a quarter mile or so back and Don had ferried me the remainder.

Don did a quick check of the trail cam at this site and then left me alone to count the minutes until daylight. I arranged my stool and nocked an arrow and got the bow situated. Then I did a practice draw as I had never shot from a ground blind before. After a little trial and error, I was able to get things set up so I would be able to draw and shoot smoothly. Once there was a little light, I took out my new rangefinder and took readings of the near and far sides of the water and the far berm – 20, 30 and 35 yards respectively – all within my self imposed 40-yard limit. And then I stopped all movement and settled in to wait.

It got light enough to see pretty well and eventually the sun was high enough to cast shadows from the blind and surrounding trees. But all was pretty quiet other than a lot of birds going to water and a lot of flies and other bugs buzzing in and around the blind. About an hour after sun-up, I noticed movement on the mostly open hillside directly in front of the blind. It didn’t take much to determine it was deer and they were heading toward the water. As they came in at a trot, I noticed it was a doe and her fawn. The doe came on in and jumped the fence outside of the berm. She then got a lot more cautious and started to do the herky-jerky, one-step-at-a-time maneuver that deer do. She worked her way down the berm, startled slightly when she got to Don’s trail cam and then came the rest of the way in and began to drink. The fawn meanwhile was running back and forth along the fence looking for a place to cross. Ultimately it found an opening and joined mom at the tank. I snapped a few photos and a couple are included below.

The two deer drank their fill and loped back up the hill from where they had come. There was no other deer action for an hour or so and then I heard a vehicle coming. I thought “great, some other hunter is going to come down and check out this tank with me sitting here”. But, once the truck came into view I recognized it as a Game & Fish vehicle. The officer got out and called at me to bring my license and go talk to him. He asked a bunch of questions about who I was hunting with, if the Polaris parked a ways back was mine and asked to see my license and tag. I gladly produced these and even showed him that I had purchased a Mt. Lion tag just in case. Some people who chance into a lion will shoot first and then go buy a tag after the fact, but I was being legit. All was good with the license and tags, but I was told I didn’t have the proper off-road decal on my quad and was ultimately cited for that. Dang, my bad for nor knowing the rule, but can’t a guy catch a break? Not sure what the fine will be, but I’m sure the decal would have been much cheaper.

Well, that kind of put a damper on my morning and after another maybe 45 minutes, I was ready to call it quits for the morning. So I started packing stuff back away – the camera in its case and then into the pack, ditto for the rangefinder and reading glasses. Yes, I was peeking at a book at times as I was waiting and watching. As I finished getting everything organized, I decided to look out one more time before exiting the blind. Sure enough, there was a buck! At first I just saw the antlers and they were at least respectable. Unfortunately, the buck was not coming in to water, but was traversing across the hillside about 150 yards out. I thought maybe he would hit the trees and then turn and come in to the tank. So I got some stuff back out, repositioned myself to have a clear shot to the area I expected him to show and waited. After 45 minutes or so, my newfound enthusiasm waned and I decided to pack up once again. This time, it was an uneventful process and I got out of the blind and walked back to the quad for my trip back to camp.

I'm having trouble uploading the photos tonight and need to go help Kelly with some stuff so I will post the pic's tomorrow.

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03:31 PM (MST)
10. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

All right, I'm going to try again with the pictures that go along with my last post.

These first ones are of our new camp higher up the moutain.

These next two are the view out of my blind. The water is directly in front and you can see rolling terrain above that with just scrub vegitation. To the left and right are trees.

And finally, a couple shots of my visitors opening morning.

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09:41 PM (MST)
11. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Friday, 8-20-10 evening

Getting back to camp after the morning hunt, I compared notes with Kenny and Tom. They told me that four bucks had come in to their tank – all the bucks were together. They guesstimated the largest as a 26” wide 4 x 4. And Kenny passed! I would have been letting an arrow fly for sure, but he had a bigger buck in mind and wasn’t willing to settle for less on opening morning. Of course, I immediately thought that he may have the better situation than me.

But I was eager to get back out for the evening hunt and give it another shot from the same blind I had used in the morning. This time I took the Tacoma to avoid any more confrontations with the law! On the walk to the blind from where I parked the truck, I remembered that the last half hour of the morning hunt had been pretty warm. Given that we were just past the peak heat of the day, I figured I may be in for some more discomfort once I got in the blind.

Sure enough it was miserably hot in the blind. I opened some of the side windows to try to get a little air flow and cool things off hoping the mesh screen would be enough to offer concealment. In addition to the general heat, the sun also was at an angle that made it very difficult just to see out of the blind. I really questioned if I’d be able to properly aim if a big buck did walk in. So I read more of my book, glanced up every couple pages and sat there and baked. About 2.5 hours into my vigil, around 6:30pm, the sun started to fall behind the taller trees to the front-left of my blind. What a difference – not quite so hot now and I could clearly see everything in front of the blind.

I was still reading, but scanning around more frequently. After about 30 minutes, I caught movement coming in from the right. It was clearly a buck and he was on full alert. It was as if he knew I was in the blind. I quickly sized him up as he cautiously came toward the water. This was clearly a young buck and looked to me to have a narrow 3 x 3 rack. It didn’t take a lot of will power to pass on this immature deer. I was able to snap the quick photo shown below. As you can see, the buck is actually a little better than i had originally believed.

Though I stayed in the blind until it was too dark to safely shoot, there was no more deer activity to be seen. So I packed up and walked back to the Tacoma. Once I got there and started it up, it was 8:00pm. A look at the outside temperature gage showed 85°! No wonder it seemed hot in that blind. Back at camp, Kenny and Tom indicated they had not seen any deer at all that evening. Maybe my water hole wasn’t so bad after all?

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05:49 AM (MST)
12. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Saturday, 8-21-10 morning

After another short night’s sleep, it was back up again at 3:30am. There would be no change in strategy for the second day off the hunt. So after a quick breakfast, I hopped in the truck and headed back out to my blind. About half way in I caught a reflection off the side of the road. Not remembering any signs or posts that had reflectors, I thought maybe it was an animal’s eyes. So I flicked on the high beams and cranked the wheel towards that side of the road. Animals indeed! Several deer were milling around – it looked like some had been feeding and others bedded before I disturbed them. I counted 6 or 7 animals – all does from what I could tell. Maybe this would be a good omen?

I settled into the blind and it wasn’t too long before it started to lighten up. The sky was clear – it was going to be another scorching summer day in AZ. Full light arrived and shortly I spotted a deer and then two on the hill in front of my blind. They were both about 150 yards out, but were already very alert and focused on the waterhole or maybe me? These were both does and I couldn’t make a buck emerge to join them even though I tried mightily. The ladies worked their way down toward the water very cautiously. Eventually, they jumped the fence and came so far as the berm. I was trying to snap a couple pics and I suppose that didn’t help. They ultimately trotted off without watering.

So that was two encounters (these does plus the 3 x 3 from Friday night) in a row where the deer were quite cautious. I wondered – if a shooter buck came in with that “high alert” mindset, would I be able to draw back, aim and execute a lethal shot before spooking him? The morning wore on without any further deer related action and I finally packed up my stuff and headed back to the truck.

Back in camp, Kenny and Tom said they had gone without seeing any deer again that morning. Now I’m starting to think my waterhole may be the better one. At least I have seen some type of deer each time I’ve been out. But I was also wondering if there was a plan B in case neither of these waters produced within the next couple days. The game warden that had cited me on Friday had also stopped in camp a little later Friday. He had discussed some waterholes in the lower country that he believed were being hit by good bucks.

That discussion must have piqued Don’s interest because he and Scott had gone out to find the new water and set some trail cams. Once they returned, Don was quite proud that they had found all the water the warden had referred to including one they called “camo” because it was so well hidden. Don also said that there was evidence of a lot of activity at a couple of these waters. We now had a likely back-up plan in place.

Here's a pic of one of the does on her way out.

And here's one of one of the hundreds of birds that visited the tank while I was watching.

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01:43 PM (MST)
13. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Saturday, 8-21-10 evening

I planned a few subtle changes for the second evening’s hunt. The very alert deer situation was really weighing on me. I knew it was going to be hot, hot, hot, but still I thought I had to close up those side windows in the blind. Since I really didn’t think I could shoot before the sun dropped below the trees, I also decided to put the mesh screen down on the main shooting window until that time. I would then just sit toward the back of the blind and read my book until the sun was low enough around 6:30pm. To help a little, I was going to wear a light, short sleeved T-shirt.

So around 3:30pm I headed out with my new strategy in place. After arriving at the blind I got things arranged as I had planned. I didn’t even take an arrow out of the quiver – just laid the whole thing down in front of the window until later. I got my book out, found my page and started reading, glancing up only occasionally to peer into the bright sunlight. Pages and minutes ticked by. I was sweating just sitting there and hoped my scent wouldn’t betray me now that I figured I had the visual situation resolved.

It was a race – would I finish my book or would the sun dip low enough first? Ironically, it was a dead heat. The book was done and the sun low enough so I set the book and reading glasses aside. Grabbing up my bow, I did a practice draw without an arrow nocked to make sure my chair was properly positioned and to loosen up my muscles a bit. Then I carefully raised the mesh curtain of my shooting window, nocked an arrow and propped the bottom end of my bow on the stool I was sitting on. My theory was that this would serve two purposes. First, the bow would be in position to shoot with minimal additional movement. And secondly, the bow positioned in front of me would further break up my visibility to approaching game.

Just like the night before, I caught movement from the right after waiting about 30 minutes. And again, it was deer! This time it was two bucks and they were making a beeline for the water showing little caution and no perception of me waiting in the blind. My mind raced – was either deer a shooter? Which one was bigger? How far away were they? Was the shot angle acceptable? Thinking quickly, making decisions…lead buck has a decent rack, but looks to be 3 x 3 or maybe 3 x 4 – still, he’s ok…second buck has about the same width, more points – 4 x 4 with a kicker? They are both drinking now, quartering toward me, but not sharply…on the far side of the water, but near my end of the tank – probably 28-30 yards.

Decision time! I’m going to go for the second buck…I have a clear shot within my effective range with no chance of a pass through hitting the other buck and, though not a monster, it's a mature buck I'd be happy to put on the wall. I lift the bow a couple inches straight up off the stool and draw back as smoothly as possible. Based on the angle, I put my 20 / 30 yard pin right on the front shoulder, hold for a few seconds and squeeze the release trigger.

Whack! It happened so fast, but I’m sure I saw the arrow hit the deer and it looked good. The buck whirls and bounds over the berm and out of sight back to the right side where they had come from. The other buck also leaps up on to the berm and surveys the situation. Apparently satisfied, the buck returned to the water in seconds! As he drank, I had to replay my shot in my mind. Was it really a hit? I could have easily launched an arrow at this deer as well. No, I knew I hit the first deer and felt confident the shot placement was true. Either way, I was done at least until I could confirm exactly what happened with my shot.

To say I was pumped would be a gross understatement! My first archery hunt in a few years and I had just stuck a nice buck with my first arrow! Whew hew…ok, let’s get a grip here…what next? Need to let the deer settle for at least 30 minutes right? It's probably 7:00pm leaving about an hour of light. Half hour back to camp so maybe time to rush back, get Don and Scott and make it back with a sliver of light?

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03:50 PM (MST)
14. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Saturday, 8-21-10 evening (continued)

Sorry for leaving you hanging (heehee) without a conclusion, but I thought it was a natural break point. And to further whet your appetite, I have included a couple photos for you to preview before I get back to the story. When the non-target buck returned to drink, I was able to snap a couple photos – so this is the buck I did not shoot at.

So back to the story…still on cloud 9, I left everything in the blind and hurried back to the truck. I took the rough road as fast as possible in my haste to get back to camp, share my exciting news and get back to start the trailing job. I was back before 7:30pm so figured there would still be time to grab Don and Scott and return to the tank to at least get started with the search before total darkness. But there was no one in camp! Dang it…what now? Well, there was no use heading straight back out so I decided to drive the mile or so down the “main” road from camp to get cell service. I called Kelly and explained the situation – she was thrilled although we both knew it wasn’t a done deal yet. Then it was back to camp – alas, still no one there!

I’m a little nervous with all my stuff still down in the blind and I also know now that our trailing job will not start until after dark. So I decide to drive in towards my blind, but to stop at the point the road branches off toward Kenny’s blind. About 15 minutes after dark, Kenny and Tom come driving out and stop when they get to where I’m parked. We talk about the shot, the buck and also that there had been no one in camp. Tom decides to drive Kenny’s truck back to camp and wait on Don and Scott while Kenny and I go look for my buck.

Kenny hopped in the Tacoma and we drove the rest of the way down to the tank. He quizzed me on shot placement, the deer’s reaction and flight path. I kept my story consistent – everything happened real fast, I knew I saw the arrow hit the deer and I was pretty sure it was a good hit. The deer was out of sight before I could gain any information that way. I didn’t know how much penetration I had got with my arrow. After a peek inside the blind with a flashlight, I confirmed all my stuff was still there so we headed to where the buck was standing when I shot.

I led Kenny to the spot and then looked down and there was my arrow! It was red with blood from tip to nock – a very good sign. Also, there were some bubbles in the blood indicating a probable hit through the lungs – even better. We then climbed up on the berm in the direction the buck had fled and started searching for a blood trail. It didn’t take Kenny long to find a few drops. We started a process where I would stand at the last blood sign while Kenny would work slightly ahead until more blood or other evidence could verify the deer’s path. There wasn’t a lot of blood and that was a little concerning. Man I didn’t want to have a non-lethal wound or, worse yet, fail to be able to track a fatally wounded deer!

Within about 20 yards, we came to the place the buck jumped the fence. A few steps on the other side of the fence there was a decent sized pool of blood. The buck must have stopped there for a few moments before continuing on. Kenny kept looking for more blood while I marked the last spot and started scanning ahead with my flashlight. We progressed another 10 yards or so in this manner. The blood trail had diminished again and doubt began to creep back in. We took a few more steps and I scanned again. The arc of light struck something white – sure enough it was the buck’s belly! It was about 20 yards away and at first I couldn’t see a rack at all – what the heck? As I got closer, I realized that the shrubbery the deer was lying in was blocking my view. There indeed was a rack attached to the body. The configuration wasn’t exactly as I had thought. Instead of a 4 x 4 with a kicker on one side, it’s more like a 4 x 3 with 2 kickers on the 3 side. Either way, I’m thrilled with the buck. Unfortunately, it’s dark, but we take a bunch of photos anyway. We take some with my camera and some with Kenny’s until we are satisfied that we have captured the experience.

Below are a couple of the pic’s – I’ll post more later. As you can see, my shot placement was almost perfect entering the near shoulder and exiting midway back in the ribcage on the far side. Both lungs were wiped out and there was a ton of internal bleeding. Still not sure why there wasn’t more external bleeding, but I’d still say the NAP broad head did its job.

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10:48 AM (MST)
15. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Saturday, 8-21-10 evening (conclusion)

As you all know the work is not done once you have an animal down and have posed for all the pictures! Some would say that’s when the work part of the deal begins. It wouldn’t have been a big deal to gut the buck where he lay and then drag him to the truck. But we worried about a couple things. If we left a gut pile this close to the water hole, would it screw it up for some time? Certainly, coyotes would be attracted and we had seen a fresh lion kill in the area. Would concentrating the predators rule out hunting the tank for the remainder of the season? And we were concerned with damaging the thin summer hide or the velvet covered antlers if we tried to move the buck much.

Luckily, we found a way to circumvent the tank and surrounding fence and I was able to drive the Tacoma right up to the buck! Still, it was a challenge for the two of us to hoist the deer into the truck bed while still taking care with the rack. But after a little struggle, we succeeded. Kenny volunteered to ride in the back and hold the buck so the rack wouldn’t be jostled around from the rough road out. So I grabbed all my equipment and then we started out toward camp. Part way back we were met by Tom in one truck and Don in another. After everyone had a chance to look at the deer and offer congratulations, it was back on the road. We decided to stop about half way back and gut out the buck which Kenny handled fairly gracefully.

We finally got the deer back to camp and Don picked out a tree to hang him in for the skinning and deboning process. Don used the winch on his F350 to hoist the deer up over a limb and then went to work skinning the buck out. Even though he doesn’t like using the summer capes on mounts, he still preserved it in case I wanted to go that way. By the time Don completed the skinning job it was around midnight. We then made sure the chest cavity was fully open and the legs cut away from the body to insure the meat would cool well overnight. It was going to be a very short night for Kenny and Tom and it turned out not that much longer for the rest of us.

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01:56 PM (MST)
16. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Sunday, 8-22-10 morning

Even though there was no 3:30am alarm for Scott, Don and I, we were all still up shortly after daybreak. Kenny had gone out early as usual while his dad had decided a break was needed and he got up with the rest of us. Don quickly got to the task of boning out my buck for the trip home. He did an efficient job and the boned out meet filled my 60-quart cooler almost to the top. There was just enough room for the partially melted blocks of ice I had left to squeeze in.

Meanwhile, I had to make a quick trip down to my blind since I had left my camera case there the night before in my haste and with the darkness. Don suggested I pull his trail cam while I was down there – we thought it would be interesting to see what other deer had come in and that there may be photos of the buck I shot. Upon returning to camp, I started packing up everything else – loaded the Sportsman in the back of the Tacoma and got all my other stuff packed around it or in the back seat of the truck.

Don finished up with the meat removal and we decided to take some more photos of the rack in the daylight. I’ve included a couple of the shots below. Concurrently, Scott was preparing our first (and my only) hot breakfast of the trip – bacon, eggs and potatoes. After the photo session, Don wrapped the cape in a breathable bag and we found a way to place it in the truck so that the cape and rack would be protected for the ride home. Don actually wanted me to stop in Kingman, AZ and drop it off at a taxidermist there, but I wanted to ponder that during the first part of my drive.

Everything was packed up, breakfast was ready and Kenny returned from his morning vigil all about the same time. So we all sat down at the table and enjoyed a good, hot breakfast – thanks Scott for cooking! During breakfast, Don got out his video camera and asked me to do a recap of the hunt. I’ll try to get that clip and share in a future post.

I’m not sure if it was before or after breakfast, but at some point we viewed the photos off the trail cam. There were three photos that were quite interesting. The first was of a doe and fawn drinking from the tank at 6:0? Saturday evening. Funny part about that is I never saw them! As I said, with the sun in my eyes I really wasn’t paying much attention until about 6:30pm when the sun was behind the trees. The really cool thing was pictures two and three. Picture two was taken at 7:08pm on Saturday and showed the buck I shot and the other buck drinking side by side. Picture three was snapped at 7:09pm on Saturday and showed just the buck I didn’t shoot drinking at the water. It really had taken only seconds after the shot for the second buck to settle back down and resume drinking! I’ll try to get these pic’s along with the other’s Don and Kenny took and post them later.

After solid handshakes and well wishes all around, it was time for me to hit the road. I would be traveling a different route this time. I would head back to St. George, UT, but then I would go mostly South into Las Vegas, NV and continue on through Kingman, Wickieup and Wickenburg, AZ before returning to the Valley of the Sun.

I'm not sure why some of these photos are coming out black & white, but here you go...

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03:36 PM (MST)
17. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Sunday, 8-22-10 (continued)

The drive back home was mostly uneventful. I did run in to about an hour delay going through the Hoover Dam area. It will sure be great when the new bypass bridge and road is completed which is forecasted for late this year. For those of you unfamiliar, the bypass bridge is quite the civil engineering feat. Just Google “New Hoover Dam Bridge” for all the information you could want.

By the time I got through the delay, I had decided that I wasn’t going to drop off the cape and antlers in Kingman. While the taxidermist that Don recommended there is famous for his quality, I knew his prices were pretty steep as well. And besides that, I felt like I owed another taxidermist a shot at my business. Debbie Bowyer from Reserve, NM helped me out in my application process for the NM antelope tags Cody and I drew. I had been in her taxidermy shop a few years back and her work looked very good at that time. So I decided that as soon as I got home I would contact her and hope she wanted to do the mount.

It turned out that Debbie was very appreciative that I had thought of her for the work and agreed to do the shoulder mount for a very reasonable price. We discussed what I needed to do to keep the velvet antlers and kept in good shape until I would be able to get them to her the next day. Since I had come back through Las Vegas, I still had my ATV in the back of my truck and needed to get that back to Heber. Debbie said she could meet me in Show Low, AZ which is less than an hour from Heber and would save me about 2 hours driving each way as compared to go to her shop in NM.

I met Debbie in Show Low the next day and she said the antlers and cape were still in good shape. Don had done a good job preparing everything for my ride home and I had taken the further precautions Debbie had suggested. I decided to have the mount done with the summer cape. Though it will not be the prettiest hide, it’s as the buck was when I shot it and that’s what’s important to me. I also have a nice elk mount that has three broken tines on one side. I could have had the taxidermist repair them to match the other side, but again wanted the mount to reflect the animal as it actually was. In addition to the price being right, Debbie said she’ll have the mount done in 4-5 months so I may be able to add some pic’s to this thread before the contest ends at the end of the year!

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06:39 AM (MST)
18. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

After the Hunt

After getting the quad back to the cabin and the antlers and cape safely off to the taxidermist, there was still a little more work to do. The boned out meat had been kept cold in the cooler where Don had packed it. But it wasn’t going to prepare itself! Maybe it’s because of my Midwest upbringing or just for self satisfaction, but Kelly and I have almost always done our own butchering of the wild game the family harvests.

We make steaks out of the tenderloins, back straps and a few other choice cuts. Most of the rest goes into “hamburger meat” which really is any one of several possibilities. This could just stay in chunks as kabob meat or we may grind it for hamburger or jerky. About five years ago, we invested in a pretty nice electric grinder from Cabela’s. It sure makes life easier compared to the hand grinding method my parents used and we had also employed up to that time. We use a vacuum sealer to wrap the packages for the freezer – this is also a big upgrade compared to the “freezer paper” solution of yesteryear. This year we are also creating a separate “doggie treat” pile. That is meat with too much tendon or fat to trim efficiently. We cooked up some of these scraps already and the dogs love them so we’ll be sure to get some off all the harvests to come.

Here's a couple pic's of the butchering in process.

During the butchering process, it became evident that the back straps were not in the cooler. Then I remembered that Don had wanted to clean them up a bit and figured he must have forgot to get them into the cooler after that. I ended up driving through Kingman the weekend after the hunt and picked up that meat at that time. Don had cleaned up the back straps, cut them into steaks and frozen them – thanks Don! I also was able to get a CD of the photos that Kenny had taken of my buck and me a few days earlier.

Here's a couple shots off the CD.

As a side note, I learned that Kenny had returned home without ever attempting a shot. He had passed on a pretty good 4 x 4 on opening morning and then just never got a tempting enough opportunity after that. I guess it rained pretty hard on the strip later on in opening week so the water holes weren’t very productive.

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10:14 PM (MST)
19. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Loose Ends

As I start wrapping up the first “chapter” of my chronicle, I’d like to use this post to go back and tie up some things that I left hanging in my posts up to this point. I will try to close all the holes, sorry if I miss any.

I think the first thing that I never quite concluded was what I did as far as longer range practice. Recall that I could shoot as much as I wanted in my backyard, but I was limited to 20 yards. Pretty sure I mentioned that there is a park area just down the street from my house that provided a virtually unlimited range. Well I did shoot there a few times until one Sunday morning when I got a visitor. There’s a church adjacent to this park area and it was clear that services there were getting out for the morning. A well dressed man started walking towards me and I greeted him as he arrived. He informed me that the church owned all this park area and they would prefer I not shoot there. I’ve lived in the same house for 20 years now, the park area was there years before the church and I never knew the church owned that land.

Anyway, that was really all the longer range shooting I did until the one session at my cabin the day before heading up to the strip. Based on that limited practice, I was very comfortable to 30 yards, felt pretty good to 40 and would not shoot past that without a very good reason. Since my one and only shot during the hunt turned out to be right about 30 yards, all worked out well in that regard.

I also talked about shooting with broadheads and how I had been happy with the accuracy and point of impact of the NAP heads I already had. My problem was that they were dull and I needed to either find a way to sharpen the thin blades or find some reasonably priced replacement blades. If you’ve been reading carefully, you already know that I went with the replacement blade option. I found some at a decent price on EBay, so I bought 5 packages so that I won’t have to worry about that again for a while. Each package has replacement blades for 3 broadheads. Bull Basin Archery returned the dull blades after putting in the new ones so I do have those that I can use for future practice or I can still search out a sharpening method.

Our pup, Peanut (or Reggie as he was renamed), found his way into a previous post. Peanut had been sold to a friend of the family who then returned him when he became ill. My very pleasant update here is that Peanut made what appears to be a full recovery! We kept him about a week while he was regaining his health and then the original purchaser bought him back. He is doing well back in that home and is having a blast playing with their other dog and in their pool. And it’s better for us being back to just two dogs – Cheyenne (momma) and Casper (the pup we kept).

Here's a photo of my two girls.

Another thing I mentioned along the way was that I don’t currently have a video camera. I think it would be a great addition to be able to capture film of the hunting experiences and to share on this site, but I haven’t been able to bite the bullet yet. I don’t think I missed much by not having one for the mule deer hunt as I was alone in the blind and would have had to rig up some kind of tripod system with remote controls to get any footage of the actual shot. It’s still possible I will pick one up before the next hunt, but this remains an open issue.

Lastly, there were a few things that came up during the hunt itself that I mentioned, but did not provide conclusions for. I mentioned the pictures, video and trail cam photos that Don and Kenny captured. The CD I got from Don contained the camera photos (I shared a couple in the previous post), but I did not get copies of the video or trail cam pic’s. Secondly, the citation I was issued for not having an off road decal on my ATV remains an open issue. I don’t yet know what my penalty will be, but I did already visit DMV and get the off road plate and decal! Finally, I mentioned that I got a complete pass through with my arrow on the buck. Being caught up in the moment of tracking the buck, I had neglected to snap a photo of the arrow. I’ve included some shots below that show what we all like to see when recovering an arrow shot at a game animal.

I hope I’ve remembered all the loose ends from this chapter of my adventure. There will be one more post specifically on this hunt before I move on to the next adventure which is New Mexico antelope hunting with Cody. The last post will be a critique of the hunt from the perspective that it was guided vs. DIY.

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09:06 AM (MST)
20. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

The Guided Experience

When I decided to participate in the Hunt Adventure Challenge, one thing that I thought I could share was the different experiences and results of a guided vs. DIY hunt. Now that my first hunt and only guided hunt of the year is complete, it’s time to evaluate the experience.

There’s a lot that goes into an enjoyable hunt. Of course we all want to see game and get at least one reasonable opportunity at the class of animal we are pursuing. But apart from how many and how big the animals we see are, how many shot opportunities we get and, ultimately, if we are successful or not, there are other factors.

Camp may be a tent, trailer, cabin or hotel, but was it comfortable and up to expectations? Similarly, food could be anything from basic to extravagant, but was it well prepared and what you thought you’d be getting? In other situations, there could be horses or other transportation included – always the same basic question – did this item meet or exceed expectations or disappoint? With a guided hunt, some of these things are provided for you. Depending on your agreement, you may be expecting the guide to provide any or all of the above. And of course you now have to throw in the cost of the hunt itself – what you are paying the guide / outfitter and do you feel you're getting value for the money.

I’m not sure there’s a direct way to compare line-by-line a guided vs. DIY hunt so what I’m going to do is grade this hunt against my expectations and then try to do a comparable grading on my DIY hunts later in the year. I have to mention a couple of caveats before I do the grading. This hunt was booked as a 9-day hunt and I only hunted 2 days arriving in camp the afternoon before the first day and leaving the morning after the second hunting day. So it’s impossible to know what would or would not have happened those other 7 hunting days! Secondly, this was a very modestly priced hunt as guided hunts go. I was cashing in a credit I had with Don along with a nominal cash payment. There’s no way to know if the experience would have been the same if this had been a full price hunt and certainly my expectations would have been different had I invested a few thousand dollars cash.

So with those qualifications, I’m going to give a letter grade (A thru F) and a brief description for each line item and then an overall grade and evaluation at the end.

1) Historic knowledge of the game and area hunted…Grade: A…it was clear that Don had invested a lot of time over the years to become intimately familiar with the mule deer on the strip and their habits and haunts.
2) Specific scouting for this hunt…Grade: B…Don arrived a few days before the hunt and did set some trail cams, but rain early in the week limited their usefulness. Additional scouting was done during the hunt – may have paid off if needed – can never know.
3) Game quantity…Grade: A…the strip isn’t known for deer density and yet I saw deer every time out and even saw deer in or around camp before the hunt started and after I was done.
4) Game quality…Grade: B…only a B because I know of the potential on the strip and I didn’t personally see any of the true monsters. If I had held out, who knows?
5)Accommodations…Grade: A…we stayed in a comfortable toyhauler. Camp was moved to higher elevation to minimize the heat and that was really a good move.
6) Food…Grade: C…the only area that was a disappointment. Two or three hot meals out of eight while in camp – maybe my expectations were too high and who knows what may have been different later on.
7) Game care…Grade: A…Don did a great job with the cape and even let me borrow a breathable game bag to protect it on the way home. He also did a great job with boning out all the meat allowing me to easily transport it in the single cooler I had available.
8) Overall experience…Grade: B+…a very enjoyable and successful hunt that was a lot shorter than planned (by my own choice).

Did I do the right thing in going guided on this hunt? I would say, “Absolutely”! Given the fact that I knew nothing of this unit and the travel distance was so great, I would have had more fixed costs invested to scout the hunt than the cash I paid. And there’s still no telling if I would have been successful at all. Don put me in a place to get a shot opportunity on a very nice buck that was comfortably within my effective archery range. The rest, as they say, is history. So for me, in this situation, the guided option was the best option and I’m glad that’s the path I chose. It will be interesting to compare the different aspects once the DIY hunts are complete.

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07:25 PM (MST)
21. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

We Move On

Thanks for all who followed along as I shared the preparation, execution, results and reflection of my AZ unit 13B archery mule deer hunt. The hunting year has definitely gotten off to a bang, or maybe a whack, of a start! Now it’s time to leave the northern AZ mountains and high desert behind and move on to the next adventure in the plains of NM.

You may recall that I put in on the same application as my oldest son, Cody, for this rifle antelope hunt. Obviously, if one of us drew, we would both get tags and that’s exactly what happened! Our first and only choice was for a cluster of several game management units in the West Central portion of the state. If you are drawn for this hunt, the Game & Fish Department assigns you to a ranch anywhere in any of the units. So it’s like getting drawn twice – first you have to get lucky enough to get a tag and then you’re still at the mercy of lady luck as far as ranch assignment. Clearly, there are some huge ranches with many landowner and public draw tags and then there are smaller ones with much fewer tags. I’m sure trophy quality varies quite a bit from one ranch to the next as well.

Once we received our tags in the mail, we immediately looked at the ranch info. Ironically, we are assigned to different ranches! The good thing is that the two ranches border each other so we will be close together even if we hunt separately. Both ranches are in unit 20 and in Socorro County. I have been assigned to the Hickman Ranch while Cody will be hunting the San Juan Ranch. The ranches are almost 17,000 and almost 27,000 acres respectively. It looks like we are the only public draw tag holders on these ranches. The Hickman Ranch has one landowner tag with the San Juan Ranch receiving three.

Shortly after getting the ranch info, I tried to get hold of each of the ranch contacts. Per the A-Plus tag system, the ranch owners are required to let you on the property to scout the two days immediately preceding the hunt. But I wanted to establish contact as well as see about the possibility of making a trip or two to look around more in advance of the season. I was ultimately successful in speaking with Eleanor, the contact for the Hickman Ranch. She was very pleasant and receptive to an early scouting trip. All she asked was that I call her in advance and that, once on the ranch, I leave all gates as I found them. We talked a little about the number of antelope on her property and I was somewhat surprised when she said it varied between about 15 and 30. I guess I was expecting a bigger number. I wasn’t able to get in touch with the San Juan Ranch contact and left things at that while I focused on the AZ archery deer hunt.

If any of you readers has any background on either of these ranches that you’d be willing to share, please send me a note – we’d really appreciate it. Being a rifle hunt on mostly flat ground, this hunt is not going to require a lot of pre-season conditioning, but there are some things Cody and I need to do to help make this a successful DIY adventure. In my next post I will bring you up to date on what we’ve done and what our plans are going into “Chapter 2” of my Hunting Adventure Challenge Chronicle.

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12:43 PM (MST)
22. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

While I Was Gone

Sorry everyone for the lengthy lapse between posts. I hadn’t planned to take a sabbatical, but as they say “Life Happens”. It’s actually pretty coincident with the fact that there is also a big gap between the AZ strip hunt and the upcoming NM antelope adventure.

So let’s get caught up a bit. In the general life category, my biggest update is that we got Peanut (runt of the litter from my Yellow Lab Cheyenne) back again. He relapsed again after returning him back to the buyers for a second time. Before they returned him this time, they took him to a vet for a blood test.

Many of his levels were off and the preliminary diagnosis was that he had a liver shunt. This is a condition that allows some portion of the blood supply to circumvent the liver and therefore not be filtered for toxins. This supposition was confirmed when I brought him in for an abdominal ultrasound. There are a few different ways the blood can bypass the liver. The specific shunt that Peanut has occurs right inside the liver itself. As such, the condition is treatable with surgery, but the surgery is complex and expensive because the surgeons are somewhat blind to the exact location of the issue.

So while I really like the little guy and am getting more attached day by day, I still can not justify the $5k - $6k price of the surgery. So we will keep Peanut now and hope that his life can be as close to normal as possible. If he really starts to suffer, we will need to make a call on his quality of life vs. the alternative.

The other semi-big thing within the last couple weeks is that Jordan, my younger son at 17, took and passed his driver’s license road test. So it’s great for him and helps mom and I out by not having to run him around, but it will also hit with higher auto insurance fees. All-in-all it is part of the process in life, so we’re glad that Jordan has passed this chapter.

Ok, this is supposed to be a hunting blog, so I suppose I should get back to it! When last I spoke of NM I was debating on the scouting and accommodations for that and the hunt. Well, we have developed a conflict for the weekend prior to the hunt, so scouting is going to be limited to the two days prior to the opener. Since we are hunting on assigned ranches, I am hoping that will be adequate. So the plan is for Cody and me to go to an early appointment on Thursday the 30th. After that, he will return to school until Friday around noon while I will head over to NM to scout.

We have decided to go primitive for our accommodations. I have a topper on my Tacoma and we will just crash out in the bed of the truck with a couple mattress pads and sleeping bags. The weather should be conducive to that approach and it really streamlines the process and expense compared to other alternatives.

I plan to be somewhat flexible based on how the scouting goes on the two adjacent ranches, but my plan as of this minute is to concentrate first on Cody’s buck. Since there are more tags for that ranch, he will face more competition from other hunters. I’m hoping I can locate a shooter buck on Cody’s ranch Thursday night or Friday and put him to bed Friday night. If all goes well, we’ll be able to relocate him Saturday morning by being in the right place before light. Hopefully, I will have also gotten a good idea where to look on my assigned ranch and we’ll be able to make a quick transition after Cody is successful.

Well it’s off to Laughlin, NV (a smaller Las Vegas closer to Phoenix) with the wife for the weekend. I’m hoping that the free rooms don’t end up being too expensive! When we get back on Sunday, it will be out to the shooting range for Cody and I and I’ll let you know how that goes and how the gambling Gods treated us.

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09:17 AM (MST)
23. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

A Little Stressed Out

Ok, the gambling in Laughlin went so-so...I really needed the Packers to not only win, but cover the 3 point spread on Monday night to come out on top. And thanks to about 20 penalties and probably the dumbest punt in the history of the NFL, that didn't happen!

I did get out to the range and shot both my trusty Sako .270 and one of the youth model Ruger's I had bought for the kids several years back. This one was in .243 caliber. The .243 was pretty much on and after a slight windage adjustment and about 5 shots, I called it good. It was a different story with the .270. My first 2 shots didn't even cut paper! I had a gut feeling that I was shooting high because I was using 130 grain bullets and had last shot that rifle with 150 grain rounds. So I aimed very low on the target and sure enough hit the very top. It was pretty quick from there - bringing it down to about 3" high at 100 yards. Satisfied that both guns were ready, I headed home.

It was time to wrap up a couple more loose ends. I wanted to speak to the ranch contact for my assigned ranch and contact Cody's representative for the first time. I also wanted to get hold of the Game & Fish to clarify if ranch reassignment was possible if it became a desired option.

I'm sure you'll all think I procrastinated way too much and that's probably true. I guess I just assumed things would go smoothly. Well, it started out fine. I called my ranch contact today and she was just as pleasent as last time I spoke with her a couple months back. She even gave me the combo to the locks on her gates just in case she wasn't there to unlock them tomorrow afternoon when I expect to get there. That was the end of the smooth sailing. Just like last time I tried, I had no luck getting in touch with Cody's ranch contact. The phone justs rings and rings - no answer and no recorder.

So that just added to my questions for G&F. Sure, I will be there tomorrow which is still 2 days ahead of the opener, but its an uneasy feeling having made no contact with the ranch thus far. But, as usual, all the customer service reps were helping other callers. Oddly, when I finally rang through, I got the voicemail of an individual employee. I left a detailed message, but haven't received a return call.

That's why I'm stressing a little. I'll be leaving here mid-morning tomorrow which will put me at the ranches in the late afternoon. It feels like there is still a lot of uncertainty especially with respect to Cody's part of the hunt. Oh well, let's hope everthing shakes out and I'm able to locate a couple nice goats by Friday night!

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10:20 AM (MST)
24. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Tensions Easing as I Prepare to Head Out (Thursday, Sept. 30 Morning)

I received a return call from the New Mexico Game & Fish this morning. The lady representative gave me an alternate contact number for the San Juan Ranch so I’m feeling a little better – I will call them when I get on the road. She also confirmed that I do need to purchase two different habitat stamps (that I can pick up at Wal-Mart in Deming, NM) and that our tags are not transferable to another ranch should ours turn out to be a bust.

So, after Cody and I wrapped up our appointment, he headed to ASU for his daily classes and I headed home for some final packing. It didn’t take long to get everything into the back of the Tacoma and then it was finally time to hit the road for what was projected to be about a 6.5 hour drive to the ranch area.

I had about three quarters of a tank of gas and my strategy was to fill up in Tucson, AZ and then again in Deming since I had to stop there anyway to get the habitat stamps. I figured that would leave me plenty of gas for the hunt as well as to make it back to Deming on the return trip. This plan would end up unraveling along the way.

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05:43 PM (MST)
25. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

On the Road! (Thursday, Sept. 30 Afternoon)

Once I got out to I-10 heading South toward Tucson, I called the new contact number for Cody's assigned ranch. There was no answer, but at least this time there was a recorder, so I left a detailed message and continued on. I made a few more calls and time flew by and before I realized it I was past Tucson without having stopped for gas. I figured this was no big deal since it was all freeway driving until Deming, NM and certainly there would be ample opportunities to fill up.

That assumption was correct, but I ended up getting pretty low and was pretty much forced to fill up in Wilcox, AZ. It was easy on and off the freeway, but it turned out that gas was about $.20 / gallon cheaper not that much farther down the road in Lordsburg, NM. And though I needed to stop in Deming, there was no point in topping off there.

My next little miscue was at Wal-mart where I tried to buy the habitat stamps for Cody and myself. The friendly, if not so intelligent, clerk required my drivers license and therefore would not let me buy an additional stamp for Cody – although I didn’t think too much of this at the time, it would end up leading to bigger problems later!

But it was back on the road and off the freeway system – now I was on highway 26 and going through Hatch, NM. I almost stopped to by some of the green chilies they are famous for, but I ended up realizing that I really wouldn’t know how to incorporate them into the cooking process. I do love Mexican food and spicy food in general so I probably should have picked some up and learned how to use them later.

I was starting to see the occasional antelope along the roads which got me pumped up to get to my assigned ranch for some scouting. Somewhere along the way, the wife of Cody’s ranch contact called me back and we had an interesting discussion. It started poorly with her asserting that Cody could only hunt the BLM land with the ranch and none of the private land. She informed me that they had three landowner tags and that those people would be hunting the private land with a guide. It got a little testy as I tried to calmly explain to her that a condition of those landowner tags was that they allow full access to the public draw hunters as well.

Eventually, she passed the phone to her son and things started to go a little more smoothly. I was told I really needed to speak to his father who was the official ranch contact. That made sense, but unfortunately he wasn’t going to be available until that night at the earliest. I just let them know that I would look around on my ranch Thursday night and not try to scout Cody’s until Friday morning.

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09:39 PM (MST)
26. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

I’m here – arrived at the Hickman Ranch! (Thursday, Sept. 30 Early Evening)

Cool, I made it to my ranch! After jumping out and opening the main gate and then closing it again behind me, it was off down the driveway toward the ranch house. About a quarter mile in I spot my first legal (on the ranch and a buck with horns above his ears) antelope. Just for kicks I got the Swarovski spotter out and took a close look at him. There wasn’t much length or mass so I didn’t get too excited, but it was nice to see him none the less.

I continued on down to the ranch house and knocked on the door. Eleanor came out and was just as pleasant in person as she had been on the phone. She showed me another map of the ranch and briefly described the roads I could take. We talked a little about the person who had the landowner tag and how we were each expected to let her know if / when we tagged out. After a few more pleasantries, she wished me well and told me to feel at home – that left me an hour and a half or so to look around before dark.

Her ranch is made up of a front (by the highway) part and a back section that are divided by a big gorge. She had said that there were some antelope in both areas, but that they rarely saw any in the gorge itself. So I started out by checking the back section since the road that accesses the front is right by the main gate and I was well past that being at the house. So it was through another gate just past the house, across the gorge and then back up the opposite bank to the back plateau region.

There’s a final gate as soon as you get to the top of the bank and past the gate the road branches and kind of makes a loop around this portion of the ranch. Both the two roads don’t actually come all the way back together so you cant just drive the whole loop, but need to pick one and then backtrack to take the other. Anyway, I took a slight right past the gate and drove quite some distance until I came to a stick fence and barbed wire gate. I hadn’t spotted anymore antelope up to this point. Falsely, thinking the property extended beyond the gate, I went ahead and opened it and proceeded another couple miles. I did see another group of goats a ways down from the gate though, again, there were no big bucks present.

Eventually I came to a main highway and it was obvious the ranch ended at this point if not before, so I turned around and back tracked all the back to the gate at the entrance to the back of the ranch. Just before I got to that gate, I noticed a lone buck antelope in the “Y” area between the road I had come in on and the other road I could have taken had I turned left once past the gate. I was able to snap a couple pictures of the buck before he got antsy and headed off and they are below.

Next, I took the other road and started heading around that side of the ranch. Light was fading fairly quickly and I could tell I wasn’t going to make it all the way to the back before it was too dark to see anything. I kept going for a ways and almost hit a mule deer buck that crossed the ranch road right in front of me. It was a small buck and he was coming down from the adjacent mountain line into the flats for the night. After going just a bit further, I did a U-turn and headed back out of the ranch. Thanks to my poor fuel management, I figured I needed to gas up some for the next day’s scouting and I had noticed there was a truck stop right where I had exited the freeway to come the last 7.5 miles to the ranch.

The truck stop ended up being not nearly what I was envisioning. I guess I was expecting a modern facility with oodles of gas pumps, a big store, etc. What the reality was is that there was just one island of pumps (maybe 4 total) and the gas was pretty pricey compared to what I could have gotten along the way. Oh well, live and learn! There was a 24-hour restaurant, a bar area and even a few rooms for rent all located in the single building set up. Even though I don’t drink alcohol anymore, I thought it might be fun to check out the bar. So after I got a little gas, I went back inside and found the bar. There was just one other customer in there and I figured out there was one lady that was handling the whole place – chief cook and bottle washer for sure.

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04:07 PM (MST)
27. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

A Night Under the Stars (Thursday, Sept. 30 Evening)

After B.S.’ing with the single customer and the employee for a bit, I headed back out to the ranch and parked my truck just off the ranch road inside the front gate. As planned, I was going to just crash in the back of the Tacoma for the night, but I was already thinking that the $29 rooms at the truck stop may prove irresistible once Cody arrived on Friday. So I pulled out a mattress pad, pillow and a blanket and laid everything out in the truck bed and then snuggled in. It was still a little too warm for my liking, but it had definitely cooled from the high 90’s temperature of the afternoon.

As I lie there winding down, I thought about what I had learned and what my scouting strategy for the next day should be. I haven’t mentioned it, but the owner of the San Juan Ranch had called me back at some point that night and before that I had gotten another call about that ranch from an acquaintance of the owners. The gist of what they said was that there were a lot of antelope on the San Juan and that there were some really good sized ones as well. I also found out that all three of the landowner tag hunters were being guided by Tony Grimmet from AZ. I knew of Tony and had even considered hiring him on a previous antelope hunt in AZ. He has a reputation for getting his hunters on great bucks. With that new info in mind, I decided to just sleep until whenever I woke up and then to spend a couple hours getting to the places I had yet to see on the Hickman ranch before heading over to the San Juan for the balance of Friday.

It wasn’t too long before I nodded off to sleep, but not that much longer when I woke up. First off I had to pee and secondly a wicked little wind had kicked up and was blowing straight into the truck bed – I was actually cold now! So I got up, took a leak and dug another blanket out of the storage container before hopping back in the truck. Again sleep came quickly, but again I woke prematurely - about 4:30am. Cold again and may as well pee again while I’m up getting yet another blanket. This time it was daylight when I awoke and so I quickly packed everything back up, grabbed a couple pop tarts for breakfast and started driving the Hickman Ranch again.

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01:24 PM (MST)
28. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

A Final Day to Scout (Friday, Oct. 1 Morning)

I covered most of the same ground as I had the day before and was seeing the occasional antelope. Still there was nothing real jaw dropping and so I was thinking more and more that our focus should be getting Cody a good one on the San Juan and then me not being too picky here. However, there was the far back of the ranch that I still hadn’t seen and Eleanor had said there was a dirt tank back there that had the only real tree on the ranch growing from its bank.

As I approached the tank an antelope streaked across the road in front of me and continued some distance out into the flats. I confirmed that this one too was an average buck and proceeded up to the tank. Getting out of the truck, I took a tour around the tank. It was clear that antelope were watering here and my first thought was that the lone tree would make the foundation for an excellent archery blind! I may have to look into the possibility of gaining permission for an archery hunt because even these average sized goats would make nice trophies with a bow.

Soon it was back in the truck and time to traverse back out of this ranch and head over to get my first look at the San Juan. I wasn’t far down the incredibly long “driveway” when I spotted a buck off the side of the road a few hundred yards distant. The spotter confirmed that this was a pretty nice buck, noticeably bigger than anything I’d seen up to then. I continued down the main drive bypassing several 2-track roads going off in both directions. Eventually, I came to a cattle guard and a fenced area I will refer to as a pasture. There were a couple out buildings here as well, but no sign of and farm hands or others to touch base with.

Continuing on down the main drive, I saw a couple groups of antelope, but nothing overly impressive. Finally, I came to the ranch house and got out to introduce myself. But there was no one around so I ultimately got back in the truck and took a different road away from the ranch house. A half mile or so down that road was a metal waterer and there were several cows lounging around it. There was also a group of antelope a little further back and I struggled to get a good look at them in the thicker cover where they were. I could tell there were a couple bucks in the group, but could just never get the look I needed to judge quality.

Eventually, I gave up and continued on down the road. The vegetation seemed to thin out as I went and ultimately it looked like I had gotten out of the best antelope country. So it was u-turn time and I went back all the way to the ranch house. It looked like someone was there now so I stopped in again. Sure enough, the owner was there and I introduced myself and talked briefly with him. He was pretty busy so I didn’t keep him long and then went back about my business. I started back out on the main drive that I had taken into the ranch and then made a left hand turn onto another ranch road that made a big loop out into that part of the ranch before connecting back up to the highway.

This loop was several miles and I don’t know if it was just me or what, but I wasn’t seeing any antelope and really didn’t think this part of the ranch looked all that promising. Ultimately, I found myself back out on the highway and guess what? Not a lot of gas in the tank again! Well I had talked to Kelly and Cody and that hotel room was too tempting to pass up so I figured I’d head back to the truck stop, gas up and rent a room for the night.

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10:24 AM (MST)
29. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Put Him to Bed (Friday, Oct. 1 Afternoon)

Sorry for dragging this story out so long. Part of it is intentional of course – there’s only so much material to cover and I don’t want to throw it all out there at once. Then there’s the delay because of the review process before each installment actually gets posted. But the other part is just in dealing with life’s normal diversions and getting side sidetracked.

And that leads me to a very sad segment of my chronicle. Those that have been following along know of the joys and sorrows associated with Chey’s puppy Peanut. Well, over the last few days his condition took a pretty bad turn for the worse. I didn’t know it, but in addition to the liver shunt and it’s related complications, he had somehow contracted an intestinal parasite even though he had been through the oral “vaccination”.

Late yesterday afternoon I took him to a vet close to our home. The Dr. was very polite and caring and gave Peanut an exam. She also reviewed a prior blood test and the subsequent ultrasound that had diagnosed and confirmed the liver shunt. After considering all the information, she pointed out the options, but she didn’t give much hope for even a relatively normal long term outcome. She made it easier by saying that even if money were absolutely no object, we would still be having the same conversation.

Since it was clear that Peanut was now suffering and his quality of life had greatly reduced, Kelly and I made the tough call to have him euthanized. I sat with him as the injection took affect and it was over very quickly. Still it was one of the harder things I’ve had to go through – maybe I’m blessed to be able to say that? We only had the little guy with us for a few months - I can't immagine the grief that comes with the loss of an adult dog you've spent years with.

They are going to keep Peanut’s body at the clinic until Thursday when we are going to pick him up and take him up to the cabin where we will bury him under the pines on our acre lot. We are thinking of planting a tree there in his memory – maybe an apple tree that can bear fruit in the future.

I usually write these installments in advance and then post them up over time to space it out a little. This time, I had the title written, but had yet to pen the body. So the title, “Put Him to Bed”, wasn’t meant to describe Peanut’s last days, but I guess it’s appropriate. I will write that intended installment and post later today.

Rest in peace Peanut – you’re in a better place. We all loved you and miss you.

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08:29 AM (MST)
30. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Put Him to Bed (Friday, Oct. 1 Afternoon) (The Intended Segment)

I gassed up at the truck stop and then rented a room and went in to check it out. There was just one bed, a window AC unit, a small TV and in general it wasn’t a 5-star hotel! But, it was cheap enough and had a shower, so we could make it work. I grabbed my laptop out of the truck and cranked it up on the off chance there would be an available wireless signal – no such luck.

After a bit of dilly-dallying, it was back in the truck and out to the San Juan for a last look for the day. I had always heard that antelope don’t travel much after dark. So I was hoping to locate an acceptable candidate and stay on him until nightfall. Cody and I could then come back to the location in the pre-dawn hour and be on him at first light.

Well, I again saw antelope on the long road into the ranch and stopped each time to take a closer look with the spotter. Eventually, I crossed the cattle guard into the pasture area I described earlier. I decided to take a two-track to the left just inside the fence. This road took me quite a distance out into the pasture and eventually I could see a big berm coming up so I was pretty sure there would be water there.

As I approached the tank, three antelope were departing. They were moving out pretty good, but I got enough of a look to determine that it was two bucks and a doe and one of the bucks was a toad! I continued to watch until they went out of sight – wow – that’s the kind of goat you dream about. I then checked out the tank and could see that it was being frequented by antelope in addition to a multitude of cattle. The road dead-ended at the tank, so I headed back out toward the main ranch road.

I took a left on the main road which kind of loops around the pasture I was just in and now I was headed in a path that would intersect where the antelope ran if they kept going straight when I lost sight of them. A half mile or so down the road I notice three antelope running parallel to the pasture fence which was also parallel to the road. I quickly stopped, anxious to get a better look and make sure these were the same three from the tank. As I watched, one of them crossed the fence and continued on to cross the road in front of me and I soon lost sight due to more hilly terrain on that side of the road.

The one that crossed the road was definitely a good buck! I took a closer look at the two still in the pasture, a buck and a doe, and decided that these were the same three animals as I had surprised at the tank a bit ago. So I started up the truck again and continued on toward the ranch house. When I got close to where the buck had crossed the road in front of me, I spotted an antelope on the right side of the road. He was just standing there and I finally concluded he was drinking from a metal tank on a knoll. Out of curiosity, I ranged him and found he was nearly 400 yards away. Then I got the spotter out for a closer look.

This was definitely the same buck I saw by the tank and was definitely a shooter! His bases looked quite massive and he carried that mass all the way up to the prongs which looked to start a good 2-3 inches above his ears. There was still some length past the prongs as well so this antelope appeared to have it all. I called Cody and told him I was looking at the buck he wanted in the morning! The buck had walked off slightly from the metal tank and I had gotten a great look so I was just going to slip back into the truck so as to be less conspicuous.

I got the spotting scope back in the truck and slid in myself and then looked back to the antelope. Where the heck was he? I had only turned away for half a minute max. This wasn’t possible, was it? But he had simply vanished – now what? It wasn’t that long till dark – maybe an hour tops and if only I could have just kept him in sight. Dejected, I started up the truck and eased ahead thinking maybe I would spot him as hidden pockets emerged into sight. Not far down the road there was a faint two-track that led toward the metal tank. Thinking there was nothing to lose, I headed for the tank.

Once I got close, I was up on the knoll and realized I had pretty good visibility. I scanned my field of view and spotted an antelope in a ravine a half mile or so away. Back out with the spotter and sure enough this was the same buck. How he got out of sight and that distance without me ever knowing is a mystery. But it looked like my plan on putting him to bed was back in play! He was feeding leisurely and making gradual progress up the ravine away from the road. Eventually, he fed far enough up the ravine that I lost my angle and could no longer see him.

The ravine was taking him into an area that looked pretty hilly. I decided to take an arcing hike that should put me on a hill above the ravine. It ended up being a longer march than I thought, but I eventually peeked over the hill from behind a small bush. The raven really opened up here and it continued quite some distance as well. Almost immediately I spotted an antelope, then another and a third for sure. Having just my 7x35 binoculars, I couldn’t get a great look, but at least two were bucks so that was cool. The antelope farthest down the ravine away from me suddenly began trotting away. Man I didn’t think any of them had figured me out.

So my attention shifted to the other two who were only about 20 feet apart and they started getting jittery as well. They were looking down the canyon toward where the other buck had fled from. This was weird – why were they all spooking? The answer came a short time later as a mature coyote came up out of the ravine straight at the two bucks. Thus began a game of chicken – first the coyote would rush the antelope and then vice versa! Neither party appeared overly scared or confident. Finally, the antelope retreated, jogging away on pretty much the same route as the first buck. The coyote, evidently unhappy with the goat’s pace of retreat, charged up on their heels and they kicked it into high gear. So it was up and over the first ridge, out of sight, up the next ridge and gone for good. So much for my plan to put one to bed! The sun had long since dipped below the peaks to the west and I was a good ways from the truck, so off I went to avoid total darkness.

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11:47 AM (MST)
31. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Opener Eve (Friday, Oct. 1 Evening)

While I was observing the antelope / coyote escapade, my cell phone rang and it was Cody calling from the Wal-mart in Deming, NM. He was having trouble getting his habitat stamps. This time the clerk wanted him to provide his hunting license instead of his driver’s license. I told him to just have the assistant look back in his receipt book and see that I had purchased mine with a driver’s license. It was to no avail – even after summoning a manager, they still would not sell him the stamps. I had packed both of our hunting licenses and they were in my laptop bag in the hotel room. So I couldn’t even read off the number. I told Cody to just not worry about it if he couldn’t talk them into the sale. Remember how I said that when I tried to buy his and was turned down, it was going to lead to bigger issues? Well, he not being able to get his own stamp was the next step in this issue – more to come!

During that phone call I also agreed to wait for Cody for dinner even though he was running late. So I was back in the room rehashing the scouting efforts and trying to formulate a plan of attack for the morning. I also picked out fresh clothes and took a shower in preparation for the next day. After the shower, I flipped on the T.V. only to find out there was a total of about five channels available. Guess I’m spoiled and used to a hundred different selections. But I found something to watch and it wasn’t long before Cody arrived.

We got him unpacked and all his stuff ready for the morning and then walked over to the restaurant to get some dinner. Over dinner, we chatted about what I had seen and what our first option was going to be for opening morning. We decided to go together to try to fill his tag on the San Juan. We would give that effort until about noon and then slide over to the Hickman Ranch to let me have a go at it. Cody’s expectations were fairly high so he was going to be selective at least for a while. He was a little worried about not having the habitat stamps, but my thought was that we had been very conscientious with our effort. First I had contacted Game & Fish to get the low down, then I had tried to purchase the stamps for him and ultimately, he had tried. So if we were questioned and still got in trouble, well, I don’t know, but it would seem like some leniency would be in order.

We wrapped up dinner and headed back to the room. Cody jumped in the shower and then we set the alarm for 5:00am and hit the hay. Before nodding off, we decided on our specific strategy. The plan was to eat a quick breakfast and then head out to the San Juan where we were going to park my truck just inside the ranch. We were going to drive a short way up the entrance and then wait for enough light to see and then just ease our way in further and further, glassing as we went. With plans, clothes and equipment lined up, we called it a night – the alarm would be ringing soon enough as it was!

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10:12 PM (MST)
32. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Rise, Shine & Hunt! (Saturday, Oct. 2 Early Morning)

The cell phone alarms went off promptly at 5:00am and while I was instantly awake, Cody didn’t budge. He was late to a class earlier this year at ASU because of sleeping through his alarm and now I understood how that could happen! So I kind of shook him awake and then we were both out of bed and getting dressed.

I went out to the truck and got a box of pop tarts, a Coke for Cody and a Diet Mt. Dew for myself. We munched a couple pop tarts each down, gathered everything up, loaded up the trucks and headed out. We got to the ranch and I pulled my Tacoma off onto the side of the road and jumped into Cody’s Tacoma with him. As planned, we headed a little way up the main drive and then parked waiting for enough light to see.

Once adequate light arrived we drove slowly in on the main ranch road, glassing on both sides as we went. Unlike all my other trips down this road, we weren’t seeing any antelope at all. A little doubt started creeping in. We eventually made it to the cattle guard at the pasture area still with no animals sighted. It was decided to take the little two-track out toward the earthen tank. Just as the day before, as we approached the water a buck was departing.

We had time to size him up while he was still in range. He was a decent buck, but Cody decided it was too early to take anything but a big one so we let him walk. Since the berm of the tank offered a bit of a vantage point, we decided to get out and set up the spotter and binos for a look around. It didn’t take long for us to start seeing goats! Although there were singles and small groups visible in most directions, there seemed to be one area with more of a concentration. It was probably close to a mile from the tank where we were set up and we were trying to figure out the best way to close the gap for a better look.

There had been another two-track before the one we took into the pasture that headed parallel to the one we took. It looked like we could drive back out to the main ranch road and go back to that other two-track and take that to get pretty close. We looked for landmarks so we’d know how far down that road to go and we also noticed that there was a truck parked about halfway from the main road to where we figured we needed to stop for a final approach on foot. We assumed this was one of the landowner tag hunters, but it looked like we wouldn’t interfere with them nor them with us if we executed our plan. It also appeared unlikely that they could see the same antelope we were looking at from where they were parked.

So we packed up the optics and headed out of the pasture and down the main road to the other two-track. Working our way down that road, we noticed that the other truck was now moving and it was headed further in and toward our antelope. Damn it all! Oh well, nothing to do now but keep going and see what happens. Luckily, that vehicle stopped again and stayed put as we approached. Just before we got to their location, two guys got out and they starting walking into the adjacent wash area – they must have saw something worth a stalk. So we just eased on by and drove to a point where the road broke sharply away from the wash. We were still a fair distance from our marker, but with the road turning it looked like we might as well walk from here.

We hit the wash and walked down it until we thought we were in the right place based on our landmark. While in the wash, we were hidden from view because of the steep bank of the wash on the side the antelope were supposed to be. Finding a climbable spot in that bank, we peeked our heads over and saw a group of antelope a few hundred yards out. There was a fair amount of vegetation here and it was difficult getting a good look. And the antelope were running around chasing each other in big loops. Finally they started coming our way and then took turns going up and down a dirt pile. It was still difficult to evaluate their size because they would only be up on that mound and in sight for a few seconds before moving.

We were frustrated when they all finally just moved off without us getting a great look or shot opportunity. Then we walked up to that dirt hill which turned out to be the berm of yet another earthen tank. This one too would make a great archery ambush – I really need to check into that for next year. Anyway, we could see the antelope where they had moved off several hundred yards and thought we would head back down into the wash and try to circle around them and pop back up.

While we were formulating that plan, I suddenly noticed a buck only 100 yards or so out in the opposite direction. A quick look showed he was smaller than the one Cody already passed on and he let this one walk as well. So we headed back into the wash and made a big loop around until we thought we were even with or ahead of the herd and came back up for a look. Apparently the goats had continued to move as we approached and we hadn’t closed much ground at all. With a final look through the spotter, we decided there wasn’t anything big enough to compel another try and another half mile or more trek away from the truck.

The next few hours were spent driving various little ranch roads and glassing. We were seeing a lot of antelope – mostly does and small to average bucks. The one or two larger bucks we spotted were very skittish. You could stalk to about 500 yards and then they would move off. Some of you may feel comfortable at that range, but Cody never gave it a second thought – we needed to cut that about in half. Around 11am, we decided to give the San Juan a rest and head over to the Hickman Ranch. I thought maybe I could score fairly quickly over there since I had already decided not to be too picky.

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05:25 PM (MST)
33. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

The Long Arm of the Law (Saturday, Oct. 2 Midday)

After a short drive, we were at the front gate to the Hickman Ranch. We decided to take the immediate right inside the gate and scope out the front part of the ranch first and then proceed down into the gulch and up the bank on the far side to access the back portion of the ranch. After dealing with another gate we noticed an antelope moving fast through some heavy cover just on our side of the gulch. It turned out to be a doe so after seeing no other animals, we moved on down the road.

The rest of the trip on the front part of the ranch was uneventful with no more goats sighted. As we approached the gate exiting the gulch for the back side of the ranch, my cell phone rang. It was Eleanor informing me that the landowner tag hunter had filled so now I had the ranch to myself. I let her know that we were just getting started and she wished me well and we disconnected. So we continued on up the bank and around the corner toward the back gate. I instantly noticed a truck parked at the gate and momentarily thought it odd since the other hunter was supposed to be done. But then it clicked!

A game warden - ok, now we were going to see how this was going to shake out. Cody stopped the truck and I got out and greeted the officer. He asked if we had experienced any luck and then asked for my license. I handed over the tag, but didn’t show him my habitat stamp. He noted me on his list of hunters and also noted on my license that I had been checked. The next question was predictable – was Cody hunting too? We said he was, but that he was assigned the San Juan Ranch. The officer then said he may as well check Cody’s license as well and that was freely provided. Though he hadn’t asked me about the habitat stamp, he was right on it with Cody. So I explained the whole situation.

The officer said that the clerk at Wal-mart should not have needed either a hunting license or a driver’s license to sell us the stamps. Still, he was adamant that Cody buy a stamp before he hunted any more. I thought that was a fair resolution other than the distance it was back to Deming. Asking about that, he informed me that there was a Wal-mart in Socorro less than 40 miles away. With that, he left us to ponder our next steps. Well, though we didn’t like it one bit, it was clear that at least one of us had to make the drive to Socorro! The whole thing also made me wonder if things would have been different if Cody had actually been hunting his ranch when we were stopped?

Anyway, we decided to stay together to hunt the front part of this section of the ranch and then reevaluate the situation. So we took a road that branched off the side of the main road loop that eventually led to the dirt tank at the far back of the ranch. I knew that this road went out a couple miles and then dead ended. I also knew that it afforded a view of territory that was not visible from either of the loop roads. We were maybe a half mile in when we crested a rise and there was an antelope a few hundred yards off the road. He had already spotted us, but was hanging tight for the moment.

I got out of the truck as stealthily as I could and got some glass on the buck. He was just average, but then again, that was kind of what I expected so I was still interested. Meanwhile, Cody had spotted another buck, but only briefly before it went behind a distant ridge. I was still working on the original goat – now trying to get a range on him. Turns out he was near 400 yards away. This was farther than I really wanted to shoot, but he was already alert and I didn’t think I’d likely get closer. So I put the bipod legs down on the Sako .270 and tried to get a steady aim. Nothing doing – he was head on and I didn’t like that angle especially at the distance. He started to fidget and I thought for sure he would be gone in a second.

Ultimately, he moved enough to give a quartering shot that I decided to take! Wait, get steady, squeeze, BOOM! Then…nothing! Had I totally missed? Where had the shot hit? Cody didn’t know either and suddenly the buck was on the move. Just a slow retreat – maybe he’d stop and I could get one more crack? As he moved, I needed to shift around as well in order to have a clear sight picture. Finally he stopped again – no time to range him – must be about the same or a little further. BOOM! Again, nothing…and then he was off – no hesitation this time as he high-tailed it up over a ridge, down the other side and kept on going as far as we could see.

Wow, what an adrenaline rush! But now, disappointment – you’re not supposed to miss with a scoped rifle and I had just done it twice within a few short minutes. Now what? Well there was the other buck that Cody had seen. Which hill had he gone over? Cody pointed me in the right direction and I decided to hustle over there in case he had stopped just over the crest of the hill. I started touching pockets to make sure I had the things I wanted to bring along – GPS, range finder, cell phone…cell phone – where the heck was my phone? Obviously, it had fallen out of my shirt pocket while I was moving around in the prone position trying to line up my shot. We quickly decided that Cody would search for my phone while I hoofed it over to the hill the other antelope had disappeared behind.

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09:10 AM (MST)
34. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Twist of Fate (Saturday, Oct. 2 Midday)

To make a long story short, Cody found my phone and I never did good a good look at the second buck even though I went on two pretty lengthy hikes in that effort. It was early afternoon by now and we figured the best approach was to split up. We would go back to the San Juan to get my truck and then Cody would head to Socorro to try again at the habitat stamp. Meanwhile, I would go back and do one complete circuit of the Hickman and that should put us both done about the same time. The plan was to then meet up and concentrate back on the San Juan Ranch for the balance of the day.

We got back to my truck, Cody departed and I was back on the Hickman Ranch. I took the same initial route as Cody and I had earlier in the day. This time I didn’t see a single antelope on the front side of the ranch. I decided to go out on the same road in the back of the ranch where I had shot at the buck earlier. Taking this road all the way to it’s end and back, I was still without a sighting. So I made the decision to take that side of the loop road all the way back to the dirt tank. It was slow going with frequent stops to glass and just make sure I was really giving every area a thorough look.

A little discouragement was setting in since I wasn’t seeing any antelope at all! I was nearing the very back of the ranch when Cody called to inform me he was on his way back and about 15 minutes out. I let him know that I wanted to go the remaining distance to the tank and that I might not be able to make it out to meet in 15 minutes. He agreed to wait for me so I continued on toward the tank. Soon, I could see the lone tree growing out of the tank bank and then the water itself came into view. No antelope here either so I guess I should turn around and go meet Cody. But wait, I should really drive past the tank about a quarter mile to where there’s a real rough spot in the road. That way I’ll have a better feeling that I didn’t miss anything.

I eased on past the tank and hadn’t gone another 100 yards when there he was! An antelope buck standing perfectly broadside not 75 yards away. I had my driver’s side window down so I got a good look through the binos. He was no monster, but a nice looking, respectable buck and, if he didn’t make a move, I was going to. So I slid the tranny into park and killed the engine. I reached over and grabbed the Sako, eased my door open, slid out of the truck and came to a standing position. The buck had remained motionless! Stepping to the side to get out of the way of the open door, I eased the rifle to my shoulder, released the safety and got lined up all in one motion. BAMM!

This time the reaction was immediate as the buck dropped in his tracks to the desert floor. I walked the short distance over to him and admired his natural beauty. I then called Cody and relayed the events of the last 10 minutes or so. He asked if I needed help and I said I could drive right up to him and thought I could load him in the truck by myself. I would forego pictures or even gutting the buck out until I met up with Cody at the ranch entrance. It was little problem getting the antelope loaded up and in short order Cody and I were unloading him for a photo session and then the cleaning task.

Fate kind of dealt us a bad hand because all our plans had been centered on hunting together and now I had taken my buck without him by my side. Oh well, we would be together the rest of the hunt as now we could concentrate solely on finding a shooter for Cody. So after the pictures and the limited processing work, we packed some ice from the cooler in the body cavity and headed back to the San Juan Ranch in Cody’s truck.

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03:03 PM (MST)
35. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Where Did They Go? (Saturday, Oct. 2 Afternoon)

The only specific plan we had for the evening hunt was to ultimately make our way over to the metal tank near the San Juan Ranch house where I had seen the antelope herd while scouting. We entered the ranch on the main drive and took many of the same two-tracks we had driven that morning. The only real difference was that we weren’t seeing anything! Where in the morning there had been singles and groups, now there was just desert. The weather was changing and maybe that was part of the problem. It looked a lot like rain and the wind was really picking up – I would guess it was at least 30mph sustained.

So we worked road by road in the general direction of the ranch house. Still no antelope so I was really hoping the herd by the metal tank would still be hanging there and maybe there would be a good buck in there. Alas, this was not the case. There were no goats at the tank or visible in the area for that matter. We did notice a truck coming up the road from the opposite direction and assumed it was one of the landowner tag hunters. Eventually, we met them on the road and we stopped to chat a bit. It was Tony Grimmet with three or four other guys in the truck. Tony said they were two of three at that point including a 17¼” monster – I immediately wondered if that was the buck I had been watching the night before? We parted ways each continuing on the way we had been traveling.

We ended up doing a u-turn some time later as we ran out of likely looking territory. As we approached the ranch house again, we noticed Tony’s truck parked along the road and eased around it once we got that far. I noticed he was on his cell phone as I passed. A couple minutes later, he had caught up to me and seemed to be in a hurry to pass. I told Cody that I bet he had spotters out in different places on the ranch and someone must have called reporting a promising sighting. So I pulled over allowing them to pass and a huge dust cloud soon developed as he sped off down the ranch road.

We didn’t think too much more about the encounter until some time later when again they were parked along the road. As we approached this time, we noticed they were glassing out into the distance and two or three of them were headed out that way presumably beginning a stalk. Driving around them, we continued on the main ranch road back out toward the public road and ended up taking a small side road to do a big loop before dark. There were still no antelope to be seen and the wind was really howling now. As we completed our loop, we again noticed Tony’s truck approaching.

Again, we stopped and had a few words. Tony asked what part of the ranch we had just looked at and then he did something that surprised me a little. He asked if we had hunted the buck that had been hanging out on the opposite side of the main ranch road. He said it was a nice buck – probably 16” horns and maybe would score 80” total. Evidently, his last hunter was focused on something bigger. I told Tony that we’d probably check out the buck quickly as light was starting to fade early with the impending storm rolling in.

We quickly headed down the faint two-track that Tony had indicated and went up and on to a rise as he instructed. I had a little elevation there and was able to glass up a herd a half mile or so ahead. Most of the animals were bedded, but even so it was obvious there was at least one nice buck in the group! Light was really fading so we had to hurry and like they say “haste makes waste”. We decided to drive closer instead of initiating a long stalk that may not get us in range with shooting light remaining. It looked like the strategy was going to work as we probably got within 500 yards of the herd before they started getting restless and milling around.

I quickly drove a bit closer and then Cody bailed out to try to get a shot. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get properly set up before they started to trot and then run. But they didn’t seem to have a plan – just run for running’s sake. So they ran across the two-track and then slowed down again. I picked out the buck and let Cody know which one in line he was. Suddenly, they stopped – perfect! No, not perfect – there’s a doe right in front of the buck. I told Cody to get ready and to shoot as soon as the doe cleared out. Of course it didn’t happen as simple as that. Both animals started moving again and then there was an opening and Cody fired. I could not tell where the bullet hit, but the buck showed no sign of injury. The buck started moving faster as all the antelope were swinging into gear again. There was another moment with a clear shot opportunity and Cody let another one fly. I was sure he had hit the buck this time and even muttered something to that effect out loud.

This shot really got the herd excited and they spun around, re-crossed the road and started speeding across the dessert at an angle away from us. I think Cody was now on auto pilot and really wasn’t considering the speed of the retreating buck or the vicious wind that would affect the bullets. In any case, he took a couple more shots as the herd, with the buck bringing up the rear, sped on and out of range. I watched through binoculars as the herd kept running and running – probably covering a mile or more before I lost sight.

Though it was clear the buck had not been touched, we found where the herd had crossed and re-crossed the road and searched for blood or any other evidence of a hit until it was too dark to see. Since I saw him running perfectly a mile or so away and we found no contrary sign, I’m confident that all Cody’s shots were clean misses. Looking back on it, the range was pushing what he was comfortable with at a stationary target. This but was never still when he fired, but varied from a fast walk to flat our running. Throw in the crazy wind and you can see how difficult these shots were. Perhaps, he shouldn’t have even attempted it.

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08:42 PM (MST)
36. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Day 1 Review & Day 2 Plan? (Saturday, Oct. 2 Evening)

Again I apologize for the time between posts, but as usual stuff happens and other things take priority over this. We experienced a sudden rash of extended family injury / illness over the last couple weeks. All of our close relatives still live in MN where Kelly and I both grew up. Anyway, I had a brother get involved in a fairly serious auto accident, a nieces some suddenly stop breathing and one of Kelly’s nephews was stricken with carbon monoxide poisoning. After various degrees of hospital care, all three are on the mend so we are thankful for that.

So getting back to our NM antelope adventure, the first day ended on the sour note of Cody missing that good buck albeit on the run and in extreme wind. He was predictably bummed out and also was suffering from extensive ringing in his ears from firing the multiple shots in short order. As we drove back to the truck stop, each in our own truck, I called Kelly and gave her the summary. I also let her know that Cody disappointed to the point of considering heading back to Phoenix that night. We both agreed that I should convince him to at least hunt in the morning before heading back. Realistically, he did need to be at school Monday morning so hunting until about noon Sunday was the limit anyway.

Arriving at the truck stop we secured the Hotel room for another night and then went into the restaurant for a bite to eat. As we ate, we talked about the day and what we maybe could have done differently, etc. I think both of us were surprised by how skittish the goats were on the San Juan. Perhaps we could have tried one of those cow decoys or wore some serious knee pads and did more crawling on our attempted stalks? Regardless of what we did or didn’t do, day 1 was over and we had to decide on a game plan for the morning. Cody did agree that we should give it one more shot in the morning and we ultimately decided to get to the tank in the pasture before light.

The specific plan was for me to drop Cody and the gear off at the water and then drive the truck back out a ways so that it would be less obtrusive and the legal distance from the tank. Then I would walk back to the tank and we would wait inside the berm for enough light to carefully glass the area, hopefully without being spotted by anything coming in for a drink. With that plan in place, we retired to the room, watched a little college football and soon called it a night.

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09:37 AM (MST)
37. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Day 2 – Cody’s Last Chance (Sunday, Oct. 3 Morning)

We were jolted awake again by the phone’s alarm at 5:00am! It’s one of the only things about hunting that I could certainly live without and Cody is worse than me about seeing the early part of a day. But we got up even though it was against our will and downed a quick breakfast. After packing the stuff all into my truck, it was out to the ranch. Everything went as planned and soon Cody and I were seated inside the banks of the water hole impatiently waiting for light.

Slowly, dawn broke and I began to glass the flats I could see from inside the tank. No antelope were to be seen – dang. As it got a little lighter, we both kept at it and risked being spotted by crawling up on top the berm for a better view. Still nothing and I could tell Cody’s disappointment from the night before was returning. He had passed several opportunities on Saturday, had gotten busted on a few stalks and finally had missed the one goat he shot at Saturday night. Now it was his last morning and there were no animals! After 20 minutes or so we moved back down inside the bowl of the tank and continued to glass from there.

I was gazing at the flats through the spotting scope when Cody suddenly rapped me in the shoulder and pointed off to our left. There was a ravine of sorts in the pasture there and so it was possible for animals to approach from that direction undetected until they were fairly close. Once I got pointed in the right direction, I could see what had caught Cody’s attention. There were three antelope running parallel to us and out about 200 yards. It was immediately obvious that it was a buck and two does. At first, I thought the buck was small, but then it seemed at least average. I knew that Cody was running out of time and wasn’t going to be too picky regardless.

It wasn’t clear if the antelope were just going to run on by or if they were going to turn and come in toward the water. Either way, I was pretty sure they were going to stop at some point and offer a realistic shot opportunity. So I handed Cody the tripod with the spotting scope mounted to it and whispered that he should rest the rifle on top to steady himself. Sure enough the small herd slowed and then stopped! But as they stopped, they also turned to face the tank so I told Cody to hold off for a moment. In just a few moments, they started moving again – this time right toward us and the water.

The buck was in the lead and he eased ever closer before stopping again less than 100 yards out. I still wasn’t sure if Cody was going to take this buck. All doubt ended abruptly with the crack of the .270 and the buck going straight down! We spontaneously high-fived and I told him great job and great shot. I think the possibility of going home empty handed made us all the more excited about having one on the ground. We took the short hike over to the fallen buck to confirm he was indeed finished and to get a first look at his horns in person.

It turns out that our two antelope are about the same size – nice respectable goats, but not monsters. Still we were both thrilled to have tagged out and done it on our own and together! I walked back to the truck and then was able to drive right up to the antelope. So after the obligatory picture taking and then gutting it out, we were able to easily load it up in the truck. Below are a few of the pictures of Cody with his 2nd day NM buck.

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09:40 PM (MST)
38. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

New Mexico Antelope in Review

After Cody scored on Sunday morning, we headed back to the truck stop, iced up the antelope, packed up everything and got started back toward Phoenix by 9:00am. Thankfully, the trip back was uneventful and we got back in time to catch the second half of the late NFL games!

I always like to look back after a hunt and consider what went well and what not so good and hopefully learn something for future trips. So what are some key take a ways from this trip? I think the main thing is to not underestimate your quarry. Antelope are usually quite visible and at least in my previous experience are relatively approachable to medium rifle range. While this proved to be true on one ranch, it certainly wasn’t the case on the other – the animals were seriously nervous. I’ve already pointed out a couple things we could have tried if we’d been more prepared – cow decoy or hands and knees stalks.

We could have spent more time scouting, but I’m not really sure if that would have made a big difference. I guess we would have been more familiar with the various ranch roads, but the scouting I did gave me a good general understanding of the area and quality of animals available. I think I would do one thing different with respect to scouting and even hunting if I had the chance. Every time I wanted to take a good look at a buck, I would stop the truck and get out and pull out the tripod mounted spotting scope. Not only was that a bit of a hassle, but it also was more alerting to the antelope. In the future, I will make more use of a window mount for the spotter.

Another thing I would consider is to practice shooting more at extended ranges. I’m still torn over the whole concept of true long range shooting at live game, but I think that extending one’s proficiency out to some intermediate range – maybe 500 yards – would be a good ace in the hole for situations where you just can’t get any closer. It’s a similar philosophy as extending your comfortable archery range from 20 or 30 yards out to 40 or 50. I still would not be in favor of true long range shooting there either, but that extra 10 or 20 yards could make a big difference.

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10:14 AM (MST)
39. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

New Mexico Antelope Scorecard

As I did with my archery deer hunt, I’m going to attempt to grade this experience so we can compare the various adventures throughout the year. This hunt was the only one of the year which was DIY with me having the actual tag. It was also the only hunt where we had multiple tags – Cody and I. So with that background, let’s get on to the scoring.

1) Historic knowledge of the game and area hunted…Grade: C…Cody and I have a pretty good understanding of antelope hunting having been on about 10 hunts combined. But, the NM public draw and ranch assignment process pretty much preclude you from having any historic knowledge of the hunt area.
2) Specific scouting for this hunt…Grade: C…I arrived a day and a half before the hunt and was able to do a fair job of scouting both ranches. It would have been better to have a little more time to get more familiar with the road system, water sources, etc. prior to the hunt
3) Game quantity…Grade: A…there were certainly antelope on both ranches and I never went out for a scouting or hunting session without seeing animals. The quantities weren’t up there with some areas of WY, but there were ample goats to pursue.
4) Game quality…Grade: B…this was truly a tail of two ranches with average bucks being the norm on the Hickman Ranch while some true trophies were roaming the San Juan.
5) Accommodations…Grade: B…the first night in the back of the Tacoma wasn’t exactly the Hilton, but that was balanced out by the truck stop room for the remainder of the stay. Though that room was still not deluxe, it did offer a true bed and hot water for showers and it was reasonably priced.
6) Food…Grade: B…we ate a combination of pre-made meals - sandwiches and boxed goods along with sit down meals in the truck stop restaurant. We didn’t go hungry and it was nice to have at least one hot meal every day.
7) Game care…Grade: B…some may argue with the way we handled the antelope after the harvest. We did not immediately skin them, but rather got ample ice on them quickly to cool the meat. More ice was added along the way to insure the carcasses stayed cool until we got home where they were skinned and processed.
8) Overall experience…Grade: B+…a very enjoyable, inexpensive and successful hunt that was shared between father and son. Only thing missing was we didn’t get the big one.

Should I have gone guided on this hunt? Certainly at least a couple of the guided landowner tag holders on the San Juan shot bigger bucks than we did. But we had a great time, took respectable bucks and didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to do it. So I think we made the right move and I don’t have any regrets. Though we didn’t feel our goats justified shoulder mounts, we are getting them mounted on a common plaque in the European style. This should provide for a lasting visual reminder of the time and hunt experience we shared together!

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12:36 PM (MST)
40. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

The Next Adventure – Kelly’s AZ Antlerless Elk Rifle

With the family going 3 for 3 so far in 2010, we were on a roll going into Kelly’s mid-to-late October elk hunt. As a reminder to all the readers, Kelly was drawn for this tag in a unit near our cabin in Heber, AZ. We have hunted up there quite a bit over the years and didn’t think it necessary to really get out and scout much prior to the hunt. When we’re at the cabin, we always enjoy driving the forest service roads around dusk just to observe the wildlife and we had done some of that over the summer and early fall.

But we thought we had a honey hole all lined up so we didn’t put any additional effort into scouting – it was only a cow hunt after all! We had taken three cows out of the honey hole in the last few years and there was no reason to believe this year would be any different. The season seemed to be a bit later in October this year, but last year the bulls were screaming in this area making the herds easy to locate. We were anticipating the same situation this year.

If you recall one of my earlier posts, I shared the passing of our puppy, “Peanut”, and our intent to bury him on our cabin lot in Heber. Kelly purchased a used suitcase and we lined it with a soft blanket and I went to the vet to pick up Peanut before we departed for Heber. So then, leaving the other dogs and the kids at home, we headed to our cabin Thursday night ahead of the Friday opener. We stopped in Payson, AZ and ate Mexican food at one of our favorite restaurants and then hopped back in the truck for another hour or so to the cabin.

There was a definite chill in the mountain air – at 40°, it wasn’t really cold, but you get used to the balmy Phoenix temperatures. So while Kelly unpacked the truck, I got a fire crackling in the fireplace! Soon we were settled in and Kelly cracked open a beer while I enjoyed a Diet Mt. Dew. But we didn’t rest too long as there was one other objective to the trip. I used to run an amusement vending route – placing pool tables, dart boards, etc. in bars and restaurants and splitting the quarters with them each week or month. I still have a couple machines out including one at an establishment in Heber. They had called earlier in the week and said I needed to service the game and pull out the money.

So we hopped in the truck for the very short drive to the small club. While we were counting the money, I struck up a conversation with one of the locals who is also a friend. I somewhat jokingly asked him if he had access to a small backhoe (to dig a whole for Peanut’s grave). He immediately said “no”, but I have access to a big backhoe! He put me in touch with the guy who had the equipment and we discussed having him come to the cabin at midday Friday. I was hoping we’d score early on the elk and already be done hunting. I was to call him the next day to confirm and give him directions.

Once the counting was done and we finished our drinks, it was time to head back to the cabin and call it a night. Arriving back, I stoked up the fire and then we hit the hay after setting the alarm for a little before 5:00am. It would be about a half hour drive to our honey hole and I also needed to hook up a trailer which we were going to use to haul a quad since this is an old burn area and there are too many fallen trees to navigate with a truck.

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07:56 PM (MST)
41. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Opening Morning (Friday, Oct. 22 Morning)

The fire had long since died out and there was a chill in the cabin when the alarm buzzed before 5:00am. This made it hard to leave the comforts of bed which we had fortified with an extra blanket the night before. Kelly braved the cold first and quickly jumped into a hot shower. A few minutes later, I struggled out of bed, threw on some clothes and started getting things ready for the day. We eventually converged into the kitchen where we downed a quick breakfast before packing up the truck.

Next step was to hook up the trailer with the quad on it. After that was accomplished, we hit the road for our half hour trip to the hunting spot. While still in town, our headlights reflected back some eyes off the side of the road. The owner’s ended up being a small group of mule deer who were munching in someone’s yard. Maybe this was a good omen of the number of animals we were to see?

There were no more animal sightings on the balance of the trip and soon we were turning onto the forest service road for the last mile or so of travel. We took it a lot slower there and noticed for the first time that it was misting and quite overcast, almost foggy. We continued on to our parking place and then got out, threw packs on our backs and headed out to look and listen for any elk activity. It took a bit to get to the edge of the woods where we wanted to begin still hunting and that was long enough for there to be enough light for hunting. But there was really a low cloud ceiling and it made for an eerie experience. It was as if hunting in a big balloon where visibility was only 50 or 75 yards in each direction.

Because of the mist, walking was quite quiet and this gave me confidence that we would be able to go undetected until we were within eye sight of any elk. But that confidence was countered by the fact that we were not hearing any bugling and really not seeing much fresh sign either. Had the elk already moved out of this area? After 45 minutes or so of still hunting, the fog or cloud cover suddenly lifted. It was as if God turned on the lights! Now visibility was easily a few hundred yards. Still we did not spot any elk or even any deer or other game animals for that matter. We continued on with the plan to make a very big loop and end up back near the truck in the late morning.

Though we never saw or heard any elk, we did find a very large water hole that looked like it would be a good ambush point for an archery or early season rifle hunt. I’m pretty sure I could find it again, but I marked it on my Garman GPS just in case. So a few hours after we had started, we were back approaching the truck. Something just didn’t look right – what was it? Oh man, the ramp / tail gate of my trailer was gone! What the heck? Would someone steal a tailgate? And how would they get it off anyway – I didn’t even think it was removable.

Upon closer look, it appeared that the gate had somehow come loose all on its own. I figured it had to be on the forest road since if it came off on the highway, we would have certainly noticed. We put our packs and other gear in the truck and headed back the way we had come in. It wasn’t 100 yards down the road that I saw the gate lying in the path. I still have no idea how it could have come off. There are 4 or 5 pins on the ramp that slide into loops on the trailer frame. These pins are at least 3” long meaning the gate would need to shift that much to allow disengagement. I tried in vain to get the gate back on the trailer before giving up and just loading it along side the quad. Then we headed back to the cabin for lunch and to strategize.

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02:27 PM (MST)
42. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Rest and Revamp (Friday, Oct. 22 Midday)

Sorry for another long break between posts. I will make a concerted effort to get us up to date over the next few days. Let’s get right back to Kelly’s antlerless elk hunt in AZ unit 3C west. Recall that we had just wrapped up an unsuccessful opening morning and were headed back to our cabin in Heber, AZ.

We made it back to the cabin without the quad or the ramp falling out of the trailer so that was good! I backed the trailer into the garage and unhooked it thinking that I really didn’t want to pull it around without the tailgate in place. Then I went inside and started up a new fire while Kelly began making us chili for lunch. While I was waiting, my thoughts drifted to Peanut and that I was supposed to call that guy if I wanted him to come over with his back hoe. Well, I decided to just grab a shovel and see how it would be to dig by hand.

After finding what I thought was the best place on our acre, I did a test dig. No way was this going to work – the ground was way too rocky – to the point where I wasn’t sure the back hoe would even work. Discarding that idea, I went back inside and ate some nice hot chili instead. Kelly was complaining that her back was “out” and that our long hike that morning had really aggravated it. I wasn’t sure where her back had gone “out” to, but it was clear that she wanted to rest for a bit and that the evening hunt plan was not going to include another strenuous hike.

So we decided to take a short nap and then go back out around 3pm. Since I had been so confident in the area we had hunted in the morning, I really didn’t have a solid back up plan for the rest of the hunt. So what does an “average guy” do when he’s not sure where to go and his wife doesn’t want to hike much? You got it – we decided to road hunt / scout for the evening hunt.

I remembered a couple years back when Kelly had a late season (December) antlerless tag. There were a ton of road hunters that season as we had gotten a snowstorm and I think people were reluctant to get out and hoof it in the foot or so of snow and the cold temperatures. And I remembered one particular forest service road where a lot of people had success right from the road and there was a ton of fresh tracks crossing along about a 5-mile stretch.

After our nap, we decided to head out to that road which is a fairly main forest road going right out of town. Our plan was to take many of the multitudes of smaller side roads branching off the main road. We would be road hunting, but at the same time, we were hoping to discover an area that would warrant a closer look on foot.

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10:57 AM (MST)
43. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Yup, Road Hunting (Friday, Oct. 22 Evening)

We headed down the intended forest road and took the first, likely looking left onto a more primitive road. This road ended up leading into a burn area that I doubt held elk. It was totally burned with all the trees down and quite a bit of grass that had sprung up in the years since the big fire. The road eventually looped around and I thought it was going to take us back downhill and to the main forest road. But, the road dead ended and we had to turn around and backtrack back out the way we came in.

A ways farther down the main road, we took another left. Again, this rougher road headed uphill and we were soon in that same burned area. We didn’t get too far into the burn this time when I caught movement off to our right. It turned out to be a group of 5 or 6 mule deer does. We looked carefully for horns or for a buck separate from the group, but to no avail. Kelly had a buck tag in this zone for the season starting the very next Friday, so we filed away the doe sighting as a possible place to try the following weekend.

This time, the smaller road led across some high ground and eventually came out on another fairly main road that paralleled the first. The burn phased out right before the main road and we were back into pines for the most part. I was familiar with the new road and decided to turn right onto it knowing where it would take us.

The remainder of daylight was consumed by us making a huge loop – probably about 35 miles total – on various forest roads until we came back into town at dark. We never saw any elk or any more deer after that first group of does. And we never really went through any country that looked particularly interesting. So it was kind of a strike out other than at least being out there.

As we were pulling back into town, we were debating what we wanted to eat for dinner. There’s a Mexican place we like in town along with additional sit-down type restaurants serving Italian, American and a steak house. There’s also a few more fast food type outfits from which to choose. We decided to try the Italian place since it had been a long time since we had given them a try.

It turned out to be a good choice – the food was good and was moderately priced. I also ran into an old friend there and caught up a little on her life and current events of the area. We rolled out of the restaurant around 7pm and decided to just head back to the cabin for the night. We were both tired and Kelly’s back was still bugging her. Back at the cabin, I got a good fire going and then we just watched a little TV in bed before calling it a night.

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10:28 AM (MST)
44. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

More Road Hunting? (Saturday, Oct. 23 Morning)

5:00am came quickly again and we started the preparation ritual one more time. My strategy was pretty much to repeat the process of the night before. I wanted to get to that main forest service road, drive out of the city limits and then wait for shooting light before easing down the road. One difference this time is I wanted to explore some of the small roads that branched off to the right. It had appeared Friday evening that these roads led into higher country just like those on the left side, but that this side was not burned or at least a lot less.

We got out of the city limits with time to spare and had to wait quite some time for decent light. Finally, we headed slowly down the road. This was again uneventful for the first few miles and I finally found a road that led off to the right that looked like it was travelled enough that it must go up and over the small mountains and come out on some other main forest road on the other side.

This road was basically in a canyon with small mountains on each side. The road deteriorated rapidly as I progressed through the canyon and it started to look like it was not going to be a through-road after all. About the time I came to that realization, the canyon narrowed with the mountain on the left side coming down to a few feet from the road and then maybe only 20 yards of flat before heading back up hill on the right.

The road also made a jog to the left at this point and as I made that corner, I thought there was something weird with the road or the edges. I was about 50 feet past the corner before it kind of hit me that I had just crossed a game trail. I stopped and turned around and made my way back to the corner and sure enough there was a well worn trail going down one mountain, across the canyon and back up the other side. And there were crazy fresh elk tracks in the trail!

So much for road hunting. We were going to park the truck, throw on the packs and head up the mountain one direction or the other. After parking I got out and was going to get a closer look at the tracks to see which way the elk headed. But I didn’t get that far. Was that a bugle? My hearing is pretty bad due to way too much shooting as a kid, but that had to be a bugle. I froze and strained my ears. Yes, there it was again and it was definitely an elk sounding off.

I couldn’t tell which side of the canyon the sound was coming from and Kelly hadn’t heard the bull at all. So I had her listen closely and we eventually were pretty sure the bugles were coming from our right side which would have been our left as we drove in. We quickly got the packs on our backs and butts and headed up the mountain trail. The bugling remained pretty steady as we climbed up the steep slope and ultimately started to top out on a ridge.

We could tell that the elk weren’t right in front of us, but rather some distance off. We crept along the ridge until it eventually got us enough elevation to have a good view in the direction the bugles were emanating from. At this point, it wasn’t just bugling – we could also hear several cows mewing – it was awesome! Still it took a bit before we finally spotted a few members of the herd. They were on a partially wooded slope a couple of canyons over from us.

I got the range finder out and was able to get a reading on one of the cows – over 400 yards and well beyond what Kelly would think of as comfortable shooting range. About half way down the ridge we were on there was a burned log lying on the ground. I figured Kelly could get that far without being noticed and could use the log as a rest if she felt comfortable with the shot.

It seems no matter how many times a person encounters game animals, one still gets so excited that the best decisions aren’t necessarily made. While getting to that log seemed logical at that instant, it wasn’t the best plan. The elk had no clue we were anywhere near them, the wind was pretty good and there was enough cover that we could have worked farther along the ridge and then dropped into a canyon and back up an intermediate ridge. That would have put her 100-150 yards from the herd and into a sure position to take a cow.

But, we went to the log instead! No problem getting there and the elk were still clueless. A check with the range finder showed 250 yards to a cow in the open on the far slope. To most of you and probably even to me, 250 yards does not seem that bad for a scoped .270 from a solid rest. Yet I was a bit concerned. I reminded Kelly to turn up the magnification on the scope since we always have it set fairly low while still-hunting. I figured with the scope on 10 or 12x and the solid rest, she should be able to pull off the shot.

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11:41 AM (MST)
45. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Delight or Despair? (Saturday, Oct. 23 Morning)

Kelly couldn’t get comfortable! First she had to get the cow in her scope, then she needed it to stop walking and finally the cross hairs just wouldn’t settle. The big cow slowly fed out of site behind a small brush patch. Damn, was Kelly going to blow this opportunity?

A smaller cow, maybe a big calf, was following in the footsteps of the first. It paused a couple feet in front of the brush and the Sako cracked! At the shot, the elk lurched forward as if hit and disappeared behind the brush. I thought for sure the cow was down. As usually happens, elk started materializing all over the place. We had only seen a couple, but now the slope was alive with many elk – maybe upwards of 20 total. How can such big animals go unnoticed on a relatively open hillside?

We kept our eyes peeled to the brush pile and for a minute or so no elk moved in that specific area. Then the big cow walked out from behind the brush in the direction she had come in. She stopped and stood totally broadside and in the clear. It was perfect, but had Kelly hit the second cow as it seemed? We couldn’t risk it – I told her to hold off. Within a minute or so a smaller cow walks out, again following the first. This had to be the one Kelly shot at and she needed to get another round into it. But all the elk were starting to move off now and the big cow led the smaller straight away and up over a ridge without a shot opportunity.

Still, I was confident that we would work our way over to the brush pile and find evidence of a solid hit, follow a short blood trail and tag the elk. So that’s what we started to do. We had to go down the steep slope she shot from, up the intermediate slope, down the other side and back up the ridge the elk were on. I know how the looks of things change as you move, so we were pretty careful to get some landmarks to guide us to the brush pile. But once we got to where we thought we needed to be, there was nothing – no elk, no hair, no blood, nothing to indicate a hit.

We expanded our search and covered a good share of the slope both above and below where we thought was right. There was still nothing. I didn’t want to give up; I was so sure her shot had been true. All I could think was that, even with the landmarks, we must be off on our search location. So I told Kelly to stay put as I was going to hike all the way back to the log she had rested her gun on and then direct her to the brush pile. I finally got back to the log and then I couldn’t see Kelly!

I guess she’s smaller than an elk so I shouldn’t be surprised. After I had her walk to an area that was clearly visible and wave her arms, I spotted her. It was pretty simple to direct her from there to where I thought the elk had disappeared behind the brush. She didn’t see any sign right away, but that’s the best I could do from the log so I told her to mark that spot and I would come back over and help look some more.

Down and up and down and up some more and I was back near Kelly. She said she had found a couple drops of blood! Now we were talking. Ok, so she shows me the drops of blood and it’s clear that the wounded elk followed the rest of the herd up and over the ridge they had been on. It was pretty easy to follow the footprints of the herd as they side-hilled the next ridge. I had Kelly walk up on top as I followed the tracks. If the elk was still alive and jumped up, I wanted her to have the best possible vantage point to get off a finishing shot. I told her to crank the scope back down since any shot would likely be fairly quick and close. She went to do that and realized that it was all the way down at 4x. In her excitement, she had turned the knob the wrong way before attempting that first shot!

I continued to follow the tracks and was seeing a single drop of blood every 10 or 20 feet. It sure didn’t look promising, but I was still hopeful. The trail became an actual game trail that showed quite a lot of use over time. It also started to angle down towards the canyon bottom. It seemed to me that if the elk was seriously wounded, this downhill path would be an easy one, but once the trail reached the more rugged canyon bottom, I would find her bedded or at least more frequent blood.

Over the course of a few hundred more yards, the trail led all the way to the canyon bottom. Here both hillsides were burned pretty badly and there was mostly just grass with a few juniper and pinion pine trees scattered about. Looking ahead a half mile or so, you could see an edge in the burn and the resumption of pine trees once again. I followed the trail in the canyon bottom all the way to this transition area. And there were still only very periodic blood drops – never a bed or anything more than a drop of blood noticeable on a rock or blade of grass.

At the transition area the trail led straight up a fairly steep slope to the top of another ridge. So up I went and followed along seeing just the same infrequent sign. At the top of the ridge, with no increase in sign and with no indication the elk were slowing at all, I finally came to the conclusion that this must be just a flesh wound and most likely would not be fatal to the elk. It is always a sour feeling when an animal is hit and not recovered, but we had trailed the elk for probably ¾ mile and there was never any indication of a solid hit. Some will say Kelly should have punched her tag at this point, but again, we did our due diligence and felt pretty confident the elk was not seriously wounded and would make a complete recovery.

Still, it was an emotionally tough hike back out to the truck! What should have been a celebration was instead regret. We should have stalked closer, should have double checked the scope magnification. Heck, there was no need to “rush” the shot at all. There were obviously many elk on that hillside and we could have been more patient and waited for a better opportunity even if we weren’t going to try to get closer. Kelly was upset, but as we ultimately neared the truck, she asked if I thought the elk would come back to the same general area.

My thought and message to her was that I did think the elk would be back, but probably not that night. I was already mentally planning our evening hunt strategy. I wanted to come in on the same road and park in about this same place, but then follow the game trail up the ridge on the other side of the road so as to check out some new country. With that, we unloaded our stuff back into the Tacoma and headed back into town.

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08:17 AM (MST)
46. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Peanut, the Final Chapter (Saturday, Oct. 23 Afternoon)

We stopped at Subway on the way back to the cabin and each grabbed a sandwich to go. Back at the cabin, Kelly cracked open a beer and I had my customary Diet Mt. Dew to go with our subs. Then I figured I needed to stop procrastinating and call the guy with the backhoe. He was at a local auction, but agreed to call back in an hour or so to discuss coming over to dig the burial hole for Peanut.

We talked again and before too long I heard the big diesel engine pulling into the driveway. It caught me by surprise as I had assumed he would be pulling a trailer with the backhoe on it. Kelly didn’t want to watch the process so I showed the guy where we wanted the hole and he got set up and began to dig. As I figured, the rocky ground made it difficult even with this full sized piece of equipment.

But within about 15 minutes, a suitable hole was dug and I placed the suitcase with Peanut inside on the bottom of the grave. The backhoe was put back in use to fill the hole and roughly level the ground. Then I did a little finishing work by hand and called it good. We’re going to put a simple marker or headstone on the grave, but haven’t accomplished that yet.

After a lengthy chat with the backhoe operator, I went back inside the cabin and Kelly and I again relaxed for a couple hours before getting ready to head back out for the evening hunt.

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08:25 PM (MST)
47. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Another Go at It (Saturday, Oct. 23 Evening)

As planned, we took the same main forest road out of town and turned off on the same side road parking slightly past the game trail that crossed the road. Then we got our stuff together and headed up the opposite slope from where we had hunted that morning. The hillside was pretty thick with vegetation including pinion / juniper and mature pine growth. There was fresh elk sign all over as had been the case in the morning hunt. Additionally, there was more and more mule deer sign as we worked our way to the top of the slope and along the subsequent ridge. Again, this was a transition zone with the wooded area bordered by a large expanse of burnt area that was grown up in grass and shrubs.

We still-hunted our way along this edge keeping just inside the trees. There was no bugling going on so it was just creep along, stop, look, listen and repeat. This pattern was repeated for maybe half a mile when the trees abruptly stopped and there was a barbed-wire fence bordering another forest road. Hmm, so you could drive right up here if you knew where this road connected to the main one. No big deal – we crossed the fence and then the road and went on into another forested area beyond.

This was all good looking country with abundant sign all over. We proceeded on, ended up crossing yet another small road and ultimately decided to loop back and start in the general direction of the truck. It wasn’t long after we made our turn that we came upon an old logging road. This one had trees blown over it and had clearly not been used for motorized vehicles in some years. It made for relatively quiet walking and was headed in about the right direction so we headed on down it.

Again there was a ton of sign all around – tracks in the road, droppings and rubs on many of the smaller trees along the way. It was predominantly elk sign, but there were also tracks and other indications of mule deer. As we came around a slight bend in the road, I looked ahead and instantly sensed that something didn’t look right up ahead. It took only a second to realize that there was a deer standing motionless on the edge of the logging road about 100 yards ahead.

I got the binoculars on it and was excited to see a pretty tall and heavy rack. The buck knew something was out of place and was staring straight at us. This made seeing the detail of the rack quite difficult, but I’m sure he was a main frame 4-pointer at least and quite a good buck for this area. Of course Kelly’s buck tag wasn’t good for another 6 days! So we just watched the buck for a few moments until it finally had enough of us and bounded out of sight in 2 or 3 leaps.

We both thought “looks like we have at least one place to concentrate on next week”. After that excitement, we continued slowly along the trail and soon spotted some kind of structure up ahead. When we got closer, we realized a couple things. First, we were coming back out to a graded forest service road – presumably the first one we had crossed on our hike in. And secondly, the structure was a water catchment complete with full tank of water.

We took a closer look around the tank and it was clear the area’s wildlife were using it. Looking paste the catchment from the way we had come, there was a huge burn area again with ridges and canyons seemingly extending for miles. I was pretty sure that if we walked far enough straight ahead, we would eventually get to the canyon the escaping elk herd had used that morning. But there really was no purpose to checking out that hypothesis and we needed to start heading back toward the truck if we were going to still-hunt along the way and wanted to get back by dark. We roughly retraced the same path back out to the truck and the trip was, unfortunately, uneventful.

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10:31 AM (MST)
48. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Final Plan (Saturday, Oct. 23 Night)

Driving back into town, we decided to eat dinner at the Mexican sit down place we like. The parking lot was pretty full, but we figured we would sit and their small bar, avoid a wait and even be able to catch some college football on the screen above the bar. The first part of that strategy played out well. No waiting to get a seat at the bar.

But the service was awful even though the food was good. The bartender kept apologizing, but was too busy mixing up margaritas to be of any help. It turns out that they were two people short which is a lot for a small town reataurant. So instead of a quick dinner, we ended up there for an hour or so. Oh well, the cabin was only a couple miles away. Once there, we got a fire going and grabbed a beverage. Even though Kelly’s tag was good through mid-week, Sunday was going to be our last day of hunting so we needed to decide how we were going to attack it.

But there really wasn’t much discussion. We both agreed to go back to the same area we had hunted Saturday. We’d park the truck and listen for bugles. If we heard anything, we’d pursue from there; if not, we would head up the slope we hunted Saturday morning. I was pretty sure that herd would be back near the same place as they had been that morning. With the plan in place, we retired to watch a little TV in bed before crashing for the night.

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06:22 PM (MST)
49. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Last Morning Hunt (Sunday, Oct. 24 Morning)

We got up at 5am again because we wanted to be parked and ready to hike at first light. I gave half a thought to hooking up the trailer with the quad since I realized from the day before that I wasn’t likely to be able to get the truck close to any elk Kelly may harvest in that particular hunting area. But I had also learned that that little forest road dead ended and turning around with the trailer would have been a challenge.

So after breakfast, etc. we headed out with just the Tacoma. Before long we were at the parking place and the sky was lighting up significantly to the East. We got out and spent a few minutes listening – no bugles. A small set back, but I still felt pretty good about our chances of getting into some elk. On with the packs and up the hill we went. Kelly implored me to take a slower pace than the day before and since we were basically still-hunting instead of chasing bugles, that advice made sense.

We got to the top of the ridge and then really slowed down. There was fresh sign all over and it just felt “elky”. Following the ridge top, we made our way slowly uphill listening and watching for any clue of nearby animals. Maybe 50 or 100 yards into this process, I scanned an opposite hillside and bam, there was an elk standing broadside! There was a still-standing, burnt tree about 15 feet in front of us. I told Kelly to sneak up to that tree and use it as a rest for her shot. It was probably less than 100 yards from the tree to the elk, so it looked like a slam dunk if she could get to the tree undetected.

She made it to the tree – not really undetected, but without spooking the elk which was now staring straight at her. I saw her lean the Sako against the tree and take a good look through the Leopold scope. Ok, shoot any time now – it’s perfect! But there was no shot and Kelly ultimately lowered the gun and walked back to me. I shrugged, implying “what the heck”. She put her arms up and out kind of like a touchdown signal. Duh, it was a bull! It was a rag horn 4 or 5 point and the antlers had just not been prominent to the naked eye. Dang it, that would have been an easy opportunity and we weren’t even very far from the truck. I think we could have gotten a quad there easily and it would have been an all downhill drag back to the truck.

But where there’s one elk at this time of year, there has to be more right? So we decided to sit tight for a bit and just keep looking and listening. Moments passed and there was no indication of more elk. What the heck? A few minutes later, we decided to push on. A few steps, stop, look and listen and repeat. We had gone only a few yards at this snail’s pace when a cow mewed! Then there were more mews and they seemed very close! We still had the wind in our face so I told Kelly we should just go real slow and should be ok. Turns out that was another not so brilliant decision in the heat of the moment.

We took a few more steps and Kelly said “there’s elk” just as I heard elk exploding away from us about 50 yards ahead. They had been a bit further up the ridge and a bit over the edge which made them out of sight until that last second. We rushed up to the edge of the ridge hoping that maybe we could see them headed down the other side. For a few seconds, there was nothing and then I saw them. There was a group of about seven cows – they had gone all the way down the slope we were on top of and down into the canyon bottom. They were working their way along that bottom and it was clear that they were going to head up the opposite slope to continue their get a way.

That slope was pretty open having been in the burn area. It was going to be a long shot, but the adrenaline was flowing and I thought Kelly should give it a try if the herd stopped soon after starting up the far slope. There was a convenient tree a few steps ahead and Kelly got to it, cranked up the scope (the right way this time) and got set. The lead cow looked to be a good one and the herd stopped on cue within seconds. Before I even realized it, the .270 rang out. Looking through the optics, I couldn’t tell where the shot hit. The elk showed no immediate reaction, but also didn’t flee. Kelly quickly chambered another round. I said the shot must have been low due to the extended range and I guess she adjusted accordingly.

Bang! A second shot was fired. Same thing – I couldn’t tell where the bullet went. This time the cows started to mill around a little. The lead cow was in the mix – she took a few steps to one side. Kelly chambered another round. A thought flashed through my mind that the distance was too great. There had been no time for the rangefinder. Concentration back on the elk, I saw the lead cow take a few more steps and then stop. She then took a backwards step or two and tipped over backwards! Wow, obviously one of those shots, probably the second, had connected.

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11:24 AM (MST)
50. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Is it a Wrap? (Sunday, Oct. 24 Morning)

We waited a few minutes, making sure the cow did not get back up. Meanwhile, the rest of the herd finally grew restless enough to get moving again and they worked their way up and over the slope and out of sight. Having learned my lesson from the day before, I wasn’t about to go look for the elk only to have to return to this spot for re-orientation. So I mentally marked the spot and told Kelly to head over there and I would give her directions once she got to the general area.

It was quite a hike down the slope we were on, into the canyon below and then up again on the other side. So while Kelly was making the trek, I had time for a couple incidentals. First, I searched for the two spent cartridges and picked those up. Then I pulled out my GPS and marked the shot location. There were two reasons to mark the spot. There was an off chance I’d have to return to get a fresh look and it would allow me to get the shot distance by also marking the downed elk after recovery.

Eventually, Kelly got up on the slope where the elk had fallen. I called her on the cell and gave her directions to the shrub I was using as a landmark. As with the day before, I told her that was the best I could do from where I was and that she should mark that spot and begin searching. With that I headed out to join her in the effort. By the time I traversed the slopes and canyons, Kelly had found her elk! Woo-hoo, a very nice cow on the ground and more meat for the freezer.

We snapped several photos and then talked about how we were going to get the elk out. Kelly thought we may be able to drive a quad in on the road past where we parked the truck and continue on in the canyon bottom all the to be straight downhill of the elk. But I had crossed that canyon bottom on my way over and knew that there was no way that was going to happen. But I did think that I could go a ways past the truck and then cut up the slope, get on fairly flat ground and make my way over to the recover site.

So we decided to gut out the elk together and then I was going to hike back to the truck, go get the quad and try to navigate it up to the elk. Meanwhile, Kelly was going to cut the legs off at the knee and start the skinning process. On my hike out, I found a spot where there was just one section of steep hill to climb with the quad and then the rest would be easy sailing. I was pretty sure that plan was going to work, but thought I should grab a helmet with the quad just so that steep climb would be a bit safer.

Below are a few pics of Kelly with her cow elk.

When gutting the elk, we discovered that her bullet had hit fairly low on the body, tearing through the heart.

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08:37 AM (MST)
51. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

The Work Begins (Sunday, Oct. 24 Morning)

When I found what I thought was going to be doable route in with the quad, I called Kelly and told her not to skin out the elk. I assumed we’d be dragging it with the quad and would want the hide on to protect the meat from dirt, etc. Once I descended that slope, it was a short and level hike back to the truck. I quickly threw what I had carried out into the backseat and then it was off to the cabin to get the quad.

Back at the cabin, I hooked up the trailer and grabbed a gambrel and a blanket as well as some rope. I figured these items would make towing the elk out easier. I checked the gas tank in the quad and realized I was going to have to stop and fill up on my way back out. While filling the quad with gas, I realized I had forgotten to grab a helmet. Oh well, I wasn’t going to backtrack for it.

Having gotten back out to my parking spot, I found an incline to back up the trailer to so as to be able to get the quad off without the ramp. That went smoothly and I grabbed the rope, gambrel, etc. and made my way to the base of the short but steep slope I needed to navigate. I flipped the Sportsman into 4wd, picked a path and hit the gas. Almost immediately the back wheels started spinning on the rocky ground and I lost traction. The front wheels didn’t seem to be pulling at all.

I tried two or three different approaches and never felt comfortable to just gun it. At the same time, with moderate acceleration, I just couldn’t climb the slope without the 4wd working. There was one other approach that was a little less rocky and I tried that one next. I think I could have made it up that way, but the route was at an angle and the quad seemed really tippy. Maybe if I had a helmet I would still have tried to make it work. It just wasn’t to be.

So I took the supplies and hiked up to where Kelly was with the elk. Since it would have been a mostly downhill drag, I thought we could hook up two lengths of rope to the gambrel and pull the elk out by hand. The first issue was that there were no legs left to attach the gambrel to. Then when we found a way to attach it in the rib cage, we discovered it was too heavy to drag! Dang it, now I wished Kelly had started the skinning process while I was gone. But at least we had the blanket now so should be able to do the skinning while still keeping the meat clean.

So we skinned enough to get one back quarter off and then the other. We tried again to drag the elk thinking it would be manageable with the reduced weight. Wrong again! More skinning and then off came the front quarters, the tenderloins and back straps. Finally, we cut off a neck and butt roast and deboned the balance of the rib cage. All the parts were placed on fallen trees to further cool and await our pack out.

We hadn’t brought any meat packs on the trip – only fanny and day packs to carry gear. I know this was silly, but I had just assumed we’d be able to drive to the elk with either the truck or at least the quad.

We each threw a quarter over our each shoulder and hiked down to the quad. Even though it was basically downhill and not all that long, it was still a struggle to keep the meat balanced and complete the hike. We transported the quarters back to the truck with the quad and then returned to park the quad at the base of the slope and hike back up to the elk. Kelly got the idea that we could wrap all the remaining miscellaneous parts in the blanket and drag them out. This process actually worked pretty well although we did have to take frequent breaks to shift our grips and try to use different muscles and positions. Eventually we made it to the quad and hauled the goodies the rest of the way on the quad.

With everything loaded in the truck and the quad back on the trailer, I managed to get the truck turned around and we headed back to town. We stopped and got a few bags of ice and then went the rest of the way to the cabin. The meat wash all washed up and then put in a big cooler with the ice on top to finish the job. There were some other odds and ends to take care of and when those were done it was time to pack up for our trip back home to Gilbert.

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06:32 AM (MST)
52. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Hunt Review / Grading

It’s time to recap the hunt, review what we learned and give some grades to the experience. This was another DIY adventure and this time we didn’t do any pre-season scouting, but relied on our past experiences in this hunt unit. You could say that was a mistake since our honey-hole spot turned out to be a bust on opening day. In the long run, it probably turned out to be a good thing since we were forced to explore new areas and ultimately discovered some great country for both elk and mule deer.

Since we thought we knew this area, there were other things we took for granted that can be lessons for the future. One of those is to always be prepared for various scenarios as far as game retrieval. If we’d had our meat packs, it would have saved a lot of time and effort in trying to get a quad to the elk and then eventually carrying and dragging the meat out. Another lesson is to not be totally dependent on the bull’s bugling even if the hunt timing seems to be right. We caught the very tail end of the rutting action and even then it was spotty. You need to be able to find the elk with or without their audible help.

The last thing we really didn’t prepare for was the length of the shots Kelly ended up taking. I’ve previously noted that I’m not a real big proponent of long range shooting and prefer to get closer to the intended target. I sure thought that would be the case on this hunt, but it turned out that both opportunities were beyond what I would have termed comfortable range for someone who doesn’t do a whole lot of shooting throughout the year. With those comments and admissions in place, let’s do our grading so we can compare this hunt to the other adventures at the end of the year.

1) Historic knowledge of the game and area hunted…Grade: B…we are well acquainted with elk and their behaviors and have been very consistent on these cow hunts over the years. There was also a good understanding of the general hunt unit and more detailed knowledge of certain areas though those didn’t end up being productive. It ended up that we discovered new areas to add to our database for future hunts.

2) Specific scouting for this hunt…Grade: C-…I’m being a little generous here since we didn’t do any pre-season scouting. The on-the-job-training (scouting) we did brings the grade up from a D or less.

3) Game quantity…Grade: B…although we didn’t see elk every time out, there were plenty of elk in the unit and plenty in the areas we eventually concentrated in.

4) Game quality…Grade: A…since this was an antlerless hunt, quality is kind of in the eye of the beholder, but there was a good mix of age class cows to choose from and all the animals appeared very healthy.

5) Accommodations…Grade: A…our own cabin – what more do I need to say? Well, I guess the proximity to the hunt area made the cabin feasible.

6) Food…Grade: A…we ate out in restaurants or had home cooked meals throughout the hunt. It doesn’t get much better than that.

7) Game care…Grade: B…this would get an A except for the time it took to finally get the meat out of the field and iced down in a cooler.

8) Overall experience…Grade: A…this was a great hunt in almost every aspect. We were regularly into game animals, had multiple opportunities and Kelly was ultimately successful on a mature cow elk. Since we hunted out of our cabin, it was very comfortable and stress free. The only thing that would have made a big impact would have been if the boys had been able to join us.

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10:40 AM (MST)
53. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

The Last 2010 Adventure

Well we’re coming to year’s end and this contest will also be over at the end of the year. I’ve had a good time capturing our experiences and sharing them with you. So I need to wrap this up with a little on our last hunt of the year – Kelly’s mule deer hunt in AZ unit 3A/3C. I’m going to keep it shorter this time, both because Founder wants us to wrap these up and because there’s really less to tell.

Recall that once again, this was to be a DIY hunt and that we again had the good fortune to be able to hunt out of our Heber, AZ cabin. Although we hadn’t really done any pre-season scouting specifically for this hunt, we did have a feel for some areas based on a previous year’s archery hunt as well as some findings from Kelly’s elk hunt only a week prior. The other thing to keep in mind was that this had already been a successful year and we had plenty of meat in the freezer. This doesn’t mean we weren’t going to try to fill the tag, but there certainly was no pressure to succeed or need to take a buck just for the sake of getting some venison.

This hunt offered the longest season of any of our rifle hunts in 2010 and spanned over two weekends. Still, we only intended to hunt the opening weekend – from Friday through Sunday morning. Friday morning found us overlooking one of the burned areas we had discovered on the elk hunt. The plan was to glass the burn since we had seen quite a bit of deer sign mingled with that of elk the week before. Our first vantage point proved to offer only a limited view so we found ourselves moving from point to point trying to find the ultimate view.

We hopped from one spot to the next throughout the morning. Not only did we not see any deer, but we didn’t see or hear any elk either! That was quite surprising since the area had been crawling with elk the week before. So, after an unsuccessful morning, we headed back to the cabin for a mid-day break. On the way out, we were trying to get a feel for exactly which of the little side roads would lead us up on top where we had still-hunted on the old logging road the week before. I was pretty sure we got it figured out and made a mental note of how to find that particular road when we came back out for the evening hunt.

After lunch and a leisurely couple hours back at the cabin, we came back out and found the road we thought would lead up top to the logging road and the water tank we had discovered while elk hunting. The road wound through a canyon bottom between two ridges and gradually gained altitude before eventually topping out near the tank. So we were correct on the road and decided to go a ways past the tank and park. We got our day packs on and cut into the woods intending to intersect the old logging road and then hunt along it.

The wind was a little off, but we stuck with the plan and hunted out along the road, going only a few steps at a time, then stopping, looking, listening. Eventually, the logging road started to peter out, but we continued on until we felt we needed to start back to make it by dark. Shortly after we made our turn to head back, we got into some thicker woods that just felt “gamey”. We were going to take it even slower and be extra diligent, but before we knew it, there was a buck! But he had already spotted us and with two or three quick jumps he was out of sight. It had only been a few seconds, but this was a good buck – really good for this area. It had a wide and tall rack with at least four points per side.

We did our best to go slowly and to try to spot the buck again or to find one of his brothers. It didn’t work out that way. We made it all the way back out of the woods and to the road we parked along without seeing any more animals. Since it was pretty much dark anyway, we jumped in the truck and headed back down to the main road and back into town.

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10:28 AM (MST)
54. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Day Two (Saturday, Oct. 30 Morning)

The game plan for day 2 was the same as Friday afternoon; we would still-hunt away from the road along the old logging road and eventually make a loop and come back to the truck. There wasn’t much wind this morning which was good because it seemed the prevailing direction would be from our backs on the way out. With just the occasional breeze, it made the woods extra quiet as the sun fought its’ way up in the eastern sky. So we took it very slow – a few steps, stop, look, listen and repeat.

About 100 yards in, Kelly caught movement off to our right and we froze! The animal was obscured by shrubs, but soon cleared enough to recognize it as a bull elk. It was totally oblivious to our presence and was just grazing slowly through the trees and bushes. Interestingly, the elk had only one antler – it had 4 or 5 average tines coming off the single beam. As the elk fed out of sight, there was another animal following the same path and it was a mule deer! Try as we might, there was no way to put any antlers on the mature doe. We thought it odd that the elk and deer were essentially traveling together. We stayed still for several minutes hoping that there would be more deer including a buck. However, nothing else showed so we ultimately moved on in the same cautious manner.

We completed the trek out away from the road without any additional sightings and then turned 90-degrees to the right for a hundred yards or so before turning right again to head back towards the main road. About half way back, it was Kelly again who spotted something out of place on an adjacent slope. She got my attention and we took turns looking through the binos at a bachelor herd of bull elk. There were 5 or 6 bulls – no monsters, but all respectable bulls that would score in the low 300” range. Hard to believe it was only a week since the bulls had been with the cows and still exhibiting rutting behavior!

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10:56 PM (MST)
55. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Opportunity Knocks (Saturday, Oct. 30 Evening)

We had driven the forest road up to the tank several times now. Still, we hadn’t figured out how some of the smaller roads tied into that one or if there were any other branches off the main road that led up on top of this plateau. Since we had plenty of time before dark, we thought we’d poke around some of these side roads and try to work out the maze. We took one of these small offshoots only to have it dead end after only a couple hundred yards. So we turned around and went back to the main road and tried the next one.

Only a short distance in I saw deer on the slope to our left! They were spread out, but all within a hundred yards of the truck. It appeared to be a group of a half dozen or so does. I decided to get a better look and grabbed the binos to examine each one. And viola, about the third doe I looked at wasn’t a doe at all, but a small spike buck! I quickly told Kelly there was a buck and pointed out which one it was. Her reaction was a bit of a surprise – “it’s so small”! “I don’t want to shoot it – we don’t need the meat”. Ok then…so we watched the group for a few minutes and then continued on.

It wasn’t five minutes later than there was another herd on the slope. Same story – first glance indicated all does, but closer inspection uncovered a spike. This one was a bigger bodied deer, but Kelly still passed on the opportunity. Cool – looks like I have a trophy hunter on my hands! Again we watched the herd a bit before moving on. We shortly came to a steep section that I’m sure would have topped out on the plateau we had been hunting. But the road was steeper than I wanted to tackle and so we turned around and headed back to the main road.

Ultimately, we took our familiar route up onto the plateau and still-hunted the old logging road area once again. We got a glimpse of an elk working its’ way through the brush, but otherwise had an uneventful evening hunt.

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08:06 PM (MST)
56. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

The Last Hurrah (Sunday, Oct. 31 Morning)

The plan was similar to what we had been doing – get up on the plateau and start still-hunting at first light. We were content to head home with an un-punched tag unless a decent buck showed itself and we also were only going to hunt a few hours since we wanted to get back home and take care of some things before our jobs would come calling on Monday morning.

This last morning’s session was similar to most of the rest – we saw a couple elk, but no deer. Before long our loop was complete and we found ourselves back at the truck. We had previously found a road that led off the plateau in the opposite direction from which we had been coming up. This road ultimately breaks out of the forest and intersects the main highway heading back to Phoenix. So we decided to road hunt our way out and then head back home.

We made our way along the 3 or 4 miles to the highway, still being vigilant for any deer that may be moving in the late morning. A couple miles into the journey, we spotted a couple deer running parallel to the road. They slowed to a jog and finally stopped about 150 yards in front of us. I got the binos on them and it turned out there were three deer – two does and yet another spike buck. For the third and final time, Kelly decided to pass on the young deer in front of us.

The deer were pretty nervous and before long they were high tailing it out of sight. With that, we completed the short drive to the highway, unloaded and cased the Sako and headed south and west toward home.

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09:37 AM (MST)
57. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

Hunt Review / Grading

This is the last hunt of the year to recap and grade. This was the only tag of the year that went unfilled and yet it was still a successful hunt. It was time spent in the field watching and hopefully helping Kelly on her pursuit of a muley buck. We saw deer, including a few bucks and we got to see other game animals as well. Additionally, we learned more about an area that we can definitely hunt in the future since archery deer tags have reverted to over-the-counter for this unit.

As I prepare to grade this hunt, I realize I should have had one more category all along; I should have tracked amount of effort required and put forth. Certainly, we did not hunt as hard this time as with some of the other hunts earlier in the year. Kelly could have still tagged out on a spike, but if we’d have hunted more aggressively, would she have gotten an opportunity on a mature buck? Anyway, let’s get on to the grading so that I can wrap up “An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle 2010”.

1) Historic knowledge of the game and area hunted…Grade: B…we have done a fair amount of mule deer hunting primarily in AZ. Our knowledge of this particular hunt area improved this year through experience on this as well as Kelly’s elk hunt the week before.

2) Specific scouting for this hunt…Grade: C…we did use some of the prior week’s elk hunt to scope out starting points and strategies for this hunt. Could still have done a lot more pre-season work in order to be truly prepared.

3) Game quantity…Grade: B-…in 2.5 days of hunting, we saw four bucks. I think that’s not bad for this area and we probably could have seen more had we varied our approach and specific location.

4) Game quality…Grade: B…one nice buck sighted in a short amount of hunting time – that’s acceptable to me, but not good enough to earn an A.

5) Accommodations…Grade: A…ditto the elk hunt: our own cabin – what more do I need to say? Well, I guess the proximity to the hunt area made the cabin feasible.

6) Food…Grade: A…ditto again: we ate out in restaurants or had home cooked meals throughout the hunt. It doesn’t get much better than that.

7) Game care…Grade: N/A…since Kelly didn’t tag a buck, this one does not apply for this hunt.

8) Overall experience…Grade: B+…a very easy going, enjoyable hunt with multiple opportunities to fill the tag if Kelly would have “settled” for a spike. Just can’t seem to give an A grade to a hunt that didn’t include a harvest.

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10:11 AM (MST)
58. "RE: An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010"

The Year in Review

This will be the last post to my 2010 Hunt Adventure Challenge Thread. I first want to thank Founder and the other moderators for the time and effort they put in to make this process possible. They provided the impetus, forum and process necessary for us to share our exploits with the readers throughout the year. The readers are owed gratitude as well, for without the “hit meter” ratcheting up, some of us may have lost steam.

As I said in the very beginning, for me this was about finally taking the time to chronicle my hunting (and a couple personal) related activities for an entire season. It wasn’t really about the contest. Of course it would be great to make the finals and if you enjoyed my writing, I encourage you to let Founder know. I didn’t recruit any members so they could vote for me or solicit any other support. This is and will be my only “campaign”.

With that being said, I’d like to do a recap of the year and hopefully post up a few new pics along the way. But, I must do one more thing before I do the review. Yesterday, I got some terrible news. I’m currently in MN for the Holidays and a friend was pet-sitting my two labs Cheyenne and Casper. They dug out of his yard on x-mas eve and, in spite of determined effort, have not been located. There is a more detailed posting in the “Arizona” section of this site. Please call if you have any information that could help us in the recovery of our girls.

Ok, on to brighter memories. My season started with an archery mule deer hunt in AZ’s famous “strip” country. Due to the distance from my home and my unfamiliarity with the unit, I hired Don Martin from Arizona Wildlife Outfitters to assist me on this hunt. It had been a few years since I bow hunted and I really hadn’t even shot that much recently. So I had to do a crash course in equipment set up and then lots of practice to get to a place where I felt confident shooting broadheads out to about 40 yards.

The strategy was to sit a ground blind at water and this ploy worked well because of the dry conditions during the early part of the 2010 archery season. I saw deer every time out, passed on a few smaller bucks and was fortunate enough to tag a nice buck with one shot on the second night of the hunt. Below are a couple more photos from that hunt.

It was then on to New Mexico where my oldest son, Cody, and I had drawn antelope tags. Although we applied together, we were assigned different ranches on which to hunt. At least they partially bordered each other making it a little more workable. This and all the remaining hunts of the year were DIY affairs – no guides and no helpers other than me assisting my wife on her hunts.

We employed a spot and stalk strategy through most of this hunt with limited success. The bucks, especially the larger ones, were quite spooky and it was difficult to get within even decent rifle range. Still, we had a great time hunting together and were ultimately each successful on average sized goats. Below are a couple photos – hopefully these are new to the readers.

My wife had the tags for the last two hunts of the year – antlerless elk mule deer – both in the Heber, AZ area where we have a cabin. The elk hunt started off slowly with limited sign and no bugling in the area we thought would be good. We did some road hunting / scouting and got into elk the second morning in a different location. Kelly was able to seal the deal on a nice cow on the third and final morning of her hunt. Here’s another pic of Kelly and her elk.

The final hunt of the year was Kelly’s mule deer adventure. We didn’t hunt too hard since we were well stocked with venison by this point. One good buck did show himself for a few seconds, but vanished before presenting a shot opportunity. Kelly then passed on no less than three spike bucks over the next couple days before calling it quits for the year.

Final tally for the family was four of five tags were filled for an 80% success rate! All of the animals taken were trophies in our minds even though you won’t see them in the B&C record books. We had great experiences and learned some new areas and techniques that will help in the years to come.

Thanks again for this forum and to those who followed along on “An Average Guy’s Hunting Chronicle – 2010”.

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