Finally getting around to writing about my Region G hunt from last fall.
For nearly 15 years I had been trying to draw a limited late season migration hunt. I was able to get in on the preference point system the first year and had hoped that with max points I would eventually be able to draw a 128 or 105/106/109 tag. However, after 10 years sitting on max points and the odds still being terrible I decided it wasn’t worth the cost of continuing to pay for the points. Also, I had a late season elk hunt NW of Cody a few years ago (in the same area as 105/106/109) and didn’t see any bucks during that hunt that was worth max points. Finally in 2015 I decided to give up chasing a late season hunt and dumped my points on what I felt was the best unit in Wyoming – Region G.
With 10 points I knew I had twice as many points as I needed and didn’t really want to just waste them, so I decided I would do a group application with someone that had few or zero points. However, I didn’t have any hunting partners that were interested or up to the challenge of a backpack hunt in Region G. I had remembered following Founder’s hunt challenge story from 2015 where he hunted one particular buck for 17 days but wasn’t able to harvest him. In early November of 2015, I reached out to Founder to see if he wanted another chance at that big buck again in 2016. I also thought it was a great way to thank him for his work in setting up and running the best website for western big game hunting. I didn’t want anything in return other than some general pointers on where to start and advice on tips and tactics for hunting that area.
Founder was full of useful information and even offered to scout for me since it was a 14 hour drive for me to get to western WY. I thanked Founder for his offer to scout but I am a really diligent DIY hunter and wanted the challenge of finding a good buck myself. I had saved up a bunch of vacation time and had planned to take one scouting trip in late summer and then hunt the last week of archery season and the first two weeks of rifle season. I made one scouting trip with my oldest son in mid-August and got to spend 3.5 days in the mountains. We saw over 100 bucks on that trip including 5 bucks that I felt would score 180 or better and two that were in the 185-190 mark. The two biggest bucks were together and the best one was a tall, heavy, but not very wide buck that had exceptionally deep tines. I was within 50 yards of them for a couple minutes but didn’t get any pictures or video of them. Although he was only 27 – 28” wide, I decided that he would be my #1 target.
Here are a couple pics from our scouting trip.
This was the best buck we got a picture of. About 175"- 178".
All summer long Founder had been emailing and texting pics of deer he was seeing. He kept asking me if I wanted to hunt any of the bucks he was finding but I declined his offers as I was hoping for 180+ and to do it on my own. Later in the summer Founder was starting to find some really nice bucks and kept asking if I was interested in pursuing any of them. I continued to decline as I was set on going after the tall heavy 185 – 190 buck I had scouted earlier. Finally, just before the archery season, Founder located a couple of really nice bucks and his previous #1 buck dropped off his target list and he asked if I was interested in going after this previous #1 buck. I estimated this buck to be in the 190 – 195 range and 30” wide. The widest buck anyone in my family had harvested was only 27” wide and so I couldn’t turn down Founder’s offer on this great buck.
By the time September arrived, I was all ready to go. I was planning to leave after work on September 8th and archery hunt the 9th – 14th. September 8th finally arrived and I had the truck all packed the night before. I was almost home from work and was 10 minutes from being on the road to Wyoming when I got a call from my wife. She had taken her dad into the hospital for his weekly visit and he passed away on the car drive on the way to the hospital. Although he had been battling a terminal illness for over a year, it was still difficult to deal with the loss of a great man. My wife was very close to her dad and took it very hard. I told my wife that I would turn down my hunt and be home with her and her mother as long they wanted, but she is very understanding of my passion for hunting and insisted that I get out to Wyoming for the rifle opener on the 15th. I arrived at the trailhead at 2 am on the 14th and slept for a couple hours in the truck before hitting the trial well before daylight. My plan was to get up on the mountain at daybreak and scout all day before the opener on the 15th. On the way up I bumped into a guide who was scouting the same basin for his clients and also another local hunter who had been scouting that basin over the summer. I was pretty sure they were after the same buck.
That day before the season opener I saw 30 – 40 bucks including this tall narrow 180” buck. (Sorry for the bad photo)
Even though I didn’t see the big buck I was optimistic that he was still around somewhere. Opening morning there was fresh snow on the ground and the deer were easy to locate. I saw several nice bucks right away including the tall narrow 180” buck. However about an hour after shooting light, two hunters came hiking up through the bottom of the basin and spooked most of the deer up and out of the basin. Soon after that, fog rolled in and hung in the high country for most of the day.
Day two was bright and clear. Again, I located several nice bucks at first light but not the wide buck I was after. The same two hunters came hiking up the bottom of the basin again and once again spooked all the deer out and over the opposite ridge. I decided to hike up to the opposite ridge and glass from there the rest of the morning. I sat on the ridge for the rest of the day and watched what looked and sounded like a small war over the rest of the day. Over the rest of the day I saw over 40 hunters and heard close to 100 shots.
Over the next few days the hunting pressure decreased significantly. I did notice two local guys on horses would ride through every day and the guide I saw the day before the season was still in the area every day with his two hunters. The number of deer sightings was way down from the opener but I was still seeing a few deer but no sightings of the wide target buck.
I watched this particular buck for a couple days. Although he isn’t a huge deer, he was proof to me on how smart these deer can be. This young buck was bedded well before daylight in a cluster of about 4-5 trees on a wide open hillside. He would move his bedding spot around the trees being careful to stay in the shadows. He never moved from the trees during shooting hours. I saw him doing this for three days. If a young buck was this smart, imagine how smart a 5, 6 or 7 year old buck is!
As the week progressed, I still hadn’t seen the wide target buck. I was beginning to wonder – Did he move out of the area into heavy timber after shedding his velvet? Did he get pushed out the area from pressure during archery season or by pre-rifle season scouters? Did he get shot on day 2 of the season when all of the country was covered in orange? My mind was going through all of the possible scenarios. I had extended my search into the adjacent basins and still no luck finding him. The mental game was REALLY getting tough. I was seeing a couple nice bucks that were about 180” including the tall narrow buck and they were becoming VERY tempting. Over the course of the week I was texting back and forth with Founder he wasn’t finding his target buck either but he kept me optimistic and encouraged me to stay after the target buck since I had two weeks to spend.
On the mornings of the 5th and 6th days of the hunt I spotted a big buck in a small clearing on a distant mountain a little over 3 miles away. At that distance I couldn’t tell what his rack looked like other than there was a lot of antler on his head. However, due to the terrain it would take the better part of a day just to get to that spot. I decided that if I saw him again on the morning of day 7, I would pull my camp and relocate and check him out.
On the 7th morning of the hunt, I was in my usual spot glassing the basin where Founder had seen the buck back in early August. At first light, I located the tall narrow 180” buck on the opposite hillside feeding with another 170” buck. I watched him through the scope for a while and was contemplating whether to settle for him or not. The sun was just starting to peek over the mountains and I looked up higher in the basin and saw three bucks feeding toward a small patch of timber. I put the scope on them and instantly recognized the biggest of the three bucks as the wide target buck. The direct sunlight had just hit them and they were starting to feed toward cover. I snapped a couple quick pics through the scope and took off at a quick pace to get within range. I knew I wouldn’t have much time before they got into the trees. I dropped down into a shallow valley and hoped the fact that it was still in the shadows that the thermals would still be going downhill. I knew that I would be moving within sight of the first two bucks but I would be going slightly away from them on the stalk and if they spooked I figured they would run away from the three bucks, it was a risk I had to take.
When I got about half way to the three bucks, the first two bucks decided I was a real threat and took off. Unfortunately, they headed straight toward the three bucks!! I thought for sure that all five bucks would blow out of there but surprisingly the two bucks got up to the other three and they all settled down. I dropped back down into the shallow valley and continued my stalk toward the bucks. The higher I got, the more the thermals started to swirl and I knew the deer would smell me before I got to where I wanted to shoot from. I hurried as fast as I could go half crouched and half crawling. When I was about 50 yards from the spot where I could come out of the valley and have a shot, I noticed that they had smelled me and were now running up the side of the basin for the opposite ridge. I dropped to the ground and got set up on the bi-pod. The bucks were lined out and running through the rocks up the hill above me. I got the lead buck in my scope and he looked big and wide. Instincts took over and in one fluid motion I quickly put the cross hairs out in front of him and gave him a few inches of elevation and squeezed the trigger just before he topped out on the ridge about 350 yards above me.
As soon as I got another round chambered and the scope back on the buck, his legs buckled and he started tumbling down the hill as the other bucks topped out over the ridge. As the buck continued to tumble, I started to worry – Did I shoot the right buck in the haste of the moment? Was he breaking his rack tumbling down through the rocks? As I started walking up on the buck the emotions of the past couple weeks came to culmination – my father-in-laws passing, hunting one particular buck for 8 days without ever seeing him, thoughts of him not even being in the area any more, or worse being shot by shot by another hunter. I stopped 100 yards before reaching the buck and called my wife to tell her the news and include her in the moment of walking up to such a spectacular buck. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the target buck that I shot and that although his hide was beat up from the tumble, his rack was intact!
I spent the rest of the day skinning, quartering, deboning, and caping out the buck and made one trip down the mountain. After a night’s sleep in the truck, I returned the following morning and packed out the remainder of the buck and my camp. After the hunt I was able to drive up to Bozeman to visit my oldest son who is going to MSU and then met up with my second oldest son on my way home to help him on the opening weekend of South Dakota’s archery deer season (but that is another story). After finally getting home, I was able to put a tape to the buck. I was guessing him to be about 190 – 193 and 30” wide. He ended up taping out at 194.5” and 29.5” wide. My best buck to date.
Here is the buck when I first glassed him with the other two bucks.
This is where the shot was taken from. The bucks were topping out in the rocks on top.
Buck tumbled through rocks and came to rest just to the right of the trees.
A little bruised up from the tumble but all tines were intact.
This was a great hunt in some beautiful country. I saw plenty of good bucks during both my scouting and hunting trips.
I went into this hunt with a long term game plan for myself and my sons. I have been building points for each of them as soon as they were eligible. I wanted to hunt this year and hopefully learn about the unit and gain some experience. Then as each of my 3 sons graduates from college, I will apply as a party with each of them. They currently have 11, 10, and 5 points respectively. The oldest two are in college and my youngest is a junior in high school. By the time each of them graduates from college we should have enough points to be guaranteed to draw as a party even with the current point creep and I will get to go on a good hunt with each of them. That should get us a total of 7 tags over the course of 6 or 7 years. Our goal going in was to get 2 or three good bucks out of those four hunts.
I want to thank Founder for helping me out with all of his advice and help on this hunt. During our texting back and forth during the hunt he helped keep me focused on staying after this one buck even with the temptation of all the other “nice” bucks. Founder definitely knows what he is talking about in regards to Region G and how to hunt these early season bucks. He was spot on with all of his advice and suggestions. Thanks again Founder!!!