this tail begins on the first day of the year. January 1, 2017. My friends and I loaded up our gear and headed down to the state of Arizona. The annual Javelina hunt is always the best way to start the year. It usually offers a break from the bitter cold winter here in Utah. However this year would be different. We arrived in Arizona to a monsoon of rain. This hunt would prove to be one of the more difficult Javelina hunts in the books. Javelina do not like rain and wind. It causes them to hunker up in bushes which in turn makes for very difficult spotting. Day one The mud and weather were relentless. Every step carried the extra weight of 3 to 5 pounds of mud. With no Javelina in sight, we began moving from Ridge to Ridge in hopes of finding something. After hiking several miles our efforts began to turn into shed hunting for the day. I felt like I had won the lottery when I managed to pick up one side 2 o'clock that I had seen out there the previous year. He scored right near 200
By about 3 o'clock we still hadnt found a single Javelina but did manage to glass up a handful of Shed's across a giant Canyon. Half the group decided to call it a day and headed back to the truck. I wasn't going to leave the sheds to waste so across the canyon I went. I came up on The last set of Shed's I had glasses up and to my surprise there it was! A giant record book boar feeding at 15 yards that somehow just appeared out of thin air. I drew back and let an arrow fly. Javelina are some of the toughest animals I've hunted. That bore took three arrows to the vitals before he went down! That day was one of the most rewarding days of Javelina hunting I Had. That javelina was not my biggest to date when it comes to size but his head was abnormally huge and scored bigger than my largest Javelina.
Day two and three my friends managed to harvest their Javelina. It was not an easy hunt but it was well worth it
I had a few friends tag along that made this video to go with it
Chapter two. Winter scouting. By January 5th, Upon return from Arizona, my favorite time of year was approaching, winter scouting. This year's scouting efforts would be significantly different given an Addition to the family, my five-month-old son would be accompanying whenever it was possible. On warmer days we would get out to chase coyotes and look for deer.
As the snow grew deeper, the deer began congregating in their wintering areas. Watching to see what bucks made it through the hunts was as exciting as Christmas morning. A pleasant surprise came as a complete shock when a buck we had named the up and comer rose from the dead and appeared in his wintering range. He had been shot during the Archery hunt and everyone believed him to be dead. He was proving to be a warrior.
It was at that moment where this buck would become priority number one, given The two target bucks I had been after for the past couple years were not lucky enough to make it through the hunts this year. (A big congrats to the hunters who were able to make it happen with them though)
The shed season was looking optimistic as many of the bucks returned. Even Buster, the oldest deer I have been able to watch made his way back at 12-13 years old.
Then came the snow that just wouldn't stop! The snow levels grew to an alarming rate that was proving to become a burden on deer. Feeding deer to keep them alive became the main focus through the bad weather. By late January the snow levels became so bad that Utah set an emergency closure on shed hunting with an opening date set for April 1st. Due to the emergency closure, shed hunting would take a back seat and open the doors to simply enjoying the opportunity to photograph some awesome bucks.
Chapter 3 Shed hunting As the snow melted the deer began to drop their antlers. Due to the shed closure, target bucks would be more difficult to pick up. The closer it came to April 1st, the more the sheds that had been glassed up began to disappear. To keep frustration levels to a minimum, shed scouting trips would be accompanied by Thorbin, who kept a grip on what really mattered. Scouting trips for sheds became more so outings with the little man filled with fun memories
Opening day had finally come! A few quick stops to locations some of the target bucks had shed revealed they had indeed been picked up Early. A change of plans led me to help my cousin locate a buck he had picked up the sheds to the previous year in a spot that people just didn't go to. We got to a glassing point and began the monotonous search, only to be rewarded within a few minutes by locating one side of the target buck. Never had I come up on an antler laying so perfectly on a rock like it was displayed there
With time still left in the day, an afternoon shed hunt with Thorbin was in order. He proved to be a little ball of luck as we finished the day with over 25 sheds
The start of may began in Wyoming. It was almost depressing to see how bad the winter kill was. Everywhere we hiked reeked of rotten carcasses. After several days and over a hundred miles of hiking around, the shed season came to an end with a total of 123
Chapter 4, Summer scouting. Given ET and Elvis were harvested, this year would be a new start. They had been my target bucks for the past two years with a couple moments that almost resulted in a punched tag. I had to start fresh. Although several bucks would make the list for potentials, I knew I had to focus all my time and efforts on one buck and one buck only (The-up and-comer).
(Photos by Tyson McMurdie)
Ever since the day he rose from the grave and returned to his winter range, my mind lingered on pinpointing his summer home. He would not be easy to find, but I was determined. This deer seemed to be invincible. In the winter of 2015, he was caught in a deer trap in city limits. His antlers were cut off before he was released. During the Archery season of 2016, this buck had taken a well placed arrow from another hunter. Everyone that knew about him thought he had died The heavy snowfall this winter limited access to the high country until July. Scouting would start later than usual, resulting in a mad dash to try and catch up. I knew very little about the Up-and-comer's summering habits. I felt less than prepared knowing there were other hunters after him that had been chasing him the past few years. I was going to have to spend every available minute I had attempting to find and pattern him. In mid June, I found myself hiking several miles over giant snow drifts to get near the general area he called home. It was a struggle to fight the urge to give up. He lived in a location that was a flowing sea of pine trees with minimal openings to glass. After almost a dozen trips of feeling like I was wasting my time, I finally had success! On July 2nd The buck had made his move into an open patch where I laid my eyes on him for the first time in his summer range. He gave me a mere 10 seconds to gaze at him before disappearing into the thick. He did not disappoint! He had grown just past his fourths and had baseball sized lumps of mass on the ends of his tines. there was no telling what would become of his rack. One thing was for certain, he was going to be an absolute trash factory.
I felt re-energized and went at patterning this deer with full force. Shortly after locating the buck, the army of trail cameras and hunters arrived. It was clear, with over a dozen hunters after him. The buck would either be shot opening morning, or spooked to his failsafe zone. I was running out of time without a clue as to where his failsafe zone was. I knew the weekends would be filled with people looking for him. Inevitably he would be getting pushed around so I used the weekend warriors to my advantage. I would have 6 attempts to find his secret hideout before the hunt would start. Four weeks in, with two weeks to go until the season began, I had found his failsafe. When pressured, he would move almost a mile to a band of cliff ledges where he would stay for several days before returning to his primary area. Things were beginning to fit together like a puzzle.
Although I had found his primary and failsafe areas, it was still going to be a challenge to locate him given he lived in a jungle of pines. It had been 9 days since he had been to his fail safe area. I made a few final preparations before the hunt began and checked a few cameras. My findings would reveal he was indeed in his primary area the morning before opening day.
I had done all I could to prepare. That night was met with butterflies in my stomach and lack of sleep, for tomorrow would be the day I had been preparing for since December.
Chapter 5 Pursuit of the Up-and-comer Day one began with the humming and rumbling of trucks and four wheelers pulling into the area before first light. All of which with one target in mind. The up and comer. I returned to the area the buck had been at the previous morning in hopes he would still be there. A slow and steady stalk began through the jungle of fallen pines and crunchy pine cones at a rate of 100 yards per hour. No matter how slow I was hiking, it felt as if I was an elephant stampeding across cellophane. The plan had worked perfectly as I managed to bump the Up-and-comer at 60 yards. My heart began pounding as he turned broadside and stopped. A swell of disappointment hit me as the range came through at 80 yards. He was standing 10 yards outside of what I considered an ethical range to shoot at a standing target. Frustration began to set in with only one thing on my mind. "Dear pine cones, I hate you! You make sneaking impossible." Instead of putting more pressure on the buck, I figured I would back out and glass to try and catch a glimpse of him moving through the pines during the evening. He was not going to make it easy. The hunting pressure after this one deer was proving to be a challenge. Day two was met with more hunters, crunchy pine cones and lack of any sign of deer. The overwhelming feeling of discouragement began to set in. There was a reason this deer had grown to the size he was. He lived in a location that was almost impossible to gain an advantage over. Glassing proved to be a monotonous check on the limited openings In The flowing sea of pine trees. Stalking proved ineffective due to the orchestra of crunchy deadfall and thick underbrush covering the ground. I felt as if I was wasting my time. I came to the conclusion the only way this buck would meet his match would be the one flaw he had in his invincible routine, the cliff ledges in his fail safe area. Day 3 was the day for glassing, I headed over to a point that overlooked his secondary hideout. The detailed search began, looking for any signs of movement. 15 minutes into first light my ears were graced with the sound of rustling near the up and comer's favored cliff ledge. Although nothing could be seen, all my attention began to focus on that one area. My heart began racing as the buck appeared out of the tree line to once again visit his favored spot.
He was now 175 yards from me! I knew he would move one of two ways, under a cliff ledge with a perfect 30 yard shot, or down into the thick without a chance. I made my move above the cliff and prepared for a shot. 30 minutes passed as the sun light began peeking through the trees, I was certain, he had gone the opposite way. I abandoned my post and made my way back to the glassing point to re-evaluate. The sounds of sticks popping below me confirmed, he had indeed vanished into the thick. Feeling disappointed, I eagerly listened to try and locate where he would choose his mid day bed. I became oddly confused as a turn of events led the buck out into broad daylight on the only open hill side in the canyon. He was now 75 yards below me making his way across the opening to bed below some cliffs I had never seen him go to. I saw this was my opportunity. Backing off my glassing point, I ran as fast as I could to get ahead of his path. I crept to the edge of a sheer drop off and there he stood at 70 yards. Once again the shot was not ideal because of his slow and steady movement. I had to get closer for a better shot. The next predicament I faced was scaling down a giant cliff ledge to get on a landing directly above his path.
I wasn't thinking straight. All I could think about was positioning for a shot. I began the decent with my bow in hand. After making it down 15 feet, I knew I was in trouble. I had minimal foot holds and one hand to hang onto a vertical cliff. I was stuck! I couldn't go up or down. I needed another free hand! In a last ditch effort to gain headway, I stuck my bow stabilizer in my mouth and bit down. My bow was now dangling from my teeth! I somehow managed to make it to the ledge below me without making any noise. It was make or break. If the buck had passed this point there would be no way to continue the stalk successfully. I knocked an arrow and approached the edge. To my amazement, there he was! Quartering towards me at 35 yards. He was feeding on a bush with no clue I was there. I fought the urge to shoot and waited for him to turn broadside. All I could think about was the quartered shot the hunter had made on this deer the previous year that proved to be non fatal. The moment came as he took the last step aligning him for a fatal shot. The release felt flawless and the arrow found it's mark. He ran no more than 30 yards and locked up. The arrow was buried half way into his chest cavity. The placement was perfect! All I could think was "GO DOWN, GO DOWN" His body began swaying side to side. His footing gave out and down he went, rolling 100 yards through rocky shale before finding his final resting place at the base of a pine tree. I had shot the Up-and-comer! My fingers and face began tingling from the adrenaline. I began to question if what I was experiencing was a dream. Emotions went From an overwhelming appreciation to my friends who had helped in ways that made this hunt a success, to the bittersweet ending of a history, with an amazing deer that had reached its final chapter.
Chapter 6 Moms first elk After harvesting the biggest buck I will probably ever kill in my life, I had quite a bit of time available and an entire Archery hunt ahead of me. My mother had started Archery hunting again and this would be her second year at it. Given she had very little available time, I figured my main focus would be to help her. A few days of hunting went by without much success but it was proving to be a fun time. After all, how many people can say their mom wants to be taken Archery hunting and are willing to hike a few miles into some spots that are tough to get to.
On the days my mom was working, I would plan to go up on my own, but inevitably, on those days I would get a call from her before my evening departure telling me to wait for her to get off work so she could come along. It was just an elk tag after all, so, I would hold off and wait. She would get off work and race to get ready all full of excitement. Our evening sits would usually be accompanied by moose that would linger for hours!
As usual, persistence would pay off. After several uneventful evenings, a familiar sound began to echo through the trees. The popping and rustling of underbrush accompanied with cow calls grew louder as a herd of elk made their way towards us. The adrenaline began flowing. The herd was almost within sight when they shifted directions and began feeding away from us. In a mode of desperation I knew our last chance would be to try and call. They were already on their way out so what would it hurt. I made a couple cow calls and waited. It didn't take long before a lone cow and a satellite bull responded to the sound. They veered away from the herd and came running into sight. It seemed like an eternity before the cow decided to make its final entry into shooting range. This was it! My mom drew her bow back and took aim. My heart was pounding. It was just a cow, but it would be her first elk. The anticipation was killing me when the sound of a loosed arrow rang out. The release was flawless and her arrow found its mark, burying straight into the center of the cows lungs. Before the elk was out of sight, my mother began dancing in place in a manner I can only describe as just like the video of the little girl experiencing buck fever after her dad shot a deer.
She only made it 30 yards before piling up. It made for a great experience for a first elk.
Chapter 7 One down, two to go With a week still left in the Archery season, there was still time for chasing elk. There were two tags left, my dad who had lost the ability to pull a bow back and now had a crossbow permit, and myself. My dad would be first priority. We packed our gear and headed for the hills. We headed into a spot that I knew would produce and awaited the arrival of our targets. Day one was graced with flys. LOTS OF FLYS! The buzzing was relentless until the sun went down. After a few days, a small group of 5 cows made their way into water. My dad patiently waited for them to position. Before long, the herd decided they were moving on without giving us a shot. We hadn’t realized it until then but due to the extreme levels of moisture, the pond we were set up on was overflowing and creating a small drinking hole just out of sight. Twenty minutes and a pile of rocks remedied that problem and it was game on again. The following day was dead. Nothing wanted to show it’s presence. With 5 minutes left of shooting light, my dad began to pack up and call it a day when out of nowhere, the crashing commenced. Within seconds, a small group of three elk came stampeding in and stopped at 30 yards. With no time for a double shot, I whispered to my dad “SHOOT.” Like clockwork, the sound of a loosed arrow rang out, followed by the notorious WHACK! As fast as they came in, they darted for the tree line like a fat kid after an ice cream truck. It wasn’t more than 40 yards before the cow my dad had hit locked up, started stepping backwards and went down for the count. It may have been just a cow, but after my dad lost the ability to pull back a bow due to a permanently disabled shoulder, having him there hunting during an archery hunt was a memory worth gold.
It was down to 3 days left in the Archery hunt and I was the only one left with an elk tag. The elk had been coming in to the spot my dad shot his elk at in small groups, so I decided to stay faithful to it. I battled through the flies by curling up under an array of bug netting positioned in a small corner to keep me out of the sun. The heat was unrelenting! Between the mixture of flies and heat, I felt like I was in Africa. I had placed my comfort ahead of staying prepared as I was caught completely off guard by a lone spike who came down on a trail within 10 feet of me way earlier than expected All I could do was sit and watch. My bow was several feet out of reach and I was in the worst position, (lying on my back) to try and adjust for a shot. He made his way to the water and stuck his face in with his butt directly at me. Suddenly there was hope. I began making my way into position. My feeble attempt was met with a staring contest from the spike. I felt like a turtle stuck on his back. I was lucky it was a young dumb spike because he eventually went back to drinking. We then began playing a game of red light green light while I moved into position and got my bow. It was almost comical. He would look up at me and I would freeze. 20 seconds later he would go back to drinking. It was back and fourth like that at least five times before he had turned broadside and I had drawn back. I took aim and let the arrow fly. The shot looked a little low as he ran off. My worries about the shot were quickly put to rest when each step was followed by a surge of pumpage, exiting from the entry wound. He didn’t make it more than 50 yards before going to sleep.
Chapter 8 Bucks and bulls. Several hunters were still out and about in search of bulls for their limited entry tags. To add to it, my uncle Phil would be coming up for the muzzleloader deer hunt so more time would be spent glassing and preparing for his arrival. A few good bucks were pinpointed before the opening of the early rifle hunt began so I had time to help some bull hunters. I found myself helping a camp of 4 hunters who all had tags. There were a few good bulls they were targeting and were appreciative of the extra hands. Opening morning began on the top of a ridge I posted on to be an extra set of eyes. The wind was brutal and the temperatures had dropped faster than anticipated. IT WAS COLD! One of the hunters had slipped down the ridge below me to try and close the distance on a good bull when out of the thick in front of me, came one of the target bulls. It was 425 yards away. I quickly notified the hunter. He began making his way up to me. Unfortunately when the hunter finally got to me and made a shot it was a clean miss. The elk disappeared and my time was up. I began my decent down the mountain to make it to a class I was scheduled for when a shot rang out down below me. One of the four hunters had located the good bull and put him to sleep. Class would have to wait. It was pack out time! The hunter had made a great shot
Snow began falling days before the muzzleloader hunt began. Conditions would be perfect for chasing Muleys. On opening day we were able to spot Thor, the target buck we were chasing that was pushing 200 inches. Preparing for a shot, we closed the distance to within 200 yards of the deer and set up. He was holding tight in a thicket of pines. I left my uncle at his post and made my way to a ridge giving me a view of the opposite side of the ridge the buck was on. Our plans were interrupted by another hunter who had other arrangements. He had chose the ridge Thor was on as the ridge he was going to walk down. All the deer busted out and our target buck vanished down into the thick. We tried for several days to relocate Thor with no avail. It came down to the last day my uncle had to hunt. We abandoned our pursuit of Thor And decided to go to a spot I knew would produce a decent buck. We had two hours left of shooting light when we spotted a freaky looking buck with a 2 foot spike on one side. It didn’t take long before my uncle decided he would “take him out of the gene pool”. With the buck bedded at 900 yards, we began to close the distance. Time was running out fast. With 3 minutes left of shooting light, we had made it to 225 yards, when the buck stood up. This was it. My uncle took aim and squoze off a shot. The placement looked perfect. The buck jumped, kicked his hind legs and started running straight uphill. Smoke from the muzzleloader obstructed my view. My uncle reloaded as fast as he could to prepare for a back up shot. After the smoke cleared I heard my uncle say “I MISSED! HES STANDING IN THE SAME SPOT!” Confused, I turned my spotting scope to where the deer was originally standing while my uncle took aim. Sure Enough there was indeed a deer standing in the exact location his had been, I yelled “STOP, it’s a different buck!” This was one of those classic moments you shoot a buck and the bigger one decides to step out right after you pull the trigger. We watched as the buck trotted off into the trees and found his buck through the scope in the grass. He was down.
When we got up to the deer, it was apparent he was a cactus buck. There was no sack, just a couple shriveled up beads for testicles. We cooked up some of the meat when we got home and it was the best eating deer meat we had ever had.