2021 HAC

CFMuley

Active Member
Messages
304
This year started off differently than any other for me. I was presented the opportunity to hunt mule deer in Sonora with a good buddy, his brother, and his dad. We were going with an outfitter that’s a good friend and someone they hunt with multiple times a year. My buddy and his dad had taken a few awesome bucks in December so his little brother and I would be hunting. I would be going after a management buck while the other hunter was going after a management buck or a trophy depending upon what presented an opportunity.

The hunt began by flying out of Salt Lake early one morning and flying to Tucson. In Tucson we loaded up on last minute groceries and fuel. From there we headed South across the border. The border crossing went smooth, and we continued on. We had a roughly 3-4 hour drive to Caborca, and then an hour or so to the ranch from there. Even though I’ve been to Mexico before, it was still a bit of a culture shock, but at no point did I feel unsafe, especially once we were on the ranch.

The first evening at the ranch, the main guide Carlos made carne asada over an open fire, and it was some of the best I’ve ever had. We sat around a while, made plans, drank a few too many Tecates and then headed to bed. I would be hunting a big 3x3 on the ranch we were staying on and the other hunter would be heading to another ranch roughly an hour away.

We woke up in the morning to a bad rain storm. It didn’t bother me, but it was explained to me that when it rains, the deer hunter down and don’t move much. Either way, we were in Mexico, and we were going hunting. The first two days were largely uneventful, other than stumbling into a snake den. We saw a handful of does, and a couple small bucks, but the deer really weren’t moving much. I was beginning to get discouraged and was wondering if it would happen.

The third morning started much like the previous 2. The weather was slightly better, but still overcast. We drove the ranch, glassing from the high rack, and then decided to climb a mountain to get a better vantage point, and potentially glass up a coues. When we got to the top, we glassed up a fair amount of mule deer does, but couldn’t find a buck with any of them. After a couple hours of glassing, we decided to climb down and go get lunch at headquarters.

On our drive back, we had a doe pop out of the scrub about 150 yards off the side of the road. We were stopped and looking at her when a buck suddenly stepped out behind her. He immediately had us pegged and we could tell he wasn’t sticking around long. I grabbed the rifle and chambered a round as my buddy told me it was the big 3x3 we had been looking for. As soon as my crosshairs hit the buck he took of running into the brush. I estimated where he’d be and touched off the shot. We heard a solid “whop” so we knew I had hit him. Between seeing him and the bullet hitting him hadn’t been more than 5 seconds.

After the initial shot we walked over to where he was at the shot. While I was looking for blood one of the Mexican guides was frantically waving me over to him. The buck was about 100 yards from him, hunched over, looking sick. I pulled up and completely wiffed the shot. The buck started to walk away so I put it right on the back of his neck, but somehow barely managed to split him open under his eye. The buck then turned into the brush and the doubt started to creep in. I walked to where he disappeared and saw a giant 3 point antler sticking up out of the grass, he was down!

We took tons of pictures, loaded him up, and headed back to the ranch house. In 3 days of hunting, he was the only mature buck I had a chance at. While I still think Mexico is one of your best bets to get a giant mule deer, it’s still no walk in the park. I don’t think I’ll be hunting again down there this next year, but I’m looking for any excuse to go back!

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CFMuley

Active Member
Messages
304
In May we went on our 6th annual Montana bear hunt. Over the years it’s always just been my cousin and I that went, but this year a couple of his buddies tagged along. We always drag the fifth wheel up, and stay for a week or two. This normally involves eating good food, drinking a bit too much, and having an all around good time. We normally sleep in for the morning hunt, and start hunting sound 10 AM until dark.

This year I went up a day earlier than the rest of the guys because I was off work and was excited to get up there. I drove through the night and got up there right at daylight. At the first road I drove down, I saw a cinnamon bear come across the road about 150 yards in front of me. I mashed the accelerator to get up there, only to find a big ass dog standing on the side of the road looking at me! I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, and clearly needed sleep, but I didn’t drive all that way to sleep while I could be hunting!

I mostly just drove around the first day, not really seeing much. I didn’t want to go into our better areas until the other guys got up here because I really wanted my cousins buddies to get their first bears. I saw a lot of fresh sign, and got a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do the next day. As it neared dark, I headed to town for a hotel, and proceeded to sleep for about 13 hours after being up for almost 40 hours straight.

The next day, I met up with my cousin and his buddies mid day at our traditional camp spot. We got camp set up and discussed plans for the evening. I would be hunting with my cousins buddy, Mike, trying to help him get a bear. Mike had waited until getting to Montana to buy a bear tag, and due to Montana’s 24 hour rule between purchase and being able to hunt, he would be unable to hunt the first evening.

Mike and I drove to one of my favorite logging roads in all of NW Montana. We’ve seen bears on it, and tons of sign, but we’d never killed a bear on it yet. I’ve been saying for years that I’d kill one on there eventually though. We pull up to the gate, and the wind is blowing perfectly into our faces. There’s a noisy little creek that runs next to the road to cover your sound as well.

We start walking down the road, taking our time on the turns and glassing ahead. We get a little over a mile in when Mike freezes to my right. He whispers, “bear!” I lean over to see from his angle, and sure enough, there’s a big, jet black, bear about 80 yards away on the side of the logging road.

I ease my gun off my shoulder, pop open the scope caps, and settle the crosshairs on the bear. He’s facing almost directly at us feeding. I wait until he turns his head hard right, opening up his chest. I squeeze off the shot and the bullet hits right where I wanted. The bear immediately dropped, but managed one last kick to roll about 10 yards down off the side of the logging road.

We take pictures, gut the bear, and make our cuts in the hide to skin him out before we head back to get a game cart. We drive into town to borrow a game cart from a taxidermist that’s become a good friend of our. We text my other cousin and his buddy that we killed a bear, but they didn’t believe us considering it was the first road we’d walked! A picture quickly changed their tune and they agreed to come in with us to recover the bear.

The recovery was largely uneventful other than the worry of grizzlies. A researcher got munched on pretty good, really close to where I killed my bear, a few years prior. We ended up back at camp with the bear around midnight, and celebrated with a few drinks while making plans for the next day.

The rest of the hunt was a lot of road hunting without seeing much. We found a forest fire, a couple sows with cubs, but we weren’t seeing much for boars. About 5 days into the hunt, Mike killed a nice young boar on a road we had never been on before. After taking care of Mikes bear we actually saw another bear about 20 minutes later on the same road.

Once Mike was tagged out, I headed home to go on a Fishlake fishing weekend. My cousin and his other buddy stayed a while longer, and his buddy ended up killing a real nice chocolate bear. My cousin had plenty of opportunities to kill a bear, but elected not to due to nothing being quite as big as he wanted. In the end we did quite well, and we’re all looking forward to next May!

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CFMuley

Active Member
Messages
304
When the draws came out this year, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had drawn a LE muzzleloader elk tag with only 5 points. It was for a unit I’m fairly familiar with, but I knew that I still had my work cut out for me. The summer started with me getting over my fear of horses, and getting back on after I swore I’d never get near a horse again after getting bucked off last February and breaking every metatarsal and destroying the ligaments in my right foot. My plan was to load the saddle bags with silver bullets, and maintain a steady buzz through my first couple rides. It seemed to work and I’m back to being quite comfortable on a horse again. Hahaha

Throughout the summer we road horses quite a bit to scout and run cameras. We found an area with hundreds of cows on camera, and would see plenty every time we would ride in there. We even had a couple calves come running right up to us on the horses one day. We never saw bulls in there throughout the summer, but we thought that spot would be awesome once the rut hit.

Fast forward to the opener of the archery hunt. Our plan was to ride in there so my buddy could kill a spike or a cow. We thought it would be fairly straight forward considering the number of elk we had seen all summer, but we ended up not seeing a single elk, and the cameras had dried up. Although there were a few elk passing through from time to time, they had definitely moved on for the most part. We were back to square one.

I was limited on time to scout due to other hunts, but one of the other hunts happened to be a rifle tag for my buddy’s mom in the same unit. She ended up killing a really nice 6 point in an area we found a lot more bulls. This spot was definitely encouraging, but to get back to the spot in this area that we were thinking about hunting, we would have had to pack in on horses. This wasn’t a huge issue, but I had multiple friends that wanted to come that would’ve been unable to, due to not having enough horses.

We continued looking with that spot as our backup plan. One morning we headed to an area my buddy had hunted during his archery hunt a few years ago. As it was getting light I could hear multiple bulls screaming and started to glass up elk on the faces. That morning we ended up seeing over 20 bulls including some I would’ve been happy to hang my tag on. We planned on hunting here for the opener.

Opening morning found us glassing from our vantage point. We were seeing elk, but nothing all that exciting at first. After a bit more looking I turned up a couple bedded cows in the middle of a meadow on a big pine ridge. As I looked the cows over, a giant bull came out and pushed one of the cows out of her bed. He was easily 360”+, but he moved into the timber as quick as we had seen him. That ended up being the only time we saw him during the hunt.

As the morning went on, we saw a few decent bulls, but nothing worth going after. Around 10, my buddy said he found a bull he thought was a good one. We all turned the spotters on him, and watched as a solid 350” bull walked across the face into an aspen canyon we could hear a number of bulls bugling in. We decided to drop off the face we were on, and head into that draw. We left one guy on the hill to spot, while 3 of us went in.

The hike was way worse than we imagined. It was steep, and the bottom of the canyon was so washed out we had to pick our way through cliffs. We eventually made it to where the bull disappeared and started calling. We had at least a half dozen bulls within 200 yards of us, and although they would bugle back at any cow call, they would not come in other than a couple sub 300” type bulls. In hindsight, I should’ve been much more aggressive and worked my way in on them rather than waiting for them to come to us.

After calling to those bulls for an hour or so, the thermals were starting to change and they were moving further up the draw to bed. We worked our way higher on the spine, and decided to hunt the bulls in the next canyon over. We sidehilled into the canyon and could hear numerous bulls bugling, and were able to see a few of them in the bottom. We didn’t see anything all that big, so we continued on. As we were getting closer to the ridge, a bull bugled on our level. He continued to bugle every 10 minutes or so, but was working away from us. We went into chase mode trying to catch up to him, finally succeeding as he worked out on to the open ridge line with his cows. He was a super wide 330” type bull, but I elected to pass due to him looking quite young. We made the 3 mile trek back to the truck and that concluded my opening day.

The next few days involved much of the same. We were hiking our asses off seeing plenty of bulls, just not the right ones. I passed over 25 bulls the next 3 days of my hunt. They were bugling like crazy, and I was able to walk right into the middle of the herds without spooking them much. Over these days I had high hopes of turning up the 350” or 360” bull we had seen opening day, but no such luck.

By Friday morning we were fairly worn down, and decided to ride horses into the area. We were immediately on elk, and I passed up a few bulls right after first light. We were glassing from one of the high points on the ridge when I saw a bull with a big back end cross one of the fingers far down the canyon, chasing a group of cows. We kept an eye on him to see where he’d bed down for the day, eventually watching him and his cows head for a thick patch of timber on an otherwise fairly open face. We hurried to cut the distance down and get on the spine across from that timber patch.

As we got down there we could see a small satellite 5 point hanging around the edge of the timber. He’d bugle quite frequently, but the bigger bull didn’t make a sound for most of the morning, worrying us that we might have missed him slipping out of there somehow. After about an hour of watching, the five point worked into the patch of timber. He quickly came running back out with the bigger bull hot on his heels. I tried to get a shot at the bull, but he was too far, and the brush was too thick, but at least we knew exactly where he was.

I moved down the hill to get setup for a closer shot for the next time he came back out. I sat there for hours watching his cows come out to feed and then back in. He came out 2 different times, but was too high on the face and too covered in brush for a shot. I knew I had to be patient and that it would eventually all come together. After sitting there for nearly 7 hours the whole herd fed out on to the face. I could see the bull at the very top, but I had no shot opportunity at all. At one point he went up to the spine, looking like he was going to cross over the backside, but his cows were still a couple hundreds yard below him, closer to me, so I remained hopeful he’d eventually work his way down to them.

At one point I think the bull noticed me, and was facing directly at me at 410 yards. I considered taking the shot, but just didn’t feel comfortable at that range and angle. I was hoping that if he spooked, he’d at least gather his cows quickly before taking off. The stare down lasted about 5 minutes before he started to make his way back down to his cows. I started frantically ranging his cows to get an idea of what my shot might be. The closest cow was 250 while the furthest was a hair over 300. He worked his way to the middle of the cows and after some time, made his way into a small clearing. I quickly ranged him again at 275, leaned against a tree for a rest, settled the crosshairs, and touched off the shot.

As the smoke cleared, elk were running everywhere. I was torn between wanting to reload, and wanting to get eyes on him again. Not even 5 seconds after the shot, my buddy came on the radio saying he was down. He hadn’t even made it 15 yards. I sat there shaking as my buddy made his way down to me. Some bro hugs and high fives occurred before we made our way up to the bull.

As we got to him, I was more than happy with him. He’s certainly not the highest scoring bull we saw on the hunt, but we worked hard for him, and it all felt right with how it came together. Plus, like most guys, I’m a sucker for a big back end which he definitely has.

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CFMuley

Active Member
Messages
304
After killing my bull we had driven to get service to coordinate the rest of the packout. Where we got service we had seen a bachelor herd of bucks earlier in the week. As we were sitting there making calls, the bachelor herd started feeding up the spine right to the road. We watched them for about 15 minutes debating whether to shoot one or not. I said that if they got into range from the road I would shoot one of the four points in the group. They kept coming closer and closer eventually getting to 320 yards. I hopped out and waited for one of the four points to clear. As the buck I thought was one of the four points cleared up, I touched off the shot. I saw both four points running away, but my buddy’s little brother said I dropped one. As we walked up there confused, this is what lay there. I SHOT THE WRONG DEER! The only positive is that the shot hit exactly where I was aiming, taking off the top of the heart and he didn’t hardly move. Even though this is definitely not the deer I wanted, it was too good of a week to be all that upset.

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