Live Hunt! Follow Colby Mayer’s First Deer Hunt

Many of you may know Patrick Mayer, the man in charge of Public and Media Relations here at KUIU. He’s a pretty popular guy. This week Patrick has the pleasure of taking his 12-year old son Colby on his first deer hunt, an experience they have both been looking forward to for years. Not only is this Colby’s first deer hunt, but it’s also his first out-of-state hunting trip.

Please follow along as we update this post with the latest text and photo reports from Colby’s Mule Deer hunt in Utah!

Meet Colby Mayer:

Colby has done well as a Youth hunter in California, finding success on many waterfowl and turkey hunts. He also took his first two wild hogs this summer just after turning 12. Outside of hunting, Colby plays baseball and is an outstanding 7th grade student in the classroom.

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Colby (left) and hunting partner Zach Ayers on a Northern California waterfowl hunt in 2015.

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LIVE HUNT Day 1: October 21

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Colby, packed and ready to leave Davis, CA.

Patrick and Colby began their drive last night, had a short stay in Austin, Nevada, and completed their trip to the unit early this morning. Tonight they will be staying with well-known sheep guide and friend of KUIU, Randy Johnson. Randy will accompany Pat and Colby for an afternoon hunt today, and possibly a morning hunt tomorrow. Starting tomorrow, Pat and Colby will be staying on the mountain (where they have cell reception to send updates).

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Text from Patrick: “Arrived-9:20 am.  First sight of the unit. Saw corner.  On our way to Randy’s.  Be there in 15 minutes.”

Evening 1 Update:

Colby and Pat met up with Randy, and spent some time admiring his trophy room and listening to stories before hitting the mountain by ATV to get a feel for the area and set camp. After dark, it was time for dinner… Colby’s favorite hunting food is chili dogs.

Text from Patrick on the evening glassing: Saw about 25-30 does and 6 small bucks.  One buck was a 2×4 18-20 wide but real spindly and short. Some rain, but not bad.

A full day of hunting tomorrow!

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Colby and Randy Johnson. Look at that wall of bucks!

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Day 2: October 22

Text from Patrick before daylight: Real cold this morning. Inside of the tent is frozen.

Evening update, as told by Patrick: Morning hunt.  Saw about 30 does and 5 or 6 bucks.  One good buck we tried to kill.  We bumped him, a small fork and 5 does out of a patch of quakies. He was a very respectable 4×4, pushing ear width, and ok height, light colored horns and kind of spindly.  No doubt a shooter!  We saw him 1st at @ 175 yards, but he never stopped.  Walked & trotted and wanted nothing to do with us.  The group went in to a patch of trees about 350 yards away, and we lost them.  Found them again, got in close to the small fork and 3 does, but no big buck.  He gave us the slip.

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Evening: Too much of this! Saw 44 does tonight.

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Camp prep. Colby chopping wood.

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Dinner night 2.  Elk burgers, Mack & cheese, corn, crown & coke.

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Day 3: October 23

Morning Report: Cold this morning. Temp in the truck read 24.  Walked this ridge looking down into this small canyon.  Great looking area, but no deer.  Hunted lower this morning, more in the cedars.  Saw only 7 doe and no bucks. We are going to walk a high ridge tonight to see what happens.  We did see one forked horn buck on the way back to camp.

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Saw some deer working up this draw up to an open flat.  Couldn’t tell what they all were.  Got set up and waited. 5 does!

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We had a camp visit today from Jake and Tina Lundell on the left and Ben and Brittany Lundell on the right.  Tina and Brittany both have deer tags as well.  Hopefully someone is celebrating tonight!

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Evening Hunt: No buck yet, but we’re getting a good feel for the area now. Nice fire tonight. Dinner is deer Back Straps (unfortunately not from a buck killed by Colby), mashed potatoes, corn & crown and coke.

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Day 4: October 24

Update from Pat: Sorry-We’re back.  Lost or should I say misplaced phone then a dead battery meant no communication for the day.  Anyway, it all ended good!

This young buck almost took a bullet at 75 yards first thing this morning.  I talked Colby out of shooting.  He was getting kind of anxious!

Take a step back. 26 degrees this morning. Yesterday we went remote, walked and glassed a lot and saw very few animals.  The plan for today was to hunt an area were we had been seeing a good number of deer when passing in the truck or ATV. We would walk the ridge in hopes of seeing something.  We got out early before shoot time, so we waited until we could see before heading out.  Within a few minutes we saw a heard of elk, probably 50 strong with one beautiful large bull.  If I had to guess, I’d say 350, but maybe 370.  He was nice!

Anyway, proceeded and the first bunch of deer (this picture) had a couple of small bucks.  Colby was getting kind of nervous thinking we may not see any more and wanted to shoot.  It was easy talking him out of it.

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We continued and probably 20 minutes later spotted a single doe on a ridge. Decided to move around and see if we could see behind her.  Spotted a group of 4 bucks. 3 decent 2×2’s and a better 3×2.  They were probably 450+ yards.  We saw an easy way to cut the distance and began after them. Once we got close, we bumped the doe and several other deer on the ridge.  Not sure if the 4 bucks were with them, we tried to get a look, but couldn’t see.

We decided to work our way closer to where we saw the 4 bucks.  We picked them up at around 175 yards and I don’t think they knew we were there. I took a quick look and the 3×2 was in the lead walking really slowly with the 3 others not far behind.  Well, getting a 12 year old set up on sticks for a shot isn’t ever quick and certainly not quiet!  The bucks heard us and picked up the pace.  With Colby set up, I took a look and got a range (@250) and told him to shoot the first buck.

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I’m watching through the my binos as the shot goes off.  The buck jumps a little (not really a kick, but more if a jump) and keeps going.  When he shot, it was a hard quartering away shot.  I told Colby I thought he missed and he quickly put in another round and shot again as the buck ran over the hill into a timber/quakies patch.   We made note of where the shots were and took off to go and see.

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Colby, obviously dejected thinking he missed was not a lot of help when looking for sign.  The ground was frozen, so you couldn’t see tracks, and we could find no blood.  Finally, I decided to go look over the ridge.  As I walked over, I heard deer busting out about 75 yards below.  I clearly saw 4 deer going out into an open area of sage.  I quickly got Colby’s attention we ran down the hill to look.  3 of the bucks were slowly moving across the open sage towards a patch of cover.

Colby wanted to shoot, but I could not find the buck he shot at and what I assumed was the 4th buck I had seen.  I told him he couldn’t shoot.  The 3 bucks moved into the cover.  Colby and I moved to see if we could see more ground around some trees.  Nothing!  Knowing there were 4 bucks, I started glassine the area.  Finally, I spotted him bedded.  One more shot and he was done!

Colby’s 1st Buck!

1st shot went in the right ham and lodged in the 3 rib on the left.  We can’t believe he was alive after the 1st shot.  2nd shot was at just under 300 and it broke the bucks back.

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Colby had his choice of backstraps or his favorite camping meal!  What do you think he chose?

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Day 5: October 25

A worn out buck hunter headed home.

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Nevada Mule Deer Success

Late last week we concluded our final out-of-state hunt for the year, a successful trip pursuing high country Mule Deer in Nevada. This hunt was in an area that we have some history with: my dad started hunting it in the 1980s, then took me there for my first backpack hunt in 2003 at age 13. My dad and I have now hunted this area four times together, and Ben Britton has been on the hunt the past two trips (2012 and 2015). Over the years we have taken some very nice bucks and made a lot of memories in Nevada, and this year was no different- aside from our bucks being on the small side compared to seasons past.

On the hunt this year was Ben Britton, my dad Mike, our good friend Ken, and myself. Ben and I had just five days to hunt while my dad and Ken allowed themselves nine days in the field.

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As has been the case on most of our hunts this year, we were once again dealing with warm temperatures and a big moon to start out the hunt. For the first three days, Ben and I packed into an area where I took a 31″ wide buck in 2012. The conditions had the animals moving only in the first and last 10 minutes of daylight, and the bucks we did see were not shooters this early in the trip.

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On the third night (second night with the season open) a heavy storm rolled in bringing rain, thick fog, and a dusting of snow to the highest elevations. We got out of the tents momentarily at daylight, but a constant rain and visibility that stretched no more than 50 yards forced us back into our Ultra Stars. We ended up spending 17 hours out of an 18-hour stretch inside our little tents.

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On the bright side, the moisture allowed us to stay on the ridge that night and the following morning, rather than having to hike way down and back up for an over-due water refill. Sucking standing water from the rocks gave us just under 2 liters to filter.

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The ceiling finally lifted that evening, exposing some beautiful sunset lighting on the mountains. Unfortunately, even after a long day of bad weather, we still couldn’t get eyes on a good buck.

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By this time we were ready to see some new country and make a move. We packed out mid-morning, drove a short distance to another trailhead, and hiked in to meet back up with my dad and Ken. We reached their camp about an hour before dark and did some glassing from there. We were pleased to glass over 40 deer that evening- a night and day difference from what we’d seen in the first area.

Before leaving our first camp we made this quick video showing our pack contents:

Just after dark, Ken and my dad showed up in camp and we swapped reports on our hunts thus far. They had passed on many small bucks in the first three days, but like us, had yet to see anything big. Ben and I set our tents with theirs and we enjoyed a Mountain House dinner together.

Ken (far right in the photo below) has plenty of experience in hunting by horseback, but this was his first real backpack hunt. We had some hard laughs when he asked us to go through his pack and point out the things that he didn’t need… a process that had to have put at least 5 years life back onto his back and knees. Ken’s attitude was perfect for this kind of hunt and he learned a lot in short time. No doubt he has what it takes.

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The next morning we were once again socked in with fog, which would lift or open for a few minutes of glassing about every 30 minutes. Late in the morning we caught a glimpse of a few nice bucks up high about a mile and a half away and feeling the time crunch, Ben and I took off after them. A couple hours later we were in position for a shot if any of them were to feed out of the last aspen patch they were seen going into. We could see the does they were with feeding in the brush, so we had a good feeling that the bucks were close by.

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I continued glassing our surroundings while Ben laid in wait for the bucks to come out. After four hours of nothing, I located a small group of bucks on a slope back over toward camp where we came from. These new bucks were in a very stalkable location and we had time to make a move on them. It was either keep waiting for bucks that we “think” are there, or make another big move on bucks that we know are there. We chose the latter.

Close to an hour of hiking as fast as we could later, we found ourselves within 350 yards of the now bedded bucks. A dense stand of pines below and across the bowl from the bucks hid our movement as we set up for a shot. The best two bucks in the group were a 4×4 and a 4×3, while the others were small forks. Ben adjusted the turret for a 340 yard shot, settled on the 4×4, and squeezed. He never left his bed.

Amidst the excitement I decided that I would be happy taking the 4×3 if presented a good shot. The remaining bucks banded together for their escape, but actually started running toward us. To make a short story even shorter, I settled when they stopped and squeezed the trigger. The fork buck fell in a case of confused identity, and the nice 4×3 and his only remaining running mate continued on with their evening.

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My buck was smaller than the coastal Blacktail I took two weeks prior, but to my surprise I really wasn’t disappointed. As a matter of fact this deer helped me refresh my perspective on what I personally value in a harvest: memories, stories, hard work, and getting to care for quality meat. Field dressing with great care and packing heavy loads of clean meat are events that I enjoy immensely- and they have nothing to do with the size of the antlers. This isn’t to say that I won’t continue trying to take above-average animals on each outing, but for one hunt filling my tag on a small buck was surprisingly gratifying.

We got our bucks back to camp around midnight, hung the quarters and loose meat in the cool night breeze, and hit the sacks for some much needed sleep.

The following morning after glassing with my dad and Ken, we enjoyed our coffee while boning out the quarters and packing up camp for our last-day hike out to the truck.

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Meat care is something that we take a lot of pride in, and we have no problem sharing the condition of our meat and cleanliness of bones after de-boning. The hind quarters and shoulders were taken off the bone in single pieces to minimize meat loss. We prefer to take slabs of neck meat even when not required by law as it grinds up great for burger and sausage.

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SCARPA Charmoz Pro GTX x2

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Dad and Ken needed to re-stock food at the trailhead for the rest of their hunt, so they were generous enough to help us pack meat off the mountain.

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My camp and pack (Ultra 6000)

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Ben’s pack (Icon Pro 7200)

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The evening after Ben and I headed home, my dad took this nice 4×4. He spent the off-season putting together and new rifle, scope, and loads to extend his effective range. It paid off big time when he made a perfect 616 yard broadside shot on his buck. “I couldn’t have hit him better from 100″ he told me over the phone the following morning.

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Upon arriving home we like to jump straight into processing any meat that we plan to grind. By not letting the meat age further and build a hard outer crust, we’re able to get a higher yield on the product with minimal trimming.

For long drives (8 hours in this case) we mix 30 pounds of wet ice with 10 pounds of dry ice in the bottom of a large ice chest. The dry ice keeps all moisture frozen. Half way home we rotate the meat, so by the time we arrive most is beginning to harden. This makes it really easy to cut into chunks for grinding.

This meat came out exceptionally clean for being skinned and processed on the ground, hung on trees, carried in packs twice, and driven a long distance.

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On the to-make list was burger, bratwurst, spicy Italian sausage, sweet Italian sausage, regular breakfast sausage, and maple breakfast sausage. We did both links and bulk/patty in all sausages. Ground bacon ends were added to reach a 20% fat content.

 

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Natural hog casings.

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Finally, we made 3 lbs of Jerky with the leftover lean grind that was left once we ran out of fat for burger/sausage.

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As always, thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to post questions or comments below if you have them. Or, email me at toddh@kuiu.com. Ben Britton can be reached at benb@kuiu.com.

-Todd Harney

Colorado Strikeout and a California Blacktail

Earlier this month my dad Mike, Ben Britton (KUIU), and I backpack hunted high country muleys in Colorado for the first 9 days of archery season. Since returning, I’ve debated on whether I wanted to post a story on the hunt, or just save photos for various uses in future posts and projects. While we had multiple opportunities on this trip- stalking mature bucks almost every day- none of us filled a tag.

It’s not the ‘unsuccessful’ part that has kept me from wanting to write about and share the trip, but more the fact that we were fortunate to be given some very detailed, quality information from a gentleman who has hunted the area multiple times in the past. Out of respect for him and the work he’s put in to build knowledge of the area and its animals over the years, I’ve been reluctant to share photos that might make the area easily searchable. So after plenty of cropping, editing, and setting aside certain images, I’ve got enough to work with for this story.

If you’re just here to see a ‘hero shot’, scroll to the very bottom to see the Blacktail I took last weekend here in California. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy our Colorado story.

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Loading packs for the hike in, the day before the opener.

After 17 straight hours of driving from Northern California, we reached the trailhead. Our pack in would begin at an elevation of around 9,500 ft, and end at around 12,500 ft where we planned to camp. The fact the we live at sea level and had no time to acclimate to the elevation made for a slow approach that first afternoon. Months earlier we had climbed Mount Whitney as a training exercise where all three of us felt the effects of altitude sickness- and the first couple days of this hunt weren’t much better.

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This would end up being our camp location for all 9 nights.

Since we weren’t able to scout prior to the hunt and it was our first time hunting Colorado on the archery season, the first day was spent covering ground and glassing to gather a pattern on which elevation, vegetation, and terrain the deer seemed to prefer. By the middle of the second day, we had it pretty well figured out. From that point on, locating bucks was not an issue.

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At almost any given time, we could go and glass up at least one of three groups of bucks that we hunted throughout the trip. Not that this should come as a surprise, but the hard part was closing the distance to get a quality archery shot. In watching video of others hunt the same region and terrain, the most successful stalks seemed to take place on the steep slopes with small patches of thick alpine willow. These setups allowed the hunters to rely on a consistent rising thermal and stalk in on bedded bucks quietly from above.

We only had one opportunity like this, which ended abruptly when a rock chuck picked me off and whistled relentlessly as I sneaked past his perch with just 30 more yards to go before getting into good range on three bucks below. Without a doubt, mature bucks have a commensalistic relationship with rock chucks. That was not the only time that one of us would be given away by the notorious whistling.

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This buck was alerted by a rock chuck as I stalked down the steep slope behind him.

The majority of bucks we worked on day to day were located in tall, thick willow patches on relatively flat ground on ridge points. On all but a couple occasions, they would position themselves at least 75 yards from the edge of the brush where getting in range would require making some serious noise. To complicate things further, they were very keen about bedding near the crest of a rise where wind had a strong tendency to swirl often. This was a common theme among the biggest bucks we hunted. All we could really do was watch them from above each day and hope for either a strong wind to cover noise on a stalk into the thick brush, or for one of them to slip up and bed within bow range from the edge of the willows.

From our best glassing locations, we could watch bucks on two different ridges each day, waiting for one of them to make a mistake.

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Unfortunately, each time on of the bucks made a mistake, so did we. All three of us ended up having at least one shot opportunity… and each arrow released sailed high for a clean miss. IF YOU ARE HUNTING EXTREME ELEVATIONS WITH YOUR BOW FOR THE FIRST TIME, TAKE SOME PRACTICE SHOTS AT CAMP BEFORE HUNTING TO SEE HOW YOUR ARROW IS FLYING. We failed to do this and it was likely the culprit for our high misses from 45-55 yards. Buck fever hasn’t been ruled out either though.

Now it’s not fun nor funny to sit and write about multiple misses on a single hunt. We take our pre-season practice seriously, from bow tuning to grouping broadheads, to shooting under duress, etc. We fully intended and expected to cleanly kill anything we took a shot at on this trip- and it didn’t happen that way. It was absolutely frustrating and demoralizing at certain times, but in my opinion those are feelings that in the end make a hunt memorable.

I shot over this buck, a deep forked 4×3 that was one of the biggest two we saw on the trip:

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Ben shot over this buck, a nice 4×4…

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…and then failed to notice that another buck was still in range and un-alarmed after the shot. This was a fun one to watch from the ridge above. Notice Ben (lower right) and the buck that he didn’t see (upper left) and ultimately walked away from.

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On the last day, my dad got in on this tall, heavy 3-pointer; a confrontation which ended in the buck’s favor.

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Aside from the bucks, the weather, scenery, and time spent together made for a great trip. On the second day before making the ascent from camp to the ridge after glassing from camp, Ben asked “so you guys gonna pack your raingear up there?” The sun was out and the morning was warming up nicely. “Might as well, you never know” I said.

Not more than an hour later we were introduced to our first Colorado high country thunder storm. Seemingly out of nowhere, hail up to the size of peanuts began to hammer down and lightning was cracking directly over head. From that point on there was no more questioning whether or not to pack the raingear- no matter how near or far we would venture from camp.

Each afternoon for the rest of the trip, the sky would close up and unleash its wrath- sometimes for just a couple hours, while other times it would last all night. It was a welcomed change of pace after nothing but weeks of 100+ degree temperatures back home in the Sacramento valley. Ben and I were wearing the Ultra NX raingear, which handled both the precipitation and the willow brush exceptionally well. Pack Rain Covers were also a key piece of gear.

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Water was quite plentiful, which was a treat for us having been used to hiking for water every couple days and carrying multiple days worth on our backs where we usually hunt in other regions. Here, we were literally never more than a 15 minute hike from a quality water source. We were using Platypus Gravityworks filters.

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After 7 days we were pretty much sick of Mountain House, so we started eating more Top Ramen. We had the Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy for the first time which was very good. And if you like the MH Beef Stroganoff, try adding one package worth of cooked Ramen noodles to it.

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Stormy night dinners were spent in here…

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One day we came across a nice patch of wild strawberries while cleaning up in the creek.

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Have to throw in a good skyline shot of a hungry Ben headed back to camp for dinner…

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All in all it was a great trip, one we would do again in a heartbeat. Definitely one of those trips where the success wasn’t determined by whether or not tags were filled. Next week we are off to Nevada for high country Mule Deer redemption, this time with rifles in an area we know well and have had previous success in.

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Lastly, here’s a Blacktail I connected on last weekend on the central coast in California.

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By on the coast, I mean On The Coast.

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I hope everyone reading this is having a great season so far. Be sure to send your best field photos in to album@kuiu.com to have your shot featured on the In The Field page.

Todd Harney

Nevada Archery Antelope

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In 2010 I began applying for Antelope in Nevada, mostly because I wanted to get more ‘bang for my buck’ in a state where you must buy a non-refundable license to build points. Naturally my desire and interest to hunt these animals became stronger with each passing “UNSUCCESSFUL” draw result. Of course I could have gone somewhere like Wyoming and hunted them OTC on any given year, but the terrain, low hunting pressure, relatively close proximity to home, and trophy potential of northern Nevada were all factors that I thought would be worth the wait for my first attempt at archery hunting for Pronghorn.

While 6 years really isn’t all that long to wait for a tag when compared to the high number of bonus points that many sit on for various western hunts, it was the longest I’ve applied for a specific tag. At 26 years old I was way behind the curve for getting into the long-haul points game by the time I was old enough to begin applying for hunts in the early-2000’s; so instead I build points in multiple states with a goal of hunting within 4-5 years for each respective state/species. For the number of states and species I apply for, I have somewhat of a predictable rotation where I can go on a decent hunt or two just about every year. Of course there are always a few Hail Mary applications in the hat each season, but I try to be pretty realistic.

So while finally drawing this Antelope tag didn’t necessarily come as a surprise, that didn’t take away from the excitement to get out and learn about this species. What did come as a surprise, however, was how unfortunate my luck would be as I began scouting the unit in the months leading up to the opener. This Do-It-Yourself, neighboring state tag would soon be referred to by my co-workers as “The most expensive DIY antelope hunt ever”.

Scouting Trip #1

I made my first scouting trip in mid-June, leaving home in Sacramento, California at 2:00 am with hopes of reaching the southern end of the unit by daylight. I would then drive and glass a 70-mile stretch of dirt road for two days to get a feel for the area before returning home. Around 7:00 am I hit the dirt road, and at 7:05 am I was stopped with my first flat tire. After changing to the spare I made it back to town to get a new tire put on, and then returned to the dirt road to continue north. 40 miles later I got my second flat. Then after an additional 20 miles, my spare went flat and I was out of tires around 5pm. The only thing I could do was drive on my spare rim to the nearest highway and cell reception roughly 25 miles to the east. Once there I had AAA set up a 70-mile tow to Winnemucca, where I would spend the night and get a new set of tires the next day. Of course this required an overtime fee for the shop to open on a Sunday, not to mention I was at the mercy of whatever All-Terrain tires the shop had for my wheel size. By mid-afternoon I was headed home. I did find a few pockets of antelope on the unit, but nothing to write home about.

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Later that evening…

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Scouting Trip #2

The second scouting trip took place over the 4th of July weekend. Accompanying me this time was Patrick Mayer and his son Colby. Leaving Friday after work we got to the unit around 3am, with enough time to take an hour nap before getting back up to glass at daylight. Within 30 minutes I spotted the first two shooter bucks I’d laid eyes on in the area- both being ~14″ in length with good mass and decent prongs. I watched them get a drink from one of the only two water holes around, so I was confident that they would remain in the area in the weeks leading up to the hunt.

From there we proceeded to cover lots of miles on rough roads, pushing my new tires to the limit. Thankfully they held up. While we didn’t see another shooter antelope buck on the trip, we escaped the desert without disaster which felt like a victory in itself after the previous rendezvous.

Scouting Trip #3

By mid-July I was feeling the pressure of not having a great plan in place for the opener. Since the two bucks we saw on the previous trip were the best bucks I’d seen and I knew where they watered, they were obviously my best option to focus on. I was worried about competition from other hunters for that water hole so I decided I’d better get over there one more time to set my blind.

Daylight broke as I neared the dirt road into my area after another night of driving. I glanced to my left at an alfalfa field while passing, and just as I looked forward again a muley doe came bolting into the highway, meeting the front end of my truck at 70 mph. To say I was furious would be an understatement.

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Once the wreckage was picked up and my bumper was strapped back into place, it was onward and upward to the area I’d seen the bucks. To my delight the water hole was still void of anyone else’s blind, and I once again laid eyes on my target animals. As a matter of fact, one of them came running in to drink (until he spotted me) while I was setting up my blind. Since a herd of cattle had been moved into the area I spent some extra time brushing in the blind and building a makeshift fence around it using T-Posts and rope.

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After setup I decided to head home to begin the insurance and repair process for my truck. My radiator had a small crack and this was no place to be stranded if I could help it.

Finally, Opening Weekend

Friday, July 31st rolled around and my truck was still not finished yet, so I loaded up my rental F-150, maxed out the daily rental insurance, and hit the road after work. All week I had been thinking about my target bucks, my blind, and the water hole. In my mind the worst case scenario was that the blind and cameras had been stolen or destroyed by cattle- which would have been par for the course based on the mishaps leading up to the hunt. Best case scenario was that the blind was fine and I had daily photos of bucks coming to water. These polarizing scenarios were all I could think about during the 7-hour drive.

Around midnight I slowly approached my hunt area, driving by light cast from the Blue Moon to avoid spooking any nearby game with the headlights. A quick hike to the waterhole initially had me optimistic as the blind was still standing just as I’d left it, but I was concerned about the smell of the air around it.

When I got back to the truck and began scrolling through the week’s trail camera photos, it was immediately obvious where the smell was coming from. There, stuck in the mud surrounding the water hole, were two dead and decaying calves. Even worse was the fact that not a single antelope had been caught on camera hitting the hole during the entire week. The presence of coyotes, buzzards, and the smell of death had to have forced them to do their drinking at the one other hole in the vicinity. Looking back this was obvious, but my stubbornness and late-night clouded judgement allowed me to convince myself that my trail cameras were just not pointed in the right direction, or were too far from the water to capture photos of the antelope coming in. And so I napped for a couple hours, organized my gear, and headed to the blind anyway just before daylight.

10 hours into my sit I was beginning to decide I’d had enough. And do I really need to tell you that nothing came in during that time? Around 3pm I heard some yelling and celebrating in the distance along the road at the top of the ridge. I got out and hiked up to see what was going on. Sure enough, another tag holder had been driving through and spotted my number one target buck and was able to stop, get out, put on a short sneak and get an arrow in him. It was a little disappointing but that’s public land hunting. He told me he was novice hunter so I helped him get it skinned and loaded in his truck, and then he told me about a couple other bucks he’d seen at a distance on the way in.

With a complete loss of confidence in the water hole paired with the fact that I simply didn’t feel like sitting any longer, I decided I’d switch gears to spot and stalk. I never saw another antelope the rest of the afternoon and evening but I still had hope in the area. The next morning I started glassing from a ridge and immediately spotted a good buck about 1/2 mile away. The country provided plenty of stalking relief; in fact with elevations ranging from 5,500-7,000 feet this area felt a lot more like deer country than classic antelope territory. I played cat and mouse with this buck for a couple hours, closing the distance to 80 yards at one point. Eventually he picked me off and 80 yards quickly turned into what seemed like 8,000. It’s amazing how quickly these animals can cover ground.

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Fast forward eleven uneventful hours of hiking and glassing, to when I spotted my second buck of the day. He was a few hundred yards out on the same ridge as I and headed toward me on a well-defined cattle trail which side hilled through number of tight, deep runoff gullies. If he was going to stay on that trail and keep walking, I thought, I can ambush him somewhere in the middle. When he disappeared out of sight I quickly got on the trail and headed his way to wait in one of the gullies. Like clockwork he appeared at 70 yards just as I was set up with some ranges lazered for reference. He moved steeply down into a deep wash between us, still headed toward at me. The angle exposed his entire back at 60 yards, then 50, then 40, until he stopped to look around at 30. By now he was nearly straight below me, boxed in with nearly nowhere to go but out the way he went in, or straight up at me. To remain in a shooting position I had to be slightly skylined to him, which caught his eye as he surveyed his surroundings deciding where to go. His immediate change in alertness caused me to draw and wait.

Within seconds he decided to split, whirling around to leave the way he came in. The steepness of the gully both slowed his jog, and put him at an angle that offered access to his vitals through his back. Still at full draw, tracking his movement with my pins as he continued on, it registered that he was coming up on a dark bush I had ranged at 70 yards before he originally appeared. At this point I was running on pure instinct. I remember watching my 60 pin move up his back, ahead of his shoulder blades, leading his vitals as I released the arrow. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, down to watching the arrow fly and seeing the vanes rotate during the first 20 yards of flight.

The arrow hit its mark entering the back between the shoulder blades before traveling through his torso and out the lower portion of his chest. He didn’t go far from there.

After watching him go down I wasn’t overcome with pure excitement, but rather a deep sense of relief, disbelief, and calmness. After so much time, effort, and misfortune dating back to that first scouting trip, this was the light at the end of the tunnel that I wanted so badly, yet doubted I’d experience time after time throughout the process. Of course I had that hint of sadness for the animal to top it off.

I slowly and quietly made my way over to him, knowing that it was a moment that I wanted to enjoy for as long as possible. After brushing him off, grabbing some photos, and getting to work on skinning and quartering for the short pack out, the Nevada high desert had one last curve ball to throw my way. A dark cloud moved over head and began pouring rain before letting out a lightning bolt that struck the top of the hill the buck and I were on. Soaking wet and with my ears ringing from the intense crack of thunder, I couldn’t help but smile.

 

My buck green scores 72 4/8 with above average mass, 4 3/8″ prongs, and length right at 13″.

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With plenty of Western seasons now open, we’d like to remind everyone to please send us your field photos in KUIU. Photos to be shared on our In The Field page may be emailed to album@kuiu.com.

Best of luck to all.

Todd Harney

KUIU on Mt. Whitney

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Earlier this Spring I was fortunate enough to draw an Overnight Permit in California’s Mt. Whitney recreation zone, which contains the lower 48’s highest peak (Mt. Whitney: 14,505′) along with some of its most rugged backcountry. This past weekend we completed our trip and got some great off-season gear testing in.

For this week’s post I wanted to share some photos of the trip, and also highlight the awesome high country we have here in California- which may come as a surprise to some.

On the trip was Ben Britton (KUIU), my dad Mike Harney, and myself. While we could not summit due to an impassable 8-day accumulation of snow along the cliffy portions of the trail on the final ascent, it was a quality self-assessment trip to gauge our strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2015 season.

 

Looking back toward the valley floor on the initial ascent.

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Dad on a sit break.

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Onward and Upward.

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Dad and I.

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Ultra Star in the afternoon….

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And then the next morning.

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The MSR Reactor boils snow incredibly fast at 13,000+ feet.

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The top finally begins to show itself in the distance.

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Once again, lots of overnight snowfall.

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Feeling the elevation.

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Ben and I broke in the trail for the day after a night of snow. This climb up “The Chute” was definitely the steepest and toughest portion of the trip.

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Luckily we hit the chute early while the snow was still hard. The day prior, an avalanche slid through this section taking a few hikers with it.

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Ben making his way up.

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If you look closely in the bottom left corner below, a couple people can be seen following our tracks to the base of the ascent.

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This is where we decided the trail became too sketchy. Having never been there before we didn’t want to guess where the trail was beneath the snow through this cliffy 1/2-mile traverse.

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Lastly, Ben would like to remind everyone not to forget sunscreen when hitting the snow-covered slopes this Spring…

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If anyone else has used their KUIU gear on any epic off-season climbs this year, email me your best photo and a caption at ToddH@KUIU.com. I would be glad to post it up here.

Thanks for reading.

Todd Harney

 

“They Look Like Small Mule Deer”

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We all have a species that we grew up learning to hunt; one which provided us an annual opportunity to pursue and as a result, develop our skills in the field. If you started hunting young enough, it’s likely that this species was all you knew- or cared to know. For me, it was the Colombian Blacktailed Deer. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to expand my hunting into a wider variety of game and regions since the early days, I still find myself looking forward to Blacktail season each year, like a kid waiting for Christmas.

At the company holiday party last year I began showing some Blacktail photos to Brendan Burns, who sarcastically commented back with, “Oh a big Blacktail? Big deal, looks just like a small Mule Deer!” And while they may ‘just look like a small Mule Deer’, they really are a unique species that offers some pretty awesome hunting opportunities throughout the west half of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. I can only speak from experience on the hunting of Blacktailed Deer in California, which will be the focus of this article.

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In California we can begin archery hunting for Blacktails as early as the second Saturday in July. I took the buck in the photo above last year (2014) on July 12th- a time when the rest of the country has almost nothing going on in the way of big game hunting. With California’s liberal (so to speak) two tag limit, a guy can hunt this species from early July all the way through October in OTC areas. This means a lot of time to spend in the field each year, which I took full advantage of growing up.

Blacktail Habitat

The variety of terrains these deer can be found in throughout California is remarkable. Driving the coastline on a summer day in certain areas it’s not uncommon to see Blacktailed deer literally walking on the beach. If you had enough time on your hands, you could drive up to 8,000 ft peaks in the northern Wilderness Areas and glass deer there on the same day. “Classic” California Blacktail habitats would be considered coastal sage with grassland and redwood canyons, mid elevation oak woodland, and high elevation manzanita/oak brush country. Most Blacktail in the state are resident, while there are a few herds that migrate in and out of the higher North Coast ranges; particularly the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Yolla Bolly.

Though quite contrasting from one another, all three habitats below represent great Blacktail country in California.

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Diverse Seasons

Hunting for these bucks is incredibly tough, no matter the time of the season. It’s not uncommon for daytime temperatures to reach 105 degrees or higher during early archery. Everything you step on, brush up against, or even look at the wrong way makes noise. The deer tend to be pretty nocturnal this time of year, spending the better part of the daylight hours hunkered down in the heavy shade. To make matters even more interesting, Blacktail are known for their ultra high sensitivity and incredibly low tolerance toward unnatural sounds and movement. There are a couple advantages for the hunter during this season though: First, like Mule Deer, Blacktail will spend more time feeding in the open during primes times of the day when in velvet. Secondly, it’s pretty easy to pinpoint where bucks will be holed up during the heat of the day. They like lots of shade, they like a breeze, and they like to bed on small flat areas with a slope at their back. If a buck is spotted moving toward a bedding area at first light, understanding these things can make it easier to narrow down where he will likely plant himself for the day.

About the time the temperatures cool and rifle season begins, the big bucks have shed their velvet and headed for heavy cover and seclusion.  Unlike most Mule Deer, the majority of Blacktails in California live in areas where they don’t need to pack on a ton of extra fat to get them through the rut and winter. As a result, they don’t spend much time during daylight hours in open feeding habitat exposed to glassing hunters. Unless there’s a cold snap or weather system involved, most rifle season sightings on public land are minimal and typically occur at first and last light. The buck below came out of the timber in the final moments of shooting light on a mid-season hunt in 2010. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

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In the central and southern coastal portions of the state, it’s not uncommon to get some rut activity during the final week of rifle season- the third week of September. This is a great time to hunt as sightings can be frequent and the weather is still nice. It’s not a very common practice for whatever reason, but when the time is right, Blacktails can be very responsive to rattling. One year between my small group of hunting family and friends, we connected on five solid archery Blacktail bucks by rattling at the end of rifle season. Below is a buck that I rattled in on the second to the last day of last rifle season. Yes, I’m guilty of long-arming the smaller bucks for the photos…

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Rut activity is much less common during the general season the further north of the Bay Area you decide to hunt. The later closing ‘B-Zones’, a group of units located in the Northwest corner of the state, are prone to rain and snow toward the end of rifle season which can dramatically improve success. When severe enough (every 4-6 years), these October storms can drive lots of deer to migrate out of the high country in a short period of time. Hold on to your trigger finger if you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains when this occurs.

Trophy Quality

Trophy genetics are all over the board in California from region to region. As a general rule, the best trophy Blacktail genetics in the state (and arguably the country) will be found in Mendocino, Tehama, and Trinity Counties. Combine quality genetics with the fact that these counties have huge expanses of remote public terrain where bucks can grow old without disturbance, and what you get is one of the most underrated big game trophy regions in the US. It should be stated that these counties have plenty of closely managed private properties as well, which certainly donate their fair share to the record books.

On the map below, the red line highlights the approximate Blacktail boundary recognized by Boone and Crockett in California. The green line encompasses what I consider the “sweet spot” in the state for overall trophy quality. The numbers, letters, and black lines represent California’s big game zones. Base map credit: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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The Boone and Crockett minimum for typical Colombian Blacktail is just 135. As it may seem like a small number to those most familiar with Mule Deer, there are very few Blacktail diehards out there who consistently hit this mark. Of my 24 Blacktail harvests, I have only one which has surpassed the B&C net minimum. Most bucks harvested in the state are forks, with what I would guess as having an average 16″ spread and gross score of less than 100 inches. In fact, there are many areas particularly along the coast south of the bay area, where the genetics are so poor that plenty of bucks never become anything but a fork their entire lives. These bucks receive the nickname “Pacific Fork”. Below is a Pacific Fork I took a few years back.

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The body on a mature Blacktail in California averages roughly 120 lbs live weight, and rarely exceeds 150 lbs. As you can see below, they are not nearly as labor intensive to pack out as a large Mule Deer. This entire buck fit in the bag and load sling of my Ultra 3000.

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To give a better idea on how deceivingly small a Blacktail’s head and body size can be, both bucks below score only in the mid-120s. Many would likely field judge them higher.

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Hunting Opportunities

There are a handful of limited draw tags for Blacktail in California, all of which provide a quality hunt during the rut with lots of public land within the boundaries. Most notable are the Covelo hunts taking place in the area of the Mendocino National Forest and Yolla Bolly Wilderness. Hunters may choose to apply for either the archery or muzzleloader hunts in this famed region known for producing awesome bucks year in and year out. Additionally, two late draw hunts are offered in Monterey County and one in a small portion of Sonoma County.

As far as hunting access goes, there are plenty of public mountain ranges that offer solid backpack hunting opportunities with lots of elbow room once a couple miles or more have been put between the hunter and the road. The Mendocino National Forest, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Trinity Alps Wilderness, and Yolla Bolly Wilderness combined offer a staggering 1.8 million acres of public land- much of which is excellent Blacktail ground.

While there can be heavy road hunting pressure in places like the Mendocino and Los Padres National Forests, some of the biggest Blacktails killed each year are taken within a mile of these high traffic forest roads. With that said, it’s pretty easy to out hike the crowds and find both solitude and higher deer numbers in the more secluded drainages. Even though there are lots of trailheads to choose from in the wilderness areas, the terrain lends itself well to going in off trail to further improve the chances of having an area to ones self. Google Earth is a great tool for finding these locations.

Outside of National Forest and Wilderness Areas, those willing to put in the time studying maps can locate isolated chunks of nearly untouched BLM property with high potential. For an out-of-stater looking to come to California for a backcountry DIY Blacktail hunt, the areas mentioned in the Trophy Quality section above are great starting points.

Closing Remarks

Despite the fact that California isn’t revered as a wildly popular non-resident hunting destination, it quietly offers some incredible opportunities for those seeking to pursue lesser-known deer species in the US. Furthermore, with the wide range of hunt types and season dates, a California Blacktail hunt can provide the perfect solution to those looking to jump-start their big game hunting in July, or add a grand finale to their year toward the end of October.

I’ll be the first to agree with anyone that a big Blacktail looks like small Mule Deer, but this species is worthy of more recognition than that.

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-Todd Harney

Featured Customer: Erik Rosini

Occasionally featured on The Hunt will be customer stories and photos. The way we see it, ‘KUIU Customer’ is synonymous with ‘KUIU Prostaff’. Experienced paying consumers are the most credible resource out there, as they are free to use what they want and speak their honest thoughts on products with no strings attached. 

When Erik Rosini submitted a Mountain Goat photo to be posted to the In The Field page, I decided to give him a call to hear his story on the hunt. Erik, a four-year KUIU customer, works for a seafood brokerage company out of Southern California, which distributes fresh fish to hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets nationwide.

Erik’s August, 2014 Goat hunt took place on the North Coast of British Colombia with Copper River Outfitters. While this region is well known for its history of producing Boone and Crockett goats on a fairly regular basis, Erik stressed the fact that these quality animals are no cakewalk to hunt, nor are they found around every corner.

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Over the first six days of his scheduled 9-day hunt, Erik spent time in two different mountain ranges where he and his guide endured nights with 70 mile per hour winds, and days with very few goat sightings. Three days and many a hard mile hiked in the first range resulted in nothing but a few nannys and ewes. An additional four days and even more boot leather burned in the second range turned up only more nannys and just one young billy who’s horns had yet to curve.

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By the end of day seven, Erik was ready to throw in the towel. Physical exhaustion and zero quality goat sightings had taken its toll on his mind and body. He and his guide pulled out once more, and took day eight to recover and formulate a new plan for the remainder of the hunt.

A day off the mountain and a shower proved to be just enough recuperation for Erik to get his mind and heart back in the game. By the early hours of the ninth morning, he was ready to attempt another climb into a new area.

Following a long hike up a degraded logging road, Erik and his guide once again found themselves glassing above timberline by 8am. This time, they spotted a quality billy some 6,500 feet above them in a nasty, vertical avalanche chute. Any excitement Erik felt was overwhelmed with pressure, as he was suddenly faced with a monumental climb in a now-or-never situation on the last day. Once the hunters were confident that the billy was content to stay put, they began their ascent up the back side of a knife ridge that would keep them out of the goat’s line of sight.

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Some 6 grueling hours later, the hunters had reached what they expected to be an equal elevation to where the billy was last spotted that morning. After catching their breath, they slowly began making their way around the ridge (as it was too steep to call it going ‘over’ the ridge), glassing ahead carefully with each step. Erik watched his guide stop in his tracks, hunker down, and slowly turn his head back to say something…

Guide, “He’s right there!

Erik, “Right there as in what? 20 yards? 100 yards?”

Guide, “No… more like 10 yards!”

Erik slowly took the lead, rifle ready. A few short steps is all it took for Erik to find himself face to face with the trophy he’d spent the better part of nine days tirelessly searching for, and nearly giving up on. A neck shot was presented immediately, which he took, sending the billy tumbling down the granite to his final resting place 300 feet below.

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Erik’s goat measured 9.25″ in length with good mass and a quality coat. By 9pm they had the goat caped, boned, and back to the trailhead; using up virtually every last hour available on the trip.

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Erik’s Mountain Goat Clothing List:

  • Guide DCS Jacket
  • Guide DCS Vest
  • Attack Pant
  • Ultra Merino 145 Zip Bottom
  • Merino 250 LS
  • Merino 185 LS
  • Tiburon Gloves

 

-Todd Harney