After hunting for two days in eastern Montana; guide Sam Botz of J&J Guide Service, my father, and my wife decided to try a new spot in a different area. The next day we drove an hour from our lodge and as we are driving in we started seeing mule deer a couple hundred yards off the dirt road. One was a decent 3x3 buck with some does, another group of does fifty yards in front us, and a couple more on our right. This was a great sign for the first thing in the morning. We decided to pass on this 3x3 and keep looking for a better buck. Our guide Sam took us back into some broken Montana buttes and rolling hills. We saw thirty mule deer before 7:30am... Mostly does and young bucks. Our Chevy Tahoe went gate after gate. We were glassing a doe and decided to move. As soon as Sam put the truck in reverse I saw three decent bucks run over the hill to our right. We all got excited, grabbed our bows and gear as fast as we could, and took off after them.
Dad went to our right onto a high point overlooking the valleys. Amy, Sam and I hooked left to get a birds eye view. As we came over a point there the three bucks were looking at us from two hundred and fifty yards away. They blew out and ran over the next ridge. I knew how the day was going to go. With no luck we looked for them to see if they went down to the bottom. Finally we decided to head up the highest point to see if we could locate them. Like a bunch of hound dogs on a scent, we were hyper-focused on finding those bucks.
After we made it to the top of the highest butte. Amy saw some deer in a drainage, tree line, area about two hundred yards in front of us. Sam set up his spotter and couldn't get a make on the deer. A few seconds later we found two more bucks behind them on the next hill, about four hundred yards away. “One looks really nice.” After getting some video with Sam's magview and realizing he was a stud with kickers. “He's a toad and trashy," I said. “Let's go after him.” So we watched them for fifteen minutes and they wrapped around a butte where we couldn't see them anymore. “Hopefully they will bed down”, Sam said.
We came up with a game plan to go hook left and go low in the creek bottom so that we could come from downwind. We hiked about a mile for an hour or so, and we were blowing deer out as we were going. Two small forky bucks bedded ran over the hill then a group of six does. I thought that we would alert the two target bucks. Not knowing where or what happened to the bucks we continued as if they were bedded in the draw behind the butte where we last saw them. Then the three original bucks we started after took off over a hill.
As we came up to the saddle where we thought they were. We dropped our packs and my wife stayed back. Since we had been chasing deer out. I decided to creep up to the edge of the bowl near some rocks. Sam was behind me as I crawled to the edge. I poked my head up slowly to see if I could see any deer. I saw three does cresting the summit of this butte. I froze as I watched them go to my left out of sight. I sat back down. I then peered over the edge again this time looking across and saw a buck bedded... Was that him? He was big but I wanted to make sure it was the bigger one we saw. I scanned down the drainage and saw another buck twenty yards below him sleeping facing down the hill. So I slowly sat back down out of sight... I pulled my rangefinder out and ranged the first buck with dark chocolate,antlers, fifty three yards. Then looked at the other buck below him and he saw movement, he turned and looked my way, it was the smaller one. So I knew the upper buck was him. I sat back down out of sight. I took a second and a breath to calm myself... Fifty three yards I am gonna gap pin my shot between fifty and sixty yard pins... I pulled back my bow behind the hill and slowly stood up. He was still in his bed and I took my time to get my level bubble right and squeezed the release. As soon as I shot, the arrow hit him in the spine about a foot and a half above his rump. They both got up and ran. I told Sam "I spined him". I didn't feel good about seeing where the arrow hit. We watched as the first small buck ran ahead across the canyon and the bigger one I shot was not moving fast. As he turned, he went broadside out about one hundred yards. We could all see the broadhead sticking out of his right side near his ribs. As he ran we started to see blood on his shoulder hair growing. I felt much more confident after seeing this. He crested the hill following the other buck. There was an epic moment; as we could see the broadhead hanging out as he went over the hill. Sam said let's run up to that point to see where they went. So we took off. We saw them go down in the bottom, my buck was crashing through the brush... The first buck went up and over the next hill one thousand yards. Sam saw my buck stay low and follow the creek bottom. We decided to wait an hour and a half before going after him. We went back and found drops of blood and we felt really good about everything.
After lunch, we went to the drainage where we last saw the buck. Amy, Sam and I fanned out and searched the drainages, and creek bottom till four pm. We left at nine am so we were tired and dehydrated so we went to get my dad. All of us went back and looked until dark. No deer, just a blood spot in the drainage where we last saw the buck. Of course your head starts playing tricks, “did I hit any vitals, did I clip the lung”. “Hopefully we can find him.” We decided to come back the next day to look further than yesterday. With Murphy's law, it rained most of the day. Sam, dad and I walked miles looking for any sign, the deer, blood, coyotes, and nothing. After an exhausting wet day of tracking we packed it in. At this point, I was losing confidence that we would find him. Dad (Roger) still had a tag so Sam said “let's go hunt that same area and hopefully we can find a buck for Roger; or see some crows, magpies (large black birds), or coyotes to help us.”
We hunted half the day seeing a little buck and multiple does. Mid-day we heard crows in the drainage so we went to check it out. As we walked, a dozen or so magpies flew up into the trees. So we got excited. Amy and my father went to explore the drainage hoping that the buck was lying nearby. Sam and I started glassing below us in the creek bottom. Dad and Amy found nothing but each other. Sam had his spotter out and told me there is a badger below us one hundred yards. A pretty cool first time experience for me. Then five minutes later Sam asks “what color was that buck’s antlers?” I said “dark chocolate.” He says “come here and look at this, it looks like a rock with some branches”. I looked through the scope. Not sure what it was, I said “well it could be the deer”. “Let's check it out while we are here”. So Sam went down six hundred yards to see what the rock was. Sure enough I see him put his hands up and wave me down. So I started getting excited and headed down to him.
When I walked up to the buck he had more kickers and brow tines than we thought. He was amazing. He still had the arrow lodged in his back from two days ago. It was a miracle that Sam found him and the coyotes had not torn him up. Luckily, Amy was taking pictures from Sam's spotter six hundred yards away. She got us hugging and high-fiving. It turned out to be a great day after thinking we weren't going to see him again. What a rollercoaster of emotions, and high and lows. “A Montana Rollercoaster”.
First Mule Deer (Archery) - Scored 158-3/8“ Video - https://youtu.be/WkXZDg8nG5k